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Humor translates notoriously poorly from age to age and language to language, so imagine trying to render these mostly humorous short stories from Russian to English, a hundred and twenty years after they were written.  Some hold up surprisingly well--for instance one nearly slapstick episode where an anxious suitor tries pitching woo while cursed with the hiccups--but I have to admit that others went completely over my head.

Footnotes might have been helpful, both in explaining some of the author's references and the translator's choices.  Just one example : in the story, July 29 (Story of a Hunter who Always Misses), Mr. Sekirin provides the following translation :

    Otletaev was as stupid as a bag of hammers...

Is this now-common phrase an invention of Chekhov's; was it already in use at the time he wrote; did the translator make an idiomatic Russian phrase into a more recognizable English one?  I have no idea and the implications are somewhat significant.  If it is a strict translation then Chekhov seems to have contributed an enduringly funny line to a couple of languages.  If it is a liberal translation, then how much of what we're reading is Chekhov and how much is the translator?  I'm actually not particular, but I would like to know.  On the one hand, I don't mind struggling with the idiosyncrasies of a direct translation (like Harvey Mansfield's new version of Democracy in America); on the other, if a translator decides to make a great author more accessible to a modern American reader, it's fine by me, but I would sort of like to know which type of translation I'm reading.

Of course the chief interest here lies not in the stories themselves but in the mere fact that they represent the earliest writings of one of the world's great dramatists.   Now, I'm not a big fan of the theater in general and, as my wife said of Chekhov, after watching Vanya on 42nd Street, "he makes you feel awfully good about your own life, because everyone in the play is such a loser", but I thought the stories were sufficiently interesting, and often enough funny, to make the book worth reading.   Meanwhile, Chekhov enthusiasts are likely to find it invaluable.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : chekhov, anton
    -EXCERPT : Two Stories from 'The Undiscovered Chekhov'
    -ETEXTS : Anton Chekhov (Bibliomania)
    -ANTON CHEKHOV  AKA "ANTOSHA CHEKHONTE"  1860-1904 (Nebraska writers Online)
    -Anton Chekhov (Theater2k)
    -19th & Early-20th Century Russian Literature :  Anton Chekhov
    -Anton Chekhov (imagi-nation)
    -The International Chekhov's Fund
    -Anton CHEKHOV : 1860-1904 (Andreas Teuber)
    -dramaturgy web site for chekhov's three sisters:  (created by lori ricigliano and univ. of puget sound student dramaturgy scholar, kelly mclaughlin, fall 2001)
    -dramaturgy web site for anton chekhov's the seagull: (created by univ. of puget sound student dramaturgy scholar, gretchen haley, fall 1996)
    -ESSAY : Unknown Chekhov : He is renowned for his poignant and exquisitely crafted plays. But his early, experimental stories, published here in English for the first time, reveal a delight in the absurd (Peter Constantine, April 14, 2001,  The Guardian)
    -ESSAY : "Anton Chekhov: Fragments of Recollections"  by: Maxim Gorky
    -ESSAY : Chekhov's Post-perestroika Russia:  Sergei Sniezhkin's Cvety kalenduly  (Andrew J Horton, Central European Review)
    -ESSAY : Dr. Chekhov's Prescription (Jack Coulehan, December 13, 2000, Praxis Post)
    -ESSAY :  The Cherry Orchard and the Rise of Bolshevism (Michael R. Allen, Spintech: June 12, 2000)
    -ESSAY : axes against the trees: anton chekhov and the revolution of 1905 (brook stowe, Theater2k)
    -LINKS : Top: Arts: Literature: World Literature: Russian: Authors: Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich (Open Directory)
    -LINKS : Chekhov, Anton - Web Sites (Web Crawler)
    -READING GUIDE : ClassicNote on The Cherry Orchard
    -ARCHIVES : "anton chekhov" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : chekov (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of Stories by Anton Chekov translated by Pevear & Volokhonsky (Elizabeth Hardwick, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of The Undiscovered Chekov by Anton Chekov  translated by Peter Constantine  (Donald Fanger, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of The Undiscovered Chekov by Anton Chekov  translated by Peter Constantine (George Steiner, The Observer)
    -REVIEW : of The Undiscovered Chekhov. By Anton Chekhov, translated by Peter Constantine (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW : of The Undiscovered Chekhov by Peter Constantine (John Bayley, The Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of The Plays of Anton Chekov translated by Paul Schmidt (Adam Kirsch, Atlantic Monthly)
    -ANNOTATED REVIEWS : Chekhov, Anton P. (Medical Humanities)
    -REVIEW : of ANTON CHEKHOV A Life By Donald Rayfield (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  ANTON CHEKHOV A Life. By Donald Rayfield (Clare Cavanagh, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEWS : of ANTON CHEKHOV: A Life, by Donald Rayfield, and CHEKHOV: On Hidden Ground, by Philip Callow (Clive Davis, Wilson Quarterly)
    -REVIEW : of STELLA ADLER ON IBSEN, STRINDBERG AND CHEKHOV  Edited by Barry Paris (Mel Gussow, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  CHEKHOV'S PLAYS An Opening Into Eternity. By Richard Gilman (Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of  CHEKHOV'S PLAYS An Opening Into Eternity. By Richard Gilman (D. M. Thomas, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  VIEWS FROM THE OTHER SHORE Essays on Herzen, Chekhov, and Bakhtin. By Aileen M. Kelly (Barry Gewen, NY Times Book Review)
    -BOOK LIST : Sincerely ours : The author of "Dewey Defeats Truman" selects five great collections of letters. : Dear Writer, Dear Actress: The Love Letters of  Anton Chekhov and Olga Knipper Edited and translated by Jean Benedetti (Thomas Mallon, Salon)

PLAYS :
    -REVIEW : A perfect balance : Patrick Carnegy reviews The Seagull (Swan Theatre, Stratford), The Spectator, 12 February, 2000
    -REVIEW : Loneliness of the long-distance ironist : The Seagull, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon (Paul Taylor, The Independent, 2 February 1999)

FILM :
    -FILMOGRAPHY : Anton Chekhov (Imdb.com)
    -REVIEW : of Vanya on 42nd Street (James Berardinelli Reel Views)
    -REVIEW : of Country Life (James Berardinelli Reel Views)
    -REVIEW : of Country Life (Joe Baltake, Sacramento  Bee)
    -REVIEW : of August (F.X. Feeney, Mr. Showbiz)

GENERAL :
    -ESSAY : A Short History of the Short Story (Julia Kamysz Lane, Book Magazine)
    -ESSAY : The Art of Translation (Vladimir Nabokov, August 1941, New Republic)
    -REVIEW : of Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons: The Unconscious Meanings of Crime and Punishment. By Martha Grace Duncan (Daniel J. Kornstein)

Comments:

I have searched long nad hard and cannot get hold of a copy. Have you any suggestions. My email address is lawc ontractor@hotmail.com

Many thanks for taking time to read this

- Dave Jacobson

- Dec-30-2007, 04:19

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so.. now that you've told us what you think of the translation, what do you think of chekov (beyond, of course, your wife's opinion)?

if you seriously think that chekov's writing is amusing and humourous, you may very well have missed a very great deal in your reading.

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- May-14-2003, 05:46

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