THE LADY WITH THE DOG by Anton Chekov

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–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    “The Lady with the Dog” is a short story by Anton Chekhov. First published in 1899. It describes an adulterous affair between Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, an unhappily married, Moscow banker, and Anna Sergeyevna Von Diderits, a young married woman. The affair begins while both are vacationing alone in the Crimean sea resort of Yalta. The story comprises of four parts: Part I describes the initial meeting in Yalta, Part II the consummation of the affair and the remaining time in Yalta, Part III Gurov’s return to Moscow and his visit to Anna’s town, and Part IV Anna’s visits to Moscow. This is one of Chekhov’s most famous pieces of short fiction. Vladimir Nabokov, (Russian-born American novelist) for instance, considers it as one of the greatest short stories ever written. It has an average plot to my mind but then it is an interesting read.

    Dmitri Gurov works for a Moscow bank. He is under 40, married and has a daughter and two sons. But he is unhappy in his marriage, resulting in monotony and meaninglessness of his life. He is frequently unfaithful to his wife, and considers women to be of “a lower race”. While vacationing in Yalta, he sees a young woman walking along the seafront with her little Pomeranian, and endeavours to know her. The lady, Anna Sergeyevna, is also unhappily married and vacationing without her spouse. Anna and Dmitri soon commence an affair, and spend most of their time together, often walking and taking drives to the nearby village of Oreanda. Though, she is expecting her husband to come to Yalta, he eventually sends for her to come home, saying that something is wrong with his eyes. Gurov sees her off at the station. As they part, both feel that they would never see each other again, and that their brief affair is over.

    Returning to Moscow, to his loveless marriage, and to his daily routine, working by the day and clubbing by the night, Gurov expects to soon forget young Anna. But to his surprise, her memory keeps haunting him. Unexpectedly, he feels, he is deeply in love for the first time in his life, after many affairs and just as he is approaching middle age. He strongly feels that he must see Anna, despite the obvious complications. On the ruse of going to St. Petersburg to take care of some business, he sets off to her town to find her. Learning the location of the family’s residence from a hotel porter, he finds the house, only to realize that it would be futile to intrude. In despair, he rationalizes that Anna has probably forgotten him and found someone else, and heads back to his hotel.

    In the evening, he remembers having seen a sign earlier in the day announcing the opening performance of ‘The Geisha.’ When he reasons that Anna and her husband might come to see the play. So, he goes to the theatre. And, as expected the couple enters the theatre and he watches them intently. When the husband goes out for a smoke during the first interval, Gurov greets Anna, who is bewildered and runs from him. After following her through the theatre, he confronts her and she confides that she has been thinking of him constantly. Frightened, she begs him to leave and promises to come see him in Moscow.

She makes excuses to occasionally come to Moscow, telling her husband that she is going there to see a doctor, which he “believes and does not believe”. They are both now fully aware that for the first time in their lives they have actually fallen in love, and they both wonder how they might overcome the many challenges that face them and achieve their fervent wish to permanently live together. They desperately try to come up with a plan, but the story ends without offering a resolution:

    “They . . . talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long stretches of time. . . . and it was clear to both of them that . . . the most complicated and difficult part of their journey was just beginning.”

   Nabokov wrote about that unconventional ending:

“All the traditional rules … have been broken in this wonderful short story…. no problem, no regular climax, no point at the end. And it is one of the greatest stories ever written.”

    Interpretations and philosophical reflections

    The story beautifully captures the quiet desperation of the two protagonists, their dissatisfaction with their meaningless lives and loveless marriages, and their craving for something better. Their deep love for each other fills that void and radically transforms their outlook on life. But that love also breaks their hearts, for, in 19th century Russia, they find it almost impossible to break away and start a new life together.

    The story can be seen as “Gurov’s spiritual journey—his transformation from a connoisseur of women to a man tenderly devoted to a single ordinary woman.” The story can also be seen as “playing with the paradox that a lie—a husband deceiving a wife or a wife deceiving a husband—can be the fulcrum of truth of feeling, a vehicle of authenticity.”

    Maxim Gorky, another great Russian writer from a working-class background, saw the importance of the story as a wake-up call to people “to let go of sleepy, half-dead existence.”

    Robert Fulford offers yet another interpretation of the story:

    “What Chekhov says in this sophisticated parable is that love radically alters the landscape of existence. When touched by love, we know the world in a different way. Love changes the inner landscape, too. Under the pressure of love, Gurov looks inside himself and sees someone he has not known before, someone capable of feelings that he barely knew existed.”

    Gurov often looks behind his immediate surroundings and reflects on the meaning of our existence. Here for instance is one poetic passage:

    ‘Yalta was hardly visible through the morning mist; white clouds stood motionless on the mountaintops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, crickets chirped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea, rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now; and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hidden, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection. Sitting beside a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings—the sea, mountains, clouds, the wide open sky—Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence.”

    Chekhov poetically describes his vision of what real love could be like:

    “Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.”

    In the story we see Dmitri Gurov who is bored with his wife and views women as the lower race and uses women to bring an excitement to his other-wise dull life. Dmitri falls in love with the lady, Anna, when on vacation in Yalta. They are forced to go back to their normal life. Gurov cant stop thinking about her and realizes he loves her. He travels through the country to try and find her and tell her how he doesn’t want to live without her. The story brings a strong ironic ending because Gurov who thought of women to be inferior and using them only for excitement, is now chasing one across the country wanting nothing more than to be with her.

By Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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Shravan Charity Mission is an NGO that works for poor children suffering from life threatening diseases especially cancer. Our posts are meant for our readers that includes both children and adults and it has a huge variety in terms of content. We also accept donations for our mission. Should you wish to donate for the cause. The bank details are given below:

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