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Thread: How Does Chekhov Compare to Other Russian Authors?

  1. #1
    The Fair Romantic Lionheart's Avatar
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    Cultural Existentialism

    How Does Chekhov Compare to Other Russian Authors?

    I realize this is kind of an open ended question; however, as a person that has read some Tolstoy and a good portion of Dostoevsky how does Chekhov compare? What are his important themes that he tends to address?

    "The goal of man is to smile at a raging storm that once bore fear in his heart." - Boethius

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    Chekhov in therms of talent is head to head with them. His style is unique however, he sometimes seems to mix Tolstoy and Dostoievisky in one. He can pull psychologically the narrative (his narrators are mostly feelings) and the clear and precise narrative of Tolstoy. The difference is his parcimony.
    Also, he seems to seek the human themes of Dostoievisky, just he keeps his distance (like a good doctor). Chekhov is a bit elitist, but a sharp critic and trully touched by the problems of russia.
    I would say: Chekhov is necessary.

  3. #3
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    Chekhov is at least as great as greatest Russian writers - Pushkin, Lermontov, Gogol, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. (Tolstoy said: "Chekhov is Pushkin in prose"). It is interesting that Chekhov himself did not highly appreciate the prose by Pushkin, neither Dostoevsky. He wrote: "Dostoevsky takes too much on himself" (sorry: I don't know how to say this exactly in English), "The prose of Pushkin is empty" - and I agree with both his opinions. In my (Russian) point of view, Chekhov is absolutely "perfect" writer: there are no weak works among his creations. Gorky wrote to Chekhov: "Do you know what you do? You are killing the realism. And you will soon kill it, forever".

    Evidently, thre are differences between the creations of Chekhov on one hand and previous writers on the other hand. Chekhov wrote: "In Russia only nobles could write novels". Indeed, Pushkin, Lermontov, Turgenev, and Tolstoy belonged to the highest Russian aristocracy. Gogol was born to poor provincial noble family, but nevertheless he was close to aristocracy: he got a stipend specially delivered to him by Tsar, his plays were performed by the Emperor Theater of Petersburg and were approved by Tsar, etc. Dostoevsky was the sun of a person who got a nobility, but, as you know, Dostoevsky had coflicts with authorities - was arrested, sent to Siberia, etc. However, by the end he became, nevertheless, an adept of the tsarist regime.

    Chekhov was the first Russian writer of highest rank who was not born to a noble family (his father was a bankrupt provincial owner of a little shop), and he felt that the form of a novel was not anymore convenient to describe main problems of Russian life (although he tried to write a novel). So, main forms of his creations were short stories and plays. Representatives of many social groups were characters of his short stories, nevertheless, his main character was Russian "inelligentsia". And this was unlike Pushkin, Lermontov, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Goncharov (partly Gogol and Dostoevsky), whose main characters were nobles.

    Many things can be written on this subject, but finally I would say that Chekhov is closer to contemporary (at least Russian) audience than any other Russian classical writer (except Tolstoy, perhaps). Unfortunately (but perhaps this is natural, because Chekhov indeed has killed The literature), since the time of Chekhov and Tolstoy there were no more Russian writers of comparable scale. Sorry for possible mistakes in English (I am Russian).

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    Of course I can not give a russian point of view, but it is not a bit too much to say Chekhov killed literature, as after him there is Maiakovisky, the modern theatre and isnt Gorki actually after-Chekhov as well? I would say Nabokov, even writtingly mostly in english, is quite russian. His prose style is very Chekhov alike and Nabokov is always dealing with the Russian influence (his praising of Tolstoi, his disliking of Dostoievisky).

    Talking about the two big guy Tolstoi and Dostoievisky, I would say it is interesting how they relate to Chekhov. He admired and lived with Tolstoi, of course, and his stilish prose is much debt to the count own style. And Dostoievisky, who, like the count, was, as you said, frowned upon due his prose, did really approached to the subjects that Chekhov would prefer (the mundane people) and the psychological approach. In this is admirable that Chekhov became a master and even more admirable he did it in a genre (short stories and drama) both of them were not famous. He was a skeptical person, keeping the distance from the subjects (influence maybe of french realism), and never allowed his text to be easy, to be for the subjects he wrote. I recall one of his characters saying "Writting is easy, but writting hiding what you really mean is the real art" (from memory of course, and i did not read it in english, but portuguese) and in some of his letters his anger with his editor because some lady was complaning that he wrote about sad things, was pessimist and then Chekhov saying what could be very usefull for today market of self-help: I am helping those to know life. She is lying to them, filling with joy where there is no joy.

    Anyways, yes, Chekhov is great, probally more responsable for the western discovery of russian literature during modernism than Dostoievisky and Tolstoi, since he combined the very aspects that would be relevant to what would be prose for them (and this without writting long texts and novels) and as Short stories goes,he is up there with Poe, Maupassant, Borges, not as best example but also as definitor of genre and rules. It is really hard to find flaws (but since what Chekhov did was pointing a mirror toward sittuations, sometimes they are just pretty pieces, perfect, but not special) but when he got it right, you have masterpieces.

  5. #5
    Registered User Emil Miller's Avatar
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    I am unable to compare the relative merits of Russian authors, having read relatively few of their works. From what I have read, however, I would say that Chekhov is to Dostoievsky what Hemmingway is to Henry James. His prose style is sparse like Hemmingway's whereas Dostoievsky's is extended; although the Gambler is less inflated than Dostoievsky's other works.
    "L'art de la statistique est de tirer des conclusions erronèes a partir de chiffres exacts." Napoléon Bonaparte.

    "Je crois que beaucoup de gens sont dans cet état d’esprit: au fond, ils ne sentent pas concernés par l’Histoire. Mais pourtant, de temps à autre, l’Histoire pose sa main sur eux." Michel Houellebecq.

  6. #6
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Chekhov is great. He managed to make a name for himself in short stories and in the theatre. The Seagull and Uncle Vanya are must reads.

    As for themes, I'm not sure on the short stories but the plays are sort of comitragic. People are unhappy and regretful but they've gotten used to that; no one's with the right partner and often there's unrequited love. Well worth a read.

  7. #7
    Registered User wordeater's Avatar
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    Chekhov didn't kill Russian literature; The Bolshevist revolution did. He's the best Russian writer of short stories and plays.

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