The Undiscovered Chekhov: Forty-Three New Stories

Chekhov, Anton

Published by Seven Stories Press, 1999
ISBN 10: 1888363762 / ISBN 13: 9781888363760
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Synopsis: The Undiscovered Chekhov gives us, in rich abundance, a new Chekhov. Peter Constantine's historic collection presents 38 new stories and with them a fresh interpretation of the Russian master. In contrast to the brooding representative of a dying century we have seen over and over, here is Chekhov's work from the 1880s, when Chekhov was in his twenties and his writing was sharp, witty and innovative.
Many of the stories in The Undiscovered Chekhov reveal Chekhov as a keen modernist. Emphasizing impressions and the juxtaposition of incongruent elements, instead of the straight narrative his readers were used to, these stories upturned many of the assumptions of storytelling of the period.
Here is "Sarah Bernhardt Comes to Town," written as a series of telegrams, beginning with "Have been drinking to Sarah's health all week! Enchanting! She actually dies standing up!..." In "Confession...," a thirty-nine year old bachelor recounts some of the fifteen times chance foiled his marriage plans. In "How I Came to be Lawfully Wed," a couple reminisces about the day they vowed to resist their parents' plans that they should marry. And in the more familiarly Chekhovian "Autumn," an alcoholic landowner fallen low and a peasant from his village meet far from home in a sad and haunting reunion in which the action of the story is far less important than the powerful impression it leaves with the reader that each man must live his life and has his reasons.

Review: Here's a treat for any Chekhov lover: a collection of 38 previously untranslated stories by the Russian master. Even better, these stories date back to the 1880s, when the author was still in his 20s and at his most prolific. That he wrote at all is something of a miracle--unlike other great Russian authors of his time (Dostoevski, Pushkin, Tolstoy, to name a few), Anton Chekhov was not a member of the nobility. The son of a bankrupt grocer, he entered medical school and became, at the same time, the breadwinner for his impoverished family by cranking out stories for magazines. His revolutionary approach to literature was apparent from the get-go. In "Sarah Bernhardt Comes to Town," for example, Chekhov uses a string of telegrams instead of a conventional narrative to tell his story. ("Telegram: Have been drinking to Sarah's health all week! Enchanting! She actually dies standing up! Our actors can't touch the Parisians!") Even more unusual for 19th-century literature is the apparent lack of a plot. The telegrams are simply a collection of reactions to a single performance, from an usher ("Let in four. Fourteen rubles. Let in five. Fifteen r. Let in three and one madame. Fifteen rubles") to a doctor ("Last night I saw S.B. Her chest--paralytic and flat. Skeletal and muscular structure--unsatisfactory") to various members of the audience ("Darling! When it comes to Sarah Bernhardt, as the saying goes: you can dip a frog in honey but it doesn't mean I'll eat it").

All the qualities the more mature Chekhov is known for in his later works are apparent in these early stories: unconventional narratives, tremendous wit, psychological perspicacity, and above all that peculiarly modern interest in why human beings behave the way they do. Translator Peter Constantine's introduction gives readers both a good overview of Chekhov's life and a literary context for appreciating the stories collected here, but it is Chekhov himself whose remarkable brilliance will keep readers coming back for more. --Alix Wilber

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Title: The Undiscovered Chekhov: Forty-Three New ...
Publisher: Seven Stories Press
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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