Happy birthday Anton Chekhov
Today only: in celebration of the birth and work of Anton Chekhov, we’re offering both books published by Melville House for just $5 each. That’s 50% off the list price!
One of the most celebrated authors of all time, Chekhov remains a source of inspiration and admiration to readers and writers everywhere. Two of his books, My Life and The Duel, are part Melville House’s Art of the Novella series. Below, read excerpts from these titles, as well as a celebratory overview of his work published in The Guardian on the anniversary of his 150th birthday (2010).
MY LIFE: Perhaps Chekhov’s most overlooked gem, My Life tells the tale of a rebellious young man so disgusted with bourgeois society that he drops out to live amongst the working classes, only to find himself confronted by the morally and mentally deadening effects of provincialism.
THE DUEL: In this autobiographical tale, a young dandy is forced to flee his hometown after falling afoul of the authorities. But sheltering in the royal court he finds treachery and insult and is eventually positioned into a meaningless confrontation over a woman he cares nothing about. Told with debonair wit and a merciless attitude toward high society, the tale becomes a tense adventure that leads to a surprising outcome.
From The Guardian:
The canonised writers of the past have a tendency to assume a fixed expression in their readers’ imaginations. Dostoevsky always appears in the same aura of morbidly enthralling hysteria; Proust in the same velvety atmosphere of hyper-attuned sensory receptiveness. To think of Tolstoy is to conjure, at once, the note of impassive grandeur, as of creation being set out in glittering ranks for inspection.
Anton Chekhov, whose short career was as momentous as any of these, has his own distinct tone and manner, but the impression it leaves is curiously elusive, offering reticence and hesitation in place of “personality”, and a series of moods rather than a discernible attitude to life, even the attitude of uncertainty.
This elusiveness – a feature of both the life and the work – is a large part of what gives him his enduring fascination, as well as his striking modernity. In Chekhov literature seems to break its wand like Prospero, renouncing the magic of artifice, ceremony and idealisation, and facing us, for the first time, with a reflection of ourselves in our unadorned ordinariness as well as our unfathomable strangeness.
Ordinariness – the social fabric at its most drably functional – was to some extent his birthright. He was born in 1860, in Taganrog, a provincial town on the Sea of Azov. Said to be the shallowest sea on the planet, this minor appendage to the Black Sea shows up a muddy grey on satellite pictures, in contrast to the deep azure of the Black Sea itself. Whether this influenced the muted shading of Chekhov’s prose – described by Nabokov as “a tint between the colour of an old fence and that of a low cloud” – history doesn’t relate, but the city itself clearly became a key element in his imagination, forming the template for the stultifying provincial backdrops against which so many of his characters act out their dramas of ill-fated defiance or sullen resignation.
Read the rest of the story, here.