In the Twilight by Anton Chekhov (tr. Hugh Aplin)

In the Twilight, a collection of sixteen short stories compiled by Chekhov himself, was first published in Russian in 1887. The collection was a major critical and personal success for Chekhov as it marked his transition from the comic sketch writer of his early years to the acclaimed author of impressive short stories. This new edition of In the Twilight (published in the UK by Alma Classics) presents all sixteen stories from the original collection in a fresh translation by Hugh Aplin. This beautiful edition also contains a short introduction and a biography of key events in Chekhov’s life.


As with other short story collections I’ve covered here, I’m not going to try to review each tale in turn but to give a sense of the themes and a little of what I thought of this collection as a whole. Many of these stories are set at least in part in the twilight hours or at night, but the title In the Twilight also offers an indication of the tone of this collection. Several of these stories convey a sense of sadness, a melancholy tone, scenes of darkness alongside the light as individuals’ lives turn on the tiniest of moments.

In Verochka, one of my favourites from the collection, Vera, a twenty-one-year-old country girl, declares her love for Ivan Ognev, a rather naïve statistician who has been visiting her father on business. When Ognev leaves the country to return to the city, Vera accompanies him to the outskirts of her village where she makes her feelings clear. It’s a story of missed chances, pain and regret as Ognev struggles to respond to Vera’s advances:

“And what if we meet in ten years or so?” he said. “What will we be like then? You’ll already be the venerable mother of a family, and I the author of some venerable collection of statistics that no one needs, the thickness of forty thousand such collections. We’ll meet and remember old times…Now we can feel the present, it fills us and excites us, but then, when we meet, we’ll no longer remember the date, the month, even the year when we last saw each other on this little bridge. Quite likely you’ll have changed…Listen, are you going to change?” (pg. 60, Alma Classics)

The theme of opportunities, of chances there for the taking, is also present in On the Road, one of Chekhov’s classic stories. A man and woman meet in the travelling room at a wayside inn when they are both forced to take shelter from a snowstorm. During the night, they tell each other of the troubles in their lives and the possibility of a deeper relationship hangs in the air. When they come to part in the morning, the woman seems hesitant – it’s a scene charged with emotion:

Ilovaiskaya was silent. When the sleigh had moved off and begun to skirt a large snowdrift, she turned to look back at Likharyov with an expression that suggested she wanted to say something to him. He ran over to her, yet she said not a word to him, but only glanced at him through long eyelashes on which hung flakes of snow… (pg. 104)

In other stories, we appear to join the main characters mid-scene which has the effect of hooking the reader into the story from the opening paragraphs. Here’s a passage from the first page of Misfortune which tells of a game of love between a young married woman, Sofya Petrovna, and her attractive, well-educated pursuer, Ivan Mikhailovich:

“I didn’t expect to meet you here,” Sofya Petrovna was saying, looking at the ground and touching last year’s leaves with the tip of her parasol, “but now I’m glad that I have. I need to have a serious and definitive talk with you. Please, Ivan Mikhailovich, if you really do love and respect me, then stop your pursuit! You follow me like a shadow, you’re forever looking at me with no good in your eyes, you declare your love, write strange letters and…and I don’t know when it’s all going to end!…” (pg. 105)

After she informs Ivan that their relationship must end, Sofya is torn between a sense of duty to her husband and feelings of attraction towards her lover. It’s one of the most interesting stories in the collection, especially as it explores the emotional dynamics at play.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Chekhov’s stories are very atmospheric with snowy landscapes and howling winds featuring heavily in many of these tales:

The snowdrifts were covered with a thin, icy crust; tears trembled on them and on the trees, and spilling down the roads and paths was a dark slush made up of mud and melting snow. In short, there was a thaw on the earth, but the sky could not see it through the dark night and, for all it was worth, was sprinkling flakes of new snow onto the melting earth. And the wind was wandering like a drunkard…It would not allow the snow to settle on the earth and was spinning it around in the darkness as it liked… (p. 39)

Further, the dusky light and night-time settings often add to the mood. In A Bad Business, for instance, a night watchman on patrol in a graveyard encounters a wandering pilgrim. The wanderer claims to be lost, but this is an unsettling little story, and things are not quite as they appear at first sight.

In other stories we encounter a variety of seemingly ordinary people going about lives: two policeman escorting a tramp to the District town; a Public Prosecutor searching for a way to dissuade his young son from smoking; two children delighted by the arrival of a litter of kittens…there are many more.

All in all, In the Twilight is a fascinating collection of stories and an excellent introduction to Chekhov’s writing. Several of these stories finish at just the right point leaving the reader to imagine or guess what might happen next – that’s not a bad thing, to leave your audience wanting a little more.

Karen at Kaggsy’s Booking Ramblings has also reviewed this collection.

In the Twilight is published in the UK by Alma Classics. Source: review copy kindly provided by the publisher.

34 thoughts on “In the Twilight by Anton Chekhov (tr. Hugh Aplin)

  1. MarinaSofia

    One of those writers who makes every word count – the passages you have quoted demonstrate just that. ‘Last year’s leaves’, the ‘wind wandering like a drunkard’ – each one looks so artless, yet is so perfect within the context. I haven’t read this new translation, but am eager to give it a try.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      The quotes are great, aren’t they? This was my first experience of Chekhov’s short stories (as I’ve arrived here by way of his plays), but I’d like to read more. I can’t speak to any comparisons between this translation and others, but I enjoyed reading this selection of stories. I think you’d really like this collection, Marina, and it’s an interesting one as Chekhov chose the stories himself.

  2. heavenali

    I have been meaning to read Chekov for a long time. I have a collection of his short novels tbr but this collection sounds like it might be a better one to start with. Lovely review.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Ali. This collection would make a very good intro to Chekhov’s short stories as they seem to herald his transition to a writer of ‘serious’, more weighty works. I also liked the fact that he selected the stories himself, so the collection feels as if it represents some of his best work from this period.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      You’re very welcome, Karen. Yes, a fascinating introduction to Chekhov’s short stories, and I’m sure I’ll want to read others in the future. I really liked the writing, the range, the atmosphere…terrific stuff.

  3. Brian Joseph

    I think that I have read all of Chekov’s plays but few of his short stories. This is an unfortunate lapse for me.

    I find that at least for the plays, there really is an underlying sense of pessimism about life and people, and a sense of sadness, that I assume is present in the stories. The atmosphere as well as the night time passages that you allude to seem to support this.

    I really like the quote about the snow.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, very much so, Brian. Several of these stories have a rather melancholy or despondent tone. I found the stories about missed chances especially touching, the sense that two people could have established a deeper relationship, but circumstances dictated otherwise.

      That snow quote is a good one, isn’t it? I really like the way Chekhov’s descriptions of the weather add to the mood of his stories.

  4. Séamus Duggan

    Wonderful post. One of the things that I did when in college was read a multi-volume set of Chekov’s Short Stories and it was an unadulterated pleasure. I must go back to them. I have a couple of collections only shelves. I love the sentence – “And the wind was wandering like a drunkard…It would not allow the snow to settle on the earth and was spinning it around in the darkness as it liked… “

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Deep joy! I’m glad my post acted as a bit of a reminder of your college days. I wish I’d read some of Chekhov’s stories when I was younger…it might be interesting to see if you find something new or different in his stories now you’re older?

      It’s a great image, isn’t it? The wind wandering around like a drunkard. …I had to include that quote.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      I thought you might be! It’s a lovely edition, and I liked the idea that Chekhov had selected the stories himself. For me, it was a great introduction to his short stories.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks, Caroline. It’s a really interesting collection, and I think you’d like it (if you’re ever looking for another). I wonder if any of these stories also appear in your set? It’s a possibility.

  5. Scott W.

    Somewhere in my notes from the beginning of 2014 concerning reading resolutions, I have written “More Chekhov.” I think I managed only one story the whole year, so this is great incentive to do better in 2015.

  6. Claire 'Word by Word'

    Sounds like a wonderful collection and clearly some of his favourites, its good that these collections get republished, I find it offputting picking up yellowed copies of old editions, when they could be competing with more contemporary works, in new covers, I am sure this collection will introduce Chekov to a whole new legion of fans!

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      It’s a lovely edition, Claire, really beautiful. An interesting collection of stories too including some old favourites and lesser-known stories from this period, and it’s nice to see the investment in a new translation. As you say, I’m sure it will introduce Chekhov to a new audience; I hadn’t read his short stories before…

  7. 1streading

    I do like Chekov’s stories – the difficulty being he was so prolific and there are so many competing collections! I like the way Alma has translated an original collection. I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed the novella Story of a Nobody which they also publish.

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Yes, so many collections to choose from, but this new translation caught my eye – it’s such a beautiful edition. I like the idea that Chekhov selected these stories himself and all credit to Alma for preserving the collection in its original form….there’s something very authentic about it.

      I’ll take a look Story of a Nobody. The Invention of Morel will have to take priority though (I’m still trying to figure out how I failed to buy it last year!).

  8. Pingback: A-Z Index of Book Reviews (listed by author) | JacquiWine's Journal

  9. Richard

    I haven’t read much Chekhov, Jacqui, but some of what so many others find profound in him has struck me as a little on the slight side. I’m encouraged by your praise for this collection, of course, and I already had plans to read a good mix of C’s short stories and short novels by the end of the year. Will look into some of your favorite stories here in search of the “right” Chekhov for me!

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Oh, that’s interesting to hear. I really enjoyed reading these stories as a collection (as several tales share a particular theme or mood), but it’s fair to say that I found some more satisfying than others. My favourites were Verochka, On the Road, Misfortune and The Witch (the source of that atmospheric quote on the weather). Enemies was another highlight: a story of grief and distress where events take an unexpected turn.

      I hope you manage to find some Chekhov that works for you, Richard…sometimes it’s just a question of trying a few different works. I’ll keep an eye on your blog for any posts!

  10. bookemstevo

    I’ve read the plays but haven’t got around to the short stories yet, a situation which I’ll have to remedy soon. The translation you’ve reviewed sounds like a good place to start. Nice review!

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      Thanks. Well, I’ve only just got around to reading some of his short stories myself! I think this collection would make a good place to start as Chekhov selected the stories himself (and it’s a beautiful little edition too).

  11. Max Cairnduff

    He’s probably my favourite playwright, but I’ve not read his short works. This sounds a good collection and translation (and the translator’s name rings a bell from somewhere).

    It does all sound very Chekov. Snow, unspoken feelings, disappointment…

    1. JacquiWine Post author

      The plays are great, aren’t they? I’d never read any of his short stories, and this collection turned out to be a good introduction. There’s a lot here that reminded me of Uncle Vanya: suffering, regrets, unrequited love. I think you’d like his stories, Max.

  12. Eyton Shalom

    Nice review J! May I suggest to anyone that likes these early stories to read ALL of his stories and the 5 short novels, translated by Peaver and Vorozhonovsky….As very very fine as these stories are, the ones after 1888 are even greater.

    And i looked and have not found Virginia Woolf on your blog. May I beg you to read Mrs. Dalloway, and if you like that , To The Lighthouse. Some of the most emotionally exquisite writing in the English English language…if i may, i will share with you my response to VW…

    Reading Virginia Woolf is like shoveling snow. Its cold out and you need your hat. Sun penetrates everything. Circles, ovals, rectangles, triangles soak and reflect the crisp white light. Some kind of small dark bird studies the scene from a branch above.

    The first shovels are the lightest, scattering powdery crystals into the gentle wind. Leaning in harder your shovel plunges through the crust. It takes energy to move past your and the snow’s inertia. A sudden delight, the “thuck…thuck” of your shovel breaking the dry upper layer. Further down its thick, moist, rich, like cake. A mislaid tool or unremembered child’s toy appears suddenly in the bottom of the muck. Shoveling and shoveling you begin to sweat and remove your hat while unbuttoning your coat, considering whether to toss it off onto the adjacent snow. You wish you’d worn your woolen vest.

    Now the shovel’s aluminium lip scrapes against something hard as you lift the final heavy load in triumph, even joy. Your body, drenched by sweat, leans on the shovel’s red wooden handle while you rest and take in the bared flagstone path—its uneven, black flatness at the base of the furrows that snake between piles of plump, heavy, packed maternal snow. Ice. Your back aches. Your feet start to chill. Between the stones is the faintest trace of green moss from the end of last year. It registers: something green, something green.

    The air is sharp with the smell of frozen water and dust that has been wrenched from the ground and layered into piles, like the fragrance of cooked rice turned into a bowl from the pot it was cooked in. The smell of rain, of the sea, of mist rising off the ground in morning, like the first snow that touched winter.

    The sun is white as snow, and bounces off everything you can see or touch and into every furrow of your brain. Nothing in this moment suggests the need for food or drink. But bending forward you dip your fingertips into some of the powdery stuff and bring it to your mouth, as if a need was there that’s not. You grab a heavier chunk of glassy flakes with the texture of an Italian snow cone, but clear as frozen water. Bringing hand to mouth you eat like a camel eats salt bush when traveling through the center of the desert where there is nothing else to eat. Pulling on flakes with your lips as a camel pulls thorny leaves with hers. The sour taste of the salt bush’s green leaves brings saliva to her dry mouth. Snow tastes soft and hard and crisp and light and dry and cold and wet and warm when it melts between your tongue, your teeth, your gums, your inner cheeks and lips.

    There’s blisters on your hands and your gloves are off. The skin turns pink with cold, and the hand with food goes back in its glove.
    Its time to pack it in and turn to where its closed and warm and the remaining world is bounded by angles and walls.

    Reading Virginia Woolf is like shoveling snow.


    Hi Jacquiline! Don’t you think the name of the short story A bad business has two meenings? It seemed:
    1- It’s not good to help someone, because the person can harm you someway (the watchman helping the false pilgrim, who could kill him)
    2- what a profession a watchman from a cemitery has! Low wage for bad work.
    What do you think?


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