Anton Chekhov drew inspiration for these powerful vignettes from the teeming world of nineteenth-century Russia, a time in which women were considered little more than possessions of their male masters, with nothing to call their own. "Stories of Women" contains examples of Chekhov's finest work written between 1882 and 1903, including twelve stories that appear in English for the first time. This collection focuses on the plight of women - privileged and peasant - and shows Chekhov's eloquent compassion for their unenviable social position.
ANTON PAVLOVICH CHEKHOV was born on January 17, 1860, in Taganrog, a port on the Sea of Azov. His father, a small shopkeeper, had been born a serf, but his grandfather had saved enough money to buy freedom for himself and his sons. Chekhov had four brothers and one sister, and their needs were a primary concern for him during his entire life. The fam-ily rived in a miserable neighborhood and their one-story house had a shop in the front and a tavern in the basement. The tyrannical father did not spare the boys in any way, and Anton was an often-flogged little garbage man and bartender.
In a letter to one of his brothers, Chekhov later wrote:
"I beg you to remember that despotism and lies destroyed your mother's youth. Despotism and lies have spoiled our youth to such a degree that it is loathsome and terrible to recall it. Remember the fear and revulsion we felt every time Father threw his indignant and furious tantrums at the din-ner table because the soup was too salty, reviling and insult-ing our mother as if she were a dim-witted imbecile."
At age sixteen, Chekhov was left to fend for himself when his father moved the family to Moscow in order to escape debtor's prison. Anton remained in Taganrog where he was in school on a scholarship. Away from his father, his true nature blossomed and replaced misery with a youthful exuberance to which was added a passion for the theater and music.
After finishing school in Taganrog, Chekhov went to Moscow, where he studied medicine at the University on schol-arship. To help with his family's finances, he started publishing articles, tales, jokes, and anecdotes. By the time that he earned his medical degree in 1884, his main interest was writing. His medical practice furnished him with constant contact with uninhibited human beings who in their weakened states pro-vided him with an infinite amount of material--and skepti-cism. He wrote that medicine was his "legal wife" and that lit-erature was his "mistress."
Chekhov's literary reputation grew with the publication of his collection Motley Stories (1886). In 1888 he was awarded the Pushkin Prize for another collection, In the Twilight. This, and publication of his story "The Steppe" (1888), established him as one of Russia's leading writers.
All of Chekhov's writing reflects the man himself. From age fourteen, when he had his first attack of pleurisy, until his death, he was often desperately ill. He understood the impor-tance of what he called "life's trifles" and rarely neglected these in his writing. In the conduct of his life he was the epitome of all that was kind, generous, witty, and humane, and he was an inveterate optimist. On his deathbed, he wrote: "life and peo-ple are becoming better and better, wiser and more honor-able. . . ." But he did not believe in shifting responsibility for one's behavior to circumstances and society. The human being, he intensely believed, was perfectly competent to judge right from wrong. This did not make him popular with the future socialist revolutionaries, and adverse criticisms of his work were at times purely political.
Chekhov has been known best in the English-speaking world for his plays, which he wrote in the last years of his life: The Seagull (1896), Uncle Vanya (1897), The Three Sisters (1901), and The Cherry Orchard (1904). His stories, however, were greatly admired from the beginning and were translated into many European languages soon after publication in Russia.
In 1901 Chekhov married the actress Olga Knipper, who played leading roles in several of his plays that were staged by the Moscow Art Theater. He died of tuberculosis on July 2, 1904, at a German health resort in Badenweiler.
Paula P. Ross (Kalamazoo, MI) is the translator of Chekhov's Stories of Women and Stories of Men. She has taught economics and sociology.