Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories and the Limitations of Norton Critical Editions


Ah, that special weight and tactile feedback of a Norton Critical Edition. It takes me back -although not to any readings of Chekhov in particular. This book was my first introduction to any of his writing, with the exception of a short passage in Francine Prose’s wonderful book “Reading like a Writer”. I think Cal State dropped the ball on that one, right? Regardless, my goal to read 100 books in 2015 has put a lot of the missed classics and neglected canon back in my sights.

I don’t think anyone would be particularly surprised by my assessment here. Chekhov is widely understood to be one of the greatest exemplars of short story writing in the history of the medium, and I’m completely on board with that. If anything, I’m surprised at how much at home his prose would be in a recent edition of The New Yorker or The Missouri Review. While Chekhov’s subjects seem alien in our post-Bolshevik world, his literary expressions of them remain full of relevant perception.

My only complaint? Well, I’m afraid I have to throw my beloved Norton Edition under the bus here. The mix of translations and lack of continuity (stories are organized by their date of publication) make for a rather poor read-it-all-the-way-through experience. I’m sure it’s more than adequate for a selective academic study, but if you really want to sit down and read Chekhov, skip the Norton. Francine Prose recommends the Constance Garnett translations, and I have no reason to disagree.
Recommendation: Read Chekhov, but pass on the Norton. I’ve included a link to a superior copy below.

by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov



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