"My business is merely to be talented, i.e to know how to distinguish important statements from unimportant, how to throw light on the characters and to speak their language. Shcheglov- Leontyev blames me for finishing my story with the words 'There's no making out anything in this world'. He thinks a writer who is a good psychologist ought to be able to make it out- that is what he is a psychologist for. But I don't agree with him. It is time that writers, especially those who are artists, recognised that there is no making out anything in this world, as once Socrates recognised it, and Voltaire too."
(Chekhov wrote in 1 of his letters to Suvorin)
I've finished reading Chekhov's 40 stories (translated and with an introduction by Robert Payne). The stories are put in chronological order, the later ones tend to be longer and sadder and no longer light-hearted.
My favourites are "Joy", "The ninny", "The highest heights", "Death of a government clerk", "Surgery", "Where there's a will, there's a way", "A report", "The threat", "The malefactor", "Sergeant Prishibeyev", "A blunder", "Heartache", "Sleepyhead", "The princess", "Big Volodya and Little Volodya", "The bishop", "The bride" and above all "The lady with the pet dog".
Strangely enough, I feel that liking Chekhov is something against my character. Because I'm young and hopeful and not ready to give up searching for truth and finding answers and trying to grasp human nature, and perhaps, in some ways, I'm a bit of a romantic. As written before, some stories in this book have a sense that something's missing, lacking. But the inconclusiveness and uncertainty of his endings is precisely what makes many people admire him, because that's how life is, never definite and certain, and to each of us people are always blurred, even those who are very close can never know each other perfectly well. Chekhov strips each story to the bone, leaves out all the inessential details and uses a few strokes to paint very lively pictures. This quality is at its height in "The lady with the pet dog", in which we neither know the personalities of the 2 main characters nor the detailed, specific actions and conversations, and yet miraculously Chekhov tells the story and makes us believe it and touches something deep within us. I find it difficult to praise Chekhov without appearing to defend him, but that's how "The lady with the pet dog" is- in a plain, almost bare style, he conveys the mood and emotions of the characters, especially the mood. The beauty is increased by the open ending. Melancholy and moving, it affects me in an unusual way I can't describe, which happens rarely.
Whilst I don't like Chekhov as much as Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Nabokov, reading this book has been a rewarding experience.
PS: Analysis of Chekhov's treatment of "Anna Karenina":