I received an advanced review copy of these stories from The New York Review of Books.
These short stories have been collected and published in one volume for the first time and this collection also features two stories that have never before been translated into English. The book includes an index in which the original publication is mentioned for each story as well as any changes that Chekhov made to each narrative before final publication.
The collection is a humorous and sarcastic commentary on Russian life in the 19th century; Chekhov particularly likes to poke fun at relationships and marriage. In “The Artist’s Wives,” various types of creative men are featured, including a painter, a novelist and a sculptor, all of whom have trouble controlling their pesky spouses.
Secret lovers, dark humor and narcissism all play a role in the marriages that Chekhov describes. In “Before the Wedding,” a mother is giving her newly engaged daughter advice about marriage. She has a long list of complaints about her own husband and tells her daughter, “Marriage is something only single girls like but there’s nothing good about it.”
My favorite story is the one entitled “A Confession” in which a man is writing a letter to his friend to explain why, after 39 years, he is still a bachelor. He has a few interesting stories about various engagements to women that are foiled because of ridiculous reasons which include a biting gosling, bad writing and hiccups.
The New York Review of books Classics has given us another brilliant and funny collection of translated short stories. If you are interested in trying to read Russian literature, THE PRANK is a great work with which to start.
About The Author:
Anton Chekhov was born in the small seaport of Taganrog, southern Russia, the son of a grocer. Chekhov’s grandfather was a serf, who had bought his own freedom and that of his three sons in 1841. He also taught himself to read and write. Yevgenia Morozova, Chekhov’s mother, was the daughter of a cloth merchant.
“When I think back on my childhood,” Chekhov recalled, “it all seems quite gloomy to me.” His early years were shadowed by his father’s tyranny, religious fanaticism, and long nights in the store, which was open from five in the morning till midnight. He attended a school for Greek boys in Taganrog (1867-68) and Taganrog grammar school (1868-79). The family was forced to move to Moscow following his father’s bankruptcy. At the age of 16, Chekhov became independent and remained for some time alone in his native town, supporting himself through private tutoring.
In 1879 Chekhov entered the Moscow University Medical School. While in the school, he began to publish hundreds of comic short stories to support himself and his mother, sisters and brothers. His publisher at this period was Nicholas Leikin, owner of the St. Petersburg journal Oskolki (splinters). His subjects were silly social situations, marital problems, farcical encounters between husbands, wives, mistresses, and lovers, whims of young women, of whom Chekhov had not much knowledge – the author was was shy with women even after his marriage. His works appeared in St. Petersburg daily papers, Peterburskaia gazeta from 1885, and Novoe vremia from 1886.