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The Undiscovered Chekhov: Forty-Three New Storiesby Anton Chekhov, Spalding Gray (Foreword by), Peter Constantine (Translator)
The Undiscovered Chekhov gives us, in rich abundance, a new Chekhov. Peter Constantine's historic collection presents 38 new stories and with them a fresh interpretation of the Russian master. In contrast to the brooding representative of a dying century we have seen over and over, here is Chekhov's work from the 1880s, when Chekhov was in his twenties and his writing was sharp, witty and innovative.
Many of the stories in The Undiscovered Chekhov reveal Chekhov as a keen modernist. Emphasizing impressions and the juxtaposition of incongruent elements, instead of the straight narrative his readers were used to, these stories upturned many of the assumptions of storytelling of the period.
Here is "Sarah Bernhardt Comes to Town," written as a series of telegrams, beginning with "Have been drinking to Sarah's health all week! Enchanting! She actually dies standing up!..." In "Confession...," a thirty-nine year old bachelor recounts some of the fifteen times chance foiled his marriage plans. In "How I Came to be Lawfully Wed," a couple reminisces about the day they vowed to resist their parents' plans that they should marry. And in the more familiarly Chekhovian "Autumn," an alcoholic landowner fallen low and a peasant from his village meet far from home in a sad and haunting reunion in which the action of the story is far less important than the powerful impression it leaves with the reader that each man must live his life and has his reasons.
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Undiscovered ChekhovForty-Three New Stories
By Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
Seven Stories PressCopyright © 2000 Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
All right reserved.
Have been drinking to Sarah's health all week! Enchanting! She actually dies standing up! Our actors can't touch the Parisians! Sitting there, you feel you're in Paradise! Regards to Mankya.
Lieutenant Egorov. Come, you can have my ticket--I'm not going again. It's just rubbish. Nothing special. A waste of money.
FROM DR. KLOPSON, M.D.,
TO DR. VERFLUCHTERSCHWEIN, M.D.
Dear friend. Last night I saw S.B. Her chest--paralytic and flat. Skeletal and muscular structure--unsatisfactory. Neck--so long and thin that both the venae jugulares and even the arteriae carotides are clearly visible. Her musculi sternocleido-mastoidei are barely noticeable. Sitting in second row orchestra I could detect clear signs of anemia. No cough. On stage she was all wrapped up, which led me to deduce that she must be feverish. My diagnosis: anemia and atrophia musculorum. What is quite amazing is that her lachrymal glands react to voluntary stimuli: Tears flowed from her eyes, and her nose showed signs of hyperemia whenever she was called upon to weep.
FROM NADIA N. TO KATYA H.
Dear Katya. Last night I went to the theater and saw Sera Burnyard. Oh Katya, how many diamonds that woman has! All night I cried at the thought that I'll never ever own such a heap of diamonds. (I'll tell you later all about her dress). Oh how I'd love to be Sera Burnyard! They were drinking real champagne on stage! But what was strange Katya I speak excellent French but I didn't get a word they were saying. Their French was funny. I had to sit in the gallery! That monster of mine couldn't get me a better ticket. The monster! Now
I regret I was so cold to S. on Monday, he could have got orchestra seats. S. will do anything for a kiss. Just to spite that monster, tomorrow I'll have S. get both you and me a ticket.
FROM A NEWSPAPER EDITOR TO A REPORTER
Ivan Mikhailovitch! This is an abomination! Every evening you traipse down to the theater with a press ticket, and I have yet to see a single line about the show! What are you waiting for? Right now Sarah Bernhardt is the hottest--and we need to cover her now. For God's sake, get a move on!
Answer: I don't quite know what to write. Should I praise her? Let's see what everyone else writes--time's on our side.
P.S. I'll be at the office today, get my pay ready. If you want the press tickets back, send someone over.
LETTER SENT BY MISS N. TO THE SAME REPORTER
You are a darling, Ivan Mikhailovitch! Thank you for the ticket! I have feasted my eyes on Sarah, and I absolutely insist that you praise her to the skies. Can you check with your office to see if my sister can also get a press ticket? I'll be most grateful to you.
Answer: It can be done ... but there will be a slight fee. The fee is minimal: permission to visit you on Saturday.
TO THE NEWSPAPER EDITOR FROM HIS WIFE
If you don't send me a ticket for Sarah Bernhardt tonight, don't bother coming home. It's quite obvious your reporters are more important to you than your own wife. I want to go to the theater!
FROM THE NEWSPAPER EDITOR TO HIS WIFE
Please, dear! Be reasonable! As it is, this whole Sarah Bernhardt business is driving me to distraction!
FROM AN USHER'S NOTEBOOK
Let in four. Fourteen rubles.
Let in five. Fifteen r.
Let in three and one madame. Fifteen rubles.
Thank God I didn't go to the theater and that I sold that ticket I had. I heard Sarah Bernhardt played in French. I wouldn't have understood a word ...
Dear Mitya! I beg of you! Can you ask your wife, tactfully, to enthuse more quietly about Sarah Bernhardt's dresses when she's with us in the box? At the last performance she was whispering so loud that I couldn't hear a word of what was being said on stage. Please ask her, but tactfully. I'd be most obliged.
FROM THE SLAVOPHILE K. TO HIS SON
My dear son. I opened my eyes and saw omens of depravity all around! Thousands of Russian Orthodox Christians heralding a union with the people-- thronging to the theater to lay their gold at the feet of that Jewess ... Liberals, Conservatives ...!
Darling! When it comes to Sarah Bernhardt, as the saying goes: you can dip a frog in honey but it doesn't mean I'll eat it.
The post train races full speed from the Happy-Trach-Tararach station to the Run-for-Your-Life station. The locomotive whistles, hisses, puffs, snorts; the cars shake, and their unoiled wheels howl like wolves and screech like owls! Darkness is over the skies, over the earth, and in the cars ... "Something-will-happen, something-will-happen," the wagons hammer, rattling with age. "Ohohohoho!" the locomotive joins in. Pocket-friskers and cold drafts sweep through the wagons. Terrible! I stick my head out the window and look aimlessly into the endless expanse. All the lights are green, but somewhere down the line I'm sure all hell will break loose. The signal disk and the station lights are not yet visible. Darkness, anguish, thoughts of death, memories of childhood, oh God!
"I have sinned!" I whisper, "I have sinned!"
I feel a hand slip into my back pocket. The pocket is empty, but still it's horrifying. I turn round. A stranger is standing next to me. He is wearing a straw hat and a dark gray shirt.
"Can I help you?" I ask him, patting my hands over my pockets.
"No, I'm just looking out the window!" he answers, pulling back his hand and leaning against my back.
There is a powerful, ear-splitting whistle. The train slows and slows, and finally stops. I get out of the car and walk over to the station buffet for a drink to bolster my courage. The buffet is bustling with passengers and train workers.
"A vodka, sweet and easy!" the thickset chief conductor says, turning to a fat gentleman. The fat gentleman wants to say something but can't: his year-old sandwich is stuck in his throat.
"Poli-i-i-ce! Poli-i-i-ce!" someone outside on the platform is shouting, as in primordial times before the Deluge hungry mastodons, ichthyosaurs, and plesiosaurs would have bellowed. I go to see what's happening. A man with a cockade on his hat is standing outside one of the first-class cars, pointing to his feet. Someone had swiped the poor man's shoes and socks while he was sleeping.
"What am I going to do?" he shouts. "I have to go all the way to Revel! Can you believe this?"
A policeman, standing in front of him, informs him, "It's against the rules to shout here." I climb back into my car, number 224. It's exactly like it was: dark, the sound of snoring, tobacco, and soot in the air--the smell of Mother Russia. A red-haired inspector traveling to Kiev from Ryazan is snoring next to me ... a few feet away from him a pretty girl is dozing ... a peasant in a straw hat snorts, puffs, changes position, and doesn't know where to put his long legs ... in the corner someone is munching, and loudly smacking his lips. Under the benches people lie in deep sleep. The door creaks. Two wrinkly little old women come hobbling in with bundles on their backs ...
"Here! Let's sit here!" one of them says. "Ooh, it's dark! Temptations from Below! Oops, I stepped on someone! ... But where is Pakhom?"
"Pakhom? Oh, good gracious! Where has he got to now! Oh, good gracious!"
The little old woman bustles about, opens the window, and looks up and down the platform.
"Pa-a-a-khom!" she brays. "Where are you? Pakhom! We're over here!"
"I have a pro-o-o-blem!" a voice calls from outside. "They won't let me on!"
"They won't let you on? Cowshit! No one can stop you, you have a real ticket!"
"They've stopped selling tickets! The ticket office is closed!"
Someone leads a horse up the platform. There is snorting, and hooves clatter.
"Get back!" the policeman shouts. "Get off immediately! Nothing but trouble!"
"Petrovna!" Pakhom moans.
Petrovna drops her bundle, takes hold of a large tin teapot, and quickly runs out of the car. The second bell rings. A little conductor with a black mustache comes in.
"You're going to have to get a ticket," he whispers to the old man sitting opposite me. "The controller just got on!"
"Really! Oh ... That's bad! ... What, the Prince himself?"
"The Prince? Ha, you could beat him with a stick, he'd never come to do an inspection himself."
"So, who is it? The one with the beard?"
"Well, if it's him, that's fine. He's a good man!"
"It's up to you."
"Are there many ride-hoppers today?"
"At least forty."
"I say, good for them! Fast workers!"
My heart constricts. I'm a ride-hopper too. I always hop rides. On the railroads the ride-hoppers are those passengers who prefer to "inconvenience" conductors with money rather than pay the cashier at the station. Being a ride-hopper is great, dear reader. The unwritten rule is that ride-hoppers get a 75 percent discount. Furthermore, they don't have to line up at ticket windows or take their ticket out of their pockets every few minutes, and the conductor is much more courteous to them ... in a nutshell, it's the best way to travel!
"What's the point of paying whatever, whenever?" the old man mumbles. "Never! I always pay the conductor directly! The conductor needs money more than the railroad does!"
The third bell rings.
"Oh dear, oh dear!" the little old woman whines. "Where on earth is Petrovna? The third bell already! O trials and tribulations! We've lost her! We've lost her, poor dear! And her things are still here ... what am I going to do with her things, with her bag! Heavens above, we've lost her!"
The little old woman thinks for a moment.
"If she can't get on, she'll need it!" she says, and throws Petrovna's bag out the window.
The train sets off for Khaldeyevo, which according to my Frum tourist guide is no more than a common grave. The controller and the chief conductor enter, carrying candles.
"Ti-i-i-ckets!" the chief conductor shouts.
The controller turns to me and the old man: "Your tickets!"
We shrink back, stoop over, rummage through our pockets, and then stare at the chief conductor, who winks at us.
"Get their tickets!" the controller says to the conductor, and marches on. We are saved.
"Tickets! You! Show me your ticket!" The chief conductor nudges a sleeping young man. The young man wakes up and pulls the yellow ticket out of his hat.
"Where're you going?" the controller asks, twirling the ticket in his fingers. "This isn't where we're going!"
"You blockhead, this isn't where we're going!" the chief conductor chimes in. "You got on the wrong train, you idiot! You're supposed to be heading for Zhivoderevo, and we're heading for Khaldeyevo! Here's your ticket back! You should keep your eyes open!"
The young man blinks, looks dully at the smiling crowd, and starts rubbing his eyes.
"Don't cry!" people tell him. "You'd better ask them to help you! A big lout like you, probably even married with children, howling like that!"
"Ti-i-i-ckets!" the chief conductor shouts at a farmer with a top hat.
"Your ticket! Get a move on!"
"A ticket? You need it?"
"I see ... No, definitely, why not if you need it!" The farmer with the top hat reaches into his vest, quickly pulls out a greasy piece of paper, and hands it over to the controller.
"What are you giving me here? This is your passport! I want to see your ticket!"
"This is all I have!" the farmer answers, visibly shaken.
"How can you travel when you don't have a ticket?"
"But I've paid."
"What d'you mean you paid? Whom did you pay?"
"How the devil am I supposed to know which conductor? Some conductor, it's as simple as that.... You don't need a ticket, he said, you can travel without one ... so I didn't get a ticket."
"Well, we'll discuss this further at the station. Madam, your ticket!"
The door creaks, opens, and to everyone's surprise Petrovna enters.
"Oh Lord, what a hard time I had finding my compartment .... How's one supposed to tell them apart, they all look the same.... And they didn't let Pakhom get on, the snakes.... Where's my bag?"
"Oh! ... Temptations from Below! ... I threw it out the window for you. I thought we'd left you behind!"
"You threw it where?"
"Out the window. How was I to know?"
"Oh, thank you very much! Who told you to do that, you old hag! May the Lord forgive me! What am I going to do? Why didn't you throw your own bag out, you bitch! It's your ugly mug you should have thrown out the window! Ohh! May both your eyes fall out!"
"You'll have to send a telegram from the next station!" the laughing crowd suggests.
Petrovna starts wailing loudly and spouting profanities. Her friend, also crying, is clutching her bag. The conductor comes in.
"Whose things are these?" he shouts, holding up Petrovna's bag.
"Pret-t-t-y!" the old man sitting opposite whispers to me, nodding his head at the pretty girl. "Mmm ... pret-t-y ... pity I don't have any chloroform on me! One whiff and she'd be out! Then I could kiss her for all I'm worth!"
The man in the straw hat stirs uncomfortably, and in a loud voice curses his long legs.
"Scientists," he mumbles. "Scientists ... you can't fight the nature of things ... scientists! Ha! How come they haven't come up with something so we can screw our legs on and off at will?"
"It's got nothing to do with me.... Speak to the public prosecutor!" the inspector sitting next to me shouts.
In the far corner two high school boys, a noncommissioned officer, and a blue-eyed young man are huddled together playing a game of cards by the light of their cigarettes.
A tall lady is sitting haughtily to my right. She reeks of powder and patchouli.
"Oh how absolutely divine it is to be en route!" some goose is whispering into her ear, her voice sugary ... nauseatingly sugary ... frenchifying her g's, n's, and r's. "One's rapprochement is never as quick and as charming as it is when one is en route. Oh, how I do love being en route!"
A kiss ... another ... what the hell is going on?
The pretty girl wakes up, looks around, and unconsciously rests her head against the man sitting next to her, the devotee of Justice ... but the idiot is asleep.
The train stops. A halt. "The train will be stopping for two minutes!" a hoarse bass voice mutters outside the railroad car. Two minutes pass, two more.... Five minutes pass, ten, twenty, and the train is still standing. What the hell's going on! I get off the train and make my way to the locomotive.
"Ivan Matevitch! Get a move on! Damn!" the chief conductor shouts from the locomotive.
The engine driver crawls out from under the locomotive, red, wet, a piece of soot sticking to his nose ...
"Damn you! Damn you!" he shouts up at the chief conductor. "Get off my back! Are you blind? Can't you see what's going on? God! Aaah ... I wish you'd all go to hell! This is supposed to be a locomotive? This is no locomotive, it's a pile of junk! I'm not traveling any farther on this!"
"What're we going to do?"
"You can do whatever you like! How about getting another locomotive I refuse to travel on this one! Don't you understand?"
The driver's helpers run around the broken-down engine, banging, shouting ... the station chief in a red cap tells his assistant Jewish jokes ... it starts to rain ... I head back to my railroad car ... the stranger in the straw hat and the dark gray shirt rushes by ... he's carrying a suitcase. God ... it's my suitcase!
Excerpted from Undiscovered Chekhov by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov Copyright © 2000 by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
ANTON CHEKHOV (1860–1904) is regarded as one of the world’s masters of the short story. The son of a hapless shopkeeper and grandson of a former serf, Chekhov began at the age of twenty to support his family through the publication of magazine pieces. The writing of these short works—many of which were collected in English for the first time in Seven Stories’ Undiscovered Chekhov—served as the author’s apprenticeship in literature, which was undertaken simultaneously with his studies to become a medical doctor. Both of these educations would leave their mark on the rising author. By the 1890s Chekhov had moved on to weightier journals, and he had drifted away from the practice of medicine; but his work would always be characterized by the copywriter’s vividness and the sober exactitude of a scientist. In an age of literary aristocrats, Chekhov did as much as any modern writer to democratize the profession. He used his talent to examine the lives of street urchins, déclassé provincials, and frustrated reformers. By the time of his death from tuberculosis in 1904, all Russia and much of the world had taken heed of his credo: “For chemists there is nothing unclean on the earth. The writer must be as objective as the chemist.”
Translator PETER CONSTANTINE is the author of many books on the languages and cultures of the Far East. He is the translator of the complete stories of Isaac Babel and lives in New York City.
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