Ward No. 6 and Other Stories, 1892 – 1895
By: Anton Chekhov
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
“Ward No. 6 and Other Stories 1892-1895” collects stories which show Anton Chekhov beginning to confront complex, ambiguous and often extreme emotions in his short fiction. This “Penguin Classics” edition is translated with notes by Ronald Wilks, and an introduction by J. Douglas Clayton. These stories from the middle period of Chekhov’s career include – influenced by his own experiences as a doctor – “Ward No. 6”, a savage indictment of the medical profession set in a mental hospital; “The Black Monk”, portraying an academic who has strange hallucinations, explores ideas of genius and insanity; “Murder”, in which religious fervour leads to violence; while in “The Student”, Chekhov’s favourite story, a young man recounts a tale from the gospels and undergoes a spiritual epiphany. In all the stories collected here, Chekhov’s characters face madness, alienation and frustration before they experience brief, ephemeral moments of insight, often earned at great cost, where they confront the reality of their existence.
Anton Chekov is one of my favourite Russian authors. He’s quite succinct when it comes to writing short stories, with their good lengths and rich with characterisation and wide-ranging themes. Admittedly I did pick up this book on a whim as I’ve read a number of his stories to date, but nonetheless this collection did contain titles of stories I haven’t yet read.
I have to say, if I were to recommend a collection on where to start with for first time readers of Anton Chekhov, this is as good a place as any to start. Of course his famous story “The Duel” is a very good place to start, the collection of stories featured here were very interesting. “Ward No. 6” in particular stood out for me, perhaps because I work in health care now and it was interesting to read about the state of health care in Russia during the 19th century (hint: it’s everything you imagine it to be) but as always Anton Chekhov weaves in some larger thematic questions about existentialism, sanity, and the human condition. “A Woman’s Kingdom” is another highlight here; Anton Chekhov is quite good at writing women and the struggles they face in the 19th century so the case of the protagonist in this story was interesting to follow. I had read a few of the other stories included in this collection like “Three Years” and “The Two Volodyas” but nonetheless it as interesting to see them here and read as a whole with the other stories.
Overall this is a very good collection of his stories and I like how Penguin Classics had grouped them by a certain time period. Again, I would highly recommend this collection as a place to start if you haven’t read anything by him, and would be interested in checking out the other collections in this group in the future.