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A Life in Letters (Penguin Classics) Paperback – September 28, 2004
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About the Author
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) was a Russian physician and writer of short stories and plays, including the masterpieces: 'Uncle Vanya', 'The Seagull', and 'The Cherry Orchard'.
Rosamund Bartlett is the author of Shostakovich in Context (OUP, 2000) and Wagner and Russia (CUP, 1995). She is currently working on a biography of Anton Chekhov that will be published by Simon & Schuster.
Anthony Phillips is the translator of the letters between Dmitry Shostakovich and Isaak Gilkman that were published as Story of a Friendship (Faber, 2001/ Cornell UP, 2001).
Top customer reviews
Instead, I found "Anton Chekhov: A Life in Letters" (2004). And I did not regret it one bit. The book is the fullest collection of Chekhov's letters in English translation to date and contains 370 selected letters reproduced in full. It comes with a chronology of Chekhov's life, a very readable, splendid short introduction, suggestions for further reading, a helpful list of correspondents and four very useful maps. An index at the end of the volume assists in, among other things, finding references to stories and plays in Chekhov's letters.
According to the editors, this book is also the first uncensored edition of Chekhov's correspondence in any language. Chekhov, a physician by training, called the facts of life by their name and took life's mishaps with a sense of humor. Later editors, more prudish and therefore considerably more boring, simply cut out what they called "rude language." Only after Glasnost, in the 1990s, the official portrait of Chekhov as a "decorous and refined gentleman with a stick, who never permitted himself to use racy language and who was rather pious and sickly, with little interest in women" (xv) was beginning to be revised.
The editors point out that Chekhov "may have hidden himself in his literary works, leaving it up to his readers to puzzle out his point of view, and he may have had an aversion to talking about himself in public, but in his letters he could be surprisingly outspoken at times," (xxxv) and so it happens that his correspondence reads almost like the autobiography he always declined to write.
Chekhov's letters illustrate why he is perhaps Russia's best-loved writer: "The qualities which first endeared him to Russian readers back in the 1880s are the same ones which explain his appeal today. He wrote no vast novels in which he attempted to solve the problems of existence [that would be Dostoevsky] or fathom the forces of world history [Tolstoy in "War and Peace"]. He had no particular axe to grind about how people should live their lives, but, like the good doctor that he was, he had a superb ability to diagnose what it was that prevented people from finding happiness and fulfillment and a unique talent for pinpointing it in a clear-sighted way that was a the same time immensely gentle and compassionate. He also had an infectious sense of humour and an unerring sense of life's ironies, which prevented his writing from ever becoming too portentous or sentimental." (xxxvii)
The photo used for the cover shows a pensive Chekhov with a slightly mischievous smile playing around the corner of his mouth. Almost as if just then one of his famous quips had crossed his mind: "Medicine is my lawful wedded wife, and literature is my mistress. When I've had enough of the one, I can go and spend the night with the other."