Monday, May 21, 2012

Chekhov's enduring appeal

Novelist Francine Prose believes that reading Anton Chekhov offers a crash course in everything you need to know in order to write fiction. No Iowa Writers Workshop sojourn required! She devoured his complete stories while commuting to and from a teaching job, soaking up his  genius for telling a tale while subtly revealing character. You too can be privy to the Chekhov spell with two of our current offerings. I notice that the intro to our handsome boxed set of his complete tales has appreciations from Nadine Gordimer, Susan Sontag, Harold Brodkey, Cynthia Ozick, and Russell Banks. The great Russian author's beginnings in genre fiction can be savored in A Night in the Cemetery: And Other Stories of Crime and Suspense. From the website of the city of Taganrog, his birthplace:
Chekhov's influence on the modern short story and the modern play was immense. Among his innovations were his economical husbanding of narrative resources, his concentration on character as mood rather than action, his impressionistic adoption of particular points of view, his dispensing with traditional plot, and, as Charles May declared in an essay collected in A Chekhov Companion, his use of atmosphere as "an ambiguous mixture of both external details and psychic projection." In all these regards Chekhov had an immediate and direct impact on such Western writers as James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, and Sherwood Anderson; indirectly, most major authors of short stories in the twentieth century, including Katherine Anne Porter, Franz Kafka, Ernest Hemingway, Bernard Malamud, and Raymond Carver, are in his debt.  
Books with Chekhov's autographs from the Taganrog Memorial Chekhov Museum
The good doctor in 1899
"I'm crazy about Chekhov. I never knew anyone that wasn't."—Woody Allen
"Chekhov! Chekhov! Chekhov!"—Tennessee Williams, asked to name his favorite authors
"Reading Chekhov was just like the angels singing to me."—Eudora Welty
"Read Chekhov, read the stories straight through. Admit that you understand nothing of life, nothing of what you see. Then go out and look at the world."—Francine Prose, "Learning from Chekhov," from
Reading Like a Writer


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  1. Chekhov's stories are so perfect and complete that they make novels seem superfluous. It's almost as if the stories form a single, massive epic. Hemingway,Proust,Joyce,Woolf: they were all ultimately writing about themselves. Chekhov seems like the only author ever to actually write about the universe that we are all inhabiting.

  2. WOW! Thanks for that. I've got my Modern Library edition of stories to dip into.

  3. Reading this really made me want to check out Chekhov!!!!Thanks

  4. I am intrigued! Chekhov has been added to my list of to-read.

  5. I do enjoy Suspense. I may have to check out A Night in the Cemetery.