Tales of Chekhov - Anton Chekhov Finished at last! What can I say except to recommend Chekhov enthusiastically to everyone.

Volume 1: The Darling and Other Stories:
"The Darling" - 3 stars: This story is about a woman whose entire life revolves around some man in her life. In the beginning it's her first husband, who dies; then she gravitates to her second husband, who also dies. She next fixates on a married officer. When he abandons her, she falls into a near catatonic state, returning to life only when the officer returns. But he returns with his wife and son, so Olenka focuses on the boy.

The interesting thing about this story is that "Tolstoy's Criticism on `The Darling'" is included at the end, and I think the great author entirely misses the point as he argues that Chekhov has unconsciously written an anti-feminist tract about the grace that redounds to a woman who offers herself wholly to another. He contends that Chekhov on the surface despises Olenka but winds up glorifying her. Chekhov doesn't despise nor laud Olenka, he simply writes about her, leaving it up to you to decide if she should be pitied or admired or (perhaps) both.

"Ariadne" - 3 stars: Here, as elsewhere, we see one facet of Chekhov's genius - He's left it again to us to decide whether or not we like his characters, he's just telling us their story. Ariadne is a gold-digger, looking for a "sugar daddy" to take care of her, and she abuses the love of a decent man in doing it. But Chekhov lays out the bare facts and lets you figure out who needs sympathy and who (if anyone, in the end) needs condemnation.

"Polinka" - 3 stars

"Anyuta" - 3.5 - 4 stars: For me, a really wrenching story about relationships and the appalling cruelty human beings are capable of.

"The Two Volodyas" - 3 stars
"The Trosseau" - 3 stars
"The Helpmate" - 3 stars
"Talent" - 3 stars
"An Artist's Story" - 3 stars

"Three Years" - 4 stars: Chekhov is a master at exploring relationships. Here we have the ill-starred marriage of two incompatible types that somehow succeeds, or at least reaches a point where husband and wife accept a measure of happiness/contentment if not love. The ending is not "happy" but it's not utterly "tragic."
Volume 2: The Duel and Other Stories:
"The Duel" - 3 stars
"Excellent People" - 3 stars
"Mire" - 3 stars
"Neighbours" - 3.5 stars
"At Home" - 4 stars
"Expensive Lessons" - 3 stars
"The Princess" - 3 stars
"The Chemist's Wife" - 3 stars

The two stories that stood out in this volume for me were "Neighbours," which is about a brother's reaction to his sister taking up with a married man, and "At Home," which chronicles the slow erosion of Vera Kardin's spirit when she returns to her family's home. Chekhov continues to explore all the ways people live their lives - accepting, adapting, struggling, often surrendering - and sometimes the despair becomes too much.
Volume 3: The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories:
"The Lady with the Dog" - 3 stars: If an American literature major reads no other Chekhov story in their studies it will probably be this one, his most famous. It's the spare, economical story of a rake and a desperately unhappy woman who fall in love with each other after a chance encounter. That summation, of course, does not do justice to the power of the story. I've just reread the last few pages, and am reminded of the tragedy and poignancy and (perhaps) optimism of the final sentence:

"And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and than a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning."

"A Doctor's Visit" - 3 stars

"An Upheaval" - 3 stars: I liked this story because it recounts the tale of a young servant, Mashenka, whose privacy is violated by her mistress because of a lost bauble. Rather than submit to the humiliation, Mashenka leaves.

"Ionitch" - 3 stars
"The Head of the Family" - 3 stars

"The Black Monk" - 3.5 stars: This is the story of Andrey Vassilitch Kovrin, a brilliant student who encounters the "black monk," a hallucination that inspires and counsels him - "You will lead it some thousands of years earlier into the kingdom of eternal truth - and therein lies your supreme service. You are the incarnation of the blessing of God, which rests upon men." Unfortunately, Andrey's muse is lost when he surrenders to the pressures of "proper" society.

"Volodya" - 3 - 3.5 stars

"An Anonymous Story" - 3.5 stars: Another tragic love story. A political activist and terrorist gains the position of footman in the house of the son of a general he plans to assassinate but soon finds that all of his political passions have faded in the face of the human story of his master, Orlov; Orlov's married lover, Zinaida; and himself.

"The Husband" - 3 stars
Volume 4: The Party and Other Stories:
"The Party" - 3 stars
"Terror" - 3 stars
"A Woman's Kingdom" - 3 stars
"A Problem" - 3 stars

"The Kiss" - 3.5 stars: Hitting close to home in this story about an artillery officer and a chance encounter: "There were times when he envied the boldness and swagger of his companions and was inwardly wretched; the consciousness that he was timid, that he was round-shouldered and uninteresting, that he had a long waist and lynx-like whiskers, had deeply mortified him, but with years he had grown used to this feeling, and now, looking at his comrades dancing or loudly talking, he no longer envied them, but only felt touched and mournful."

"`Anna on the Neck'" - 4 stars
"The Teacher of Literature" - 3 stars
"Not Wanted" - 3 stars
"Typhus" - 3 stars

"A Misfortune" - 4 stars: "She was breathless, hot with shame, did not feel her legs under her, but what drove her on was stronger than shame, reason, or fear."

"A Trifle from Life" - 4 stars
Volume 5: The Wife and Other Stories:
"The Wife" - 3 stars: Devastating portrait of a sociopath (the husband, not the wife).

"Difficult People" - 3.5 stars
"The Grasshopper" - 3 stars

"A Dreary Life" - 3.5 stars: This is a story about a doctor who realizes (or believes) he's wasted his entire life. It's sometimes hard to read Chekhov's stories all at once because of the fatalism of most of his characters. I get the temptation to slap them and say, "Wake up! Don't accept the way things are!"

"The Privy Counsellor" - 3 stars
"The Man in a Case" - 3 stars
"Gooseberries" - 3 stars
"About Love" - 3 stars
"The Lottery Ticket" - 3 stars
Volume 6: The Witch and Other Stories:
All the tales here get at least three stars. Especially disturbing is "In the Ravine" (3+ stars). The most interesting tale for me in this first reading is "Peasants." I was particularly struck by the contrast between the beauty of the countryside and the grinding poverty and fatalism of the peasantry, and the appalling indifference of the better off.
Volume 7: The Bishop and Other Stories
Volume 8: The Chorus Girl and Other Stories
Volume 9: The Schoolmistress and Other Stories
Volume 10: The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

I see that I have been unforgivably remiss in keeping up with my periodic reviews of this wonderful author. It's been too long since I read volumes 7-9 to really say anything coherent or detailed about any particular story but simply looking at the titles, I'm remembering details from "The Bishop" and "The Chorus Girl," two of the better stories.

Volume 10 (and the later ones, as I understand from an afterword I happened to glance through in the final volume) contains a lot of Chekhov's lighter, more humorous stories but - like Shakespeare - even "bad" Chekhov is better than most authors' "good" stuff.

That said, Volume 10 begins with one of Chekhov's more disturbing and darkest stories (to me) - "The Horse-Stealers" - which takes place at an isolated inn on the Ukrainian steppes.

The second story in the collection - "Ward No. 6" - is mentioned by Janet Malcolm in Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey. Her description was the catalyst that prompted me to purchase this collection in the first place (that and the fact that nearly every story she mentioned, I hadn't read - unforgivable in a Chekhov groupie). And she was right in every particular. "Ward No. 6" is a brilliant novella, and I'll quote here two passages that struck me in particular:

"And, indeed, is it not absurd even to think of justice when every kind of violence is accepted by society as a rational and consistent necessity, and every act of mercy - for instance, a verdict of acquittal - calls forth a perfect outburst of dissatisfied and revengeful feeling?" (p. 38)


"'Comprehension...' repeated Ivan Dmitritch frowning. 'External, internal.... Excuse me, but I don't understand it. I only know,' he said, getting up and looking angrily at the doctor - 'I only know that God has created me of warm blood and nerves, yes, indeed! If organic tissue is capable of life it must react to every stimulus. And I do! To pain I respond with tears and outcries, to baseness with indignation, to filth with loathing. To my mind, that is just what is called life. The lower the organism, the less sensitive it is, and the more feebly it reacts to stimulus; and the higher it is, the more responsively and vigorously it reacts to reality. How is it you don't know that? A doctor, and not know such trifles! To despise suffering, to be always contented, and to be surprised at nothing, one must reach this condition' - and Ivan Dmitritch pointed to the peasant who was a mass of fat - 'or to harden oneself by suffering to such a point that one loses all sensibility to it - that is, in other words, to cease to live. You must excuse me, I am not a sage or a philosopher,' Ivan Dmitritch continued with irritation, 'and I don't understand anything about it. I am not capable of reasoning." (p. 72)

None of the other stories in this volume quite reach "Ward No. 6"'s level but all are good in their own ways.
Volume 11: The Schoolmaster and Other Stories:

Most of the stories in this volume are vignettes of Russian life, most written with a humorous slant.

On a negative note - The first page of "In the Graveyard" is from "The Swedish Match (A Story of a Crime)", the final story in vol. 12.
Volume 12: The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories:

The stories in Volume 12 are concerned mostly with children or animals, including one of my favorites, "Home," where a father struggles to convince his young son that he shouldn't smoke and realizes that "nothing can be accomplished by logic and ethics."

"Home" is a comedic look at childhood. Many of the stories here take a more tragic point of view. In "Varka," the young girl of the title is driven to murderous extremes; and in "A Classical Student," there's pedophilia. The scene in the latter where Vanya is "punished" by the boarder Kuporossov is so subtle and underplayed the reader is left asking, "Did what I think happen just happen?" and it makes the horror all that more visceral.

This volume also contains "Kashtanka," which is about a dog and her loyalty to her master and his son. It's a disturbing story, especially for an animal lover, as Kashtanka's love for her abusive owner trumps the care and kindness of a man who finds her when she's lost.
Volume 13: Love and Other Stories:

The final volume in Garnett's translations is a mixed bag of profoundly good stories and slighter pieces that Chekhov dashed off to make ends meet, though these latter stories are by no means not interesting.

The highlights:
"Lights" - Told in flashback, it's about an older man recounting how he cruelly misled a young woman in his youth.

"A Living Chattel" - The longest story in the volume, it concerns the relationship of a husband, his wife and her lover.

"The Cossack" - This is one of several tales about husbands and wives. In this one, a recently married, initially happy couple fail to help a man in need and their lives fall apart as a consequence.

"Fat and Thin" and "The Death of a Government Clerk" are both tales of excessive and unhealthy subservience.