Early Chekhov Translation Project

The Early Chekhov Translation Project aims to honour Chekhov's legacy by producing the first comprehensive annotated edition of his earliest stories in English for the benefit of readers worldwide. The sixty classic short stories Chekhov wrote after he made his debut in a prestigious literary journal with "The Steppe" in 1888 are well-known in English. This is not the case with much of what he wrote before that date, however, particularly the works which date from the outset of his career. During the eight years of Chekhov’s literary apprenticeship, when he was writing principally to earn money to support his impoverished family, he wrote 528 stories, novellas, sketches and vignettes. Constance Garnett included 144 of them in the pioneering 13-volume edition of Chekhov’s short stories she published between 1916 and 1922. A number of others have been translated since then in disparate volumes, but a great many are still unknown to English-speaking readers. In a unique international collaboration, the Anton Chekhov Foundation has worked with over 60 volunteer translators from 9 countries, to produce a volume of 58 stories which runs to 163,000 words. These stories were written between 1880 and 1882, when Chekhov was in his early twenties, and still at medical school. They make up volume 1 of the 10 volumes of short stories in the authoritative Academy of Sciences edition of Chekhov’s Complete Collected Works. The resulting English translations have been arranged in chronological order as in the original Russian edition. Plans to publish them are underway.

Chekhov fans may be pleasantly surprised to discover that his early work is not quite what they were expecting. His early stories encompass a huge range of characters from a wide variety of backgrounds, and embrace many different genres and styles, some of them even quite racy, but they all feature Chekhov's inimitable touch. We hope that our volume of often uproarious comic stories will shed light on the making of Chekhov as a writer, and be a useful and enjoyable resource for scholars, actors, directors, and enthusiasts alike. Many of the stories lend themselves naturally to dramatisation, and in due course the Anton Chekhov Foundation plans to find ways to explore this possibility through partnerships with drama colleges, radio, theatre companies and film producers. We are particularly keen to involve young actors and directors in any planned performances.
The Early Chekhov Translation Project was formally in December 2014 with a reception at GRAD, the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design in London W1. The evening featured three sketches from Cabaret Chekhov performed by final-year students from the Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance. The sketches, all dramatisations other early Chekhov stories translated by ACF Trustee Rosamund Bartlett, were first performed with a musical accompaniment at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2010 under the direction of Michael Earley, then Principal of Rose Bruford College. An important aim of our project was to make it as inclusive as possible, and also encourage the study of Russian. The Anton Chekhov Foundation thus invited professional and aspiring translators of all ages and backgrounds to participate, by each choosing a story. The response was so enthusiastic that the entire volume was assigned within the space of a few weeks. As well as individual translators, the project attracted several translators working in pairs and in groups, from countries as far flung as Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden and Bulgaria, as well as England and Ireland. They ranged from pupils studying Russian in secondary schools to university students, professional translators, enthusiastic amateurs, and retired academics.

Our volunteer translators were able to access the stories they had selected online. As with everything else Chekhov wrote, they have all been digitised and are freely available via scholarly sites such as the "Fundamental Digital Library of Russian Literature and Folklore" (). This particular repository of primary and secondary texts was established in 2002 to "provide the global scholarly community and any interested individuals free and unfettered access "to the major works of Russian literature, as well as provide a resource for education in the humanities at all levels. Once all the first drafts had been submitted, translators were invited to engage in a peer-review process. Amanda Calvert, a professional translator, then generously volunteered to read through the entire volume, bringing her experience of living and working in Moscow for thirty years to her thoughtful suggested revisions.

In 2019, Anton Chekhov Foundation trustees Rosamund Bartlett, a native English-speaking Chekhov specialist and translator, and Elena Michajlowska, a native Russian-speaking long-term UK resident with an MA in Screenwriting from a British university and an in-depth knowledge of Chekhov, were finally able to begin the next round of editing. After first reviewing each translation individually, they proceeded to work through them together, reading every word aloud and discussing linguistic and stylistic issues in detail. In the autumn of 2021, the Anton Chekhov Foundation began moving to the next stage of the project: final editing, and investigation of means of wider dissemination through publication. The planned volume will include a full introduction and notes, as well as accompanying material shedding light on the project's unique collaborative nature, and brief biographies of each translator.