Posts Tagged ‘Anton Chekhov’

‘The Beauties’ – Essential Stories by Anton Chekhov

 

‘The Beauties’ Essential Stories by Anton Chekhov (1880-1904) – 218 pages     Translated from the Russian by Nicolas Pasternak Slater

 

I am pretty sure that I had read all or nearly all of these stories before, but as someone who loves good fiction I like to return to the stories of Anton Chekhov from time to time. Besides these are all new translations of the stories by Nicolas Pasternak Slater.

Slater does a fine job of capturing the poignancy in each of these stories. All of these stories are beautiful and affecting; they are from Anton Chekhov after all.

I would like to concentrate on one story, ‘About Love’, in particular which moved me greatly. It is about a guy who is ‘adopted’ by a husband and wife to be their very good friend. It is this guy who has been adopted who is telling the story.

First there is a sentence which frames the story.

There is only one indisputable truth that has been told about love, and that’s ‘This is a great mystery.”

So the husband and wife invite this guy into their house as a good friend to both of them, but soon the wife realizes there is a strong bond and attraction between her and this male friend, and the male friend realizes it too. But neither wants to hurt her husband.

When I came to town, I could always tell from her eyes that she’d been expecting me; and she herself would confess that right from early morning she’d had sort of a special feeling, and guessed that I would come. We spent a long time talking or saying nothing, but we didn’t admit that we loved one another – timidly, jealously, we kept that secret. We were afraid of anything that might reveal that secret to ourselves.”

Circumstances bring them together frequently, and they both realize that they were meant for each other. That over the years they never go beyond just being great platonic friends makes the story even more moving. Finally the husband and wife move away.

Some might claim that not much happens in this story, but that they restrain themselves for the sake of not hurting the husband despite their strong feelings for each other only makes the story more intense.

Chekhov frequently uses a device that seems almost a natural one for telling a story. Two friends are discussing a mutual acquaintance. This seems like the perfect way to get introduced to the traits, peculiarities, and foibles of a character. We all have strong opinions about our friends.

This is a strong starter collection because the stories for which Chekhov is famous are here. Chekhov captures the essence of each of his characters, and the stories are always true to his characters.

The stories are compassionate, warm, understanding, and kindly. In other words they are just the opposite of the writing of Georges Simenon except for the understanding part.

I want to end with two quotes about Chekhov and his art.

Chekhov is a hero to many writers. He was so immensely skilled at revealing character – and describing life – without sentiment, without judgmental-ism, and ostensibly without the least show of self. It’s his sense of the ridiculousness of human life that intrigues, because we aren’t sure what to take from it. Maybe we are tragic because we are ridiculous. Or perhaps it’s the other way round.” – Lynne Truss, author

He saw the world and the human condition with absolute clarity and no sentimentality. He did not believe in any god (and was baffled by intelligent people who did). He refused to judge. He changed the way we wrote and thought. He was a very complex, flawed, kind man.” – William Boyd, author

 

Grade : A+

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‘Three Sisters’ by Anton Chekhov – “How strangely life changes and deceives one!”

‘Three Sisters’, a play by Anton Chekhov   (1901)  –  64 pages

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There are two sides to Anton Chekhov for me.  First there are the short stories which are simple, direct, and easy to understand and love.  But then there are the plays which are a much more complex situation.  There are four major Chekhov plays:  ‘The Seagull’, ‘Uncle Vanya’, ‘Three Sisters’, and ‘The Cherry Orchard’.

I have attended a fair number of performances of Chekhov.  They always teem with Russian village life, contain a variety of colorful characters, and are loaded with poignant stories, but they often leave me wondering, “What’s the point?”  However I know Chekhov is a major playwright so I keep coming back to the plays.

‘Three Sisters’ is, as its name indicates, the story of three sisters, Olga, Masha, and Irina.  They are living in a Russian village, but they long to get back to their old home of Moscow which they had to leave after their father died.  As the play starts, Olga is 28, a school teacher, and she realizes she probably will never marry.  Masha is 24 and married, but her husband bores her.  Irina is 20 and pursued by the persistent Baron who is not very good looking and whom Irina does not take seriously as a suitor.   There is also a brother, Andrei, who is prone to gamble away large amounts of money and who winds up marrying the harridan Natasha.  This woman makes the sisters’ lives a living hell, and she is probably the villain of the play.

Life in this Russian village is dull, and the Russian army unit stationed in the village is the only thing that brings excitement and color, and when the army leaves in the fourth act, the villagers lament that the town will become insufferably dull.  Masha, the married sister, has fallen in love with one of the soldiers.

There are four acts to the play.  The acts are separated in time by months or a couple of years, all occurring in the 1890s.  This is a time in Russia when the people realize that Russian life is changing momentously but they still don’t fully realize what the changes will bring.

“Perhaps our age will be called a great one and remembered with respect. Now we have no torture chamber, no executions, no invasions, but at the same time how much unhappiness there is!”

‘Three Sisters’ was written in 1901 and this was the time when Stanislavski was a powerful force in Russian theatre.  Stanislavski took a special interest in Chekhov’s plays and directed all of them.  The Stanislavski method of using an acting ensemble and his concepts of naturalistic acting and psychological realism are evident throughout the play, even though Stanislavski and Chekhov were often at odds.

o_three-sisters-chekhov-kristin-scott-thomas-kate-burton-9d37Despite some comedy, there is a sadness that permeates ‘Three Sisters’ of loveless marriages, of empty days and nights, of being dissatisfied with one’s current life and wishing for something else.

Originally I was going to listen to the audio book of the play which has worked well for me on several plays before.  However I quickly found that there are just too many characters in ‘Three Sisters’ to separate them all by voice only.  Fortunately there was a good version of the play on YouTube starring Kristin Scott Thomas as Masha.

I would really like to find out about your own reactions to Chekhov’s plays.

 

Grade:   A-   

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