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There are only two important characters in Chekhov's "The Lady with the Pet Dog." The story is told entirely from the point of view of the man, Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, although the woman's part is equal in importance. Her name is Anna Sergeyevna. The point of view is established in the marvelous opening sentences:
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 opening introduces Gurov, establishes the location, and shows how dull and borinig life must be for the vacationers, since they take such an interest in new arrivals. It is because of his boredom that Gurov makes an effort to strike up an acquaintance with Anna with the intention of seducing her. It is Dmitri's thoughts and feelings that are described throughout the story. Anna's can only be surmised from what she says and does. For example, after they go to bed together for the first time:
Her face drooped and faded, and on both sides of it her long hair hung down mournfully; she mused in a dejected attitude like "the woman who was a sinner" in an old-fashioned picture.
"It's wrong," she said. "You will be the first to despsise me now."
Chekhov is describing what Anna is feeling, but it is entirely from Gurov's point of view. He has had plenty of experience with adulterous relationships; for her this is her first and only such experience. Perhaps it is because of her innocence that Gurov cannot forget her, as he has fogotten so many other women.
The turning point comes after he returns to his unloved and unloving wife in Moscow.
He was tormented by an intense desire to confide his memories to someone.
In the holidays in December he takes a trip to Anna Sergeyevna's stuffy provincial town. Obviously, Gurov is both the protagonist and the character from whose point of view everything is told. Both characters are unhappily married, but they are totally bound by marital ties, by children, by economic realities, by social conventions, by religion, by the vast geographical distance between them, and other things. What was feasible and easy at Yalta, becomes impossible once they return to their homes and families.
Characteristically, Chekhov leaves his story unresolved. There are no epiphanies and no solution to the problem. This is one of the major ways in which Chekhov has influenced many contemporary fiction writers, including Raymond Carver, who kept a picture of Chekhov pinned to the wall above his writing desk.
Anna Sergeyevna seems to be passively leaving the problem up to Dmirti Dmitritich--who, after all, was the one who created it. But in the last lines of the story:
"How? How? he asked, clutching his head. "How?"
And it seems as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin, and it was now clear to both of them that they had still a long, long way to go, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.
The problems connected with adultery have often been the subject of art, including Dante's canto on Francesca Da Rimini in his Inferno, Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina, and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. The complications arising from a casual affair initiated by a man out of boredom are also the subject of two good American films: Play Misty for Me (1971) and Fatal Attraction (1987).
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