The Lady with the Dog is a short story that was first published in 1889 by renowned author, Anton Chekhov (Dhooge 152). In this literary work of fiction, Chekhov writes of a clandestine love affair between two of the story’s principal characters, namely Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna. Dmitri Gurov is a married man in his thirties who lives in Moscow with his wife three children. Anna, a young woman in her twenties, is also married and lives with her husband in S——. Anna and Gurov meet while on vacation in Yalta, Crimea, where their affair starts. Throughout the story, Gurov’s interaction with Anna sparks a gradual evolution in his character which is marked by the shift in his reactions to events as the plot develops.
At the beginning of the story, Gurov’s reactions to various occurrences portray him as a man with an emotionally distant and judgmental personality. He comes across as a lonely man who has never experience true love and is instead stuck in an unhappy marriage. Gurov reacts to his unpleasant life circumstances by intentionally disassociating his self from his emotions and rationalizing his situation through a judgmental attitude and philandering behavior. For example, he is condescending towards his wife who he perceives as “unintelligent, narrow, and inelegant,” and he also classifies all women as “the lower race” (Chekhov 8). Additionally, he views every intimate relationship as a “bitter experience […] which in the beginning lends life such pleasant diversity and presents itself as nice” but is always, in the end, “finally burdensome” (Chekhov 9). Such is Gurov’s reaction to life in the early phases of his affair with Anna.
Gurov begins his relationship with Anna under the assumption that the affair was no different from those that he had experienced with other women. This is clear from his reaction to his initial interaction with her which ends in him asserting to himself that “there’s something pathetic about her, anyway” (Chekhov 12). After having sex, Gurov is “bored” by Anna’s remorse and “irritated by the naïve tone” (Chekhov 17). To Gurov, this was no different from his previous affairs which ended up with him developing contempt towards the women.
Nevertheless, as the relationship continues to unfold, Gurov’s personality and character begin to transform gradually. As the two characters draw closer, he starts to become more reflective of his life experiences and stumbles into a mid-life crisis of sorts before eventually opening up emotionally to Anna. For instance, he realizes that his relationships with women do not have to be empty and temporary flings and he is capable of experiencing genuine love. His growing affection for Anna leads him to the recognition that he is advancing in age and that the vanity of his routine life in Moscow rendered his life meaningless. He thus loses interest in the “useless pursuits and conversations” which “in the end there is left a life groveling and curtailed, worthless and trivial […] just as though one were in a madhouse or a prison” (Chekhov 26). Eventually, he realizes that he has truly fallen in love with Anna and that the pursuit of her affection was the only possible reaction that would finally give meaning to his life.
Ultimately, the affair changes Gurov’s personality entirely. The confusion, defensive chauvinism, and emotional retardation displayed in his reactions at the beginning of the plot transform into genuine love and mature understanding by the end of the story. Both characters resolve to end the secrecy and continue their relationship in the open for a “splendid life” to begin (Chekhov 39). Overall, as the clandestine affair deepens from the beginning to the end of the story, each character becomes the light in their counterpart’s darkness.
Chekhov, Anton. The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories (riverrun editions): A Beautiful New Edition of Chekhov’s Short Fiction, translated by Constance Garnett. riverrun, 2018, pp. 7-39.
Dhooge, Ben. “On an Unhappy Marriage, Henry James, and Atoms: Vladimir Nabokov Reading (on) Anton Chekhov.” Vladimir Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature. Brill Rodopi, 2017, pp. 135-164.
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