Tag Archives: Anton Chekhov

The O. Henry Prize Stories

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The O. Henry Prize Stories for 2017 have officially been announced. For those who enjoy the art form of the short story, you’re sure to find something you’ll like from this year’s list by clicking here. 

Per Wiki:

“The O. Henry Award is an annual American award given to short stories of exceptional merit. The award is named after the American short story writer, O. Henry. The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories is an annual collection of the year’s twenty best stories published in U.S. and Canadian magazines, written in English.”

Born William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), but better known by his most famous pen name, O. Henry, Porter wrote a boatload of short stories in his day. Among his most well-known works are “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Caballero’s Way.”

While writers like Anton Chekhov and Alice Munro are probably more respected as geniuses of the genre, O. Henry certainly earned his own place in the pantheon of short story authors.

If you want to read some of O. Henry’s goldenest golden nuggets, check out Project Gutenberg, where you can download 19 of his stories for free.

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Quote of the Day

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“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

Anton Chekhov, from personal letters

In honor of the great short story writer and my last post on Chekhov’s notion of what it meant to be a cultured person, I thought I’d dedicate this Quote of the Day to a man who wore many hats in his day.

Essentially the opposite concept of a red herring, Chekhov’s gun has become one of the most endearing and well-known dramatic principles for writers. In a Wikipedia-like nutshell, it says that “every element in a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed; elements should not appear to make “false promises” by never coming into play.”

The lesson here, folks: Don’t hang a gun up in your house on full display unless you plan on using it relatively soon.

However, I think the bigger point here is that everything has a purpose in life. You know,  art mirroring life, right? (Or to quote Oscar Wilde, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life”). Thus, throwing names and objects into a story for gits and shiggles is not only a waste of time (for the reader) and space (on the page), but does not do justice to nature.

Put another way, Chekhov’s principle is like a smoking gun for proponents of destiny, karma and the like. Or, put another way from the previous “another way,” there are no chance events or encounters in life, nothing randomly out of place just ’cause. Everything and everyone is here for a purpose.

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How to Become a Cultured Person

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These days, it seems that everybody, whether Tony Robbins or Tony the Tiger, has advice to give you concerning just about everything under the sun, from getting RICH-SO-RICH-YOU’LL-BE-BLEEDING-$$$-OUT-YOUR-FREAKING-EYEBALLS to eating grrrrreat cereal.

Few people, however, actually have something truly informative to impart. Even fewer people have the resume behind them that Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) does.

Although most famous today for his short stories, Chekhov wrote many thought-provoking letters in his lifetime, and author Charles Chu explores their importance, especially those to his older brother, in a piece called “Anton Chekhov: How to Become a Cultured Person,”

Specifically, Mr. Chu examines one letter Chekhov, then 26 years old, wrote to his older brother, 28, about the need to be cultured and how to achieve this. Here are the highlights about Chekhov’s cultured person.

  1. They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.
  2. They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see … They sit up at night in order to help P… to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.
  3. They respect the property of others, and therefor pay their debts.
  4. They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.
  5. They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false …
  6. They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P. [Translator’s Note: Probably Palmin, a minor poet.], listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns … If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted. The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement … Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.
  7. If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity … They are proud of their talent … Besides, they are fastidious.
  8. They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct … What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow … They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood … They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion … For they want mens sana in corpore sano (“a sound mind in a sound body”).

This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read The Pickwick Papers and learnt a monologue from Faust. … What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will … Every hour is precious for it …

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