An Odious Comparison?

Norman Mailer once related a story he came across: Somewhere around the turn of the century, Chekhov visits Tolstoy. He takes the train to the nearest station. Let’s say it’s wintertime. He rents two horses and a sled and drives out through the snow to Yasnaya Polyana. Tolstoy is pretty old by now, big, strong, severe, of course, and sits him right down and they talk. They drink tea and they talk. Tolstoy says, “Chekhov, you are a very good writer. You are excellent. Some of your short stories are so good I would have been pleased to have written them myself. But, Chekhov, I must tell you: You are a terrible playwright! You are awful! You are even worse than Shakespeare!”Afterward, Chekhov drives back to the railroad station through the snow. In his journal he writes, “I whipped the horses. To the moon I shouted, ‘I am even worse than Shakespeare!’ “

The New Yorker, 2002

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