Since I will be teaching a course on Chekhov’s short stories in a few months, I recently went to my local public library searching for a biography of this great Russian writer. There was only one biography available, tersely titled Chekhov by Henri Troyat. I wanted the book to give me background on Chekhov’s family and friends, education and his careers as both a writer and a physician. My expectation was that it would be an encyclopedic read, full of facts, with some informative anecdotes sprinkled in throughout the pages.
What I found in Troyat’s biography was a beautiful literary unfolding of Chekhov’s life. Troyat (1911-2007), born Lev Aslanovich Tarassov in Moscow, fled the Bolsheviks with his family in 1920, settling in France where he truly developed into a literary Renaissance man writing novels, short stories and plays, as well as biographies. The prose in this biography flows clearly and elegantly, a tribute to the translator Michael Henry Heim. It reads more like a novel than a biography.
Troyat views Chekhov as the quintessential writer, an objective narrator who describes his characters as best he can, and let the judgements of them be determined by the reader. This biographer sees Chekhov, the doctor who is wed to science, allured to the passions embodied by his two literary mistresses, the short story and drama.
The book is a wonderful read. I look forward to reading Troyat’s biography of Tolstoy.
I will be teaching two literature courses, The Forsyte Saga and Chekhov’s Short Stories at the Oakton Community College Emeritus Program during the Fall 2017 semester. I will be co-teaching the Chekhov course with my friend and colleague Bob Boone. Written by Nobel Prize-winning author John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga is considered by many to be some of the best British fiction ever written and consists of three novels and two interludes. It chronicles the vicissitudes of the upper-middle class Forsyte family from late Victorian England through the aftermath of the First World War.
There is a brilliant conciseness and purposeful functionality in the characterizations and dialogues of Chekhov’s short stories that have set the bar for all writers. His carefully crafted writing resonates with honesty and compassion, allowing the readers to explore the motivations and actions of his characters. The Forsyte Saga will meet five consecutive Thursday mornings at 10:00-11:30 from October 5 through November 2; Chekhov’s Short Stories will meet six consecutive Tuesday mornings at 10:00-11:30 from October 10 through November 14. You may register online at http://www.oakton.edu/conted or call 847-982-9888.