Russian short stories are known for being melancholy, often dealing with suffering. However, they can also be funny and absurd.
Some common subjects include class distinctions, the plight of the underdog, and a rejection of authoritarianism and bureaucracy.
Short Stories from Russia
Silence | Leonid Andreyev
Father Ignatius and his wife try to find out what is wrong with Vera, their daughter, who stays in bed. She has recently returned from St. Petersburg, a trip her father didn’t approve of. Her condition has a powerful effect on everyone.
An Evening in Spring | Ivan Bunin
A beggar walks around a village, but the people aren’t generous. He ends up in a tavern where he is accosted by a peasant who gives him a hard time.
A Chameleon | Anton Chekhov
A police superintendent comes across a commotion in the street. A man has chased down a dog that had bitten his finger. He wants justice so the superintendent tries to identify the dog’s owner.
An Incident | Anton Chekhov
Two children wake up one morning, tired and unmotivated, until they hear that the cat has had kittens. The children become focused on the kittens, losing interest in their usual activities. The rest of the family doesn’t care very much.
The Malefactor | Anton Chekhov
Denis Grigoriev is brought before a magistrate after being spotted stealing nuts from the rails by the railroad watchmen. Grigoriev is questioned about his crime, and he explains himself.
The Man in a Case | Anton Chekhov
Byelikov is a teacher, strict, narrow-minded and obsessed with propriety and following the rules. When a new teacher, Kovalenko, moves into the area, some people think his sister, Varinka, would make a good match for Byelikov.
A Problem | Anton Chekhov
The Uskov family has a serious matter to discuss, so they send their servants away for the evening. Sasha Uskov has forged a promissory note and is now in debt. His uncles have gathered to debate the merits of their options: paying the debt to avoid scandal or letting Sasha go to trial and face the consequences of his crime.
A Work of Art | Anton Chekhov
A doctor saves the life of a boy, the only son of his mother. They are poor bronze dealers, so they have no money to pay. To express their deep gratitude, the boy presents the doctor with an antique bronze work of art. It’s not to the doctor’s taste.
Misery | Anton Chekhov
Iona Potapov is the driver of a horse-drawn sleigh. His mind isn’t on his work due to a recent tragedy. He tries to talk to his passengers about his feelings.
The Bet | Anton Chekhov
At a dinner party, a banker argues that capital punishment is preferable to life imprisonment. A young lawyer disagrees, saying that he would rather life in prison than death. They bet two million rubles that the lawyer can’t stay isolated for fifteen years.
Vanka | Anton Chekhov
An orphan apprenticed to a shoemaker surreptitiously writes a letter to his grandfather, asking to be taken to live with him, so he can escape his life of deprivation and mistreatment.
A Boring Story | Anton Chekhov
Nikolai Stepanovich is an aged, renowned medical professor. Despite his success, he’s unsatisfied; his heath is poor, he’s annoyed with his family, and sick of the conversation of his associates.
The Kiss | Anton Chekhov
A man at a dinner party is mistaken for someone else and kissed by an unknown woman in the dark. It affects him deeply and fires his imagination.
The Huntsman | Anton Chekhov
A hunter is walking down a country road when a woman whom he doesn’t see often – his wife – starts talking to him.
Sleepy | Anton Chekhov
Varka, a servant girl of thirteen, is obligated to do numerous household chores during the day and tend to the baby at night.
Small Fry | Anton Chekhov
Nevyrazimov is a lowly government clerk, working on Easter eve. He’s trying to write a note of congratulations to a higher ranking man, with the hope of getting a small promotion. He resents his lot in life.
A Day in the Country | Anton Chekhov
A young girl goes to a cobbler for some help for her brother. He has his arm stuck in a tree, and there’s a storm coming. They walk together and talk about nature.
Gooseberries | Anton Chekhov
Nicolai wants his own farm with gooseberry bushes where he can live out his life. He makes it his entire focus; he becomes stingy and marries an old, wealthy widow whom he has no feelings for.
A Slander | Anton Chekhov
A schoolmaster is at the wedding reception he has arranged for his daughter. He is outraged when a false rumor about him spreads.
Anyuta | Anton Chekhov
Anyuta lives in a cheap hotel room with a medical student, Klotchkov. She’s lived with several men like him; they all leave her behind when they move on to a better life.
Panikhida | Anton Chekhov
After a church service, Andrei Andreich, a shopkeeper, is accosted by Father Grigory. Andreich’s daughter had recently died, and the priest is upset over the way Andreich described her in his commemoration.
Read “Panikhida” (Scroll down)
The Lady with the Pet Dog | Anton Chekhov
Dmitri is unhappily married, unfaithful to his wife, and has a low opinion of women. While on vacation he meets a young woman, also married, and they have an affair. After Dmitri returns to his routine he finds that he can’t stop thinking about her.
Easter Night (Eve) | Anton Chekhov
The narrator takes a ferry across the river to attend an Easter service. The monk who works on the ferry is mourning the death of his friend, a fellow monk.
The Death of a Government Clerk | Anton Chekhov
A government clerk sneezes while at the opera, accidentally spraying the man in front of him. Although he apologizes several times, he’s worried that the matter isn’t closed.
Fat and Thin | Anton Chekhov
Two men – schoolmates as boys – meet unexpectedly at a train station and are delighted to see each other. They talk about their lives; one bit of information changes the thin man’s view of his old friend.
The Bridge | Nicolai Chukovski
Kostya is seventeen, awkward and shy, and his family has little confidence in him. He is going to Siberia to work for his uncle, but his grandmother and aunt don’t think he is rugged enough for the change. He takes his bicycle out for his last ride before leaving.
The Christmas Tree and the Wedding | Fyodor Dostoevsky
At a New Year’s children’s ball, a guest tries to get into the good graces of the family of a young girl who is said to have a large dowry. He fawns over her and tries to oust her young lower-class playmate.
The Crocodile | Fyodor Dostoevsky
Ivan goes with his wife and friend, Semyon, to an exhibition to see a crocodile. It swallows Ivan, but he remains alive inside it. There is a discussion about getting him out, but monetary concerns take priority.
The Peasant Marey | Fyodor Dostoevsky
The narrator, a noble, remembers an incident from his childhood. While walking in the woods, he heard someone shouting a warning about a wolf. He ran off in a panic, until he reached a peasant man, Marey.
The Signal | Vsevolod Garshin
Semyon works as a track-walker, diligently attending to his section of railroad. A neighbor, Vasily, complains about his work and low pay. Vasily’s temper leads to an emergency and Semyon must act decisively.
The Nose | Nikolai Gogol
A barber, Ivan, cuts into a loaf of freshly baked bread only to find a nose inside. He recognizes the nose as belonging to a regular customer of his, Platon. Fearing he will be in trouble, Ivan thinks about how to get rid of the nose. Meanwhile, Platon wakes up in his home and the absurdities continue.
The Carriage | Nikolai Gogol
A town is very dull until a cavalry regiment is stationed there. The brigadier general throws a dinner party, inviting some prominent officers and local landowners. Among the guests is Pythagor Chertokutsky, an aristocrat and former officer who retired after an unfortunate social incident.
The Overcoat | Nikolai Gogol
A poor government clerk, Akaky, gets teased at work over his ragged overcoat. He tries to get it repaired, but the tailor declares it a lost cause. Akaky lives on a strict budget to save up for a new one.
The Diary of a Madman | Nikolai Gogol
A middle-aged government clerk keeps a diary that includes the times he is marginalized by others, with his fanciful explanations for what’s really happening. His perceptions become increasingly outrageous as he loses grip on reality.
Her Lover | Maxim Gorky
A student lives across from a woman with a questionable reputation. She greets him but he tries to avoid her. One day she asks him for a favor – she wants him to write a letter for her.
One Autumn Night | Maxim Gorky
A man arrives in town without money or any acquaintances in the area. He goes looking for food, and comes across a woman in a similar situation.
In the Steppes | Maxim Gorky
Three drifters are walking across the steppe looking for a shepherd to beg some bread. They walk on, their hunger getting worse. Eventually, they decide they have to stop and make a fire.
The Old Bell-Ringer | Vladimir Korolenko
Mikheyich is the bell-ringer in the church in a small community. He has outlived his peers and many younger family members. As he prepares to ring the bell once more, he thinks about the occasion and his life.
Taman | Mikhail Lermontov
The narrator relates his narrow escape in Taman. As an officer traveling on government business he is given lodging at a private residence. It is an eerie place with no master, a blind servant boy, and a daughter who has run away. At night a shadow flickering across his room gets his attention.
That in Aleppo Once… | Vladimir Nabokov
The narrator writes a letter to his Russian friend working as a novelist in America. He chronicles his failed marriage, including a separation that occurs during a train trip and his jealousy.
Symbols and Signs | Vladimir Nabokov
An elderly couple intends to visit their son in a mental institution, but because of a recent suicide attempt, they are not allowed to see him. The husband decides to remove the son from the facility.
The Shot | Alexander Pushkin
A regiment of Russian soldiers often goes to the home of Silvio, a mysterious man, to play cards and drink. A young soldier insults Silvio, but he lets it pass; he doesn’t challenge him to a duel as honor demands. This lowers his esteem in the eyes of his guests.
The Queen of Spades | Alexander Pushkin
Hermann is an engineer in the Russian army. Tomsky tells him a story about his grandmother, a countess, who won a large sum playing cards because she knows a three card secret. The countess is still alive, so Hermann schemes to learn the secret from her.
The Stationmaster | Alexander Pushkin
The stationmaster is a member of the fourteenth rank – the lowest rank among government workers. He has a beautiful daughter, Dunia. The narrator meets the stationmaster during his travels. When the narrator returns years later he asks about the stationmaster and his daughter.
How a Muzhik Fed Two Officials | Mikhail Saltykov
Two life-long white collar government workers find themselves transported to a deserted island. Their skills of keeping records and writing reports prove useless in their new environment. They realize that if they could just find a peasant he could look after everything.
Night | Tatyana Tolstaya
Mamochka is eighty-years-old and looks after her middle-aged retarded son, Alexie. She gets him through his daily routine, sets up his work space, and tries to guide his interactions with others.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich | Leo Tolstoy
Ivan Ilyich lives simply, focusing on making advancement at work as he’s not eager to be around his family. One day while hanging curtains, he falls and hurts his side. When he gets it checked out, the doctor has bad news.
This story is a novella.
Three Questions | Leo Tolstoy
A king wants the answers to three very important questions. He finds a wise hermit who helps him discover the answers.
Bezhin Meadow | Ivan Turgenev
The narrator, having finished grouse shooting for the day, heads home but gets lost. He ends up in Bezhin Meadow with five boys who are watching some horses. He rests while the boys tell superstitious stories.
The District Doctor | Ivan Turgenev
A doctor makes an urgent house call where a beautiful young woman is in a bad condition. He tries to reassure her family even though a recovery is unlikely.
Yermolai and the Miller’s Wife | Ivan Turgenev
The narrator and Yermolai go out hunting. They seek shelter at a miller’s home, and Yermolai seems to know the miller’s wife.
I hope you found a great Russian story to read. I will add more as I find them.