Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Alternately titled “The Lady with the Dog” or “The Lady with the Little Dog,” this story treats the theme of adultery, akin to Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1875-1877; English translation, 1886), and has a heroine with the same first name. Yet whereas Tolstoy pursues and punishes his Anna for having violated a social and moral law, Chekhov treats his Anna gently and compassionately in one of his most accomplished tales.
The plot can be briefly summarized. The banker Dmitry Dmitrich Gurov, a married but philandering man of almost forty, spends a vacation alone in the seaside resort of Yalta, where he meets and skillfully seduces a much younger lady, Anna Sergeyevna, who is also on holiday without her spouse. Their first encounter leads to a furtive and sporadic liaison, with Anna, who lives in a provincial town, having trysts with him in Moscow once every two or three months. Now deeply in love, the couple faces an unpredictable future. Chekhov ends the story on this indeterminate note.
Like a play, the narrative is divided into four parts, each of which deftly dramatizes a different phase of Anna and Dmitry’s romance. The first, of course, deals with their meeting in Yalta. The reader makes Dmitry’s acquaintance as a type: He is a cold-blooded roué, contemptuous of women as easy conquests yet compulsively erotic. He approaches Anna by fondling her dog, discovers that Anna is a gentlewoman who, like himself, is bored on...
(The entire section is 638 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The story begins with a description of a bored banker, Dmitrii Gurov, on vacation in the southern Russian city of Yalta. Idly attentive toward the other vacationers, Gurov takes special interest in a recent arrival to the resort town, a young woman named Anna Sergeevna von Diederitz, who strolls along the embankment with her little dog. Judging from her appearance, Gurov decides that she is a married woman alone and bored on her vacation. Although he too is married, he has had many affairs, and he becomes excited by the prospect of having a brief affair with this stranger. Beckoning her dog toward him, he uses the pet as an excuse to strike up a conversation with her, and within a short time they develop an easy air of companionship.
Anton Chekhov next depicts the pair after a week has passed. It is a warm, windy day, and the two go down to the pier to watch a ship come in. As the crowd around the ship gradually dissipates, Gurov asks Anna Sergeevna if she wishes to go for a ride. Suddenly, on an impulse, he embraces her and kisses her. He then suggests that they go to her room. The next scene portrays Anna Sergeevna and Gurov in her room; they have just made love for the first time. She is distraught because she feels guilty, not only because she has deceived her husband but also because she has discovered that she has been deceiving herself for a long time. She tells Gurov that she was twenty when she married her husband and has since realized that he...
(The entire section is 934 words.)
Parts 1 and 2 Summary
Parts I and II
Dmitry Gurov is vacationing at a seaside spa in Yalta without his family. He is less than forty years old, but was married young and already has a twelve-year-old daughter and two sons. He finds his wife to be somewhat harsh and not particularly intelligent. Although Gurov is generally at ease among women, he is somewhat dismissive of the sex in general, referring to them as the ‘‘inferior race,’’ though he could not live a day without them. A new visitor to Yalta catches his eye—a young lady who walks her white pomeranian. He imagines a dalliance with her but is determined to keep it light and frivolous.
Gurov meets the young lady one evening by playing with her dog. He learns that her name is Anna Sergeyevna and that she is married but not travelling with her husband. Anna and Gurov take a walk by the sea, and later in his hotel room he remembers her softness, timidity, and beauty. She is very different from his wife, yet there is something pathetic about her, he thinks.
A week passes and they go together one sultry evening to greet the steamer. After the dock empties, they go back to Anna's room and make love. Afterwards, Anna weeps, fearing that Gurov will no longer respect her. She bemoans the way she has deceived herself, not only in Yalta but throughout her married life. Her husband, a minor official in a small city, is a "flunkey," she cries, and her life a disappointment. As she weeps,...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
Part 3 Summary
Back in Moscow, Gurov exults in the winter scenery which reminds him of his youth, and enjoys the distractions of Muscovite society. He cannot, however, get Anna out of his mind, and begins to find himself disgusted with frivolous and repetitive conversation in clubs and restaurants with scenes of drunkenness and gluttony. One night he tries to tell an acquaintance about Anna, but the man only wants to talk about the fish they just ate.
Obsessed with constant thoughts of Anna, Gurov is now determined to find her. He tells his wife he must go to St. Petersburg but instead goes off to Anna's provincial city. He frequently watches her house, catching only the sight of her pomeranian, let out for a walk by the maid. He paces his provincial hotel room, wondering what he is doing in Anna's city, and then goes that night to the local opera, where he sees Anna and her "flunkey" husband. Anna is horrified by the sight of him and tries to flee, but he pursues her into a dark and remote corridor. Anna tells Gurov that she misses him and promises to visit him in Moscow.
(The entire section is 195 words.)
Part 4 Summary
Back in Moscow, Gurov walks his daughter to school through the snow. He cannot stop thinking about Anna as they are talking, for he is on his way to a rendezvous. They have been seeing each other regularly in Moscow every two or three months. When he arrives at her hotel room she is pale and unhappy from waiting for him. Their situation is growing unbearable: they love each other like husband and wife, and he feels a profound compassion for her. Despite his intention that he and Anna would have a frivolous affair, he finds that he has fallen in love for the first time in his life. He catches sight of himself in the mirror and sees himself as a middle-aged man whose hair is starting to turn gray. He thinks that he has lost his looks, and that Anna, too, will soon begin to fade and wither. Normally logical and rational when Anna is sad, Gurov now only wants to be sincere and tender with her. He tells her that they will one day find some way to live openly, and when she asks him how, he clutches her head, speaking of how he believes that although a rough time is coming up for them, one day in the not too distant future they would be together.
(The entire section is 222 words.)