A Breath of Chekhov

Lee Siegel talks about Anton Chekhov in his review of the new translations from Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (The Nation).

To return to Chekhov in this cultural moment makes you feel as if you
were experiencing spring in Russia. His meticulously crafted fiction
and plays seem absolutely free of artifice, as if telling stories were
a natural function of his physical being, like a birdsong, and not a
highly disciplined and self-conscious creative-intellectual activity.
Yet so much writing about fiction now consists of tiresome debates over
realism versus modernism, the nature of consciousness in the novel,
character versus caricature, poetic language versus plain language–it
is all a kind of analytical birdcage.

During the past forty years, the university has offered refuge to
scores of artists and intellectuals and, for some time, an academic
style has been flowing back into mainstream literary culture.[…] The idea of literature as, in
Kenneth Burke’s phrase, "equipment for living," has just about gone the
way of the typewriter.

And suddenly Chekhov’s universe appears anew in this beautiful, if
sometimes maladroitly translated–by Richard Pevear and Larissa
Volokhonsky–new collection of his five short novels […].


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