Tales of Chekhov
by Anton Chekhov and Constance Garnett
A review by Mona Simpson
In 1984, Daniel Halpern, founder of the
Ecco Press, began republishing all 201 of the Constance Garnett
translations of Anton Chekhov's stories. Since then, the thirteen
resulting volumes have become a contemporary staple for the library of
any serious reader. (I think I've purchased five whole sets in
those twenty-odd years -- several as wedding presents, one as a baby
present, one remains in my study.) The price of around $8.50 per volume
(which would total $110 for the series) represented a tremendous
bargain for the most comprehensive collection of Chekhov stories in
what is still the best complete translation available in English. Late
in 2006, to coincide with its own thirty-fifth anniversary, Ecco
republished the thirteen volumes in a handsome boxed set. After twenty
years, the price has climbed only to $150.
Chekhov is a master at making his characters' darkest aspects
comprehensible and human. He's never sentimental and he's
not particularly pleasant, but he will always feel modern because of
his astonishing juxtapositions and the way his characters' swift,
darting minds vacillate between idealism and boredom, vanity and hope.
His narrator has a keen vision of class anger, resentment, and envy.
Although less enchanted by his own characters than was Tolstoy, Chekhov
acutely portrays largeheartedness.
Given that all of the Chekhov stories translated by Garnett can be downloaded for free (James Rusk made them available at chekhov2 .tripod.com), Ecco might be wise to assemble the books in durable hardback; they will always find a market.
Mona Simpson is the author of four novels, including Anywhere But Here (1986) and Off Keck Road (2000).
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