Anton Chekov’s short story Lady with a Lapdog is easily one of his best-known works and presents itself as a typical Chekov’s tale, breaking the rules of usual short story. Lectures on Russian Literature give a short, but very accurate comment about this story by Vladimir Nabokov, another renowned Russian author: "There is no conflict, no climax, no denouement and conclusion in the last chapter. And it is one of the best stories ever written."
The Lady with a Lapdog was written in 1899, five years before Chekov’s death. At that time, he was suffering from tuberculosis and was advised to move to the Crimea. The town of Yalta on the coast of the Black Sea was Chekov’s location at that time and simultaneously served as the setting for the story main heroes’ first meeting. Until nowadays, many scholars argue that the location was not chosen merely because of the author’s temporary location. They stress that the romance at the center of this story might have been a reflection of the Chekov's own affair with the actress Olga Knipper, which would eventually lead to their marriage in 1901.
“It was said that a new person had appeared on the sea-front: a lady with a little dog. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, who had by then been a fortnight at Yalta, and so was fairly at home there, had begun to take an interest in new arrivals”. The main two heroes are introduced from the first sentences of the story: Dmitri Gurov, a forty-year-old man on his Crimean vacation is bored with both his usual and vacation lives. He is married, but does not love his shrewish wife (“he secretly considered her unintelligent, narrow, inelegant”) and has had numerous love affairs with other women. He calls women “the lower race”, but secretly admits that he feels better in female’s company than in men’s.
It all starts when “the lady with a lapdog” sits opposite of Dimitri to eat in the public gardens. The woman is Anna Sergeyevna, a twenty-two year old married woman from the city S. She does not seem to be in love with her husband, she cannot even exactly remember where he works. The two soon grow close and observe the sunset at Oreanda, anew impressed by the majestic scenery. They are just as newly impressed by the capacity and a wide range of emotions their meeting provokes in them. Anna’s fresh and unaffected nature comes as a great contrast to elderly, sometimes rapacious women Dmitri is used to have affairs with. He is intrigued and drawn by her exuberance and naivete. Anna, in her turn, gives up to a sudden wave of admiration towards the older man, but her happiness is marred by the fear of losing Dmitri’s respect because she sinned: “It’s wrong, - she said. - You will be the first to despise me now”. Her husband’s letter urges her return, and it comes as a relief for her to leave Dmitri.
After Anna’s departure, the importance of the dual setting to the story becomes glaringly obvious. While Yalta was a vacation spot, perfect for “the tempting thought of a swift, fleeting love affair, a romance with an unknown woman, whose name he [Gurov] did not know”, Moscow feels cold and unwelcoming. Gurov longs for Anna when sinking in his daily grind again: visiting clubs, reading newspapers, going to work and living with his wife. Dmitri believes that his memories of the lady with the lapdog will soon fade and vanish, and his life will go on, but he is mistaken. “In another month, he fancied, the image of Anna Sergeyevna would be shrouded in a mist in his memory, and only from time to time would visit him in his dreams with a touching smile as others did. But more than a month passed, real winter had come, and everything was still clear in his memory as though he had parted with Anna Sergeyevna only the day before. And his memories glowed more and more vividly”.
Dmitri soon resolves to do something that feels the only right thing to do: he goes to Anna’s town, S. and arrives at the Von Diderits’ residence. I was very touched by the thought Dmitri had when he looked at the gray fence which surrounded Anna’s house: "One would run away from a fence like that," thought Gurov, looking from the fence to the windows of the house and back again”. Anna thought that Gurov would despise her for stooping so low as to having an affair with a married man, but his loving heart finds an excuse for her deed and does not let any seed of doubt about her greatness to be planted in his head. I think it is very natural for a loving person not to accept any thoughts of his lover’s infidelity, and I believe Gurov in his sincere feeling of love.
The lovers meet in the theatre where Gurov comes in hope to see her. Anna’s behavior shows him that she has missed him just as much as he has missed her, and she promises to visit him in Moscow. They are meeting secretly, stealing time from the destiny, until they realize that they are, in fact, each other’s destiny. They just met later than they should have done. “It was evident to him that this love of theirs would not soon be over, that he could not see the end of it. And only now when his head was grey he had fallen properly, really in love -- for the first time in his life”.
The story of two lovers has neither a moral nor a moral judgment. It is a simple Chekov’s narration, and every reader is free to make his own conclusion. I love how brilliantly Chekov stays out of being a mid-nineteenth century lecturer through forcing morality lessons via his literature. His story is set up as a mere slice of life, the usual story that could happen to anyone, and that is why it is easy to take the story close to the heart and believe it. I think that I have made a great choice with the selection of this piece of literature, because I felt through the story as I read it. The story did not want me to be a judge, a jury or an executioner. I was simply observing a love story happening to two unhappy people, and I enjoyed a newly gained thought that the destiny has many wonderful gifts in store for us.
Chekov, A (1899). The lady with the Dog. Web. Rertieved on February 18, 2014: