Decades ago, I must have read Chekhov’s “The Beauties” in the midst of Constance Garnett’s multivolume translations, but I didn’t remember it when I recently started reading “Красавицы” in a pocket-sized Russian collection of his stories. It seemed to me such an unusually personal and essay-like piece by Chekhov.
In 1888, Chekhov, 28, had had a slow year of story-writing, comparatively speaking. (Only eight published short stories that year, after, astoundingly, 53 in 1877 and 64 in 1886.) In the second week of September he thought up “The Beauties” and dashed it off in a few days, writing his brother Alexander on the 15th: “It’s a little unimportant subject, but I’ve started the business and sent it in the form of short sketch to Новое Время (“New Time”), where I’m up to my ears in debt.” “Красавицы” appeared on September 21, and soon after, Chekhov’s cousin Georgy wrote to tell him it reminded him of his own trip with their grandfather on that route.
In 1894 Chekhov revised “The Beauties” for a book of stories, Между Прочим (“By the Way”), and revised it again when he was gathering his work for a collected edition in 1899-1901. Its first translation was into German, in 1902.
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At this point, from the original publication, Chekhov deleted this:
“The Armenian left the house, spreading his feet, went down past me on the stairs and, not taking the pipe from his mouth, tossed out some kind of sneezy sounds, of this kind, ‘Tkhan-mkhachkha!’ Masha ran to him and he began telling her something quickly and angrily – probably а rebuke. She, silent and lowering her eyes, listened to him, then ran into the kitchen, from there then to the barn, and I saw how the Ukrainian stopped yelling and cracking his whip and followed her with his eyes.”
At this point, from the story’s original publication in New Time, Chekhov deleted this:
“Our silence did not seem awkward because our host was silent himself. He knew his daughter was beautiful. In reply to our silence, he somehow awkwardly grunted and his face expressed: ‘She’s very beautiful and unusual, but we will make as if we don’t notice this.’”
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