43 pages 1 hour read

Anton Chekhov

The Duel

Fiction | Novella | Adult | Published in 1891

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Literary Context

Written before Chekhov’s major plays and after his debut as a writer of short satirical fiction, The Duel finetunes the writer’s craft in rendering dialogue. This work represents Chekhov’s turn to the intensive philosophical and social analysis that had defined Russian Realist writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy, both of whom had achieved international recognition by the 1890s. The novella is notable for its psychological prose, featuring an exploration of speech and action in relation to the characters’ often conflicting thoughts and motivations. The Duel is also notable for its engagement with the ideological issues of the day, from the natural sciences as a framework for understanding human behavior to the role of the gentry class at the end of a modernizing century.

Ordinariness is the distinctive feature of Chekhov’s realism, which bears its own ethical stamp in this novella. More than merely reflecting life or, as in the earlier sociological tradition of Russian Realism, seeking to correct life, Chekhov insists on the ethical and aesthetic importance of taking life on its own terms. His ethic, which is derived from his very style, is close to something like labor, defined as the daily grind of living out a decision rather than the exciting rush of making it.