16: Forty Stories

Forty StoriesForty Stories by Anton Chekhov

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bought new (at Chapters).

Read in June 2013.

View all my reviews

I’ve read Chekhov stories before, but never a whole book of them. I picked this up a while ago; I don’t remember the exact impetus, but I’m going to guess that it was probably something I read whilst blog/twitter-grazing.

So it was sitting on my to-read shelf. Meanwhile, I read that Frank O’Connor book, with its offensive chapter on Katherine Mansfield, and The Sky is Falling, in which the narrator was obsessed with Chekhov. That was it. The time was right to read this. I’ve long wanted/planned to read more Chekhov because he’s always described as being a big influence on Katherine Mansfield, whose work I love.

Trivia: both Chekhov and Mansfield died young of tuberculosis. A cause of death I realize wasn’t unusual back in the day, but hey! thank science that same fate won’t befall you, present-day-writers!

The stories are arranged in chronological order, starting in 1880, when Chekhov was 20 years old—nice from a writer-reader standpoint because you can see how his writing progressed. A lot of the early stories are very short, flash fiction length. The later stories are longer, more developed. His early work tended toward punchlines (I’m not usually a fan of this style of short story, but some of these were ok. I liked “The Threat” :)), but got more subtle as he grew as a writer.

It includes the well-known stories, of course: “Death of a Government Clerk,” “The Huntsman,” “The Lady with the Pet Dog.”

Some of the other titles I made note of:

  • “Joy,” in which a young man gets mentioned in the newspaper for drunkenly falling under a horse. He’s thrilled because he thinks he’s famous. (This one just seems so… prescient, ya know?)
  • “Who is to blame?” in which a tormented kitchen kitten grows up to be a sleek outdoor cat… who’s afraid of mice.
  • “Sleepyhead,” in which a young nursemaid’s sleep-deprivation leads to tragedy.

I noticed he seemed to have a fondness for the name Pelageya. I looked it up and it means “open sea.” (doh! pelagic!) Cool name. I think I’ll steal it. Now I just need a character to give it to…

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2 thoughts on “16: Forty Stories

  1. kingmidget

    One of the things about attending a writing workshop is hearing for three days straight about the “masters.” Chekhov is one of those that got a few mentions. I bought a Faulkner collection today at a used book store. Maybe I need to look for Chekhov now.

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