The selected short stories of Anton Chekhov’s “Stories” are ostensibly Russian – set in the Russian provincial towns or countrysides, with Russian characters dealing with then-contemporary Russian themes or problems, in the context of a changing Russian society – yet they speak to broader (literary) themes too: Of family, love, and romance (sometimes with a more pessimistic or fatalistic tone), of sickness and deaths (oftentimes presented dispassionately, without fuss), as well as of the uncertainty of the future (at times, with a diverse ensemble of characters who express resignation). Chekhov is known for his short stories, though the longer novellas with more extensive plot and character development, further characterised by falling action or anti-climatic endings and the absence of moments of drama and tension, were slightly more enjoyable.
Some of these stories and novellas include “A Boring Story from an Old Man’s Notes” (about the inability of a medical science luminary to understand and to communicate the extent to which he has declined physically and psychologically), “Peasant Women” (the tragic story of a family, which includes seduction and infidelity, suicide and deception, and the allotment of blame), “The Fidget” (a woman who is presented to be bright and original and who has a devoted and wonderful husband, but who gets involved in a tragic affair), “Ward No. 6” (the relationship between a patient and an asylum director, with their exchanges premised upon injustice and the roots of mental illness), “The Black Monk” (the depiction of a psychic or supernatural ailment), and “In the Ravine” (a rich but unhappy family, eventually centring on the role its eldest daughter-in-law). Each of them, moreover, stand out with few repeated narratives or devices.
In addition to the appeal of thematic universality in “Stories”, the short stories are known for their compactness (expressed as the dramatic principle of Chekhov’s gun, which involves some foreshadowing since every element in a story must be necessary) and for the lack of a moralising tone. Chekhov does not impose what might be deemed right or wrong, and instead has the characters lead their own lives and live with the consequences of their actions – especially in “The Fidget” and “In the Ravine” – leaving the readers to make up their own minds.