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The Complete Short Novels by Anton Chekhov
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The Complete Short Novels (edition 2005)

by Anton Chekhov (Author)

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681623,966 (4.34)20
Anton Chekhov, widely hailed as the supreme master of the short story, also wrote five works long enough to be called short novels-here brought together in one volume for the first time, in a masterly new translation by the award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The Steppe--the most lyrical of the five--is an account of a nine-year-old boy's frightening journey by wagon train across the steppe of southern Russia. The Duel sets two decadent figures--a fanatical rationalist and a man of literary sensibility--on a collision course that ends in a series of surprising reversals. In The Story of an Unknown Man, a political radical spying on an important official by serving as valet to his son gradually discovers that his own terminal illness has changed his long-held priorities in startling ways. Three Years recounts a complex series of ironies in the personal life of a rich but passive Moscow merchant. In My Life, a man renounces wealth and social position for a life of manual labor. The resulting conflict between the moral simplicity of his ideals and the complex realities of human nature culminates in a brief apocalyptic vision that is unique in Chekhov's work.… (more)
Member:mamarracq
Title:The Complete Short Novels
Authors:Anton Chekhov (Author)
Info:Vintage (2005), Edition: Vintage Classics ed., 576 pages
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The Complete Short Novels by Anton Chekhov

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I have finished The Story of an Unknown Man
  charlyk | Nov 15, 2019 |
Let me start this all out with a horribly embarrassing admission. When I picked this up at the used book store (and, yes, I get a lot of my books at used books stores which I recognize hurts the author and deprives them of royalties for which they are definitely due – but, in this case, I think Chekhov will live – or not live, as the case may be; as for other authors for whom royalties are a more immediate concern, I have other justifications I will not go into now, but, trust me, none of them are valid. Where was I? Oh yes, a horribly embarrassing admission.) When I bought this book I was a bit confused; I thought I was buying short novels from Kafka.

I know, one writes about cockroaches, the other pilots a starship. What? Still the wrong Chekhov?

Suffice to say that I did not realize my mistake until I picked the book up to read it, started reading the introduction, had my “Well, that’s a bit of a snafu” moment, and then plunged ahead.

And now that I’ve spent too long describing how I got here rather than talking about the book, allow me one more sidetrack. I am only slowly experiencing Russian writers. Over the last few years there have been a couple of Dostoevskys, a small piece of Tolstoy, some Solzhenitsyn, and a large helping of Nabokov. (This may be the worst borscht recipe you’ve ever encountered.) While I can find these writers interesting and generally enjoyable (I love Nabokov, but that is pretty far removed from Chekov), it is also a lot of work getting through their pieces. And some payoffs do not payoff as much as I think the work is worth. But I am still intrigued (and entertained) enough to continue the pursuit. And so, I entered this unexpected journey with optimism

To the novels.

This could all go on forever if I were to try and provide synopses for all five (and, as already noted, the intro is far too long), so I will be brief. The Steppe is the story of a boy being transported by wagon train to his new school. The Duel tells of two individuals within the town who hold very different political beliefs – differences which eventually lead them to a duel. The Story of an Unknown Man is about a man who pretends to be a manservant for the son of an important official with the intent of bringing that official down. Three Years tells of a man who falls for a woman who doesn’t love him, but feels she should marry him anyway. My Life is the story of a man who is fed up with his position and steps down to become a common worker.

Don’t sound like much when they are given the ultimate Cliff Notes one sentence treatment, do they? But there is (obviously) much more going on in each. Each novel is rich with detail – the people, the country, the living – and deep, important discussions. And one thing all five have in common is that these are all men (even the nine-year-old boy) struggling to understand the differences between what they expect of life and what life actually is. The protagonists are men of some importance, and the difference between their expectations and the actualities seem to be at the root of the stories.

Good and important themes. And part of why the stories continue to resonate.

However, I had the same problem with all five novels that I have with many 19th century novels – the Russian ones in particular. Being somewhat removed from that time in history, let alone the struggles of the time and the particular mindset of those inhabitants, I cannot relate with some of the discussions. I do not have a vested interest in that time or place, so I cannot be vested in some of the internal battles being waged. And as the novels went in those directions, I tended to become disengaged.

However, Chekhov is writing about human beings. And a good writer (that would be Chekhov) can make those humans real no matter what time and space they inhabit. When the people were living their lives, or when they were having discussions about the parts of their lives that still hold true with our age, the stories come to life. I was engrossed, and I wanted to keep reading.

Timeless themes in the hands of a craftsman.

If you are interested in the writing of Russian authors (which may be an acquired taste, no matter how famous and skilled) this book is an excellent way to see Chekhov’s work. Also, if you are interested in one author’s take on the bigger questions about what we believe and why we believe such things, these will also fit the bill. And, in my opinion, it is worth the effort it takes to read them.

(And one other thing. They are absolutely nothing like Kafka. But they shouldn’t be.) ( )
  figre | Jan 3, 2017 |
I read "The Steppe". I'm glad I did, but I'm not excited by it. It could be the translation. I think in this case, the translation was good. I'm just not sure. Some of the writing evoked powerful images and an engaging atmosphere through the eyes of a child. It had many haunting descriptions as well. I might read something by Chekhov again, but not right away. I wanted to be able to say that I'd read something by a Russian author.
  bcrowl399 | Jun 24, 2015 |
Chekhov is most well known for his short stories and plays, but he also wrote five novellas, which are collected in this volume. Although they differ in many ways, all show Chekhov's deep understanding of character, his brilliant ability to set a scene, and his compassion for our very human foibles.

The Steppe is largely told from the point of view of a nine-year-old boy who is sent away from home, initially with his uncle and a local priest and then with a wagon train of traders, to go to a town where he can go to school. His natural emotion at leaving home and the immensity of the steppe, lyrically described by Chekhov (including a very dramatic thunderstorm), as well as the distinct characters of the uncle and the priest, who are traveling on business but have different approaches to it, and of the varied members of the wagon train, combine to create feelings of both the loss of an old life and an exploration of a new one. Chekhov's ability to portray nature is very apparent in this novella.

In The Duel, set on the Caucasian coast, two men with opposite views of life complain to their mutual friend about each other. One has run off to the Caucasus with the wife of another man, but has grown tired of her; he doesn't really know what to do with himself. The other, a man of science, despises the first for his weakness and, in social Darwinian fashion, thinks he should be "eliminated." The wife too plays a role; feeling unloved but eminently lovable, she flirts with other men. After dueling verbally with each other but behind each others' backs, the two end up fighting a real duel. The surprising conclusion is based on the idea that "no one knows the truth," including about themselves.

The Story of an Unknown Man involves a revolutionary who under an assumed name goes to work as a servant for the son of a man he despises, hoping to find incriminating documents about the father. Initially focusing on the role of servants and the people they work for, the plot thickens when the married mistress of the man spontaneously decides to move into the household, much to the discomfiture of her lover and also the maid in the house. Complications ensue when the man starts to live increasingly at the home of a friend (pretending he is traveling for business) and the servant starts to fall in love with the mistress. But this is far from a bedroom farce; in fact, the hidden revolutionary, suffering from tuberculosis, the disease that would kill Chekhov, at one point has the opportunity to kill the hated father but doesn't do so. Eventually he reveals himself in a letter to his "master," criticizing both of their lives. This is a story of how we deceive ourselves and others.

In Three Years, an unattractive man who comes from a successful family (in the wholesale haberdashery business), while visiting his mortally ill sister, convinces a beautiful young woman to marry him. Part a story of his distaste for the business and his conflict with his father and brother, part a story of the evolution of the man and his wife's feelings for each other, this novella also brilliantly depicts the inhumanity of the business.

Finally, My Life tells the story of another misfit, a man who likewise comes from a successful family but who fails at all the jobs he tries and is determined to live the life of a simple manual laborer, much to the horror of his father and many of the people in the town, who afterwards shun him. But he attracts the attention of the daughter of one of the other successful families, who shares his passionate interest in living more simply, in her case closer to the land. This works for a time, but then it doesn't.

These are merely plot summaries. As always, the joy of reading Chekhov is in the dense interconnections between human behavior and the situations of their lives.
1 vote rebeccanyc | Oct 26, 2014 |
In her present merriment there was something childlike naive, as if the joy which during her childhood had been supressed and stifeld by a stern upbringing, had now suddenly awakened in her soul and burst out into freedom
  balvant | Sep 2, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Anton Chekhovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Chekhov, Antonmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Anton Chekhov, widely hailed as the supreme master of the short story, also wrote five works long enough to be called short novels-here brought together in one volume for the first time, in a masterly new translation by the award-winning translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. The Steppe--the most lyrical of the five--is an account of a nine-year-old boy's frightening journey by wagon train across the steppe of southern Russia. The Duel sets two decadent figures--a fanatical rationalist and a man of literary sensibility--on a collision course that ends in a series of surprising reversals. In The Story of an Unknown Man, a political radical spying on an important official by serving as valet to his son gradually discovers that his own terminal illness has changed his long-held priorities in startling ways. Three Years recounts a complex series of ironies in the personal life of a rich but passive Moscow merchant. In My Life, a man renounces wealth and social position for a life of manual labor. The resulting conflict between the moral simplicity of his ideals and the complex realities of human nature culminates in a brief apocalyptic vision that is unique in Chekhov's work.

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