cover image Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free

Chekhov: A Spirit Set Free

V. S. Pritchett. Random House (NY), $17.95 (235pp) ISBN 978-0-394-54650-6

Critics have long noted that many of Chekhov's short stories have strong autobiographical elements. In ``My Life,'' for example, the son's revolt against corrupt, money-making respectability mirrors the Russian writer's own rebellion against a narrow-minded father who cynically abandoned him at age 16. Esteemed novelist, critic and short-story writer Pritchett goes beyond simple one-to-one correspondences in this brisk critical-biographical study, seamlessly weaving together Chekhov's life and his short stories in a tapestry that illuminates both. Chekhov's trip to the penal colony on Sakhalin Island in 1890 gave birth to his intense, claustrophobic story ``Ward 6.'' His restless travels, his work as a doctor and concerned landowner yielded material that he later transformed through leaps of the imagination. As Pritchett demonstrates, the stories provided the characters and themes for the plays, not the other way around. This wonderfully readable reappraisal will make readers want to turn to Chekhov's stories anew. (September)