This is the first ‘The Duel’ in a series of duel novellas that I recently purchased from Melville House Publishing. It’s a great idea to collate a series of linked novels in this way. What is also very good about this set is that each book has additional materials added, which either relate to duels or is biographical – there are even newspaper reports from the dueling heyday. This extra material makes these well worth getting. Too often it seems publishers simply republish old novels with just a new introduction – there often isn’t even a new translation. Someone has taken the time to collate all this extra information and this set really is the stronger because of it.
Chekhov’s Duel is an interesting novella. As I read it, I couldn’t help but keep comparing Laevsky (Chekhov’s superflous man – not to be confused with Pushkin’s, Lermontov’s, Turgenev’s and Goncharov’s) with Lermontov’s Pechorin specifically. It seems that Pechorin was railing against nothing specific – just existence, whereas in Chekhov’s Duel the the opponent was Von Koren. Von Koren was an exponent of Nietsche and Darwinism and is the mouthpiece for several of the ideas that were prevalent at this time, Laevsky, as the supposed superfluous man, is anathema to him. The strange thing is that Chekhov’s novel (written 50 years after Lermontov) feels more dated than ‘A Hero of our Time’. The structure is more traditional and you have these very clear opposing forces with a redemptive aspect at the end. The Tsar who hated Lermontov’s novel would have been much more pleased with Chekhov’s. Lermontov’s lack of traditional structure and Pechorin’s general dissatisfaction, with unseen forces and himself, seems much more current. Included in the additional materials in Melville House’s edition is an excerpt from Lermontov and it even includes Pushkin’s short story ‘The Queen of Spades’ which is also a gripping yarn and gets better with every reread. Contemplating Chekhov’s ‘The Duel’ novella, materials, and their links was very worthwhile and it really highlighted to me the greatness of Lermontov, and his only novel, whose life was cut short by a duel.