Thursday, August 02, 2012

Reading Chekhov's stories

During the last months I have been reading and re-reading Anton Chekhov's stories - both the great tales and the little humoristic pieces. They just are worth reading again every now and then. The best of them (of which there are many) do not seem to age. The sharp verbal talent, the sense of humour and the insight into the human character are timeless. He wrote over 600 stories, over 200 of which have been translated into Finnish, and I am on my way to read almost all that have been translated into my language. They are much more about the society (starting from the very first one) than I remembered, and there is a much stronger social commitment than I had realized. I had had the impression that they would be more about psychology and interiority. There are many film adaptations of Chekhov's work, but only one that is really relevant and in the truly Chekhovian wavelength: Iosif Heifitz's interpretation of The Lady with the Dog (1960), starring Aleksei Batalov and Iya Savvina. Its cinematic greatness is based on the exchanges of looks which tell a lot about the lost illusions of the protagonists. Unfortunately I cannot read Russian, but I know Cyrillic characters, and I started my own Chekhov checklist on the basis of the great Russian online edition of Chekhov's collected works in 30 volumes. I have added a serial number to my copy of its chronological index to help keep track of the various translations with various names of the stories. I have also found stories attributed to Chekhov that don't seem to be included in the collected works. Might there be a Elmyr de Hory type literary forger who creates new works in the styles of masters?

Anton Tshehov / Anton Chekhov: Suuret kertomukset II [The Great Tales II]. Translated by Ulla-Liisa Heino. Helsinki: Otava, 1961. These tales belong to the greatest treasures of literature. They are devastating revelations about the illusions of life. "The Kingdom of Women": the story of a businesswoman, a rich and intelligent woman, and her troubles in establishing a relationship. "Three Years": the tale of a house of commerce, in which "we talk a lot of love". "My Life": the account of the social downfall of a young man of high social standing, his viewpoint switching to that of the working man. "Peasants": the clerk of a big city hotel falls ill and returns with his family to the poverty of the childhood home at the countryside. "Gooseberries": the dream come true of "back to the nature". "The Lady with the Dog": the marriage of convenience and true love; the illusory nature of the object of love. "In the Ravine": the family of merchants plagued by corruption.

Anton Tshehov  / Anton Chekhov: Valittuja I osa: kertomuksia ja novelleja [Selected Works Part I: Tales and Short Stories]. Translated by Matti Lehmonen. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö SMIA, 1945. Over twenty of these stories I had just read in newer translations in other collections, but there were many discoveries in this volume. There is Chekhov's very first short story, "A Letter to the Learned Neighbour" from 1880, a satire on sycophantism. "In Moscow at the Trubnaya Square" (set in the same place where Boris Barnet set his comic masterpiece) is a comic cross-section of the lively fish and bird market. "In the Sauna" is an account of a misunderstanding as a deacon visits the bath-house. "To and Fro" is a snapshot of an inept sexton who has difficulties in keeping the church records. "A Living Chronology" is a risqué story about paternity. "From the Memoirs of an Idealist" is about a man who decides at last to start to live, and write his memoirs afterwards. "The Pretenders" is a story of a philantrophic wife of a general who helps people generously and practises homeopathy on the side, believing that the people take both her money and her homeopathic drugs seriously. "Lost" is a farcical piece about two lawyers who have had one glass too many and enter the wrong summer villa. "Sergeant Prishibeyev" is a courtroom satire of a zealous low-ranking military man who tries to impose military discipline everywhere. "A Joke" is a poignant toboggan story with the jokingly whispered words "I love you" reverberating for a lifetime. "День за городом (Сценка)" (the Finnish title means "A Day in the Country", which makes sense, but the literal translation is "A Day in the City", which doesn't) is about the encounter of two orphan boys with a kind shoemaker. "The Chemist's Wife" is a brief scene of a frustrated woman in an Emma Bovary situation; nothing happens. "Ivan Matveyitch" is a scene with the clumsy scribe of a learned man. "At the Mill" is the portrait of a greedy and brutal miller who exploits everybody within his sphere of influence, including the monks of the monastery. "Polinka" tells about the daughter of the fashion boutique who is courted successfully by the shop clerk against a more learned but haughty rival. "Verochka" is a portrait of a love of a statistician who understands a minute too late that love has just passed him by. "The Lottery Ticket" is a play with the idea how life would change with winning a jackpot. "Volodya" is the tragic story of a confused and clumsy young man and a grown-up married woman who wants him for a definite need only. "The Old House" is a tale of a family stricken by misfortune. "Kashtanka" is the adventure of a brutal carpenter's dog as a circus attraction.

Anton Tshehov  / Anton Chekhov: Valittuja II osa: kertomuksia ja novelleja [Selected Works Part II: Tales and Short Stories]. Translated by Matti Lehmonen. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö SMIA, 1945. A great volume all the stories of which save two I had just read in newer translations. From this one I read three stories wondering again about Chekhov's obsession with the figure of the superficial woman in "The Grasshopper" (the doctor's shallow wife), "Big Volodya and Little Volodya" (the husband, a big old rich roué, and the lover, a young poor Bohemian roué) and "Darling" (the chameleon woman).

Anton Tshehov / Anton Chekhov: Ensirakastaja: kertomuksia [Le jeune premier: Stories]. Translated by Lauri Savolainen. Helsinki: Tammi, 1946. An interesting selection of stories, including some rare and special ones, not included in other collections I have been reading. "The Swedish Match" is a parody of a detective story, interesting to compare with The Shooting Party. "A Clever Janitor" is a sketch of a janitor-bookworm who urges everybody to read. "The Last Mohicaness" is one of Chekhov's most formidable caricatures of a harridan. "Nerves" is a comic piece of a man under the influence of ghost stories. "It Was Her All Right!" belongs to Chekhov's exposures of the human nature: what everybody expects to hear in a tale of erotic escapades. "At the Marshal's" is another exposure, illustrating the claim that fun without drink is a sham. "A Speaker" is the account of an eulogy at the wrong man's grave, the actual departed having been well-known for his harridan wife and heavy drinking. "The Hunter" is the portrait of a restless and irresponsible man from the viewpoint of his grossly neglected wife. "The Examination for the Rank" is a cross-section of profound incompetence and misunderstanding at the examination of wannabe civil servants of very different ages. "The Exclamation Mark" is a related story about the competence for spelling of a civil servant. It turns into a spelling nightmare. "An Album" is a sketch about a family who recycles merrily dad's dreary gift from his office colleagues. "The Writer" is a satire about a man of letters who becomes a writer of ad copy for a proverbially crooked merchant. "The Shoemaker and the Devil" is a humoristic morality tale about a shoemaker who has a diable boîteux nightmare. "The Romantic Lead" is about a dashing actor boasting about his escapades, real or imagined. He commits the blunder of telling a made-up anecdote about a wrong woman. "Distress" ("Gore", not to be mixed up with "Anguish" / "Toska") is a startling piece about a brutal turner who has hit his gentle wife once too many. "With Nothing Better to Do" is a Lubitsch style piece of a worldly husband who surprises his wife in the embrace of a young man and shocks him by the proposal that they should marry.

Suuret kertomukset II
574. Бабье царство / Naisten kuningaskunta, 1894 [The Kingdom of Women]
580. Три года / Kolme vuotta, 1895 [Three Years]
587. Моя жизнь (Рассказ провинциала) / Minun elämäni, 1896 [My Life (The Story of a Provincial)]
588. Мужики / Talonpoikia, 1897 [Peasants]
595. Крыжовник / Karviaismarjoja, 1898 [Gooseberries]
601. Дама с собачкой / Nainen ja sylikoira, 1899 [The Lady with the Dog]
602. В овраге / Rotkossa, 1900 [In the Ravine]

Valittuja I (the boldfaced ones are not in Valitut novellit, 1959, or Suuret kertomukset, 1961)
1. Письмо к ученому соседу / Kirje oppineelle naapurille, 1880 / [A Letter to the Learned Neighbour]
122. Смерть чиновника / Virkamiehen kuolema, 1883 [The Death of a Civil Servant]
125. Злой мальчик / Paha poika, 1883 [The Naughty Boy]
142. В Москве на Трубной площади / Moskovan Torvi-torilla, 1883 [In Moscow at the Trubnaya Square]
202. Хирургия / Kirurgia, 1884 [Dental Surgery]
206. Хамелеон / Kameleontti, 1884 [A Chameleon]
243. В бане / Saunassa, 1885 [In the Sauna]
258. Канитель / Kuhnailua, 1885 [Much Ado]
241. Живая хронология / Elävä kronologi, 1885 [A Living Chronology]
304. Из воспоминаний идеалиста / Idealistin muistelmia, 1885 [From the Memoirs of an Idealist]
302. Симулянты / Teeskentelijät, 1885 [Pretenders]
303. Налим / Made, 1885 [A Burbot]
306. Лошадиная фамилия / Hevosmainen sukunimi, 1885 [A Horse-Like Family Name]
312. Заблудшие / Eksyksissä, 1885 [Lost]
515. Злоумышленники. (Рассказ очевидцев) / Ilkiö, 1887 [A Malefactor]
327. Кухарка женится / Keittäjätär menee naimisiin, 1885 [The Cook Gets Married]
324. Унтер Пришибеев / Aliupseeri Prishibejev, 1885 [Sergeant Prishibeyev]
348. Пересолил / Valehteli liikaa, 1885 [Overdone]
374. Детвора / Lapsilauma, 1886 [Kids]
377. Тоска / Kaiho, 1885 [Anguish]
391. Шуточка / Mäenlaskun hurma, 1886 [A Joke]
409. Счастливчик / Onnenpoika, 1886 [A Lucky Man]
412. День за городом (Сценка) / Päivä maalla, 1886 [A Day in the City (A Scene)]
420. Аптекарша / Apteekkarin rouva, 1886 [The Chemist's Wife]
423. Хористка / Laulajatar, 1886 [A Chorus Girl]
407. Знакомый мужчина / Miestuttava, 1886 [A Familiar Man]
387. Иван Матвеич / Ivan Matveitsh, 1886 [Ivan Matveyitch]
453. Тина / Susanna Moisejevna, 1886 [Slime] 
457. Мечты / Haaveita, 1886 [Dreams] 
459. На мельнице / Myllyssä, 1886 [At the Mill] 
471. Ванька / Vanka, 1886 [Vanka] 
476. Нищий / Kerjäläinen, 1887 [A Beggar]
480. Полинька / Polinka, 1887 [Polinka]
483. Верочка / Verotshka, 1887 [Verochka] 
488. Выигрышный билет / Voittolippu, 1887 [The Lottery Ticket]
503. Володя / Volodja, 1887 [Volodya]
528. Старый дом. (Рассказ домовладельца) / Vanha talo, 1887 [The Old House (The Story of a Homeowner)]
534. Мальчики / Poikia, 1887 [Boys]
535. Каштанка. (Рассказ) / Kashtanka, 1887 [Kashtanka (A Tale)]
538. Спать хочется / Nukuttaa, 1888 [Sleepy]
539. Степь. (История одной поездки) / Aro, 1888 [The Steppe. The Story of a Trip] - chapters 1-2

Valittuja II (the boldfaced ones are not in Valitut novellit, or Suuret kertomukset)
539. Степь. (История одной поездки) / Aro, 1888 [The Steppe. The Story of a Trip] - chapters 3-8
561. Попрыгунья / Huimapää, 1892 [The Grasshopper]
572. Володя большой и Володя маленький / Iso Volodja ja pikku Volodja, 1893 [Big Volodya and Little Volodya]
586. Дом с мезонином (Рассказ художника) / Ullakkokerroksella varustettu talo [The House with a Mezzanine (The Story of an Artist)]
588. Мужики / Talonpoikaiselämää, 1897 [Peasants]
594. Человек в футляре / Mies kotelossa, 1898 [A Man in a Case]
595. Крыжовник / Karviaismarjat, 1898 [Gooseberries]
593. Ионыч / Tohtori Jonitsh, 1899 [Ionich]
597. Случай из практики / Tapaus lääkärin elämästä, 1898 [A Case from a Doctor's Practice]
599. Душечка / Sydänkäpynen, 1899 [The Darling]
601. Дама с собачкой / Koiraa taluttava nainen, 1899 [The Lady with the Dog]
604. Архиерей / Piispa Pietari, 1902 [The Bishop]
605. Невеста / Morsian, 1903 [The Bride]

Ensirakastaja (the boldfaced titles are not in Valitut novellit, Suuret kertomukset, or Valittuja)
133. Шведская спичка. (Уголовный рассказ) / Ruotsalainen tulitikku, 1883 [A Swedish Match (A Criminal Story)]
388. Ведьма / Noita, 1886 [A Witch]
241. Живая хронология / Elävä kronologia, 1885 [A Living Chronology]
89. Умный дворник / Viisas talonmies, 1883 [A Clever Janitor]
263. Последняя могиканша / Viimeinen naismohikaani, 1885 [The Last Mohicaness]
294. Нервы, 1885 / Hermot [Nerves]
129. Приданое / Myötäjäiset, 1883 [The Dowry]
472. То была она! / Juuri hän se oli!, 1886 [It Was Her All Right!]
240. У предводительши / Muistiaisjuhla, 1885 [At the Marshal's]
463. Оратор / Puhuja, 1886 [A Speaker]
421. Лишние люди / Liikaa väkeä, 1886 [Superfluous People]
313. Егерь / Metsästäjä, 1885 [The Hunter]
229. Устрицы / Osterit, 1884 [Oysters]
295. Дачники / Huvila-asukkaita, 1885 [Dacha Vacationers]
201. Экзамен на чин / Virkatutkinto, 1884 [Examination for the Rank]
370. Неудача / Ei ollut viuhkaa!, 1886 [A Failure]
360. Восклицательный знак. (Святочный рассказ) / Huudahdusmerkki, 1885 [The Exclamation Mark (A Christmas Story)]
189. Альбом / Albumi, 1884 [An Album]
347. Писатель / Kirjailija, 1885 [The Writer]
545. Сапожник и нечистая сила / Suutari ja sielunvihollinen, 1888 [The Shoemaker and the Devil]
437. Первый любовник / Ensirakastaja, 1886 [Le jeune premier / A Romantic Lead]
243. В бане / Saunassa, 1885 [In the Sauna]
352. Горе / Suru, 1885 [Distress]
351. Старость / Vanhuus, 1885 [Old Age]
415. От нечего делать (Дачный роман) / Joutilaisuudessa, 1886 [Nothing Better to Do (A Summer Romance)]

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