‘The Prank’ – The Best of Young Chekhov


‘The Prank’ The Best of Young Anton Chekhov (1882)

114 pages, Translated from the Russian by Maria Bloshteyn, Illustrated by Nikolay Chekhov


‘The Prank’ is an early collection of stories written by Anton Chekhov as a teenager and in his early twenties and illustrated by his older brother Nikolay Chekhov. At this beginning point in his career Anton saw his writing self mainly as a humorist and wrote these light sketches and stories for various magazines. At the same time Chekhov was training to be a doctor. Chekhov famously wrote,

Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress. When I get [fed up with] one, I spend the night with the other. “

In 1882 when Chekhov was only twenty-two, Chekhov put together a group of his sketches and stories to be published as a book. However a stern Moscow censor blocked it from being published. Checkhov would submit his later collections of stories to publishers in St. Petersburg who would print them.

The first sentence from the first story, “Artists’ Wives” (which Chekhov playfully subtitles “Translated….from the Portuguese”) sets the comical good-natured tone for the rest of the collection:

Alphonso Zinzaga, a free, utterly free citizen of the capital city of Lisbon, a young novelist, very famous (only to himself), showing signs of great promise (only to himself), was returning home exhausted and as hungry as the hungriest dog after a whole day of trudging the boulevards and making the rounds of editorial offices.”

In this story, Chekhov laments the plight of the artist’s (literary or otherwise) poor wife who has to put up with him.

You know what, single girls and young widows? Don’t you go and marry an artist!”

The next story, ‘Papa’, also starts out to very humorous effect:

Mama, lean as a Holland herring, walked into the study of Papa, fat and round as a beetle, and gave a little cough. As she entered, the maid jumped off Papa’s lap, darting behind the curtains; Mama paid no attention. She was used to Papa’s little weaknesses. She was the intelligent wife of a civilized husband. She understood.”

In the third story, ‘St Peter’s Day’, this is the day all the men in the village get together with their guns to go hunting. Everything is fine until Mikkei Egorovich, brother of one of the hunters and “the world’s most insufferable man” shows up.

The secret to the success of Anton Chekhov as a fiction writer and as a playwright is so obvious it is a wonder more writers haven’t followed his path. It is Chekhov’s good-natured empathy for all of his characters from the generals, and doctors and lawyers to the ne’r-do-well layabouts and drunks who make up a good part of a village’s population. Of course the generals, doctors, etc. are likely to get pretty drunk too. This all encompassing good-natured empathy of Chekhov’s also extends to the society matrons and housewives of the village to the lowliest servant girls.

At this early point in Chekhov’s writing career, he was most interested in finding the humor in various human situations; later, his writing would become more poignant.

Young Chekhov

This is quite a fun collection to read, but if you have not read Anton Chekhov before, I would recommend you read a collection of his later stories before reading ‘The Prank’. After you have read his greatest stories, turn to his plays which are more dramatic, ironic, and subtle.

No writer has a higher standing in my literary world than Anton Chekhov.


Grade:   A




3 responses to this post.

  1. High praise indeed!



  2. I don’t believe I read a lot of Chekhov (only three or four plays, a couple of short stories and a novella), but it is curious that you mention Chekhov’s empathy. This is also what I think categorises his writing. A very “human” writer, if you know what I mean, a rare gift.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Diana,
      I came to Chekhov originally through a collection of his best stories, and it was the empathy or insight into all of his characters that stood out. Later I started going to his plays, and it took me awhile to appreciate them because they are more subtle than his stories. Now I very much like the plays also.

      Liked by 1 person


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: