ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES – VOLUME 1

Original Short Stories - Volume 1

Author: Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893)
Translators: Albert M. C. McMaster, A. E. Henderson, Mme Quesada et al
Downloaded: iBooks

Introduction

Guy de Maupassant, full name Henri-Jean-Albert-Guy de Maupassant, was born near the town of Dieppe on the northern shores of France. At the age of 20, he enlisted in the army during the Franco–Prussian War (19 July 1870–10 May 1871). After the war, he went to work in Paris where he came under the wings of Gustave Flaubert, a childhood friend of his mother. The author of Madame Bovary introduced him to the leading writers of the day including Emile Zola, Henry James and Ivan Tugenev. Flaubert lived long enough to witness his protégé achieve national acclaim with Boule de Suif, a short story set in the Franco–Prussian War: Flaubert proclaimed it as “a masterpiece that will endure”. It remains Maupassant’s most famous work and its success launched a productive decade for Maupassant. In all, he wrote about 300 short stories and six novels.

Maupassant has suffered from syphilis since his 20s and it may have driven him insane. After he attempted suicide in 1892, he was committed to a private asylum in Paris where he died the following year.

Today, Maupassant is considered as a master of the modern short story, along with his contemporaries Anton Chekhov (1860–1904) and O. Henry (1862–1910).

What is the story about?

This volume include two of Maupassant’s most famous stories. A prostitute takes centerstage in both these stories set against the backdrop of the Franco–Prussian War. In Boule de Suif (translated as Dumpling, Ball of Fat or Ball of Lard) (1880), Maupassant contrasts the selflessness of the prostitute against the avarice and hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie and clergy. The Jewish prostitute in Mademoiselle Fifi (1882) quietly accepted physical abuse at the hands of the Prussian officers administering her town. She even swallowed their boast that “France and the French, the woods, the fields and the houses of France belong to us!” But she retaliated with unexpected courage when one particularly odious officer claimed: “All the women in France belong to us also!”

Themes

Maupassant’s literature were very much influenced by his mentor Gustave Flaubert, one of the founding fathers of Literary Realism. This movement is contrasted with the preceding Romanticism: Realism, as the term itself suggests, aimed to represent real life as it is, in all its ordinariness, without embellishment or idealisation. The focus is on the ordinary, not the extraordinary. Therefore, Maupassant’s characters are mostly ordinary persons dealing with the ordinary reality of their day-to-day lives. In Boule de Suif  and Mademoiselle Fifi the protagonists are two working girls doing the best they could in difficult times.

Maupassant’s writing style is simple and economical.

Finally …

Easily digestible read.

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THE WITCH AND OTHER STORIES

The Witch and Other Stories

Author: Anton Chekhov (1860–1904)
Translator: Constance Garnett (1861–1946)
Downloaded: iBooks

Introduction

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the port town of Taganrog in Southern Russia, the third of six children in a close-knit middle-class family. In 1875, the family fled to Moscow to escape creditors. Chekhov remained behind to finish high school.

In 1879, Chekhov joined his family and entered the University of Moscow to study medicine. He wrote to pay for his education and to support his family. He graduated in 1884 and practiced medicine for the rest of his life. He moved to the country where he set up his medical practice and continued writing. His scientific background and his experiences as a country doctor (often treating peasants for free) informed the realism of his stories.

After years of suffering from tuberculosis (or consumption), Chekhov died at a spa in Badenweiler, Germany. He was only 44 years old.

Today, Chekhov is perhaps best known for his plays The Seagull (1894), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1900) and The Cherry Orchard (1903). However, it may be his 600 odd short stories that have left a far greater mark on Western literature. The modern short story has been around since the likes of Washington Irvine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. In Chekhov’s own time, the genre flourished under the pens of Igor Tugenev (1818–1883), Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893) and O. Henry (1862–1910). But it is Chekhov that is almost universally considered to be the greatest of them all and his influence has been acknowledged by later short story writers including James Joyce, William Faulkner, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Carver and John Cheever.

Because of the sheer number of Chekhov’s short stories, it is difficult to know where to start. Many commentators suggest the following as starting points: The Lady with the Dog (1899), Ward No. 6 (1892), The Darling (1899), Gusev (1890), The Huntsman (1885), and A Dreary Story (1889). Chekhov linked three well known stories in a trilogy sometimes referred to as “The Little Trilogy” (1898): The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, and About Love. Anton Chekhov himself has written that he personally liked The Student (1894).

What is the story about?

In 1890, Chekhov went on an extraordinary journey to the prison colony on Sakhalin Island. He wrote about his experience and the brutal conditions on the island in several letters and non-fiction pieces. While he was on a ship home from Sakhalin, Chekhov wrote one of his most overtly political short story, Gusev. The story is set on a steamer carrying injured soldiers from a war in Asia back to Russia. Gusev was a peasant who may have contracted tuberculosis during his tour of duty. He had a cheerful disposition and vivid imagination and wanted nothing more than to be reunited with his family. Pavel Ivanitch, on the other hand, was a firebrand revolutionary, telling Gusev that he protested whenever he saw “irresponsible tyranny … cant and hypocrisy … swine triumphant”. Despite their very different nature, they met the same fate. The very last paragraph is very symbolic: “Overhead at this time the clouds are massed together on the side where the sun is setting; one cloud like a triumphal arch, another like a lion, a third like a pair of scissors …. From behind the clouds a broad, green shaft of light pierces through and stretches to the middle of the sky; a little later another, violet-coloured, lies beside it; next that, one of gold, then one rose-coloured …. The sky turns a soft lilac. Looking at this gorgeous, enchanted sky, at first the ocean scowls, but soon it, too, takes tender, joyous, passionate colours for which it is hard to find a name in human speech.”

Chekhov explores the power of words in The Student. Ivan Velikopolsky, a student of the clerical academy, was at a low point in his life when he related a biblical story to an old woman and her granddaughter. Their emotional reaction led him to realise that “truth and beauty which had guided human life there in the garden and in the yard of the high priest had continued without interruption to this day, and had evidently always been the chief thing in human life and in all earthly life, indeed; and the feeling of youth, health, vigour—he was only twenty-two—and the inexpressible sweet expectation of happiness, of unknown mysterious happiness, took possession of him little by little, and life seemed to him enchanting, marvellous, and full of lofty meaning.” Given his own ill-health, Chekhov could have been ironic here.

Yegor Vlassitch, The Huntsman of the title, was a peasant who went to work for the gentry as a huntsman. He said “good-bye to the plough” as well a wife. In his single-minded attempt to climb the social ladder, he is reminiscent of another Chekhov character Nikolay Ivanovitch (Gooseberries).

The conflict between authority and the peasantry is at the heart of A Malefactor. Denis Grigoryev was arrested for stealing a nut from a railway track to make fishing nets. The magistrate convicted him of Article 1081 of the Penal Code which provides that “every wilful damage of the railway line committed when it can expose the traffic on that line to danger, and the guilty party knows that an accident must be caused by it … is liable to penal servitude.”

Themes

Historical context: In the second half of the 19th century, Russia was a European military power. However, economically, it was falling behind the commercialised and industrialised western world. This was due partly to the feudal system in existence in Russia since the 17th century; under this system, a landowning noble had control (although legally he did not own) over the peasants (called serfs) who lived on his land. A census conducted in 1857 showed that there were around 23 million serfs, amounting to nearly 40% of the population and about 50% of the peasantry. Tsar Alexander II (reigned 1855–1881) issued the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861 proclaiming freedom and the rights of full citizens, eg. the right to own property etc, for serfs in 2 years. Ultimately, the reforms did not turn out to be entirely advantageous to the freed serfs. Many took up crippling mortgages to buy land at exorbitant prices. This condition provided fertile ground for revolutionary forces which would culminate in the two revolutions of 1917. Chekhov himself was the grandson of a serf.

Literary style: The author William Boyd wrote in Prospect Magazine (10 Jul 2006): “Why is Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) routinely and correctly described as the greatest short story writer ever? All answers to this question will seem inadequate but, to put it very simply, the fact is that Chekhov, in his mature stories of the 1890s, revolutionised the short story by transforming narrative. Chekhov saw and understood that life is godless, random and absurd, that all history is the history of unintended consequences. He knew, for instance, that being good will not spare you from awful suffering and injustice, that the slothful can flourish effortlessly and that mediocrity is the one great daemonic force. By abandoning the manipulated beginning-middle-and-end plot, by refusing to judge his characters, by not striving for a climax or seeking neat narrative resolution, Chekhov made his stories appear agonisingly, almost unbearably lifelike.”

Chekhov’s stories share some common themes, namely a cast of Ivan Ivanovs (the Russian equivalent of Average Joes) caught in a spiral of helplessness and hopelessness, physical and mental disease and death. Another common feature is the stories often end anti-climatically (even abruptly).

Finally …

Worth rereading.

Et cetera

English readers were first exposed to Chekhov’s works thanks to Constance Clara Garnett (née Black) (1861–1946), one of the first translators of Russian literature. Her translations of Chekhov’s works are in the public domain. They are collected in Project Gutenberg as The Tales of Chekhov, Volume 1 The Darling and Other Stories (10 stories, 1916), Volume 2 The Duel and Other Stories (8, 1916), Volume 3 The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories (99, 1917), Volume 4 The Party and Other Stories (11, 1917), Volume 5 The Wife and Other Stories (9, 1918), Volume 6 The Witch and Other Stories (15, 1918), Volume 7 The Bishop and Other Stories (7, 1919), Volume 8 The Chorus Girl and Other Stories (12, 1920), Volume 9 The Schoolmistress and Other Stories (21, 1920), Volume 10 The Horse Stealers and Other Stories (22, 1921), Volume 11 The Schoolmaster and Other Stories (29, 1921), Volume 12 The Cook’s Wedding and Other Stories (25, 1922), and Volume 13 Love and Other Stories (23, 1922).

There are two widely available collections in print. The Essential Tales of Chekhov (Harper Perennial, 2000) is edited by Richard Ford and features Constance Garnett’s translations of A Blunder, A Misfortune, A Trifle from Life, Difficult People, Hush!, Champagne, Enemies, The Kiss, Kashtanka, The Grasshopper, Neighbours, Ward No. 6, An Anonymous Story, Peasants, Gooseberries, About Love, The Darling, The New Villa, On Official Duty, and The Lady with the Dog. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the acclaimed translators of Russian literature, have their own take on Chekhov’s works. Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov (Modern Library, 2000) collects The Death of a Clerk (1883), Small Fry (1885), The Huntsman (1885), The Malefactor (1885), Panikhida, Anyuta (1886), Easter Night, Vanka (1886), Sleepy (1888), A Boring Story, Gusev, Peasant Women, The Fidget, In Exile, Ward No. 6, The Black Monk (1894), Rothschild’s Fiddle (1894), The Student, Anna on the Neck (1895), The House with the Mezzanine (1896), The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, A Medical Case (1898), The Darling, On Official Business (1899), The Lady with the Little Dog, At Christmastime (1900), In the Ravine (1900), The Bishop (1902), and The Fiancée (1903).

THE LADY WITH THE DOG AND OTHER STORIES

The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories

Author: Anton Chekhov (1860–1904)
Translator: Constance Garnett (1861–1946)
Downloaded: iBooks

Introduction

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the port town of Taganrog in Southern Russia, the third of six children in a close-knit middle-class family. In 1875, the family fled to Moscow to escape creditors. Chekhov remained behind to finish high school.

In 1879, Chekhov joined his family and entered the University of Moscow to study medicine. He wrote to pay for his education and to support his family. He graduated in 1884 and practiced medicine for the rest of his life. He moved to the country where he set up his medical practice and continued writing. His scientific background and his experiences as a country doctor (often treating peasants for free) informed the realism of his stories.

After years of suffering from tuberculosis, Chekhov died at a spa in Badenweiler, Germany. He was only 44 years old.

Today, Chekhov is perhaps best known for his plays The Seagull (1894), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1900) and The Cherry Orchard (1903). However, it may be his 600 odd short stories that have left a far greater mark on Western literature. The modern short story has been around since the likes of Washington Irvine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. In Chekhov’s own time, the genre flourished under the pens of Igor Tugenev (1818–1883), Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893) and O. Henry (1862–1910). But it is Chekhov that is almost universally considered to be the greatest of them all and his influence has been acknowledged by later short story writers including James Joyce, William Faulkner, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Carver and John Cheever.

Because of the sheer number of Chekhov’s short stories, it is difficult to know where to start. Many commentators suggest the following as starting points: The Lady with the Little Dog (1899), Ward No. 6 (1892), The Darling (1899), Gusev (1890), The Hunstman (1885), and A Dreary Story (1889). Chekhov linked three well known stories in a trilogy sometimes referred to as “The Little Trilogy” (1898): The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, and About Love. Anton Chekhov himself has written that he personally liked The Student (1894).

What is the story about?

In The Lady with the Dog (sometimes titled The Lady with the Little Dog), perhaps Chekhov’s most famous short, Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, a middle-aged lothario fell in love (for the first time in his life, he declared) with Anna Sergeyevna, an innocent young girl. Problem was both of them were married: “… it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.” It is typical Chekhov not to give us a resolution but to end the story where other authors might actually begin theirs: “And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.”

Chekhov experimented with the supernatural in The Black Monk. Andrey Vassilitch Kovrin, an academic suffering from mental exhaustion met a mysterious “monk, dressed in black, with a grey head and black eye-brows”. The monk, whom no one else appeared to have encountered, assured Kovrin that he (Kovrin) was the incarnation of the blessing of God. Kovrin’s physical health continued to deteriorate and just before he died, the black monk appeared and whispered to him that “he was a genius, and that he was dying only because his frail body had lost its balance and could no longer serve as the mortal garb of genius.” Bizarre!

Themes

Historical context: In the second half of the 19th century, Russia was a European military power. However, economically, it was falling behind the commercialised and industrialised western world. This was due partly to the feudal system in existence in Russia since the 17th century; under this system, a landowning noble had control (although legally he did not own) over the peasants (called serfs) who lived on his land. A census conducted in 1857 showed that there were around 23 million serfs, amounting to nearly 40% of the population and about 50% of the peasantry. Tsar Alexander II (reigned 1855–1881) issued the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861 proclaiming freedom and the rights of full citizens, eg. the right to own property etc, for serfs in 2 years. Ultimately, the reforms did not turn out to be entirely advantageous to the freed serfs. Many took up crippling mortgages to buy land at exorbitant prices. This condition provided fertile ground for revolutionary forces which would culminate in the two revolutions of 1917.

Literary style: The author William Boyd wrote in Prospect Magazine (10 Jul 2006): “Why is Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) routinely and correctly described as the greatest short story writer ever? All answers to this question will seem inadequate but, to put it very simply, the fact is that Chekhov, in his mature stories of the 1890s, revolutionised the short story by transforming narrative. Chekhov saw and understood that life is godless, random and absurd, that all history is the history of unintended consequences. He knew, for instance, that being good will not spare you from awful suffering and injustice, that the slothful can flourish effortlessly and that mediocrity is the one great daemonic force. By abandoning the manipulated beginning-middle-and-end plot, by refusing to judge his characters, by not striving for a climax or seeking neat narrative resolution, Chekhov made his stories appear agonisingly, almost unbearably lifelike.”

Chekhov’s stories share some common themes, namely a cast of Ivan Ivanovs (the Russian equivalent of Average Joes) caught in a spiral of helplessness and hopelessness, physical and mental disease and death. Another common feature is the stories often end anti-climatically (even abruptly).

Finally …

Worth reading. The Black Monk is puzzling.

Et cetera

English readers were first exposed to Chekhov’s works thanks to Constance Clara Garnett (née Black) (1861–1946), one the earliest translators of Russian literature. Her translations of Chekhov’s works are in the public domain. They are collected in Project Gutenberg as The Tales of Chekhov, Volume 1 The Darling and Other Stories (10 stories, 1916), Volume 2 The Duel and Other Stories (8, 1916), Volume 3 The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories (99, 1917), Volume 4 The Party and Other Stories (11, 1917), Volume 5 The Wife and Other Stories (9, 1918), Volume 6 The Witch and Other Stories (15, 1918), Volume 7 The Bishop and Other Stories (7, 1919), Volume 8 The Chorus Girl and Other Stories (12, 1920), Volume 9 The Schoolmistress and Other Stories (21, 1920), Volume 10 The Horse Stealers and Other Stories (22, 1921), Volume 11 The Schoolmaster and Other Stories (29, 1921), Volume 12 The Cook’s Wedding and Other Stories (25, 1922), and Volume 13 Love and Other Stories (23, 1922).

There are two widely available collections in print. The Essential Tales of Chekhov (Harper Perennial, 2000) is edited by Richard Ford and features Constance Garnett’s translations of A Blunder, A Misfortune, A Trifle from Life, Difficult People, Hush!, Champagne, Enemies, The Kiss, Kashtanka, The Grasshopper, Neighbours, Ward No. 6, An Anonymous Story, Peasants, Gooseberries, About Love, The Darling, The New Villa, On Official Duty, and The Lady with the Dog. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the acclaimed translators of Russian literature, have their own take on Chekhov’s works. Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov (Modern Library, 2000) collects The Death of a Clerk (1883), Small Fry (1885), The Huntsman (1885), The Malefactor (1885), Panikhida, Anyuta (1886), Easter Night, Vanka (1886), Sleepy (1888), A Boring Story, Gusev, Peasant Women, The Fidget, In Exile, Ward No. 6, The Black Monk (1894), Rothschild’s Fiddle (1894), The Student, Anna on the Neck (1895), The House with the Mezzanine (1896), The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, A Medical Case (1898), The Darling, On Official Business (1899), The Lady with the Little Dog, At Christmastime (1900), In the Ravine (1900), The Bishop (1902), and The Fiancée (1903).

THE WIFE AND OTHER STORIES

The Wife, and other stories

Author: Anton Chekhov (1860–1904)
Translator: Constance Garnett (1861–1946)
Downloaded: iTunes via iBooks

Introduction

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the port town of Taganrog in Southern Russia, the third of six children in a close-knit middle-class family. In 1875, the family fled to Moscow to escape creditors. Chekhov remained behind to finish high school.

In 1879, Chekhov joined his family and entered the University of Moscow to study medicine. He wrote to pay for his education and to support his family. He graduated in 1884 and practiced medicine for the rest of his life. He moved to the country where he set up his medical practice and continued writing. His scientific background and his experiences as a country doctor (often treating peasants for free) informed the realism of his stories.

After years of suffering from tuberculosis, Chekhov died at a spa in Badenweiler, Germany. He was only 44 years old.

Today, Chekhov is perhaps best known for his plays The Seagull (1894), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1900) and The Cherry Orchard (1903). However, it may be his 600 odd short stories that have left a far greater mark on Western literature. The modern short story has been around since the likes of Washington Irvine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. In Chekhov’s own time, the genre flourished under the pens of Igor Tugenev (1818–1883), Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893) and O. Henry (1862–1910). But it is Chekhov that is almost universally considered to be the greatest of them all and his influence has been acknowledged by later short story writers including James Joyce, William Faulkner, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Carver and John Cheever.

Because of the sheer number of Chekhov’s short stories, it is difficult to know where to start. Many commentators suggest the following as starting points: The Lady with the Little Dog (1899), Ward No. 6 (1892), The Darling (1899), Gusev (1890), The Hunstman (1885), and A Dreary Story (1889). Chekhov linked three well known stories in a trilogy sometimes referred to as “The Little Trilogy” (1898): The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, and About Love. Anton Chekhov himself has written that he personally liked The Student (1894).

What is the story about?

A Dreary Story (sometimes translated as A Boring Story) is one of Chekhov’s longer works. It is a first person account by Nikolay Stepanovitch, who after a long distinguished career as a professor was now convinced (it is not clear why he thinks so) that he had only 6 months to live. “I am celebrated a thousand times over, that I am a hero of whom my country is proud. They publish bulletins of my illness in every paper, letters of sympathy come to me by post from my colleagues, my pupils, the general public; but all that does not prevent me from dying in a strange bed, in misery, in utter loneliness. Of course, no one is to blame for that; but I in my foolishness dislike my popularity. I feel as though it had cheated me.” His only solace was his god daughter Katya but she left him, ending the story abruptly.

In The Man in a Case, Byelikov, an eccentric teacher of Greek, insulated himself from the world physically and mentally: “He was remarkable for always wearing goloshes and a warm wadded coat, and carrying an umbrella even in the very finest weather. And his umbrella was in a case, and his watch was in a case made of grey chamois leather, and when he took out his penknife to sharpen his pencil, his penknife, too, was in a little case; and his face seemed to be in a case too, because he always hid it in his turned-up collar. He wore dark spectacles and flannel vests, stuffed up his ears with cotton-wool, and when he got into a cab always told the driver to put up the hood. In short, the man displayed a constant and insurmountable impulse to wrap himself in a covering, to make himself, so to speak, a case which would isolate him and protect him from external influences. Reality irritated him, frightened him, kept him in continual agitation, and, perhaps to justify his timidity, his aversion for the actual, he always praised the past and what had never existed; and even the classical languages which he taught were in reality for him goloshes and umbrellas in which he sheltered himself from real life.” He appeared to have found bliss only in death: “Now when he was lying in his coffin his expression was mild, agreeable, even cheerful, as though he were glad that he had at last been put into a case which he would never leave again. Yes, he had attained his ideal!”

In Gooseberries, Nikolay Ivanovitch gave up a job as a government official and married a rich widow in order to fulfill his dreams of growing gooseberries on a farm he owned.  The poor clerk was so desperate to be (or be seen as) a successful landowner that he declared his sour and unripe gooseberries was delicious. The narrator quotes Pushkin “Dearer to us the falsehood that exalts / Than hosts of baser truths”. In his single-minded attempt to climb the social ladder, he is reminiscent of another Chekhov character, Yegor Vlassitch (The Huntsman).

Themes

Historical context: In the second half of the 19th century, Russia was a European military power. However, economically, it was falling behind the commercialised and industrialised western world. This was due partly to the feudal system in existence in Russia since the 17th century; under this system, a landowning noble had control (although legally he did not own) over the peasants (called serfs) who lived on his land. A census conducted in 1857 showed that there were around 23 million serfs, amounting to nearly 40% of the population and about 50% of the peasantry. Tsar Alexander II (reigned 1855–1881) issued the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861 proclaiming freedom and the rights of full citizens, eg. the right to own property etc, for serfs in 2 years. Ultimately, the reforms did not turn out to be entirely advantageous to the freed serfs. Many took up crippling mortgages to buy land at exorbitant prices. This condition provided fertile ground for revolutionary forces which would culminate in the two revolutions of 1917.

Literary style: The author William Boyd wrote in Prospect Magazine (10 Jul 2006): “Why is Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) routinely and correctly described as the greatest short story writer ever? All answers to this question will seem inadequate but, to put it very simply, the fact is that Chekhov, in his mature stories of the 1890s, revolutionised the short story by transforming narrative. Chekhov saw and understood that life is godless, random and absurd, that all history is the history of unintended consequences. He knew, for instance, that being good will not spare you from awful suffering and injustice, that the slothful can flourish effortlessly and that mediocrity is the one great daemonic force. By abandoning the manipulated beginning-middle-and-end plot, by refusing to judge his characters, by not striving for a climax or seeking neat narrative resolution, Chekhov made his stories appear agonisingly, almost unbearably lifelike.”

Chekhov’s stories share some common themes, namely a cast of Ivan Ivanovs (the Russian equivalent of Average Joes) caught in a spiral of helplessness and hopelessness, physical and mental disease and death. Another common feature is the stories often end anti-climatically (even abruptly).

Finally …

Worth reading.

Et cetera

English readers were first exposed to Chekhov’s works thanks to Constance Clara Garnett (née Black) (1861–1946), one of the first translators of Russian literature. Her translations of Chekhov’s works are in the public domain. They are collected in Project Gutenberg as The Tales of Chekhov, Volume 1 The Darling and Other Stories (10 stories, 1916), Volume 2 The Duel and Other Stories (8, 1916), Volume 3 The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories (99, 1917), Volume 4 The Party and Other Stories (11, 1917), Volume 5 The Wife and Other Stories (9, 1918), Volume 6 The Witch and Other Stories (15, 1918), Volume 7 The Bishop and Other Stories (7, 1919), Volume 8 The Chorus Girl and Other Stories (12, 1920), Volume 9 The Schoolmistress and Other Stories (21, 1920), Volume 10 The Horse Stealers and Other Stories (22, 1921), Volume 11 The Schoolmaster and Other Stories (29, 1921), Volume 12 The Cook’s Wedding and Other Stories (25, 1922), and Volume 13 Love and Other Stories (23, 1922).

There are two widely available collections in print. The Essential Tales of Chekhov (Harper Perennial, 2000) is edited by Richard Ford and features Constance Garnett’s translations of A Blunder, A Misfortune, A Trifle from Life, Difficult People, Hush!, Champagne, Enemies, The Kiss, Kashtanka, The Grasshopper, Neighbours, Ward No. 6, An Anonymous Story, Peasants, Gooseberries, About Love, The Darling, The New Villa, On Official Duty, and The Lady with the Dog. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the acclaimed translators of Russian literature, have their own take on Chekhov’s works. Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov (Modern Library, 2000) collects The Death of a Clerk (1883), Small Fry (1885), The Huntsman (1885), The Malefactor (1885), Panikhida, Anyuta (1886), Easter Night, Vanka (1886), Sleepy (1888), A Boring Story, Gusev, Peasant Women, The Fidget, In Exile, Ward No. 6, The Black Monk (1894), Rothschild’s Fiddle (1894), The Student, Anna on the Neck (1895), The House with the Mezzanine (1896), The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, A Medical Case (1898), The Darling, On Official Business (1899), The Lady with the Little Dog, At Christmastime (1900), In the Ravine (1900), The Bishop (1902), and The Fiancée (1903).

THE HORSE STEALERS AND OTHER STORIES

The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

Author: Anton Chekhov (1860–1904)
Translator: Constance Garnett (1861–1946)
Downloaded: iBooks

Introduction

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was born in the port town of Taganrog in Southern Russia, the third of six children in a close-knit middle-class family. In 1875, the family fled to Moscow to escape creditors. Chekhov remained behind to finish high school.

In 1879, Chekhov joined his family and entered the University of Moscow to study medicine. He wrote to pay for his education and to support his family. He graduated in 1884 and practiced medicine for the rest of his life. He moved to the country where he set up his medical practice and continued writing. His scientific background and his experiences as a country doctor (often treating peasants for free) informed the realism of his stories.

After years of suffering from tuberculosis, Chekhov died at a spa in Badenweiler, Germany. He was only 44 years old.

Today, Chekhov is perhaps best known for his plays The Seagull (1894), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1900) and The Cherry Orchard (1903). However, it may be his 600 odd short stories that have left a far greater mark on Western literature. The modern short story has been around since the likes of Washington Irvine, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville. In Chekhov’s own time, the genre flourished under the pens of Igor Tugenev (1818–1883), Guy de Maupassant (1850–1893) and O. Henry (1862–1910). But it is Chekhov that is almost universally considered to be the greatest of them all and his influence has been acknowledged by later short story writers including James Joyce, William Faulkner, Katherine Mansfield, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham, Raymond Carver and John Cheever.

Because of the sheer number of Chekhov’s short stories, it is difficult to know where to start. Many commentators suggest the following as starting points: The Lady with the Little Dog (1899), Ward No. 6 (1892), The Darling (1899), Gusev (1890), The Hunstman (1885), and A Dreary Story (1889). Chekhov linked three well known stories in a trilogy sometimes referred to as “The Little Trilogy” (1898): The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, and About Love. Anton Chekhov himself has written that he personally liked The Student (1894).

What is the story about?

Ward No. 6 is one of Chekhov’s most famous stories. Josef Stalin wrote in a letter to his sister: “When I had read this story, I was filled with awe. I could not remain in my room and went out of doors. I felt as if I were locked up in a ward too.” Dr. Andrey Yefimitch Rabin was the head of a hospital in a small town. He attacked his job earnestly when he first arrived. Then he was struck by futility of it all: “… indeed, why hinder people dying if death is the normal and legitimate end of everyone? What is gained if some shop-keeper or clerk lives an extra five or ten years? If the aim of medicine is by drugs to alleviate suffering, the question forces itself on one: why alleviate it? In the first place, they say that suffering leads man to perfection; and in the second, if mankind really learns to alleviate its sufferings with pills and drops, it will completely abandon religion and philosophy, in which it has hitherto found not merely protection from all sorts of trouble, but even happiness. Pushkin suffered terrible agonies before his death, poor Heine lay paralyzed for several years; why, then, should not some Andrey Yefimitch or Matryona Savishna be ill, since their lives had nothing of importance in them, and would have been entirely empty and like the life of an amoeba except for suffering?” He found stimulation only in the company of Ivan Gromov, one of the inmates in the hospital’s lunatic asylum. Rabin’s nihilism became so severe he was locked up in the same lunatic asylum. The ending is an early example of the stream-of-consciousness technique: “Towards evening Andrey Yefimitch died of an apoplectic stroke. At first he had a violent shivering fit and a feeling of sickness; something revolting as it seemed, penetrating through his whole body, even to his finger-tips, strained from his stomach to his head and flooded his eyes and ears. There was a greenness before his eyes. Andrey Yefimitch understood that his end had come, and remembered that Ivan Dmitritch, Mihail Averyanitch, and millions of people believed in immortality. And what if it really existed? But he did not want immortality—and he thought of it only for one instant. A herd of deer, extraordinarily beautiful and graceful, of which he had been reading the day before, ran by him; then a peasant woman stretched out her hand to him with a registered letter . . . . Mihail Averyanitch said something, then it all vanished, and Andrey Yefimitch sank into oblivion for ever.”

Rabin’s mental turmoil and physical degeneration are similar to that suffered by Andrei Kovrin (The Black Monk).

Themes

Historical context: In the second half of the 19th century, Russia was a European military power. However, economically, it was falling behind the commercialised and industrialised western world. This was due partly to the feudal system in existence in Russia since the 17th century; under this system, a landowning noble had control (although legally he did not own) over the peasants (called serfs) who lived on his land. A census conducted in 1857 showed that there were around 23 million serfs, amounting to nearly 40% of the population and about 50% of the peasantry. Tsar Alexander II (reigned 1855–1881) issued the Emancipation Manifesto in 1861 proclaiming freedom and the rights of full citizens, eg. the right to own property etc, for serfs in 2 years. Ultimately, the reforms did not turn out to be entirely advantageous to the freed serfs. Many took up crippling mortgages to buy land at exorbitant prices. This condition provided fertile ground for revolutionary forces which would culminate in the two revolutions of 1917.

Literary style: The author William Boyd wrote in Prospect Magazine (10 Jul 2006): “Why is Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) routinely and correctly described as the greatest short story writer ever? All answers to this question will seem inadequate but, to put it very simply, the fact is that Chekhov, in his mature stories of the 1890s, revolutionised the short story by transforming narrative. Chekhov saw and understood that life is godless, random and absurd, that all history is the history of unintended consequences. He knew, for instance, that being good will not spare you from awful suffering and injustice, that the slothful can flourish effortlessly and that mediocrity is the one great daemonic force. By abandoning the manipulated beginning-middle-and-end plot, by refusing to judge his characters, by not striving for a climax or seeking neat narrative resolution, Chekhov made his stories appear agonisingly, almost unbearably lifelike.”

Chekhov’s stories share some common themes, namely a cast of Ivan Ivanovs (the Russian equivalent of Average Joes) caught in a spiral of helplessness and hopelessness, physical and mental disease, and death. Another common feature is the stories often end anti-climatically (even abruptly).

Finally …

Worth rereading.

Et cetera

English readers were first exposed to Chekhov’s works thanks to Constance Clara Garnett (née Black) (1861–1946), one of the first translators of Russian literature. Her translations are in the public domain. They are collected in Project Gutenberg as The Tales of Chekhov, Volume 1 The Darling and Other Stories (10 stories, 1916), Volume 2 The Duel and Other Stories (8, 1916), Volume 3 The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories (99, 1917), Volume 4 The Party and Other Stories (11, 1917), Volume 5 The Wife and Other Stories (9, 1918), Volume 6 The Witch and Other Stories (15, 1918), Volume 7 The Bishop and Other Stories (7, 1919), Volume 8 The Chorus Girl and Other Stories (12, 1920), Volume 9 The Schoolmistress and Other Stories (21, 1920), Volume 10 The Horse Stealers and Other Stories (22, 1921), Volume 11 The Schoolmaster and Other Stories (29, 1921), Volume 12 The Cook’s Wedding and Other Stories (25, 1922), and Volume 13 Love and Other Stories (23, 1922).

There are two widely available collections in print. The Essential Tales of Chekhov (Harper Perennial, 2000) is edited by Richard Ford and features Constance Garnett’s translations of A Blunder, A Misfortune, A Trifle from Life, Difficult People, Hush!, Champagne, Enemies, The Kiss, Kashtanka, The Grasshopper, Neighbours, Ward No. 6, An Anonymous Story, Peasants, Gooseberries, About Love, The Darling, The New Villa, On Official Duty, and The Lady with the Dog. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the acclaimed translators of Russian literature, have their own take on Chekhov’s works. Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov (Modern Library, 2000) collects The Death of a Clerk (1883), Small Fry (1885), The Huntsman (1885), The Malefactor (1885), Panikhida, Anyuta (1886), Easter Night, Vanka (1886), Sleepy (1888), A Boring Story, Gusev, Peasant Women, The Fidget, In Exile, Ward No. 6, The Black Monk (1894), Rothschild’s Fiddle (1894), The Student, Anna on the Neck (1895), The House with the Mezzanine (1896), The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, A Medical Case (1898), The Darling, On Official Business (1899), The Lady with the Little Dog, At Christmastime (1900), In the Ravine (1900), The Bishop (1902), and The Fiancée (1903).