Thursday, July 04, 2013


I recently ploughed through a collection of Chekhov’s short stories – 209 of them on my Kindle, although a few were duplicated – possibly alternative translations. Did he write more than 209 minus the duplicates? I don’t know, but by gum they’re good. 

I hadn’t read much Chekhov up until then, but what a writer! He found time to be a doctor too. Here he is writing a fictional, but one suspects all too real account of peasant life in late nineteenth century Russia :-

Only the well-to-do peasants were afraid of death; the richer they were the less they believed in God, and in the salvation of souls, and only through fear of the end of the world put up candles and had services said for them, to be on the safe side.

The peasants who were rather poorer were not afraid of death. The old father and Granny were told to their faces that they had lived too long, that it was time they were dead, and they did not mind.

They did not hinder Fyokla from saying in Nikolay's presence that when Nikolay died her husband Denis would get exemption--to return home from the army. And Marya, far from fearing death, regretted that it was so slow in coming, and was glad when her children died.

Above all, they were afraid of catching cold, and so put on thick clothes even in the summer and warmed themselves at the stove. Granny was fond of being doctored, and often went to the hospital, where she used to say she was not seventy, but fifty-eight; she supposed that if the doctor knew her real age he would not treat her, but would say it was time she died instead of taking medicine.
Anton Chekhov – Peasants (1897)

Russia has produced so much talent and to this outsider at least, seemingly wasted under the thumbs of mass murderers and autocratic wastrels. Why I don’t know, but we still need talent like Chekhov's.

There is one problem with him though. When I finally put aside my Kindle and looked around at modern entertainers and celebrities...

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