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Originally published in Moscow in 1971, Chekhov's Poetics remains the best single-volume study devoted to Chekhov. In fact, anyone who attempts to stage or study Chekhov seriously must consult Cudakov—and the sooner the better.

Tightly and lucidly written, this relatively slender volume constitutes a gold mine of important facts, judicious commentaries, and sober judgments about Chekhov’s oeuvre—all substantiated by prodigious citations form the writer's work. Although demonstrating an impressive mastery of Russian and Western Chekhov scholarship, and occasionally quoting Chekhov’s letters, Chudakov depends exclusively on the stories and plays themselves to advance his persuasive arguments. We have here a close reading of Chekhov, meticulous in its detail but always cognizant of the larger issues which Chekhov’s complex, often elusive writing raises. The book is divided into two parts of almost equal length and moves from structure to idea in Chekhov. Part One (“Narrative Structure“) deals largely with Chekhov's use of the narrator, challenging the view that the writer's work shows little or no significant evolution. The frequently quantitative approach to Chekhov’s texts makes for some slow reading at first, but the results are highly rewarding—as witnessed by Cudakov’s marvelous extended analyses of “The Grasshopper” and “The Steppe." Part Two (“The Tangible World") concentrates on Chekhov's treatment of external reality, his major devices, and the role of ideas in his work. This section, which (quite uniquely) sees Chekhov “whole," i.e. as both prosaist and dramatist, offers the most compelling explanation available of so-called Chekhovian “disconnectedness," and insightfully demonstrates how Chekhov’s view of the individual differs radically from that offered by the literary tradition of Russia's major realists. Through frequent references to works by Turgenev. Goniarov, Dostoevskij, and Tolstoj, Cudakov builds up to one of his major conclusions about Cexov’s aesthetic system, namely that “(existence) is irrational and chaotic, its meaning and purposes are unknown and not subordinate to a visible idea. The nearer the created world is to that natural existence with all its chaotic, senseless and incidental forms, the more that world approaches absolute adogmatic reality. This is precisely the world of Chekhov.”


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