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.