Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Ward 6" by Anton Chekhov

"Ward 6" by Anton Chekhov (1892, 56 pages, translated by Constance Garnett)

Welcome to BBAW Day Two
Reader's Suggestion Day

Today is interview posting day at BBAW.   In 2009 I did an interview exchange but I did not do one in 2010 or this year.   This does not mean I am ignoring BBAW today.   In fact I am having my own mini-event, "Reader's Suggestion Day", where I am posting on three short stories I probably would never have read were it not for a suggestion from my readers.   Earlier today I posted on two short stories about the Partition of India that readers from India suggested I read.   
"Ward 6" by Anton Chekhov (1860 to 1904-Russia) was suggested to me by Amateur Reader of Wuthering Expectations.   Amateur Reader has been a great source of reading ideas to me for the last two years.

"Ward 6" is a very dark work.    It is set in a hospital in the Russian provinces during the 1890s.   Ward 6 is the psychiatric section, it houses five patients.    The story begins with a brilliant and quite darkly funny description of these five residents, one might call them inmates.   The ward is overseen by a very rough porter who is not above beating his charges.   We learn how a highly educated man, Ivan Gromov drove himself to madness and wound up in the hospital.   

The doctor never really wanted to be a doctor, he wanted to be a priest, and he is getting increasingly unhappy with his work and life in general. He became a doctor to please his father.    At first he tries to have  conversations with his friend the postmaster but he does not find him "intellectual" enough.   The doctor is very well read in literature and philosophy and he begins to have deep conversations with his patient, Ivan Gromov.    The doctor seems to be losing his own grip on reality and a staff hearing is held on his mental fitness for work.     The doctor is very insulted by this meeting and he takes a trip to Moscow with his friend the postmaster but it does not help.   He becomes increasingly despairing and can find no value in life.    (There are some really well done conversations about Stoicism in "Ward 6".)    On his return he is tricked  into visiting Ward 6 and when he gets ready to leave, finds he is locked in.   He begins to reflect on the irony of this.   He is beaten by the warder and he dies of a stroke the next day.

"Ward 6" is considered among the very best of Chekhov's work.    There is nothing "cheerful" or "uplifting" about this story.   It is a brilliant look at the mind of one man at his edge.   It is also very interesting for the insight it gives us into the  the medical system in late Czarist Russia.     

The next Chekhov work I post on will probably be his drama, "The Cherry Orchard".   

Amateur Reader has a very interesting post on Chekhov in which he lists his consensus  best works.

Everytime I read Chekhov I tell myself I have to read much more of his work.   

What is your favorite Chekhov work?

Do you have a favorite short story a reader of your blog suggested to you?

You can read "Ward Six" online HERE.   

Mel u


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I think I like to recommend this story, out of the many prime possibilities, because it is not about a romance and it is not about peasants, common subjects for Chekhov. So perhaps I think it is expanding people's idea of what Chekhov does. Plus it's so good.

I think I'm going to write about another crushingly sad C. story tomorrow, although one that is artistically pretty small compared to "Ward No. 6."

That "best of Chekhov" list I made was off the cuff and I have no doubt that I omitted some important ones. But those stories are some of the most translated and anthologized.

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-thanks for your comment as always-it may not be his best story but my favorite -and one of my favorite of all short stories is his "The Bet"

Fred said...

Mel u,

"Ward 6" is one of my favorites by Chekhov. Another is mentioned by Amateur Reader--the "Lady with the Lap Dog." I suspect that is also called the "Lady with the Small Dog" or simply "Lady with a Dog."

If you are interested, you might want to check out a short story by Joyce Carol Oates titled "Lady with a Dog," a "modernized" or contemporary version of the same story, set in the US.

Mel u said...

Fred-I have read "The Lady With the Lap Dog"-I would love to read Joyce Oates take on this but I had no luck finding the story online so I may not be able to read it-my favorite Chekhov short story is "The Bet"-not saying it is the best as I have only read 15 or so but it is one of my all time favorite stories

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

"The Bet" has moved to the top of my list.

Fred said...

Mel u,

Yes, as far as I know, nothing by Oates is in the public domain so anything online would have to be with her permission only.