Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Elusive Mr. Chekhov


It seems Anton Chekhov is a hard man to pin down.  No one has yet to write a definitive account in the English language.  I've been reading Irene Nemirovsky's A Life of Chekhov, published after her death in 1950.  It is a personal story about Chekhov, rather than a study of his work.  The narrative has been made into a BBC radio play.

A book that does receive much praise is Anton Chekhov's Life and Thought, edited and annotated by Simon Karlinsky and translated by Michael Henry Heim.  It is a collection of Chekhov's letters spread throughout his literary career with a lengthy introduction by Karlinsky putting his work into perspective.  Here is a copy of the 1997 reprint by Northwestern University.  It appears to be an expanded copy of the original 1975 edition.  Nemirovsky drew on Chekhov's letters to a large degree in writing her personal account.

Henri Troyat has also written a biography of Chekhov that is generally well regarded.  He is most famous for his magisterial biography of Tolstoy.  Heim also translated this book to English.

The portrait is by Issac Levitan, painted in 1886.  Here's a nice essay, Crossed Destinies: Anton Chekhov and Isaac Levitan

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