Happy Birthday Anton Chekhov
One is brought to the conclusion that Chekhov, whose family had been serfs till the Emancipation and who knew the life of the lower classes, is here contradicting deliberately the Tolstoyan idealization and the Turgenevian idylizing of the peasantry, as, in his stories about religion, he is confronting Dostoevsky’s saints with something more degraded or prosaic. It is a picture, in general, of a feudal society attempting to modernize itself, but still in a state of transition that is considerably less than half-baked. One of the strongest impressions, in fact, conveyed by the whole of Chekov’s works is that, although the old order is petering out, there is not very much to build on for a sound democratic and up-to-date Russia. And yet there is just barely a note of hope.
—Edmund Wilson on Anton Chekhov, in his introduction to his selection of Chekhov’s later short stories, Peasants and Other Stories, which, incidentally, was the first book ever published by NYRB Classics.