View from Our Back Deck--Autumn 2017









Saturday, May 12, 2018

More Russians: Anton Chekhov's Ward No. 6 and Other Stories

Dark clouds and very cool temperatures made this a reading kind of mid-to-late afternoon. I wanted a bit of a break from my current reads, so I picked up Ward No. 6 and Other Stories by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. My Barnes and Noble paperback edition includes stories from the years of his earliest writings, 1885 ("The Cook's Wedding") to his final years of writing, as in 1902 ("The Bishop").

(I love the cover photo of Chekhov--that's a dachshund type of dog curling up under his left arm.)

I was very interested to discover that the Penguin edition of this same title only covers Chekhov's stories published between 1892-1896. (Yes, I must get this.) I want to read all the stories from that peak period of his work.

I deliberately did not read any Chekhov biographical notes, Wikipedia articles, literary criticism, or history of any kind. I wanted to immerse myself in a few stories and let what I read speak for itself; I wanted to connect with the art as is. Of course later I will most assuredly read all of the above, but sometimes it is really a good thing to just charge into a work of art and take it on its own merits, without the pre-judgements of others. 

I remember an unforgettable art teacher telling me in my early forties, "Let the work of art speak directly to you," she kept emphasizing. "Don't let others' opinions cloud your first personal experience with the painting." Her students religiously practiced this, although after discussing our own views of the artwork, we were free to pursue the voices of critics and biographers.  An important lesson that I've never forgotten.

I read the first two stories in the collection, "The Cook's Wedding" and "The Witch (1886)" this afternoon. I was swept away by the extraordinary description of a brutal snowstorm in "The Witch." A masterful depiction--I don't think I've ever read a more detailed, more exquisitely done "word painting" of a snowstorm.

I do feel sad that Chekhov died at the age of 44. What a loss that was! To contemplate the mortality of 19th-century and early-20th century tuberculosis on young people's lives.

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