Five Great Short Stories by Anton Chekhov (1894-1899)
This Dover Thrift publication contains the following short stories, all of which can be read for free online:
Chekhov is known as the master of the short story, and after reading these five stories, it is easy to see why. Each story is exquisitely crafted and nearly flawless. Chekhov writes with such precision, especially when describing the natural world. His words perfectly evoke the scene: a garden in flower; a riverbank; an avenue of trees; a field just before a rainstorm; the sea.
Chekhov contrasts the beauty and serenity of the natural world with the inner turmoil of his characters. For Chekhov, suffering is the natural human condition. His characters are mostly depressed, or if they are happy, their happiness is due to ignorance, corruption or insanity. In stark contrast to the beautiful world they inhabit, Chekhov’s characters dwell in darkness, constantly struggling against their own limitations and the limitations imposed on them by others or by society. Chekhov’s characters don’t fear death; instead, they seem to welcome it as an end to the struggle.
In these five selections, Chekhov addresses many of the highest themes of literature: the state of the mind (“The Black Monk”); the value of art (“The House with the Mezzanine”); the unending cycle of poverty (“The Peasants”); the corrupting influence of wealth (“Gooseberries”); and the mystery of love (“The Lady with the Toy Dog”). In these stories, Chekhov asks no less than what it means to be human. He doesn’t offer easy answers; often his stories end with the question unresolved. But it is impossible after reading them not to feel moved by the power of Chekhov’s words.