The Lady with the Pet Dog by Anton Chekhov

The Lady with the Pet Dog book cover
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How do Gurov and Anna change over the course of the story?

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Blaze Bergstrom eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The characters in "The Lady with the Dog" change in significant ways, but one of those changes is that they develop more self-awareness of what their basic personalities are. Although Gurov and Anna are initially attracted to what they perceive as differences in each other, as they get to know each other, their attraction is strengthened by the discovery of fundamental similarities. In particular, they share a sense of alienation from their middle-class social environment.

In part because Gurov is older and he is male, he had been acting out his dissatisfaction with social conventions through having meaningless affairs. He comes to admit that route has not brought the satisfaction he sought. Anna, being younger and female, internalized her distance from those expectations through unhappiness and feelings of inadequacy. Finding a way to be honest about herself involves, paradoxically, deceiving her husband and betraying her marital vows. Their psychological changes include the realization that they can find a more meaningful life through sharing it with someone who has a similar outlook.

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Erin DuBuque eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The famous short story "The Lady With the Pet Dog" by Anton Chekhov tells of a meeting between Dmitri Gurov, a married banker approaching middle age, and a young married woman named Anna Sergeyevna. Each is vacationing alone in Yalta, and they begin spending time together. When their holiday is over, Gurov cannot stop thinking about Anna. He goes to see her in her home city, and she agrees to come to Moscow to meet him. They realize that they are in love and begin an affair.

Both Gurov and Anna go through profound changes in this story, and these changes have to do with falling unexpectedly in love. Gurov has a wife and three children, but he is unhappy in his marriage. He has been a lady's man, picking up women and having affairs, but they have all been unimportant and only for sensual gratification. They have left him feeling unhappy and unfulfilled. All this changes when he meets Anna. For the first time in his life, he falls in love. The depth of his emotion takes him by surprise, and the true love that Anna bestows upon him humbles him and makes him consider his age and how unhappy he really is in the present circumstances of his life.

As for Anna, she undergoes significant change as well. When she meets Gurov, she is aware that she is unhappy, but she considers herself honest and pure and doesn't want to do anything sinful. However, after she falls in love with Gurov, she is willing to meet him and start an affair, something she would never have considered previously. In this way, she undergoes a significant character transformation due to the depth of her feelings for Gurov.

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Margarete Abshire eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In the simplest terms, they both come to understand their feelings for each other. For Gurov, that means understanding that Anna is different from the other women he has had affairs with; far from being a member of "the lower race," as he dismissively calls women, he comes to realize that "for him there was in the whole world no creature so near, so precious, and so important to him" as Anna.

Anna, for her part, changes in that she begins to understand that her desire for Gurov is something she can't will herself to forget. Even though she is riven with guilt over her infidelity, this feeling is replaced by the realization that she is desperately unhappy with her husband and that the happiness she feels with Gurov is something she is permitted to feel. The story ends with both of them understanding that their relationship is far from over, whatever shape it might take in the future.

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Chekhov is not the kind of writer who would depict a truly revolutionary character change in a middle-aged character like Gurov. Chekhov knew that people in real life rarely if ever change so radically. What happens is that the cynical and corrupt Gurov meets and falls in love with the much younger Anna Sergeyevna who is naive and innocent and, as often happens in love affairs, the two exchange character traits, so that each becomes a different person by a sort of spiritual infection. Gurov becomes somewhat more like her and she becomes somewhat more like him. An example of how Anna changes is that she is willing to deceive her husband regularly in the same way that Gurov has been cheating on his wife. However, neither Gurov nor Anna are willing to "risk disgrace and divorce for his [or her] grand passion." Chekhov was a physician, and he often sounds more like a diagnostician than a poet. He had years of experience treating patients whom he was unable to cure and had to watch die. He sounds this way in "The Lady with the Pet Dog." He cannot help these two people. Their case is terminal. There is no solution, radical, romantic, or otherwise. At the end of the long story the author characteristically leaves them with their problem unresolved and unresolvable.

And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.

This is an example of what is so splendid about Anton Chekhov and why so many contemporary writers have idolized and imitated him. We have gone beyond the Romantic Age. Readers will not accept romantic solutions to problems of ordinary people. Gurov knows he cannot get a divorce and run off with a woman who is about the same age as his daughter. They would have nothing to live on. They are imprisoned in their environments and in their marriages. They both realize that she would feel remorse for deserting her children, if not for deserting her husband. In time her naive infatuation would dissipate and she would see the aging Gurov for what he is—and what he knows himself to be. As bad as their situation is at the end of the story, it is probably better than any such radical solution as divorce. They are just two people having an affair. It is complicated by the fact that they live far away from each other, but it is still just one of the countless extramarital affairs beginning, continuing, or terminating in many parts of the world. In time, theirs will probably come to a natural end and only remain with both of them as a bittersweet memory. Gurov will have changed, no doubt. He will not be such a womanizer, and he may be more understanding of people in general, of women, in particular. Anna has changed at least in so far as she has lost some of her naivete and idealism and will probably not feel guilty about her past sinfulness but rather will treasure the memory.

Raymond Carver was one of the many American writers influenced by Chekhov. He had a picture of Chekhov pinned to the wall above his writing desk. Many of Carver's stories end without a resolution to the focal character's problem. The problem itself seems to be the story’s conclusion. A good example is Carver's "Where I'm Calling From." There are many others included in the collection which takes its title from that marvelous short story.

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