Anton Chekhov Essay - Anton Chekhov Short Story Criticism

Anton Chekhov Short Story Criticism

Introduction

Anton Chekhov 1860–-1904

(Born Anton Pavlovich Chekhov; transliterated as Čexov, Chekov, Tchehov, Tchekhov, Cechov, Cexov, Cekov, Cecov, Cechov, Chekhoff, and Chehov; also wrote under the pseudonym of Antosha Chekhonte) Russian dramatist, novelist, and short story writer.

See also, "Gooseberries" Criticism.

Chekhov is commonly recognized as the most significant writer of the literary generation that ended the Golden Age of Russian authorship—the era of seminal novelists like Leo Tolstoy and Fedor Dostoevsky—and began the Silver Age—when the Russian symbolist movement flourished. He is parlously distinguished for his formal and thematic innovations in the short fiction and drama genres, and Chekhov's writing is marked by a profound depth of insight into the universal human condition. Although his early work demonstrated subjective sentiments and observations, the ultimate configuration of Chekhov's short fiction was one of supreme emotional balance and tonal control. This detached, rational artfulness distinguishes Chekhov's work from the confessional abandons of Dostoevsky or the psychological fantasies of Nikoali Gogol. Due to this literary composure, Chekhov is often considered to be a master of the modern short story and is perhaps the most important short story writer of all time. His writings have widely influenced world authors, especially short fiction luminaries such as Katherine Mansfield, Raymond Carver, James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, Franz Kafka, and Ernest Hemingway.

Biographical Information

Chekhov's grandfather was a serf who bought his freedom and Chekhov's father was a grocer in Taganrog, the village where Chekhov was born. When the family went bankrupt in 1876, the Chekhovs, without Anton, moved to Moscow to escape creditors; Anton remained in Taganrog until 1879, where he completed his education and earned a scholarship to Moscow University to study medicine. After graduation in 1884, Chekhov went into medical practice, gaining from this experience a wealth of knowledge that would later become evident in his fiction; in fact, Chekhov had already begun publishing sketches in popular magazines to help support his family. He wrote hundreds of light anecdotes and potboilers, mostly humorous, but failed to take them seriously. These early works, generally looked upon as the first major period of Chekhov's writing (1880–1887), did, however, display many Chekhovian narrative permutations in the short story genre: laconic introductions, impressionistic characterization through importance of detail, interior action, and surprise endings. Although the surprise ending did not originate with Chekhov's short fiction, he did coin the “zero ending,” as described by Russian critic Viktor Shklovsky. This innovation being the penchant for dislocating the narrative of a story from its expected denouement and diverting, sometimes deflating, the story line itself, allowing a stress among the factual and the supposed. Skazki Mel'pomene (Tales of Melpomene), Chekhov's first collection of short stories, appeared in 1884 and soon after he befriended Aleksey S. Suvorin, editor of the conservative Moscow daily journal Novoe vremja (New Times), in which Chekhov contributed his first truly literary pieces. From 1888 to 1893 Chekhov was profoundly influenced by Tolstoy's ethics concerning morality, nonresistance to evil, and altruism; and this began the second epoch of Chekhov's fiction in which he experimented with lyricism and thematic contrasts: beauty, sensitivity, and life as opposed to hideousness, banality, and death. After Chekhov made his investigatory journey to the eastern Siberian penal colony at Sakhalin in 1890—a trip he would later use as the subject of his sociological monograph Ostrov Sakhalin (The Island of Sakhalin, first published in the leftist monthly Russian Thought between 1893 and 1894; 1895 in book form)—he came to reject Tolstoyanism as an insufficient response to human suffering. This spiritual upheaval brought about Chekhov's third creative era during which he produced his most complex and unique short stories and dramas. In 1901 Chekhov married Olga Knipper, an actress with the Moscow Art Theater. Having earlier contracted pulmonary tuberculosis in 1884, Chekhov died at a German spa in 1904.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Chekhov's transition from the prodigiously written, early humor stories to tales marked by themes of isolation and concern with social and psychological problems was marked by experimentation, a philosophical searching, and a creative evolution from realism to a melancholic lyricism. Chekhov combined a keen use of brevity—gleaned from the stories of Guy de Maupassant—with a poetic and symbolic sensibility, culminating in new casts of short fiction, specifically the plotless story. “Step” (“The Steppe”), the long prose narrative published in 1888, is without external action and depicts an inner symbology expressed through the interaction of themes and counterthemes, motifs and countermotifs. Some early, serious stories produced by Chekhov were told from a child's point of view, a technique used earlier by Tolstoy. The tales are satires of the adult world as viewed through the lens of a child’s perception. An important story, “Spat khochetsya” (1888; “Sleepy”), depicts an exploited, young nursemaid who while watching the infant of her employers', strangles the baby in weariness and drops to sleep—relieved. Chekhov also included in this story an adept portraiture of a child's dreams. At the end of the 1880s Chekhov abandoned his pen name Antosha Chekhonte and adopted the doctrine of nonresistance to all evil, an influence of Tolstoy. This led Chekhov to write stories such as “Pripadok” (1888; “The Nervous Breakdown”), about the immorality of prostitution and “Khoroshie lyudi” (1886; “Good People”), a moralizing story that celebrates labor and passivity to iniquity. In further stories, such as “Nepriyatnost” (1888; “An Unpleasantness”) and “Vragi” (1887; “Enemies”), Chekhov advocated Tolstoy's belief in the immorality and futility of violence and anger. However, beginning in the 1890s, Chekhov no longer wrote stories overshadowed by Tolstoy's moral dogma. In “Palata No. 6” (1892; “Ward No. 6”), Chekhov rejected the religious and ethical tenets of Tolstoy's philosophy, specifically in that the character Gromov explicitly besets the tenet of nonresistance to wickedness. Chekhov's trip to Sakhalin was largely responsible for this narrative mutation and philosophical rejection of Tolstoy; for it produced in Chekhov a concern for social issues such as the injustice, corruption, and violence of Russian society, and it was after this experience that his writing was dramatically refashioned. The stories “Vory” (“Thieves”) and “Gusev,” both completed in 1890 after his return from the penal colony, along with “Baby” (1891; “Peasant Wives”) and “V ssylke” (1892; “In Exile”) all serve to demonstrate Chekhov's new social commitment. “Peasant Wives,” which depicts the oppression of women in a patriarchal peasant society, prefigures later Chekhov stories like “V ovrage” (1900; “In the Ravine”) which also demonstrates concern for the mistreatment of women. In “Zhena” (1892; “The Wife”), Chekhov renders the effects of famine on the Russian peasantry, coloring the landlords and philanthropic aristocracy as pococurante and ineffectual, and displaying a self-conscious didacticism. “In Exile” is also consumed with social evils and was inspired by the Sakhalin sojourn, but is more subtle in its portrayal of Siberian exiles—contrasting a young Tatar who longs for his wife and homeland with a patrician, abandoned by his wife, who yens for a doctor to save his dying daughter. During this time, Chekhov was not only absorbed with worldly issues, but also sought to establish his own individual philosophy toward the world. The stories “Skuchnaya istoriya” (1889; “A Dreary Story”), “The Duel” (1891), “Gusev,” “Ward No. 6,” and “Chorny Monakh” (1894; “The Black Monk”) consider specific philosophical questions and ideas, suchlike the human proclivity for the intellect and science. In “A Dreary Story,” a scientist is isolated and miserable due to his unhealthy obsession with the rules of science; “Gusev” satirizes the superciliousness of the intellect; “The Duel,” Chekhov's lengthiest story, describes a scientist consumed with the Nietzschean concept of a superman; in “Ward No. 6,” capitulation to evil is conjugated with an over-importance of the intellect; and “The Black Monk” renders a scientist visited by the specter of a monk who informs the former of his omnipotence—stemming from the scientific intellect. Of Chekhov's most mature stories, spanning the years 1894 to 1904, a common, uniting theme is one of concern toward the newly emerging strata of Russian society. Chekhov was interested in the keen sense of isolation felt by Russians in both the social orders of the new bourgeoisie and the village peasantry. Chekhov charged the stories “Babe tsarstvo” (1894; “A Woman's Kingdom”), “Sluchay iz praktiki” (1898; “A Doctor's Visit”), and “Novaya dacha” (1899; “The New Villa”) with motifs of solitariness and the failure of communication amongst humankind. In 1898 Chekhov published his short story trilogy “Chelovek v futlyare” (“The Man in a Shell”), “Kryzhovnik” (“Gooseberries”), and “O lyubvi” (“About Love”), which consider characters who insulate themselves from others and warns of man's inclination for social withdrawal and the spiritual stricture individuals place on themselves. Toward the end of his life, Chekhov underwent a transformation in his world-view through his short fiction. “Dushechka” (1898; “The Darling”), “Dama s sobachkoy” (1899; “The Lady with a Dog”; 1899), and his last story “Nevesta” (1903; “The Betrothed”) retain a tenuous and somewhat rueful optimism, allowing the characters sympathy and hope for spiritual fulfillment. “The Betrothed” exemplifies the pinnacle of Chekhov's innovation in the short fiction form. Herein one can grasp the radical character of Chekhov's prose: its manipulation of time and space, preference for an interior lyricism, and poetic and symbolic implementation of syncretism, all elements common to the contemporary short story.

Critical Reception

Reception to Chekhov's short stories varied widely during his lifetime. Chekhov was often vilified in the press for his alleged indifference to the dolor of mankind, as well as to other social and political questions. A month before his trip to Sakhalin, Vukol Lavrov accused Chekhov so sharply of “unprincipledness” in Russian Thought that for the first and last time Chekhov wrote a riposte. Social concerns aside, however, Chekhov is acknowledged as one of the most illustrious writers of short fiction. In 1888 Chekhov was awarded the Pushkin Prize for his volume of short stories, V sumerkakh (In the Twilight), published in 1887, and lauded by J. Middleton Murry as early as 1920 as “a standard by which modern literary effort must be measured.” Even though Chekhov has been viewed as an utter pessimist, largely due to his realistic portrayal of Russian society during an era of imminent revolution, his personally expressed view was one of uneasy optimism with regard to social progress and scientific advancement. Chekhov's literary artistry, combined with his medical knowledge and insight into human textures, resulted in short stories that have altered the narrative standards for an entire literary form.

Principal Works

Skazki Mel'pomene 1884

Pestrye rasskazy 1886

Nevinnye rechi 1887

V sumerkakh 1887

Rasskazy 1889

The Black Monk, and Other Stories 1903

The Kiss, and Other Stories 1908

The Darling, and Other Stories 1916

The Duel, and Other Stories 1916

The Tales of Tchehov 1916–1922

The Lady with the Dog, and Other Stories 1917

The Party, and Other Stories 1917

The Wife, and Other Stories 1918

The Witch, and...

(The entire section is 146 words.)

Criticism

Leonid Grossman (essay date 1914)

SOURCE: Grossman, Leonid. “The Naturalism of Chekhov.” In Chekhov, A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Louis Jackson, pp. 32–48. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967.

[In the following essay, originally published in Vestnik Evropy in 1914, Grossman describes the influence of several authors, including Maupassant and Flaubert, upon Chekhov and his use of symbolism.]

“In Goethe the naturalist got along wonderfully with the poet,” Chekhov wrote in one of his letters. And did he not in this brief sentence express with his usual compactness his view of the perfect artist while at the same time he neatly characterized his own art?...

(The entire section is 7347 words.)

Robert Lynd (essay date 1919)

SOURCE: Lynd, Robert. “Tchehov: The Perfect Story-Teller.” In Old and New Masters, pp. 171–77. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1919.

[In the following essay, Lynd discusses Chekhov's talent for portraying ordinary people as the basis of a tragic realism.]

It is the custom when praising a Russian writer to do so at the expense of all other Russian writers. It is as though most of us were monotheists in our devotion to authors, and could not endure to see any respect paid to the rivals of the god of the moment. And so one year Tolstoy is laid prone as Dagon, and, another year, Turgenev. And, no doubt, the day will come when Dostoevsky will fall from his huge...

(The entire section is 2302 words.)

Dorothy Brewster and Angus Burrell (essay date 1925)

SOURCE: Brewster, Dorothy and Angus Burrell. “Soundings: Fiction of A. P. Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield.” In Dead Reckonings in Fiction, pp. 42–70. Toronto: Longmans, Green and Co., 1925.

[In the following essay, Brewster and Burrell discuss the various critical opinions of Chekhov, including accusations of immorality, and compare Chekhov's and Katherine Mansfield's use of concrete imagery.]

I

Strether's experience in The Ambassadors took all his categories by surprise. Nothing better could happen to anyone, for categories are perilously convenient. We naturally tend to thrust people and all the relations between them into...

(The entire section is 7208 words.)

Dorothy Brewster and Angus Burrell (essay date 1925)

SOURCE: Brewster, Dorothy and Angus Burrell. “Salvaging the Short Story: Chekhov and Mansfield Continued.” In Dead Reckonings in Fiction, pp. 71–100. Toronto: Longmans, Green and Co., 1925.

[In the following essay, Brewster and Burrell continue their deliberation on Chekhov’s and Mansfield's short fiction.]

I

Although the stories we have been discussing [see previous essay] are not, according to conventional definition, Short Stories, something does happen in them by way of finality or climax. Yegorusha comes to the end of his journey; Harry Kember tries to seduce Beryl Fairfield. But what of the stories where absolutely nothing comes...

(The entire section is 6990 words.)

Renato Poggioli (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: Poggioli, Renato. “Storytelling in a Double Key.” In Anton Chekhov's Short Stories: Texts of the Stories, Background, Criticism, edited by Ralph E. Matalaw, pp. 307–28. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1957, Poggioli comments upon Chekhov's early stories and their relative importance in anticipating the author's later, more accomplished short fiction.]

I. A CRITIQUE OF SIX CHEKHOV TALES

Chekhov's early stories are of some interest to the critic only inasmuch as they anticipate the accomplished master, destined to mature a few years later. Otherwise, their importance is...

(The entire section is 10400 words.)

V. V. Golubkov (essay date 1958)

SOURCE: Golubkov, V. V. “Čexov's Lyrico-Dramatic Stories.1” In Anton Čexov as a Master of Story-Writing, edited by Leo Hulanicki and David Savignac, pp. 135–67. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1976.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1958, Golubkov inspects Chekhov's social consciousness, which continued to maturate throughout his life, and the lyricism so prevalent in his short fiction.]

Remember that those writers whom we call immortal or simply good and who intoxicate us have one highly important feature in common: they go somewhere and beckon you, and you sense, not with your intellect, but...

(The entire section is 15029 words.)

A. Derman (essay date 1959)

SOURCE: Derman, A. “Structural Features in Čexov's Poetics1.” In Anton Čexov as a Master of Story-Writing, edited by Leo Hulanicki and David Savignac, pp. 107–18. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1976.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1959, Derman dilates upon Chekhov's technique for a story's beginning and ending.]

1

Čexov occupies one of the highest places among those literary artists who in their work not only use the resources allowed by scholarship—they all use them, even those who deny that they resort to them and state that they rely exclusively on their own intuition—but also...

(The entire section is 5508 words.)

Dmitri Chizhevsky (essay date 1960)

SOURCE: Chizhevsky, Dmitri. “Chekhov in the Development of Russian Literature.” In Chekhov, A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Louis Jackson, pp. 49–61 Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1960, Chizhevsky expatiates Chekhov's place in the history of Russian literature.]

Chekhov still has no firm place in the history of Russian literature. Of course, one often ranks him among the “realists”; thus one is compelled for chronological reasons to place him alongside such epigones of realism as V. Korolenko and D. Mamin-Sibiryak. Or should one identify him with such representatives of the...

(The entire section is 5337 words.)

Vadim Nazarenko (essay date 1961)

SOURCE: Nazarenko, Vadim. “Imagery in Čexov.1” In Anton Čexov as a Master of Story-Writing, edited by Leo Hulanicki and David Savignac, pp. 131–34. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1976.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1961, Nazarenko discusses verbal imagery in Chekhov's writing.]

The key to the understanding of verbal imagery is not found in a narrow linguistic sphere. A word becomes image-bearing only when it proves itself able to evoke the images of the real world which are alive in us. The most sophisticated means of linguistic imagery of A. Efimov's sort can turn out to be fruitless.2 But even the...

(The entire section is 1897 words.)

Frank O'Connor (essay date 1962)

SOURCE: O'Connor, Frank. “The Slave's Son.” In The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story, pp. 78–98. Cleveland: The World Publishing Company, 1962.

[In the following essay, O'Connor descants the changing face of the short story, particularly with Chekhov.]

There is still no satisfactory book on Anton Chekhov, and this is scarcely to be wondered at. He has been the victim of more enthusiastic misunderstanding than any short-story writer, praised for all the wrong reasons and imitated in ways that would have astonished him. In literature as in life he was a difficult man; diffident and evasive, hard to pin down to any positive statement except perhaps that...

(The entire section is 5951 words.)

V. V. Vinogradov (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: Vinogradov, V. V. “On Čexov's Style.1” In Anton Čexov as a Master of Story-Writing, edited by Leo Hulanicki and David Savignac, pp. 169–84. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1976.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1963, Vinogradov remarks upon speech characterization in Chekhov's short stories.]

In Čexov, the devices of socio-professional speech characterization reached great depth and stylistic subtlety.2 Commenting on the style of A. M. Fedorov's play An Ordinary Woman, he wrote the following in a letter to the author: “Volodja is good … but, he should be a mechanic or have been one....

(The entire section is 7019 words.)

Thomas Winner (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: Winner, Thomas. “The First Serious Stories: From Antosha Chekhonte to Anton Chekhov.” In Chekhov and His Prose, pp. 17–44. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966.

[In the following essay, Winner discusses Chekhov's transition from light, humorous fiction to the more serious stories of the late 1880s.]

The early Chekhov has been thought of only as a humorist. But some of the early works are serious in tone and begin to suggest the transition to be effected by the end of the 1880's, when Chekhov abandoned forever the role of Antosha Chekhonte for that of Anton Chekhov, the creator of the significant stories and plays on which his fame rests today....

(The entire section is 8920 words.)

Thomas Winner (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: Winner, Thomas. “Early Social Stories.” In Chekhov and His Prose, pp. 81–8. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966.

[In the following essay, Winner dilates upon Chekhov's serious stories of the 1890s.]

In 1890, after Chekhov's visit to the Russian penal colony on the island of Sakhalin, he became increasingly concerned with a search for a more clearly defined world view and for an answer to the question of the moral responsibility of the writer. He also began to think more seriously of social problems, and his writings voiced a degree of social criticism previously unknown in his work. His observation of the sharp cleavages in Russian society brought...

(The entire section is 2561 words.)

Thomas Winner (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: Winner, Thomas. “The Searching Stories II: ‘The Black Monk.’” In Chekhov and His Prose, pp. 113–22. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966.

[In the following essay, Winner attempts to connect Chekhov's later works, such as “The Black Monk,” with the earlier “searching stories” in terms of their philosophical leanings.]

In 1894 Chekhov completed “The Black Monk” on which he had worked during the summer of 1893, the fourth, and last, of the series of philosophical stories begun in 1889 with “A Dreary Story.” While in Chekhov's later works philosophical questions are no longer posed so directly as they are in the searching stories,...

(The entire section is 2851 words.)

Rufus W. Mathewson, Jr. (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: Mathewson, Rufus W., Jr. “Intimations of Mortality in Four Čexov Stories.” In American Contributions to the Sixth International Congress of Slavists, edited by William E. Harkins, pp. 261–79. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1968.

[In the following essay, Mathewson examines the concept of immortality in Chekhov's stories “The Kiss,” “Gusev,” “Ionyc,” and “The Lady with the Dog.”]

From time to time characters in Čexov's stories look out at the natural world that encompasses their social existence. Their glances at the horizon, at the stars, the sunset, the sea, alter their understanding of the world, and thus reorder...

(The entire section is 8630 words.)

A. V. Cicerin (essay date 1968)

SOURCE: Cicerin, A. V. “The Role of Adversative Intonation in Čexov's Prose.1” In Anton Čexov as a Master of Story-Writing, edited by Leo Hulanicki and David Savignac, pp. 187–91. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1976.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1968, Cicerin refutes the common claim that Chekhov's stories are clear and simple, using as examples the indecisive and conjectural speech found in the stories themselves.]

“The style of Čexov's stories is clear, transparent, and simple; it is characterized by accuracy in every expression he uses.” There is no need to give the source of this quotation. It can be...

(The entire section is 2265 words.)

G. N. Pospelov (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: Pospelov, G. N. “The Style of Čexov's Tales.1” In Anton Čexov as a Master of Story-Writing, edited by Leo Hulanicki and David Savignac, pp. 119–30. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1976.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1970, Pospelov demonstrates how Chekhov used neoteric and original literary devices and principles to transcend traditional literary constructions.]

The stories which he wrote at the end of the 1880s show that Čexov was already surmounting the canons of sujet construction which had become traditional in literature and that he was advancing new principles. This primarily affected the...

(The entire section is 5827 words.)

Karl D. Kramer (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: Kramer, Karl D. “Short Story: The Art of Moral Revelation.” In The Chameleon and the Dream, pp. 11–27. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1970.

[In the following essay, Kramer scrutinizes the development of the short story by Chekhov and other authors, including the connection between the nineteenth century tale and the twentieth century short story.]

One of the most representative practitioners of the short story, Anton Čexov appeared at a point in the history of the genre when its fundamental qualities were undergoing refinement. Before looking at the process of Čexov's individual literary development, one needs to isolate these...

(The entire section is 7541 words.)

Karl D. Kramer (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: Kramer, Karl D. “Stories of Ambiguity.” In The Chameleon and the Dream, pp. 153–73. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton & Co. B. V., 1970.

[In the following essay, Kramer discusses ambiguities in meaning as seen in Chekhov's stories.]

One could, with respect to terminology, talk about either ambiguity or paradox in describing that particular aspect of Čexov's work which in volves the concept of meaning in the later stories. If the term ‘ambiguity’ ordinarily denotes situations in which two or more interpretations can coexist, then it refers to a “both-and” type of relationship. The term ‘paradox’ normally indicates contradictory meanings,...

(The entire section is 9394 words.)

Donald Rayfield (essay date 1975)

SOURCE: Rayfield, Donald. “The Student.” In Anton Chekhov's Short Stories: Texts of the Stories, Background, Criticism, edited by Ralph E. Matalaw, pp. 335–38. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1979.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1975, Rayfield examines the placement of Chekhov's story “The Student,” between the author's “Steppe” stories of the later 1880s and his more lyrical prose of the 1890s and early 1900s.]

The mystic side of Chekhov—his irrational intuition that there is meaning and beauty in the cosmos, which aligns him more to Leskov than to Tolstoy in the Russian literary tradition—is very nearly suppressed in the...

(The entire section is 1490 words.)

Beverly Hahn (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: Hahn, Beverly. “The Short Story—I.” In Chekhov: A Study of the Major Stories and Plays, pp. 52–68. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

[In the following essay, Hahn examines Chekhov's correspondence with the older author Grigorovich, who urged him to pursue a more careful and refined writing style, and the profound effects this advice had upon the young Chekhov.]

The year 1886 was one of the turning-points in Chekhov's life and work. As “The Huntsman” and “Sorrow” show, his development from his often coarse and banal beginnings in such things as the Dragonfly ‘advertisements’ was quite rapid. But in March 1886 that...

(The entire section is 7742 words.)

Beverly Hahn (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: Hahn, Beverly. “The Short Story—II.” In Chekhov: A Study of the Major Stories and Plays, pp. 69–91. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

[In the following essay, Hahn investigates creative tension in Chekhov's stories.]

Among the very finest stories of 1886 and 1887 are “Easter Eve” and the better-known “Enemies”. In their different ways they show Chekhov to be already a master of the short-story form. The limitations to which I have been pointing in the minor but serious stories up to this period—chiefly the over-dependence on a single landscape metaphor—are overcome here, and both stories make a positive value out of a creative...

(The entire section is 9972 words.)

David Martin (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Martin, David. “Figurative Language and Concretism in Čechov's Short Stories.” Russian Literature 8, no. 2 (March 1980): 125–49.

[In the following essay, Martin discusses Chekhov's use of figurative language, including comparison, simile, and metaphor, and how abstract-to-concrete similes give expression to the author's thematic and philosophic ideas.]

1.

There are many ways in which Čechov introduces elements of the physical world into the treatment of abstract ideas or emotions in his short stories. Whilst frequently they relate to questions of environment or setting, of interest here also is his elucidation of abstractions,...

(The entire section is 8761 words.)

Donald Rayfield (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Rayfield, Donald. “The Consequences of Sakhalin.” In Understanding Chekhov, pp. 93–113. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Rayfield considers Chekhov's short stories in relation to the latter's Sakhalin journey.]

Disillusionment in literature and in critical reception was one factor that impelled Chekhov in 1890 to desert literature for an investigatory journey to Sakhalin. But he had other reasons for his self-imposed ordeal, for which the preparations were inexorably thorough once the initial decision had been taken. Why Sakhalin? Perhaps because it was the most arduous and longest journey he could undertake, without...

(The entire section is 10661 words.)

Donald Rayfield (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Rayfield, Donald. “Melikhovo.” In Understanding Chekhov, pp. 114–34. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Rayfield surveys the stories Chekhov produced while living on his Melikhovo estate during the 1890s.]

The six years that Chekhov lived on his estate of Melikhovo gave him both contentment and frustration, both leisure and physical and mental exhaustion. The stories written at the start of this period, between 1893–5, are among the most intense but not always the most perfect of his mature work. The intensity derives from the re-appearance of women among his active characters and with the theme of the hero's bondage...

(The entire section is 10556 words.)

Donald Rayfield (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Rayfield, Donald. “Peasants.” In Understanding Chekhov, pp. 183–97. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Rayfield scrutinizes the peasant tales of Chekhov.]

The narrator's chief preoccupation both in “The House with the Mezzanine” and “My Life” is with the degradation of the peasantry and the gulf between what the peasant should be, and is, as well as between the narrator and the peasant. Both narrators argue, with more or less sincerity, that civilisation in Russia will be worthless until the peasant has been liberated from want and can grow spiritually. Transferring the setting of The Wood Demon to the...

(The entire section is 7748 words.)

Donald Rayfield (essay date 1999)

SOURCE: Rayfield, Donald. “Love.” In Understanding Chekhov, pp. 198–212. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1999.

[In the following essay, Rayfield ponders Chekhov's late 1890s stories depicting love.]

“The House with the Mezzanine” and the stories of love, requited or not, consummated or not, of 1898–9 reveal a radical change in Chekhov's attitude to woman and sexuality. Even the aggressive activist—Lida Volchaninova or Masha Dolzhikova, even the vicious Aksinia Tsybukina—who condemns the narrator to solitude, or the family to ruin, no longer personifies a Schopenhauerian female force; and she is balanced by the persistent, if passive and...

(The entire section is 7909 words.)