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First published in 1891, this morality tale pits a scientist, a government worker, his mistress, a deacon, and a physician against one another in a verbal battle of wits and ethics that explodes into a violent contest: the duel. When Laevsky, a lazy youth who works for the government, tires of his dependent mistress, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna, Von Koren, the scientist, delivers a scathing critique of Loevsky’s egotism, forcing the young man to examine his soul. The Duel is a tale of human weakness, the possibility of forgiveness, and a man’s ultimate ability to change his ways. It is classic Chekhov, revealing the multifaceted essence of human nature.
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860–1904) was born in Taganrog, Russia, on the Sea of Azov, the son of a small shopkeeper and the grandson of a serf. At sixteen, he was left to fend for himself while his father fled with the rest of the family to Moscow, escaping debtors’ prison. After finishing school in his native town, Chekhov went to Moscow, where, with the aid of a scholarship, he entered the University to study medicine. To help with the family finances, he started publishing tales, anecdotes, jokes, and articles. By the time he took his medical degree in 1884, writing had become his main interest and occupation. His literary reputation grew with the publication of the book Motley Stories (1886). That same year, he made the acquaintance of Alexei Suvorin, owner of the newspaper New Time, who invited him to contribute longer tales at a higher rate. In 1888, he was awarded the Pushkin Prize for the collection In the Twilight. This and the publication of the long story The Steppe marked the beginning of Chekhov’s recognition as one of Russia’s leading writers. In the years following, he produced his first serious full-length play, Ivanov (1887), as well as a steady stream of short stories. The first production of his famous play The Sea Gull (1896) was a miserable failure. But in 1898, the play was revived at the Moscow Art Theater and proved a resounding success, as did the Theater’s productions of The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. In 1901, he married the actress Olga Knipper. He died of tuberculosis.
Born in New York City in 1927, Robert Brustein is one of the country’s preeminent drama critics. He was Dean of the Yale School of Drama from 1966 to 1979 and then became director of the Loeb Drama Center and artistic director of American Repertory Theatre Company at Harvard, where he served until 2002. Among his influential books are The Third Theatre and Dumbocracy in America.
Rosamund Bartlett is a writer, scholar, translator, and lecturer specializing in Russian literature, music, and cultural history. Among her publications are Tolstoy: A Russian Life; the Oxford University Press translation of Anna Karenina; Chekhov: Scenes from a Life; and a Chekhov anthology entitled About Love and Other Stories, which was shortlisted for the Weidenfeld European Translation Prize.
Reviews for The Duel
"The Duel is Beckett with great hats." - Mary Bing, screenwriter."The Duel" (1891) was a novella that Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) wrote concurrently with the first parts of his non-fiction accounts of penal colony conditions on "Sakhalin Island" (1891-1895). I read the recent translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky where only the one novella was published as a tie-in edition to the 2010 feature film version directed by Dover Kosashvili with a screenplay by Mary Bing. Mary Bing's foreword in this edition provides a great entry point to reading the work. " ...take heart, Chekhov loves life. The Duel is Beckett with great hats. And naked women, and guns that go off, and an absolution that extends to its audience. May we have the grace to take it."Introducing the idea of Chekhov as a forerunner of Beckett's humour may not be to everyone's taste, but it certainly agreed with me. I would have found some of these characters hard to put up with for long otherwise, but felt more of a degree of empathy when human weakness and foibles had a degree of humour to them. The main character, named Laevsky, comes across as a n'er do well, a slacker civil servant who drinks and gambles away his money at cards and schemes to leave his lover Nadya, who had previously left her husband for him. The antagonist is a zoologist named Von Koren who looks on Laevsky as a waste of space that should be eliminated to allow evolution and life to proceed properly. Laevsky starts having nervous attacks that are signs of a complete breakdown to come and he hotheadedly provokes Von Koren to challenge him to a duel. Meanwhile their friends, a doctor and a deacon bemusedly look on. Nadya has her own little plots afoot as she has admirers in the seaside town than Laevsky doesn't even know about. It all resolves with pistols at dawn.read more
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