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Reading Chekhov

A few weeks ago, I linked to a piece on Anton Chekhov’s storytelling by Chris Power. It was a good piece, but Power argues that what makes Chekhov great—or at least “modern”—is his indeterminacy. As I noted at the time, Chekhov may be coy, but he always stakes out some ground, makes some statement.

In The New Criterion, Kyle Smith takes stock of some of those “statements” and what they say to us today: “Chekhov’s gentle, knowing jibes at the haute bourgeoisie and their various failings remain trenchant sources of insight about their successors today. Yes, we think upon reading his four supreme works—The SeagullUncle VanyaThree Sisters, and The Cherry Orchardthat is exactly how people are. The good doctor didn’t write about race, the only thing we talk about (besides Donald Trump and the virus) in 2020. But he wrote about the upstream neuroses polluting the water from which we all drink today (though the wiser ones among us spit it out). He explored hypocrisy, self-delusion, and oikophobia. He wrote about lassitude, vapidity, and loss of spirit. He covered a class of people who insisted they were miserable, and were, but only because they were determined to overlook their blessings and be steered by their worst impulses. He nailed the oblivious moneyed classes who were so bored and disgusted with themselves that as revolutionary forces lurked just outside their property, they proclaimed that a fresh start might be a tonic.”

In other news: Tom Holland reviews Paul Cartledge’s Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece: “Who better . . . than Paul Cartledge, a scholar so formidable in his commitment to explaining Sparta to the world that he has been awarded honorary citizenship of the city, to tell the story of Thebes? The subtitle of his new book . . . may perhaps underplay the degree to which the home of Oedipus and Antigone has vanished entirely from public consciousness, but not by much.”

The Athletic hits one million subscribers: “While other media companies have seen advertising revenue dip 20% to 40% this year, Mather and Hansmann credit their subscription-only business model with keeping the company afloat. The company makes more than $60 million in pure subscription revenue and has ad sales from podcasts. That’s enough to make ‘our newsroom profitable,’ said Mather.”

Revisiting Edward Albee’s adaptation of James Purdy’s Malcolm: “Edward Albee’s forgotten play Malcolm was a Broadway flop lasting only seven performances. The play’s premiere, on January 11, 1966, followed 20 half-price preview shows at the Shubert Theatre. Adapted from James Purdy’s darkly comic novel, which had been celebrated by Dorothy Parker on its publication in 1959, the play was a critical and commercial failure. ‘Of all Albee’s plays,’ biographer Mel Gussow reckons, ‘Malcolm is probably the one with the fewest admirers, the easiest to categorize as a mistake.’ Just as dreamy teenager Malcolm was ill-fated in Purdy’s novel, so was his namesake play destined to die young, or so it seemed. This outcome was painful for Purdy; had the adaptation been a success, it would have promoted his career a good deal. But the play’s failure had the effect of diminishing the reputation of the novel and of Purdy in general, after he had received mostly praise for his first five books. With Purdy’s next novel, the harrowing Eustace Chisholm and the Works (1967), the author would receive some praise but also damnation from the critics. By contrast, Albee, propelled by the success of the 1966 film adaptation of his play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1962), survived the Malcolm debacle unscathed.”

A French blogger hates men and wrote a book about it. “I Hate Men was published on 19 August when much of France was enjoying the summer holiday, and it almost certainly would have passed unnoticed had Ralph Zurmély, an adviser to France’s gender equality ministry, not written to threaten legal action.”

Ayad Akhtar is the new president of PEN America.

Peter Schjeldahl on the joys of nineteenth-century French drawings: “Lines from Life: French Drawings from the Diamond Collection,” at the Clark Art Institute, in Williamstown, Massachusetts, is a pleasant show of forty-three drawings and a lithograph, largely middling studies for figure paintings, by thirty-three nineteenth-century French artists, some of whom were unfamiliar to me. I loved it! It proved to be just my speed as I return to savoring art in person after half a year’s diet of digital gruel . . . The show’s charm, over all, resides in the purity of its preoccupations. The Diamonds aren’t trophy hunters. They respond to personalities, cherishing the signature qualities, rather than the crowning feats, of artists who made nineteenth-century Paris the global epicenter of contemporary art, powered by one competitive, temporarily commanding manner after another.” 

Photos: Wildfire smoke in San Francisco

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about the author

Micah Mattix is the literary editor of The American Conservative and an associate professor of English at Regent University.  His work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, The Weekly Standard, Pleiades, The Washington Times, and many other publications. His latest book is The Soul Is a Stranger in this World: Essays on Poets and Poetry (Cascade). Follow him on Twitter.

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