We speak of the ""golden age"" of Russian literature and we mean primarily Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, and only secondarily Chekhov. Chekhov is modest where the other two are massive; he is concerned with the small theme, the everyday frustration, the relations of man with man; they are obsessed with the messianic in one form or another. Yet strangely enough, in the realms of style and characterization, Chekhov has been a much more pervasive influence, not only as the father of the modern short story, but also as the creator of a certain nuance, an impressionistic structure, a way of looking at the seemingly banal, which Kafka was later to develop as the ""absurd,"" or what Joyce would call an ""epiphany."" Professor Winner studies all these strains in his wonderfully sympathetic, meticulous, and highly useful chronological discussion of Chekhov's prose. Although completely undistinguished in its writing, the work is nevertheless quite readable, for one senses on every page the depth of the author's attachment to his subject, his command of scholarship, and the shrewdness of judgment. The allegorical implications and stylistic breakthrough of ""The Steppe"" are examined with great care; Chekhov's interest in social oppression (The Peasants), his ambivalence towards Tolstoyan morality, the drama of provincial narcissism, or the various portraits (""Gusev,"" ""Anna,"" ""The Darling"")- these and many other facets are probed within the full range of Chekhov's characteristic blend of irony and compassion. But it is in the section entitled ""The Searching Stories,"" especially in the brilliant reading of The Duel, that Professor Winner best documents Chekhov's peculiar strengths, conflicts, and resolutions.