Month: April 2012

Ward No. 6 and Other Stories

Ward 6 ChekovI, for better or worse, really hate reading plays. I really hate it. I loathe it. But I wanted to read Chekhov and so I searched around for an edition of Chekhov’s short stories.  I found many – but this was one of the few editions to contain a larger variety of stories as well as the “standards.”  By standards I mean The Lady With the Dog and Ward No. 6, which are the best known of Chekhov’s short stories.   This is the Barnes & Noble Classics edition.  It contains an introduction by David Plante with translations by Constance Garnett.  Garnett translated most of Chekhov’s works in the early 1920s. I realize that in different editions the titles of the individual stories may be slightly different.

Contents and My Rating:

The Cook’s Wedding – 4*

The Witch – 2*

A Dead Body – 2*

Easter Eve – 3*

On the Road – 4*

The Dependents – 5*

Grisha – 5*

The Kiss – 5*

Typhus – 3*

The Pipe – 3*

The Princess – 3*

Neighbors – 3*

The Grasshopper – 4*

In Exile – 3*

Ward No. 6 – 4*

Rothschild’s Fiddle – 3*

The Student – 3*

The Darling – 3*

A Doctor’s Visit – 2*

Gooseberries – 3*

The Lady With The Dog – 3*

In the Ravine -3*

The Bishop – 3*

As can be seen, I gave three of the stories 5 stars and four of the stories 4 stars.  In fact, it should be noted that the “traditionally favorite” stories are ones I only gave 3 stars to.  Once again, I realize that “classic/standard/literature” has to evolve with time, is extremely subjective, and need not be selected just because everyone else selected them. For example, I know that The Lady with the Dog is considered by many to be Chekhov’s best story.  Frankly, it was just okay. But I dislike adultery and I do not like either of the main characters at all. The setting is done well, but overall the story was nothing special whatsoever.  Another example is Ward No. 6.  It is in this story that Chekhov is the most overtly philosophic.  However, it is nothing amazing.

As is typical of Russian writers, most of the stories are a bit depressing. They involve struggle, misery, and ruminations on the community. It seems like many of Chekhov’s characters are aware of their lifestyles and the hard life of Russia, but many also keep one eye on the glimpse of something else, something better, something beyond.  The characters ooze the sturdy acceptance of life in Russia, but yet they cannot help but be aware of something beyond the drudgeries of their existence. Rothschild’s Fiddle is a really great example of this sort of struggle for the light through the dark struggle.

One of the stories that I gave 5 stars to is The Dependents. Some readers may find it to be a cruel and dark story.  I can see why they would respond like this. However, I feel like I could relate to the main character, Mihail Petrovich Zotov, in a lot of ways. He’s a 70 year old solitary craftsman who lives alone in poverty with a variety of miserable and decrepit animals.  It seems like every day is the same for him and all days are full of a suffocating and frustrating tedium.  He’s lonely, exasperated, and frustrated. In fact, the frustration and exasperation drips from the story. Anyway, the actions that Zotov takes are drastic and brutal, but yet understandable – he just seems so frustrated and lonely. This is definitely my favorite Chekhov story because here the author shows how deeply he understands the human pysche and the depth of an aged-Russian’s despair.

The story Grisha is amazing.  It was originally written by Chekhov in 1886, so when Chekhov was 26 years old.  Grisha is a little boy and we see the story through his eyes and his perceptions – and this is so well-written it is fabulous. Chekhov’s understanding of Grisha is remarkable. Few authors write children well. This is a masterpiece because not only does Chekhov write a decent short story, but the character’s perspective is flabbergastingly awesome for an adult to have written. I love the story and I love the little boy, Grisha. Once again, I felt that Chekhov had some preternatural ability to show the soul of a character.  Now, is Grisha autistic? It’s something I wondered when reading the story. If so, Chekhov did a heckuva characterization!

The Kiss is the only other story that I gave 5 stars to.  As with the other 5 star stories, Chekhov’s character-personalities are excellent. I feel like he put some solid effort into developing the inner thoughts of his characters and pondering their thought-patterns and reactions. The Kiss has this touch of romanticism to it that is often absent in the typical stark Russian stories, and this makes it endearing. Also, like many stories, the characters seem trapped in a life that knows the dismal grind of daily life and fruitless labor, but yet they catch moments of idealistic imagination.  The Kiss is a story somewhat easy to imagine and it contains elements of magic that pull it away from typical stories of Russian struggle.

Although, there are plenty of instances in Chekhov’s stories wherein one can find the complaint and utter pessimism of the Russian government official or peasant.  The worst story in the batch was probably The Witch. Yuck.

Median:  3

Mean:  3.04

Most:  3