Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the highly acclaimed translators of War and Peace, Doctor Zhivago, and Anna Karenina, which was an Oprah Book Club pick and million-copy bestseller, bring their unmatched talents to The Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov, a collection of thirty of Chekhov’s best tales from the major periods of his creative life.
Considered the greatest short story writer, Anton Chekhov changed the genre itself with his spare, impressionistic depictions of Russian life and the human condition. From characteristically brief, evocative early pieces such as “The Huntsman” and the tour de force “A Boring Story,” to his best-known stories such as “The Lady with the Little Dog” and his own personal favorite, “The Student,” Chekhov’s short fiction possesses the transcendent power of art to awe and change the reader. This monumental edition, expertly translated, is especially faithful to the meaning of Chekhov’s prose and the unique rhythms of his writing, giving readers an authentic sense of his style and a true understanding of his greatness.
About the Author
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have won the PEN Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize twice, for their version of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and for Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. They are married and live in France.
Read an Excerpt
The Death of a Clerk
One fine evening the no less fine office manager Ivan Dmitrich Cherviakov1 was sitting in the second row of the stalls, watching The Bells of Corneville2 through opera glasses. He watched and felt himself at the height of bliss. But suddenly . . . This "but suddenly" occurs often in stories. The authors are right: life is so full of the unexpected! But suddenly his face wrinkled, his eyes rolled, his breath stopped . . . he put down the opera glasses, bent forward, and . . . ah-choo!!! As you see, he sneezed. Sneezing is not prohibited to anyone anywhere. Peasants sneeze, police chiefs sneeze, sometimes even privy councillors sneeze. Everybody sneezes. Cherviakov, not embarrassed in the least, wiped his nose with his handkerchief and, being a polite man, looked around to see whether his sneezing had disturbed anyone. And now he did become embarrassed. He saw that the little old man sitting in front of him in the first row of the stalls was carefully wiping his bald head and neck with his glove and muttering something. Cherviakov recognized the little old man as General Brizzhalov,3 who served in the Department of Transportation.
"I sprayed him!" thought Cherviakov. "He's not my superior, he serves elsewhere, but still it's awkward. I must apologize."
Cherviakov coughed, leaned forward, and whispered in the general's ear:
"Excuse me, Yr'xcellency, I sprayed you . . . I accidentally . . ."
"Never mind, never mind . . ."
"For God's sake, excuse me. I . . . I didn't mean it!"
"Ah, do sit down, please! Let me listen!"
Cherviakov became embarrassed, smiled stupidly, and began looking at the stage. He looked, but felt no more bliss. Anxiety began to torment him. In the intermission he went up to Brizzhalov, walked around him, and, overcoming his timidity, murmured:
"I sprayed you, Yr'xcellency . . . Forgive me . . . I . . . it's not that I . . ."
"Ah, come now . . . I've already forgotten, and you keep at it!" said the general, impatiently twitching his lower lip.
"Forgotten, but there's malice in his eyes," thought Cherviakov, glancing suspiciously at the general. "He doesn't even want to talk. I must explain to him that I really didn't mean it . . . that it's a law of nature, otherwise he'll think I wanted to spit. If he doesn't think so now, he will later! . . ."
On returning home, Cherviakov told his wife about his rudeness. His wife, it seemed to him, treated the incident much too lightly. She merely got frightened, but then, on learning that Brizzhalov served "elsewhere," she calmed down.
"But all the same you should go and apologize," she said. "He might think you don't know how to behave in public!"
"That's just it! I apologized, but he was somehow strange . . . Didn't say a single sensible word. And then there was no time to talk."
The next day Cherviakov put on a new uniform, had his hair cut, and went to Brizzhalov to explain . . . Going into the general's reception room, he saw many petitioners there, and among them was the general himself, who had already begun to receive petitions. Having questioned several petitioners, the general raised his eyes to Cherviakov.
"Yesterday, in the Arcadia, if you recall, Yr'xcellency," the office manager began, "I sneezed, sir, and . . . accidentally sprayed you . . . Forg . . ."
"Such trifles . . . God knows! Can I be of help to you?" the general addressed the next petitioner.
"He doesn't want to talk!" thought Cherviakov, turning pale. "That means he's angry . . . No, it can't be left like this . . . I'll explain to him . . ."
When the general finished his discussion with the last petitioner and headed for the inner rooms, Cherviakov followed him and murmured:
"Yr'xcellency! If I venture to trouble Yr'xcellency, it's precisely, I might say, from a feeling of repentance! . . . It wasn't on purpose, you know that yourself, sir!"
The general made a tearful face and waved his hand.
"You must be joking, my dear sir!" he said, disappearing behind the door.
"What kind of joke is it?" thought Cherviakov. "This is no kind of joke at all! A general, yet he can't understand! If that's the way it is, I won't apologize to the swaggerer any more! Devil take him! I'll write him a letter, but I won't come myself! By God, I won't!"
So Cherviakov thought, walking home. He wrote no letter to the general. He thought and thought, and simply could not think up that letter. So the next day he had to go himself and explain.
"I came yesterday to trouble Yr'xcellency," he began to murmur, when the general raised his questioning eyes to him, "not for a joke, as you were pleased to say. I was apologizing for having sneezed and sprayed you, sir . . . and I never even thought of joking. Would I dare joke with you? If we start joking, soon there won't be any respect for persons . . . left . . ."
"Get out!!" barked the general, suddenly turning blue and shaking.
"What, sir?" Cherviakov asked in a whisper, sinking with terror.
"Get out!!" the general repeated, stamping his feet.
Something in Cherviakov's stomach snapped. Seeing nothing, hearing nothing, he backed his way to the door, went out, and plodded off . . . Reaching home mechanically, without taking off his uniform, he lay down on the sofa and . . . died.
1. The name Cherviakov comes from the Russian word cherviak ("worm").
2. A popular operetta by French composer Robert Planquette (1843-1903).
3. The name Brizzhalov suggests a combination of bryzgat ("to spray") and briuzzhat ("to grumble").
Table of Contents
The Death of a Clerk
A Boring Story
Ward No. 6
The Black Monk
Anna on the Neck
The House with the Mezzanine
The Man in a Case
A Medical Case
On Official Business
The Lady with the Little Dog
In the Ravine
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
An unsurpassed translation of Chekhov's best stories.
I read this book in Latvian; it seems there must be a little different selection of stories in the English version. My book had 15 short stories. Here are my favorite ones: ¿A Boring story¿A story of a dying professor¿s self analysis. Chekhov doesn¿t waist words in any of his stories, but still the characters in this book are so vivid and realistic. In this story the professor spends his days thinking about his famous name, which doesn¿t help him any more now that he is slowly dying. The author shows the relationship between the professor, his family and his step-daughter Katia. The people who used to be his closest are now changed. He didn¿t even notice when it happened, it¿s like living with strangers. He shares a house with them, but is still lonely. A sad, but beautiful story. ¿The Man in a Case¿Belikov is a teacher of Greek. He is hiding himself in heavy, thick clothes and wearing rubber galoshes even on the hottest days of summer. Everyone in the school, including his colleges, is afraid of him. He strictly follows all of the rules and in his opinion ¿ what¿s not allowed is strictly prohibited. He is hiding his thoughts behind a wall of never ending rules. He is like a shadow that everyone tries to avoid. The day of his funeral is considered a good day for all of his coworkers and students. They all feel relieved that no one is watching them anymore.¿The Lady with the little dog¿Gurov is a married man who loves to spend his time with other women. As fast as he gets excited and passionate about every new encounter he gets bored just as fast. He has never been in love. Then he meets Ann, the lady with the little dog. The story between them begins as usual for him and looks like it will end like that as well. Ann is also married, but she is shy and an old-fashion woman. She falls in love with Gurov, and so does he, though he doesn¿t realize it at the time. This is the most famous story of Anton Chekhov. A heartbreaking story about impossible love.I enjoyed the book from the very first pages till the end. The author paints a perfect picture of 19th century Russia. Chekhov is one of my new favorite authors now and I will look forward to read more of his stories and plays. I can recommend this author to all those who enjoyed works of Dostoyevsky or Bulgakov.
My only intention here is to comment on a couple of translations of some of Chekhov¿s stories. Of the celestial stories themselves or their author¿s supreme literary excellence, well I¿m just not that presumptuous to have anything to say. Pevear and Volokhonsky are the celebrated couple who are triumphantly working their way through a project of re-translating the Russian classics. Garnett was one of the earliest, and certainly the most prominent, of the translators who introduced these same classics to the English speaking world. Today, her work is largely disparaged, if not discredited, in contrast with that of P&V. Yet, criticism that might be merited regarding Garnett¿s way with Tolstoy, certainly with Dostoevsky, does not, to my mind, apply with equal force to Chekhov. Nabokov once described Chekhov¿s method of achieving ¿artistic beauty¿ as ¿keeping all his words in the same dim light of the same exact tint of gray, a tint between the color of an old fence and that of a low cloud.¿ Whether or not she was consciously trying to achieve this kind of effect, Garnett succeeded admirably with her Chekhov. (Why do I wonder if this was conscious? Well, she uses the same style for Dostoevsky and Gogol, where it is by no means as appropriate.) In nearly every case, where P&V differ from Garnett, they choose a more emphatic word or phrase. For example, Gurov, the protagonist of the famous ¿Lady with the Little Dog¿, is several times described by the same word, which P&V translate as ¿timorous¿. Garnett chooses ¿diffident.¿ ¿Timorous¿ strongly connotes ¿fearful¿ and effectively muzzles other possibilities. ¿Diffident¿ is softer, more encompassing; ¿fearful¿ is not chased away, but neither is ¿restrained¿, ¿constrained¿, ¿timid¿, ¿shy¿ or ¿self-effacing¿. This is not exactly ambiguity; rather, it is something like achieving aesthetic precision through verbal indeterminacy, odd as that may sound. It is the essence of Chekhov¿s art. In comparison with P&V, Garnett will often choose a short phrase (often a familiar figure of speech) over a more pointed single word. This does violate the letter one of Chekhov¿s cardinal principles, ¿extreme brevity¿; but it does not have the net effect of prolonging, but rather of honoring another of the principles, ¿truthful description of persons¿, in that the phrases selected are the ones the characters themselves would likely have employed. Sometimes, it must be admitted, Garnett¿s characteristic ¿good taste¿ inhibits her from conveying Chekhov¿s audacity, as, for example, in ¿At Christmas Time,¿ where she fails to depict the illiteracy as well as the ludicrousness of Yegor the scribe¿s letter to the old couple¿s daughter. P&V are more explicit with the result that more doors are opened to the reader. On the whole, however, if someone were to force me to retain only one Chekhov translation (of the stories, mind you, not the plays), I¿d have to choose Garnett because of her ability to render what Nabokov, again, calls Chekhov¿s ¿iridescent verbal haziness.¿
It is often the case that a seminal work which inspires a movement will actually not be classifiable under the genre it has created. Chekhov is another such innovator, whose followers, like Tolkien's or Petrarch's, are not fit to be placed in the same category as their inspiration.To digress for a moment, this relates to a philosophical theory on the nature of inspiration which I developed while viewing how my own works often differed from the originals which inspired them. For example, Led Zeppelin inspired scores and scores of imitators who all grew to sound very similar to one another, but by and large, not that similar to Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin was inspired by American bluesmen, jazz, funk, classical compositions, and traditional English music.They distilled what appealed to them, westernizing and popularizing it. Likewise, Their imitators simplified Zeppelin's music, which is why they all began to sound like one another, but not like Zeppelin. To sound like Zeppelin, you'd have to go back to their sources.Tolkien's followers fall into the same boat. None of them, at least that I am aware, are philologists able to speak numerous languages and translate myths from their original tongues. Hence, those followers sound like a more accessible Tolkien, while he is a more accessible version of the Eddas.Chekhov was the innovator of post-modern realism, dealing with small people and their little problems. He came from the Russian dramatist school, and was inspired by absurdist authors like Gogol. His characters tend to bear that oddness which comes off as more realistic than a character who is played completely straight. Real people are weirdos.Unfortunately, most modern authors, though inspired by his humorous, surprising, heart-wrenching, and often petty stories, have turned them so mundane that truth grows stranger than fiction and fiction grows into an exercise as pointless as any dadaist deconstruction.Chekhov is simply the best and most believable realist author, and instead of feeding on pain like gourmand Hemmingway, uses it as a sparing, bittersweet spice.
A collection of unassuming masterpieces. Chekhov's stories are subtle, precise, versatile, and compassionate. Just beautiful.
Chekov is one of the classic authors I had never read. Although I generally do not enjoy short stories I found this collection to be genuinely outstanding. He truly was a master of this genre. I had recently read a collection of Pushkin's tales. These were enjoyable, but had a dated quality to them. This is not the case with Chekov's stories.
I read this book in Latvian; it seems there must be a little different selection of stories in the English version. My book had 15 short stories. Here are my favorite ones: "A Boring story" A story of a dying professor's self analysis. Chekhov doesn't waist words in any of his stories, but still the characters in this book are so vivid and realistic. In this story the professor spends his days thinking about his famous name, which doesn't help him any more now that he is slowly dying. The author shows the relationship between the professor, his family and his step-daughter Katia. The people who used to be his closest are now changed. He didn't even notice when it happened, it's like living with strangers. He shares a house with them, but is still lonely. A sad, but beautiful story. "The Man in a Case" Belikov is a teacher of Greek. He is hiding himself in heavy, thick clothes and wearing rubber galoshes even on the hottest days of summer. Everyone in the school, including his colleges, is afraid of him. He strictly follows all of the rules and in his opinion - what's not allowed is strictly prohibited. He is hiding his thoughts behind a wall of never ending rules. He is like a shadow that everyone tries to avoid. The day of his funeral is considered a good day for all of his coworkers and students. They all feel relieved that no one is watching them anymore. "The Lady with the little dog" Gurov is a married man who loves to spend his time with other women. As fast as he gets excited and passionate about every new encounter he gets bored just as fast. He has never been in love. Then he meets Ann, the lady with the little dog. The story between them begins as usual for him and looks like it will end like that as well. Ann is also married, but she is shy and an old-fashion woman. She falls in love with Gurov, and so does he, though he doesn't realize it at the time. This is the most famous story of Anton Chekhov. A heartbreaking story about impossible love. I enjoyed the book from the very first pages till the end. The author paints a perfect picture of 19th century Russia. Chekhov is one of my new favorite authors now and I will look forward to read more of his stories and plays. I can recommend this author to all those who enjoyed works of Dostoyevsky or Bulgakov.