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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Chekhov: A Bibliographic Research Guide: Chekhov's Works

Research sources and strategies for the life and literature of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov and their impact, 1860-present, including bibliographies, databases, encyclopedias, archives, search strategies and more

Chekhov's mesmerizing plays

Whether we consider Chekhov primarily as the unparalleled master of the short story, it is impossible to neglect his magnificent achievements as a playwright.  The study of the luminaries of contemporary Russian theatre is inextricably entwined with the research on Chekhov.  Thus, works on such directors as Konstantin Stanislavski (the father of the “Stanislavski acting method”) will inevitably yield interesting material on Chekhov and his influence on Russian art and culture.  Furthermore, this is another argument for reading plays in annotated editions, which will inevitably provide background for their staging history and deepen the understanding of perhaps more obscure points of the work.

Another great director worth researching when investigating Chekhov’s theatrical work was Vsevolod Meyerhold, whose avant garde adaptations of Chekhov’s plays rocked the Russian artistic milieu, and who was the inventor of the concept of ‘biomechanics’, which placed a great deal of emphasis on the gestures of the actors, thus seeking to convey the inner dialogue of a protagonist through carefully studied and often very vivid movement.

We can see just how expressive the body language was in the above picture in which Meyerhold is reading “The Seagull” in preparation for its 1898 staging at the Moscow Art Theater.

National focus

Other examples of a bibliography on Chekhov with a specific national focus is a bibliography dealing exclusively with Bulgaria.

Chekhov i Bulgariia : za 50-godishninata ot smurtta na A.P. Chekhov / Todor Borov. S Sofiia : Nauka i izkustvo, 195

Another one is devoted to Romania:

Tchékhov en Roumaine, 1895-1960; bibliographie littéraire sélective. /George Baiculescu et al. Bucarest : Éditions de l’Académie de la République populaire roumaine, 1960.   UIUC call no. 891.73 C41AR76

As a matter of fact, Romanians were so fond of Chekhov they even commissioned a stamp bearing his likeness:

The Czechs were not to be outdone, and they issued their own Chekhov stamp:

Short stories galore

Chekhov created literally hundreds of short stories of every possible type as evidenced by the book covers below.  They are often published in compilations according to some unifying theme.  The quality of translation varies and locating stories by title can be a bit tricky, so if at all possible, it is best to stick with the original version in the vernacular.  When reading great works of literature in translation, one is well served by keeping in mind the quip by Brodsky about Chekhov's most prolific translator, "The reason English-speaking readers can barely tell the difference between Tolstoy and Dostoevsky is that they aren't reading the prose of either one. They're reading Constance Garnett."  To give the indefatigable lady her due, it behooves us to quote Donald Rayfield, who in his Chekhov Omnibus wrote of Garnett's work "While she makes elementary blunders, her care in unravelling difficult syntactical knots and her research on the right terms for Chekhov's many plants, birds and fish are impressive.... Her English is not only nearly contemporaneous to Chekhov's, it is often comparable."  The bottom line: if at all possible, to get the full flavor of a great author like Chekhov, stick with the Russian version.

 

Listening to Chekhov

If you enjoy listening to works of literature read by skilled lectors, you may wish to visit this Internet Archive site which offers over 50 of Chekhov’s stories in an audio format, free of charge.

http://archive.org/details/AntonChekhov-SelectedShortStories

(There are, of course, also several works of Chekhov interpreted by actors,  available to purchasethrough iTunes and similar services).

A slim classic

 A.P. Chekhov : bibliografiia.  / K.D. Muratova.  Leningrad: Leningradskaia knizhnaia lavka pisatelei, 1944.

UIUC call no. 891.73 C41Am93

This slim volume is an effort by one of the most renowned of Soviet bibliographers.  Ksenia Dmitrievna lists Chekhov’s works which were published from 1884-1944.  The bibliography is divided into three parts which show collected works, separate publications of works (including those appearing in periodicals), as well as published letters.  One of the values of the work is its usefulness as a tool for a researcher trying to locate the first edition of a particular item, or its appearance in a peripheral publication.

Narrow-focus bibliographies

Čechov i Skandinavia : bibliografi med register / Erling Sande. Trondheim, 1973.

UIUC call no. Q. 891.73 C41 AS21

This work is an example of the multitude of bibliographies that have been compiled on Chekhov from any conceivable point of view.  In this case the focus is on Chekhov and Scandinavia.  The bibliography compiles all the translations of Chekhov’s work into Scandinavian languages, as well as critical works that tie him to Scandinavian literature and art, that discuss the staging of his plays in Scandinavian countries, etc.  The work is of undoubtedly of narrow scope, but for a scholar who wants to focus on that particular avenue of research, it is a veritable gold mine of information.   When working on a major figure like Chekhov, it is advisable, of course, to consult general bibliographies.  However, often it is good to conduct a search for specialized ones, which may have already been compiled on the very subject one is working on.  Perusing bibliographies of bibliographies is a good method to uncover such hidden gems.  A thing to bear in mind is that these may not be necessarily separate publications.  Most substantial monographs on a certain Chekhovian theme will contain an extensive bibliography appended to the volume.

 

 Another value of this (and similar) bibliographies is the access it provides by showing all the varieties of transliteration of the author’s name.  Besides the Čechov that appears in the bibliography’s title, we find Tchekov, Tschechov, Tjehov, Tjekhov, Tsjekov, Tjechov, Tsjechow … and others.  Most researchers are familiar with the few dominant transliteration systems, but human inventiveness knew no bounds, particularly before standardization became more prevalent in publication.  Thus searching using the author’s name can cause several works to fall between the cracks, unless one has a bibliography like this one in hand.

Chekhov online

The Fundamentalnaia elektronnaia biblioteka (popularly known from its website abbreviation as Feb-Web), provides an exhaustive full-text access to Chekhov’s prolific literary output.

In order to navigate to the full-text of Chekhov’s works go to:

http://www.feb-web.ru/feb/chekhov/default.asp

Then refer to the menu on the left and select Proizvedeniia Chekhova :

The section contains the text of the 30-volume edition of Chekhov’s complete works prepared by the Gorky Institute of World Literature (Russian Academy of Sciences), which came out throughout the years 1974-1983.  The edition is divided into two main parts: Works – Sochineniia (comprising 18 volumes) and Letters – Pisma (comprising 12 volumes).  The indexes to the Works are found in vol. 18.  The letters can be traced using the additional, unnumbered volume which was the final one of the publication.

Volume 18 is of great interest to a Chekhov scholar since it provides a plethora of information, besides the indexes (such as a name index, list of lillustrations, or alphabetical list of works).  It contains a key to various Chekhov pseudonyms, list of translation of Chekhov into foreign languages, list of works erroneously ascribed to Chekhov, and other fascinating marginalia.  It also contains the notes to the text of the various works. The rich background information contained in the notes is one of the reasons that makes the Academy edition of Chekhov such a unique and valuable resource.

Clicking on the + sign allows one to access embedded drop down menus, and getting to the full text of the works takes a few clicks.

Reading works of fiction in electronic format may not be appealing to everyone, but the scanned text presents an opportunity to the researcher who may be searching for an elusive quote, repetition of a particular linguistic device, or mention of a particular personage, the Feb-Web version allows one to use of the Ctrl+F function  to scan the text.  One must simply remember to type the search string in Cyrillic characters.

Please note:  When browsing the contents of the Feb-Web, it is important to note the symbol in the square next to the title of the work, as in the example shown below:

It is a fragment showing the separate editions of Chekhov’s correspondence.   The items marked with the dot within the square, as the first five of the publications, will only give the citation to the work, such as:

Only the final entry, marked with a plus sign, leads to a scanned work.

It appears that the publishers of Feb-Web create slots for future or ongoing scanning projects.  Although they do not provide the full-text, they are nevertheless sources of authoritative bibliographic information.  Such is also the case with the separate editions of “V sumerkakh” (1986) and “Step” (1995), which came out in the Literaturnye pamiatniki series sponsored by RAN.

Your best bet

There are several complete works of Chekhov sets out there.  And the pleasure of handling a lavish edition, like the 1903 one pictured here, is not the main reason why a serious scholar should make these his Chekhov source of choice.  The collected works editions usually contain the most authoritative version of the given piece, but more importantly, in many cases provide inordinate riches of annotations which provide a rich historical, literary, and often biographical background for the work in hand.

Author:  Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich, 1860-1904.
Title:  Polnoe sobranīe sochinenīĭ Ant. P. Chekhova.
Location:  Main Stacks
Call Number:  891.73 C41I1903

Internet is great but ...

There are works of Chekhov available online, not just through sites with such impeccable reputation as Feb-Web.  However, convenient as it may seem, it is always of the essence to check the sponsors of the site. What are the full-text documents based on?  The old adage is true, not everything you see on the Internet is valid.  That holds for online classics as well. Here is an example of a site which gives the bibliographic provenance of its texts and can be trusted as a source. 

http://chehov.niv.ru/chehov/text/rasskazy.htm

Note the professional citation for the source of the "Agafia" short story.