My Top 10 Chekhov Stories

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Chekhov looking quite dapper.

I’m sorry I took so long to finish this post… it can take me a while to read books of short stories. I think it’s because there are a lot of new characters (especially in Russian literature) and I need time to stop and process each story before reading the next one.

For this review, I read two anthologies of stories by Anton Chekhov: The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories translated by Constance Garnett, and Forty Stories translated by Robert Payne. The first was a free ebook on Amazon.

Chekhov stories tend to center around one of three major themes: adultery, poverty, and illness. Such cheerful topics! He takes on each of these with such candor and grace that you feel like you’re right there with the characters. Yet I thought there was something rather tame about them… I found myself drifting off frequently. Maybe it’s just a symptom of my modern high-speed tastes, but his stories feel like a cold wind from a long-forgotten cellar. I’m not over-familiar with social expectations of 1880s Russia, so I think I missed a few of the jokes. Even when they’re dark, the stories are very comforting and aim to elicit sympathy, and there’s a kind of old-fashioned attitude in his work that I think would appeal best to an older, feminine audience. I can see why Francine Prose would have recommended them so highly, based on the personality she presents in Reading Like a Writer.

Even if some of them are kind of a slog, they’re all very well-written. The level of detail in each story is amazing and the range of characters is incredible. The plots are also tight, unique, and logical. Here I’ll try to present to you some of what I think are the least sloggy and most memorable pieces from the two collections I read:

  1. A Doctor’s Visit – A story about the true ends of factory labor. A doctor is called to treat the factory owner’s daughter and is surprised to find out that what’s ailing her is her wealth.

  2. Who is to Blame? – A short allegory involving a kitten. Anyone who’s had an overzealous teacher turn them off a subject will probably relate well to it.

  3. An Anonymous Story – A long story, but a beautiful one. It’s about a spy who takes a position as a servant in an official’s house to have a chance at killing the official’s father. The official has a love affair, and the woman moves in with them (seemingly without the official’s consent). The strength of this story is the intense conflicts between characters.

  4. Volodya – This story is adolescence. So, so, awkward, but so awesome. If you like dark stories about teenagers, you’ll probably like this one.

  5. The Princess – About a princess who believes her charity projects are accomplishing real good, when all she’s doing is making the peasants’ lives even more inconvenient. It’s satirical but also sad because the princess is oblivious to the true feelings of everyone around her while believing she’s extremely empathetic. An interesting type of frame narrative, since the person who the story is being told to is also the main character in the framed story.

  6. The Ninny – A touching, short piece about a man who sits down to talk with his children’s nanny about her salary.

  7. Green Scythe – A romantic story about how a group of friends who meet up every summer save their female friend from marrying an ugly, awkward guy who she’d promised to wed some years before.

  8. The Black Monk – A man sees an imaginary black monk who travels over space and time to speak to him. The man treasures his hallucinations and feels lifeless when he “recovers” and stops having them. Similar to the movie “Harvey”.

  9. The Bride – A girl is set to be married, but her friend Sasha wants her to go away from her home and study. She has to decide whether to fulfill the wishes of others or pursue her own path in life. Her relationships with her family and with Sasha are very endearing.

  10. The Bishop – A bittersweet story about a bishop who sees beauty in the world but has few connections to people because his prestige makes it difficult for people to approach him genuinely.

Bonus: The Proposal: A Story for Girls – a short piece poking fun at girl’s expectations about romance. It’s very dry and funny (I think… some might disagree!).

What are your favorite Chekhov stories?

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6 thoughts on “My Top 10 Chekhov Stories

  1. I strongly believe that The Lady with a Little Dog, The Bet, A Chameleon and The Head Gardener’s Story should have made the cut. It is a great list, nonetheless.

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