Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Man with the Lapdog” is essentially a retelling of Anton Chekhov’s famous short story “The Woman with the Lapdog.” In Chekhov’s story, a Russian man meets a woman while on vacation and begins an affair with her. When the man returns to Moscow and the woman returns to St. Petersburg, the man cannot get her out of his mind and resumes the affair, arranging to meet her whenever he can. The man feels that he is living two lives: a public life at his work and with his family, which he feels is empty and unreal, and a private life with the woman that he loves, which he feels is the only true reality, the only time when he is truly himself. Lordan’s story similarly presents a man who meets a woman on vacation for whom he develops romantic feelings. However, as opposed to Chekhov’s story, in “The Man with the Lapdog,” the man ultimately discovers that his real life lies with his wife.

Like Chekhov’s famous realistic style, Lordan’s style is deceptively simple. Although the story seems a classic example of domestic realism, in which the focus is on everyday experiences of ordinary people, the language, which focuses on the thoughts of Lyle, emphasizes how powerfully the imaginative life supersedes the ordinary world of everyday reality. A central image in the story is Lyle sitting alone in his home with his dog on his lap, entertaining romantic fantasies about Laura. In this sense, Lordan’s story actually parallels Chekhov’s. The important difference is the final realization or acceptance by Lyle that there is much to treasure with his wife. He accepts that even though he is not young he still has the feel of her hand on his arm and he still has a life to value, in spite of its difficulties and complications—maybe even because of those difficulties and complications.

The brilliance of Lordan’s story is her ability to get inside the mind of Lyle so thoroughly and to express his sense of alienation and loneliness. Lordan’s treatment of Lyle makes it clear that he has no desire to transform his fantasies into action. She knows quite well that the fantasy life of men is more often like that of Lyle—a vague longing rather than a call to action—than that of Chekhov’s adulterous protagonist.