Sunday, March 01, 2015

Fortnightly Book, March 1

The fortnightly book this time around is Two Plays of Anton Chekhov. Chekhov was thrown into literary life as many great authors are, by a desperate need to support his family. He also did extensive medical work as a doctor, despite the fact that he himself suffered from tuberculosis, which, of course, eventually killed him. He is best known as a short story writer, but he wrote several plays. He is regarded as a master of indirect action and subtext; he has a tendency to structure his plays so that major elements of dramatic action occur off stage, and things left unspoken sometimes matter as much as things that are said. His plays are often regarded as masterpieces but difficult to produce; they make very careful and deliberate use of temporal effects, for instance -- other playwrights will tell you that a scene takes place in a room, but Chekhov will tell you that it takes place in the room at noon on a sunny day, and this will make a difference to the story. He also likes using sound effects to carry information. The following stage direction from The Three Sisters shows something of both of these qualities:

The bedroom of OLGA and IRINA. On the left and right beds with screens around them. Past two o'clock at night. Behind the scenes a bell is ringing on account of a fire in the town, which has been going on for some time. It can be seen that no one in the house has gone to bed yet. Ont he sofa MASHA is lying, dressed as usual in black. Enter OLGA and ANFISA.

The two plays in the volume are The Cherry Orchard and The Three Sisters, each of which took him a year to write, and both of which are often considered good even for Chekhov. They are translated by Constance Garnett, who was famous for her translations of Russian works.

The volume is by The Heritage Press (New York), so it has a nice maroon vellum cloth binding with gold stamping. You can see it online here. It also has an introduction by actor Sir John Gielgud and illustrations by the very famous graphic artist and illustrator, Lajos Szalay. The type is twelve-point Garamond.

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