My favorite stories tended to be the shorter ones that focused on one character or one couple. They each had a sad, poignant ending, and yet I loved the beauty in them. Chekhov didn’t try to say too much in each story, and I finished each one with a sigh, wanting to let my emotions simmer before I went on to the next story. Many of them reminded me that life is challenging and full of depressing things, and yet we all still go on day by day. Explaining Chekhov in those words makes his stories sound depressing, and they were in a sense, but overall, they were beautiful at the same time.
My favorites were these:
- “The Student.” I discussed last week how and why the student’s transformation from sadness to joy touched me.
- “The Kiss.” A shy and unpopular army officer receives an unexpected kiss from an unknown woman; his life is transformed by the experience in two ways.
- “Peasant Women.” The story of a peasant woman inspires other peasant women who feel trapped in their lives.
- “The Fidget.” A flighty woman marries a renowned doctor and realizes too late that her lifestyle is unfulfilling: her husband’s love could have brought her true happiness.
- “Anna on the Neck.” When her impoverished father marries Anna to a rich man, her family believes their financial trials are over; Anna finds her place in her new life.
- “The Lady with the Little Dog.” While on holiday, a man instigates an affair; at the end of the holiday, he and she agree to return to their spouses without further contact, but neither can forget the other.
Harold Bloom summarizes “The Kiss,” “The Student,” and “The Lady with the Little Dog” in How to Read and Why. He claims that Chekhov’s stories are great because of
[T]he formal delicacy and somber reflectiveness … make him the indispensable artist of the unlived life. … One should write, Chekhov said, so that the reader needs no explanations from the author. The actions, conversations, and meditations of the characters had to be sufficient… (page 37)
That is exactly why I loved reading Chekhov: the action and thoughts of the characters told the story, rather than the descriptions of the author.
I appreciate the rest of Bloom’s remarks on these stories. Although I felt differently than Bloom did on reading the stories, I still appreciated reading what grabbed his attention.
What grabs your attention in Chekhov? Do you have a favorite story I may have missed?