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Known for his plays and short stories, Anton Chekhov also wrote a series of novellas, astonishing for their psychological complexity and compelling human portraiture. In The Duel, the wastrel and libertine Laevsky absconds to the Caucasus with another man's wife, Nadyezhda Fyodorovna. While there, he forms several acquaintanceships with a colorful array of characters: Von Koren the zoologist, Samoylenko the doctor, and Pobyedov the giddy deacon. Before long, both Laevsky and his mistress succeed in offending local society by their dissolute lifestyles, leading to the inevitable insult, challenge, and duel. Duels having been exploited as plot twists throughout the writings of Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Dostoyevsky (all ironically alluded to by the author), the challenge for Chekhov is to make it work one more time in 1891, at a time when duelling had nearly died out in both society and literature. The result is a richly layered, utterly original, philosophically and psychologically ambiguous story of human love and friendship. (
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