This month's book: 'Lady With The Little Dog' by Anton Chekhov

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

For many fans, Anton Chekhov the author of so many inimitably funny, sad and subtle short stories outranks even the playwright who wrote The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya. He wrote short fiction throughout his literary life, for money and love, while practising as a country doctor (often the context of his tales), supporting his unruly family and - towards the end - working in the Moscow theatre.

For many fans, Anton Chekhov the author of so many inimitably funny, sad and subtle short stories outranks even the playwright who wrote The Cherry Orchard and Uncle Vanya. He wrote short fiction throughout his literary life, for money and love, while practising as a country doctor (often the context of his tales), supporting his unruly family and - towards the end - working in the Moscow theatre.

You might argue that he more or less created the modern short story: poised between laughter and tears, oblique, understated, turning on quietly devastating instants of change. In summer 1904, TB ended Chekhov's hugely productive life (and how often his plots pivot on the contrast between the doers and dreamers).

His centenary has brought some excellent Penguin Classics editions: this volume (finely translated by Ronald Wilks) brings together much of the best late fiction. It ranges from the classic title tale, of love found at last but quickly lost, to the low-key tragedy of "In the Ravine", and the grimly comic novella of provincial existence in "My Life".

We may not know Russian small-town society in the 1890s, but we know these people: the thwarted idealists; the fading beauties; the self-effacing toilers; the seething under-achievers; "characters" who hide misery with jokes. So much pain; so much joy: the Chekhov paradox still casts its spell. Or does it? Over to you.

Anton Chekhov, 'The Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories 1896-1904' (Penguin Classics, £8.99)

Comments