Wednesday, August 09, 2006

John Cheever on Anton Chekhov

John Cheever on Anton Chekhov:

Readers, upon first being introduced to Chekhov, often say: But nothing happens in the story, nothing real happens and it’s all terribly sad. We mean, of course, that nothing happens in our limited Western sense: that no one is murdered, that the plans for the nuclear submarine have not been stolen, that war has not been declared.

But one does not ask of a short story does something happen? One asks is it interesting? Chekhov is always interesting and one can’t do better.

From John Cheever, “The Melancholy of Distance” in James McConkey, ed., Chekhov and Our Age: Responses to Chekhov by American Writers and Scholars (1984).


Michael said...

An awful lot of boring stories have happened as a result of thinking like that being absorbed by people who didn't happen to be Anton Chekhov.

Kate S. said...


Sadly true. Cheever has something to say about that as well. He contrasts what he terms Chekhov's "mastered irresolution" with the assumption "that the charming melody of irresolution was an end in itself, that no intelligence, no discipline and no depth of feeling was needed," and blames the latter for "set[ting] loose into the literary situation a host of writers whose misunderstanding of Chekhov's greatness was absolute." He follows up this observation with a very funny parody of just the sort of boring story that you describe. The whole essay is well worth reading.

The bit that I posted serves as illumination for those beginning to read Chekhov, not as advice for beginning writers!

Razovsky said...

I had drinks with Ben Cheever and he bummed cigarettes off me!