The Lady with the Dog

(Great Characters in Literature)

Characters Discussed

Dmitrii Dmitrich Gurov

Dmitrii Dmitrich Gurov (DMIH-tree DMIH-trihch GEW-rov), a Moscow banker. A married man approaching middle age, Dmitrii is a property owner, the father of three children, and an amateur singer who once had aspirations to join a private opera company. He is also a veteran adulterer. While vacationing by himself at Yalta, he intends to continue his infidelity if the opportunity presents itself. He is, however, clearly aware that each new affair soon palls, although the prospect of inevitable boredom over his conquests and his disgust over each affair’s messy ending do not dissuade him from striking up an acquaintance with Anna, who seems to be easy prey. His shallow and cynical attitude toward women (to whom he refers as the “lower breed”) is in part the result of his bitterness over marriage to a severe, intellectual woman whom he wed while still at the university. His round of activities, both at the seaside resort and in Moscow, is characterized by cynicism and boredom and by the spurious pleasures of card games at his clubs and sophisticated chatter at social gatherings. His immersion in the old pleasures proves useless, however, in disguising the fact that he has fallen deeply in love with Anna. As their affair lengthens and becomes increasingly serious, Dmitrii’s trifling, pleasure-obsessed existence grows tragic.

Anna Sergeevna von Diederitz

Anna Sergeevna von Diederitz (AHN-nah sehr-GEH-yehv-nah von DIH-deh-rihtz), a young married woman. Anna, a sensitive and morally conscientious but inexperienced young woman, has been married for two years to a minor provincial official whom she detests. Her affair with Dmitrii is cataclysmic for her; she sees herself as a “fallen woman” and becomes despondent. She feels, moreover, that she has deceived not only her husband but herself as well. Her visit to Yalta is the result of frustration occasioned by the sameness of her life. Driven by curiosity, by the urge “to live,” she has convinced her husband that she suffers from an undefined illness and thus needs the rest that Yalta affords. Initially, her lovemaking with Dmitrii prompts her to self-disgust, a disgust she feels that Dmitrii shares; in her own eyes, she has become petty and despicable. At the same time, her love for Dmitrii deepens, and when he later appears in her provincial town, she recognizes that she and Dmitrii are doomed by their emotions. Anna perceives her own ambivalence; she realizes that even while she despises herself for her infidelity and is made miserable by a potentially tragic future, she is thrilled by the richer life she secretly shares with Dmitrii.

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Like most of Chekhov’s late tales, “The Lady with the Dog” reveals the careful touch of a consummate craftsman. Constructing his story out of a small number of selected vignettes, Chekhov managed to evoke the full complexity of an intimate relationship between two sensitive human beings in a concise, almost laconic fashion. One technique that helped the writer achieve such conciseness is the use of minor yet significant detail to suggest emotional states. For example, as Gurov listens to Anna Sergeevna lament her situation when they first become lovers, Chekhov indicates the man’s insensitivity to her agitation by depicting him slicing a watermelon and eating it without haste. Similarly, Chekhov’s nature descriptions echo or shape a character’s emotions: The sensuous sound of the Black Sea at night facilitates Gurov’s recognition of the timeless beauty present in the world around him.

To underscore the subjective nature of his characters’ perception of events, Chekhov often uses such passive and impersonal constructions as “it seemed” and “it appeared.” Perhaps the most striking feature of the structure of “The Lady with the Dog” is the air of uncertainty with which it ends: Chekhov provides no definitive resolution to his lovers’ problem. Such an inconclusive ending was not typical for nineteenth century Russian literature. Chekhov seems to imply here that life, unlike the tidy fiction that his predecessors liked to create, does not conform to neat patterns or boundaries but rather continues in a way that defies human control or manipulation. Chekhov pioneered the use of this kind of “zero ending” in his fiction, and it has since become a staple of the modern short story.

Historical Context

(Short Stories for Students)

Marital Infidelity
''The Lady with the Pet Dog'' was published in 1899 and heralded the moral dilemmas of the coming...

(The entire section is 1007 words.)

Literary Style

(Short Stories for Students)

Point of View
The narrative style used by Chekhov in ''The Lady with the Pet Dog'' is third-person, somewhat cool and...

(The entire section is 655 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Short Stories for Students)

1900s: Extra-marital affairs and divorce are social taboos, often resulting in the social ostracization of offending...

(The entire section is 64 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Short Stories for Students)

Research the legal consequences of and cultural attitudes toward infidelity in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Also research the...

(The entire section is 158 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Short Stories for Students)

''The Lady with the Pet Dog'' was adapted as the film The Lady with the Dog by director Yosif Heifitz,...

(The entire section is 41 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Short Stories for Students)

"The Dead,’’ James Joyce's classic short story published in 1914. This story concerns a middle-aged man who discovers a secret about his...

(The entire section is 285 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Short Stories for Students)

For Further Study
‘‘Anton Chekhov,’’ in Short Story Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by Sheila Fitzgerald,...

(The entire section is 66 words.)