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ClassicsOnline Home » CHEKHOV, A.: In the Ravine and other short stories (Unabridged)
Here are the eleven short stories by Anton Chekhov, one of the finest masters of what is acknowledged to be a difficult genre. There is the richly comic Oh! The Public, about a hassled ticket inspector, a wry look at morals and manners in The Chorus Girl, and the melancholic tale of a cab driver in Misery. Perhaps the finest of all is the novella In The Ravine, a minutely observed look at life in a village through the eyes of one family. All the characters come to life with their foibles, their strengths and their hopes. Kenneth Branagh uses his natural talent for characterisation to bring this village to life.
In The Ravine
& Other Short Stories
Oh! The Public • The Chorus Girl • The Trousseau
A Story Without a Title • Children • Misery • Fat and Thin
The Beggar • Hush! • The Orator • An Actor’s End
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, grandson of a serf, was born into a
Russia of tumult in 1860. In 1861 the system of serfs was abolished, although
serfdom echoed through the social order for succeeding decades. He grew up in
Taganrog on the Sea of Asov, but his family moved to Moscow when his father’s
business failed. There, Chekhov studied medicine, which he was to practice all
In his student years he earned money by writing,
establishing a reputation initially for humorous short stories, then far more
serious observations of Russian life. And finally came the great plays,
including The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1899), The Three Sisters (1901), and
The Cherry Orchard – his last great play, in 1904, the year of his death from
The plays remain the works with which he is most clearly
identified. The short stories, often gentle in their character, faintly elusive
in their purpose, rely on the portrayal of seemingly simple situations rather
than masculine plots with a strong conclusion. For a generation engaged by
Maupassant (1850-1893), with his overtly exciting storylines, Chekhov presented
a totally different approach.
“All I wanted was to say honestly to people: ‘Have a look at
yourselves and see how bad and dreary your lives are!’ The important thing is
that people should realize that, for when they do, they will most certainly
create another and better life for themselves.”
His short stories inhabit the same atmosphere as his plays.
The words spoken and the actions, which take place, can appear quite
inconsequential, but it is the confusion, the yearning, the hope and the
anguish behind those words, which form the real story. At first reading, or
hearing, they can seem even pallid. But gradually the depth of emotion, of
intent, emerges from even the lightest of brushstrokes.
This is evident in each of the stories here. Oh! The Public
is a typical Chekhovian comedy, presenting the flustered confusion of the guard
who, initially, can rely on his position of authority and do his job in his
uniform – a contemporary figure we can recognize even now! But gradually he is
undermined. And does his tormentor really have a ticket? The Orator, too, is a
brief comedy, which also has something to say about the funeral process, while
A Story Without a Title pricks religious pomposity.
In The Chorus Girl, the sympathies of the reader/listener
rock back and forth between the plight of the wife and the plight of the girl,
showing so clearly the complexities of the common triangle.
So many of these stories offer vivid glimpses of Russian
life in the closing part of the 19th century. The sad, unfulfilled lives
lamented by Chekhov seen no more clearly than in The Trousseau, with its
picture of hopeless, forlorn existence.
By contrast, Children is a bright evocation of a group of
youngsters having fun while the grown-ups are away. With remarkable economy,
Chekhov shows what an invisible but sharp observer in the room would have seen
during the game. The individual nature of each child emerges in just a few
lines, through their response to the game, to the others, to the lateness.
And, as we all remember, such evenings are not entirely fun,
for interwoven relationships are as strong at child level as later on; some
individuals are caring, others selfish, ambitious, or confused.
Chekhov wrote about the people he met and observed. The cab
driver in Misery is desperate to communicate his tragedy, but those he meets –
his fares – are either anxious to avoid involving themselves or are oblivious
to it. With whom can he share his grief? The answer is the real tragedy. On the
other extreme is the journalist in Hush!, living a fantasy of importance as he
Vertical or horizontal relationships abound. Fat and Thin
expresses with a smile the social pecking order we impose on ourselves, while
The Beggar shows that things are not always what we presume.
Knowing the dynamics of a theater company so well, Chekhov
set out to have fun, too, with An Actor’s End. Fun, with a dying man?… The
underlying plot is so very Russian – the need for a return to the roots, to
Vyazma, to die. But the color of the picture comes also from the characters
making their exits and entrances, dealing each in their own way with the
situation. Here is the comic actor Sigaev, here is the jejune premier
Brama-Glinsky, here is the manager Zhukov, the tragic actor Adabashev, the
And finally, In The Ravine: In form this is more a novella
than a short story, yet not in content. Here, in Ukleeva, in the ravine, is an
enclosed society with its own cycles of power, submission, blackmail, abuse,
and profound Russian sadness. Most people coming into contact with the Tsybukin
family are affected by it, some deeply, some only in passing. Grigory
Petrovitch Tsybukin rules, for a while, but he cannot remain untouched by the
shrewdness and ruthlessness of Aksinya, his daughter-in-law, the gentleness of
Varvara, his young wife, or his desperate pride in his wayward son Anisim. Into
this family comes the simple Lipa, who can only talk on real terms with the
carpenter, and who can, perhaps, understand the tragedy that befalls her son
Nikifor; even more tragically, she comes to accept it. It is the way of the
world, Chekhov seems to say.
At the age of 26, Chekhov wrote to his brother, Alexander:
“When describing nature, a writer should seize upon small
details, arranging them so that the reader will see an image in his mind after
he closes his eyes. For instance: you will capture the truth of a moonlit night
if you’ll write that a gleam like starlight shone from the pieces of a broken
bottle, and then the dark, plump shadow of a dog or wolf appeared. You will
bring life to nature only if you don’t shrink from similes that liken its
activities to those of humankind.
In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute
particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations! Be sure not
to discuss your hero’s state of mind. Make it clear from his actions. Nor is it
necessary to portray many main characters. Let two people be the center of
gravity in your story: he and she.”
Notes by Nicolas Soames
Kenneth Branagh, a leading figure in film, television and on
stage, is equally at home with classic and contemporary subjects. However, as
director and adaptor, he has made a particular contribution to Shakespearean
performance with his films such as Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V, Hamlet and
Love’s Labour’s Lost. His productions of Shakespeare in the theater have
included: Henry V, Hamlet and Love’s Labour’s Lost (Royal Shakespeare Company),
Romeo and Juliet (Lyric), As You Like It, Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing
(Renaissance), A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear (World Tour), which he
also directed, and Coriolanus (co-production with Chichester Festival Theatre).
He has also played Iago in Oliver Parker’s film Othello. Among his other films
are: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Peter’s Friends and Theory of Flight. He has
won numerous awards for his work on stage, film and television as actor and
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