February 01, 1996

Three Stories for Maslenitsa

Readers may be surprised to find the works of such a famous writer as Anton Chekhov in our modest magazine. The fact is, Chekhov (1860-1904) was prolific in his short life, and, aside from hugely successful plays like ÔThe Cherry Orchard' and ÔUncle Vanya’, and a handful of his stories, much of his work remains unknown.

Chekhov himself typified his writer’s creed as “the human body, health, intelligence, talent, inspiration, love and the most absolute freedom imaginable, freedom from violence and lies, not matter what form the latter two take.” Chekhov was surely the finest writer of his time. He avoided preachiness in his writing, loved farcical and ironic themes, and often sought to use the power of understatement to expose hypocrisy and malevolence.

For this selection, we have chosen a trio of Chekhov’s lesser known earlier works (written in 1886) on a the theme of maslenitsa, or ‘butter week’. Traditionally, during Lent, consumption of butter was proscribed. This led to eight days of feasting and carnival during which huge loads of bliny (not unlike small, sourdough pancakes) were consumed, smothered in butter at each meal. Maslenitsa starts on the eighth Sunday prior to Easter (February 18 this year).

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