Chekhov and Mansfield

Lurking a little way below our discussion of Mansfield is the influence of Chekhov on her writing. Lurking much closer to my surface is my annoyance at the V.S. Pritchett 1946 review of Mansfield’s Collected Stories which Tom gave us last week. In it, among other things, Pritchett seems to fault Mansfield for not having “the sense of a country” that somehow makes Chekhov a better writer. He wonders about the characters in At the Bay, “who are these people, who are their neighbors, what is the world they belong to?” Apparently, we never need to worry about these things in a Chekhov story. Pritchett mentions Chekhov’s The Steppe by name, but says that “Russia, the condition of Russia, is the silent character, always haunting us” in Chekhov’s work. I’m not convinced that we don’t get sense of New Zealand in At the Bay, and I’m certainly not convinced that any supposed missing sense of nationality in Mansfield is a drawback.

None of this, of course, has much to do with how to evaluate Chekhov’s influence on Mansfield. Pritchett briefly says that both writers were more interested in moments of truth than plot. To help us make our own measure, I’ve links here to a couple of Chekhov stories.

The Steppe is a long novella. I haven’t read it yet, but maybe we can put it on our to do list for the last meeting. You can find a nicely formatted version of it here:

A shorter, more manageable, Chekhov story is Frost. If you read it you may find yourself wishing Russia a more silent character than it is here, but, in addition to being a fine story, I think it illustrates Pritchett’s points pretty well.

Take a look at it:

FROST (.pdf)

You can find Frost and other Chekhov stories on line at Project Gutenberg.

Addendum from Tom:  In addition to Seth’s excellent recommendations above, I’ve added a link below to a PDF of three very short stories (each runs a page or two) that suggest some of the ways that Mansfield was influenced by Chekhov but then went beyond his sense of realism to shape her own looser kind of reality.  … Fat and Thin is short and twisty.  Misery is placed solidly in a Russian landscape.  Oysters is perhaps the most interesting of the bunch for our purposes – among other things, its main character is a boy whose situation we only slowly begin to figure out.

“Fat and Thin,” “Misery,” and “Oysters” by Anton Chekhov


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