The Sunday Edition

Chekhov for beginners: recommended stories

On last week's program, we brought you a one-hour special called 'We Must Go On Living': Anton Chekhov for the 21st Century. If you have never read Chekhov before and would like to start, here is a list of recommended works from our guests.
Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov (1860 - 1904), circa 1885. His most famous works include 'Uncle Vanya', 'The Three Sisters' and 'The Cherry Orchard'. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

On last week's program, we brought you a one-hour special called 'We Must Go On Living': Anton Chekhov for the 21st Century.

After hearing that special, John Henning in Chute-à-Blondeau, Ontario wrote to us with this request:

"I enjoyed the program on Anton Chekhov, and soon after it started, I realized that I had never read his work. It is time. I have a favour to ask — being new to this author, I would appreciate a guide to what could be called the "essential Chekhov", perhaps a top ten of his works?"

We asked our guests which Chekhov short stories they would recommend to new Chekhov readers. Here are their picks. 

1. The Lady with the Dog 

Michael read an excerpt from this short story on last week's program. It's about an extramarital affair that turns into something much more. Some critics see this story about a serial womanizer who unexpectedly falls in love as partly autobiographical, because Chekhov published it a year after meeting his future wife Olga Knipper. 

2. The 'About Love' Trilogy — The Man in a Case, Gooseberries, About Love

Julia Zarankin says: "Chekhov's one and only trilogy explores love, happiness, desires and the inability to break free from societal expectations."

American writer George Saunders often teaches the 'About Love' trilogy, and he recently spoke to The Atlantic about why he loves 'Gooseberries,' the trilogy's middle story. You can read that piece here

3. Ward No. 6

Dmitry Zhukovsky says: "'Ward No. 6' is a famous Chekhov masterpiece. The main character is a doctor, as was Chekhov himself. It's one of Chekhov's longer and more politicized stories that raises important issues regarding society, power, will, action and inaction. Although he deals with broad philosophical and moral questions, Chekhov never overlooks his passion for vivid details."

4. A Joke

Carol Rocamora says this story "really sums up the essence of light and dark in Chekhov."

5. The Darling

Dmitry Zhukovsky says: "'The Darling' is one of the most popular Chekhov stories. The humorous and poignant story has a pitiable yet ludicrous protagonist. So Chekhovian!"

6. Kashtanka

Dmitry Zhukovsky says: "'Kashtanka' is a story that every Russian-speaking person knows from childhood. Though presented as a tale for children, it is a great example of Chekhov's wonderful style, funny and sad, dark and light at the same time."

7. The Black Monk

Carol Rocamora recommends this story about a Russian scholar who begins have hallucinatory visions of a black monk, who tells him he has been chosen by God to help realize a new future for mankind. 

8. Sleepy

Julia Zarankin recommends this story about an exhausted, abused young nanny who is tormented by a baby's crying and ends up killing the child.

9. The Boys

Dmitry Zhukovsky says: "'The Boys' is a charming story about two boys who, like The Three Sisters, dream about going to ... no, not to Moscow, but to America."

10. In the Ravine 

Julia Zarankin recommends this dark story about a village in a ravine.  

Film adaptations

Chekhov's four most famous plays (The Seagull, The Three Sisters, Uncle Vanya, and The Cherry Orchard) are performed regularly around the world — and they have also inspired many film adaptations. Carol Rocamora recommends the following films:

Additional reading

Carol Rocamora's 2013 biography of Chekhov is "a narrative of Chekhov's life in the theatre, consisting of a chapter for every year of his life, including her translation of hundreds of his letters." 

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