The Lady with the Dog

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"The Lady with the Dog"
TheLadywiththeDog.jpeg
Author Anton Chekhov
Original title "Дама с собачкой"
Country Russia
Language Russian
Genre(s) Short fiction
Published in Russkaya Mysl
Publication date December 1899
Published in English 1903

"The Lady with the Dog" (Russian: Дама с собачкой, translit. Dama s sobachkoy)[a] is a short story by Anton Chekhov. First published in 1899, it describes an adulterous affair between Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov, an unhappily married Moscow banker, and Anna Sergeyevna Von Diderits, a young married woman, an affair which begins while both are vacationing alone in the Crimean sea resort of Yalta. The story comprises four parts: part I describes the initial meeting in Yalta, part II the consummation of the affair and the remaining time in Yalta, part III Gurov's return to Moscow and his visit to Anna's town, and part IV Anna's visits to Moscow. This is one of Chekhov's most famous pieces of short fiction. Vladimir Nabokov, for instance, considers it as one of the greatest short stories ever written.[6]

Plot[edit]

Dmitri Gurov works in a Moscow bank. He is under 40, married with a daughter and two sons. Unhappy in his marriage and the monotony and meaninglessness of his life, he is frequently unfaithful and considers women to be of "a lower race". While vacationing in Yalta, he sees a young woman walking along the seafront with her little Pomeranian, and endeavors to make her acquaintance. The lady, Anna Sergeyevna, is also unhappily married and vacationing without her spouse. Anna and Dmitri soon commence an affair, and spend most of their time together, often walking and taking drives to the nearby village of Oreanda. Though she is expecting her husband to come to Yalta, he eventually sends for her to come home, saying that something is wrong with his eyes. Gurov sees her off at the station. As they part, both feel that they would never see each other again, and that their affair is over.

Returning to Moscow, to his loveless marriage, and to his daily routine, working by day and clubbing by night, Gurov expects to soon forget young Anna; to his surprise, her memory haunts him. Unexpectedly, he fell deeply in love for the first time in his life, after many affairs and just as he was approaching middle age. He feels that he must see Anna, despite the obvious complications. On the ruse of going to St. Petersburg to take care of some business, he sets off to her town to find her. Learning the location of the family’s residence from a hotel porter, he finds the house, only to realize that it would be futile to intrude. In despair, he rationalizes that Anna has probably forgotten him and found someone else, and heads back to his hotel.

In the evening, he remembers having seen a sign earlier in the day announcing the opening performance of The Geisha. Reasoning that Anna and her husband might attend, he goes to the theater. The couple enters and he watches intently. When the husband goes out for a smoke during the first interval, Gurov greets Anna, who is bewildered and runs from him. After following her through the theater, he confronts her and she confides that she has been thinking of him constantly. Frightened, she begs him to leave and promises to come see him in Moscow.

She makes excuses to occasionally come to Moscow, telling her husband that she is going there to see a doctor, which he "believes and does not believe". They are both now fully aware that for the first time in their lives they have actually fallen in love, and they both wonder how they might overcome the many challenges that face them and achieve their fervent wish to permanently live together. They desperately try to come up with a plan, but the story ends without offering a resolution:

"They . . . talked of how to avoid the necessity for secrecy, for deception, for living in different towns and not seeing each other for long stretches of time. . . . and it was clear to both of them that . . . the most complicated and difficult part of their journey was just beginning."

Nabokov wrote about that unconventional ending:

"All the traditional rules ... have been broken in this wonderful short story.... no problem, no regular climax, no point at the end. And it is one of the greatest stories ever written."[7]

Interpretations and philosophical reflections[edit]

The story beautifully captures the quiet desperation of the two protagonists, their dissatisfaction with their meaningless lives and loveless marriages, and their craving for something better. Their deep love for each other fills that void and radically transforms their outlook on life. But that love also breaks their hearts, for, in 19th century Russia, they find it almost impossible to break away and start a new life together.

The story can be seen as "Gurov's spiritual journey—his transformation from a connoisseur of women to a man tenderly devoted to a single ordinary woman."[8] The story can also be seen as "playing with the paradox that a lie—a husband deceiving a wife or a wife deceiving a husband—can be the fulcrum of truth of feeling, a vehicle of authenticity."[8]

Maxim Gorky, another great Russian writer from a working class background, saw the importance of the story as a wake up call to people "to let go of sleepy, half-dead existence."[7]

Robert Fulford[7] offers yet another interpretation of the story:

"What Chekhov says in this sophisticated parable is that love radically alters the landscape of existence. When touched by love, we know the world in a different way. Love changes the inner landscape, too. Under the pressure of love, Gurov looks inside himself and sees someone he has not known before, someone capable of feelings that he barely knew existed."

Gurov often looks behind his immediate surroundings and reflects on the meaning of our existence. Here for instance is one poetic passage:

'Yalta was hardly visible through the morning mist; white clouds stood motionless on the mountaintops. The leaves did not stir on the trees, crickets chirped, and the monotonous hollow sound of the sea, rising up from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep awaiting us. So it must have sounded when there was no Yalta, no Oreanda here; so it sounds now; and it will sound as indifferently and monotonously when we are all no more. And in this constancy, in this complete indifference to the life and death of each of us, there lies hid, perhaps, a pledge of our eternal salvation, of the unceasing movement of life upon earth, of unceasing progress towards perfection. Sitting beside a young woman who in the dawn seemed so lovely, soothed and spellbound in these magical surroundings—the sea, mountains, clouds, the wide open sky—Gurov thought how in reality everything is beautiful in this world when one reflects: everything except what we think or do ourselves when we forget our human dignity and the higher aims of our existence."

Chekhov poetically describes his vision of what real love could be like:

"Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages. They forgave each other for what they were ashamed of in their past, they forgave everything in the present, and felt that this love of theirs had changed them both."

Historical background[edit]

While living in Yalta in the winter of 1898-99, "Chekhov had also fallen in love with Olga Knipper, the actress whom he would marry in 1901. It is tempting to view the tender relationship of Gurov and Anna in the light of Chekhov's own newfound love."[9]

"Like Anna and Dmitry, Olga and Anton had strolled along the promenade and admired the ocean from the vista at Oreanda that summer; like Anna, Olga Knipper had a German last name; and like Anna and Dmitry, Olga and Anton had to live apart."[10] Both Anna and Olga are much younger than their male counterparts.[7]

"Just as Chekhov was beginning a relationship with a woman he would soon marry . . . he wrote a story about people who fall in love at the wrong time. . . . Perhaps this thirty-nine year old writer—who had been exiled to his 'warm Siberia' for his health and who would die in less than five years in a German spa with Olga Knipper at his side—perhaps this man also sensed that he had fallen in love too late, and that the most complicated, difficult part was yet to come."[10]

Publication history[edit]

The story was written in Yalta, where Chekhov had moved on his doctor's advice to take advantage of the warmer climate owing to his advancing tuberculosis. It was first published in the December 1899 issue of the magazine Russkaya Mysl (Russian Thought) with the subtitle "A Story" ("Rasskaz").[11][12] Since then it has been published in numerous collections and languages, and is one of Chekhov's best-known stories.[13] The first English translation appeared in 1903.[14]

Adaptations[edit]

Rodion Schedrin composed a ballet in one act The Lady with the Lapdog, first performed on 20 November 1985 in Moscow by the Bolshoi Theatre, Alexander Lazarev (cond).

A 1960 film version was produced by Josef Heifitz and starred Alexei Batalov and Iya Savvina. It won a Special Prize for "lofty humanism and artistic excellence" at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.[15]

An adaptation of The Lady with the Dog, Dark Eyes (Italian: Oci ciornie; Russian: Очи чёрные; French: Les Yeux noirs) is a 1987 Italian and Russian language film which tells the story of a 19th-century married Italian man who falls in love with a married Russian woman. It stars Marcello Mastroianni, Silvana Mangano, Oleg Tabakov, Yelena Safonova, Pina Cei and Vsevolod Larionov. The film was adapted by Aleksandr Adabashyan, Suso Cecchi d'Amico and Nikita Mikhalkov, "inspired by" stories by Anton Chekhov. It was directed by Mikhalkov. Mastroianni received Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival[16] and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.[17]

The story has also been adapted for stage; for example, an adaptation by Peter Campbell was featured at the 2002 Chekhov Now Festival in New York.[18] A play titled Sunstroke, directed by Oleg Mirochnikov, combines The Lady with the Dog with Ivan Bunin's Sunstroke. The play was performed in 2013 at the Platform Theatre in London.[19] An opera version titled "The Lady with the Pet Dog" was premiered at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa in 2010.[20]

Joyce Carol Oates wrote a short story adaptation of the story also entitled "The Lady with the Pet Dog" published in 1972. Oates' story is told from Anna's point of view and is set in New York and Nantucket.

Brian Friel's play The Yalta Game (2001) is loosely based on this short story by Chekhov.

Tony Tanner debuted a musical-comedy version of the story in September, 2016, which he wrote and directed. Titled "The Lady with the Little Dog," it was performed at the Great Hall Courtyard of Plummer Park in West Hollywood, California.

Cultural references[edit]

In the 2008 film The Reader, the illiterate Hanna (Kate Winslet) first learns to read by listening to an audio recording of the story, which is referred to by her in the movie as The Lady with the Little Dog, read by her former lover Michael (Ralph Fiennes). The short story is also a central theme of the 2014 movie Gurov and Anna.[21]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ On account of the Russian language's lack of articles, the story's title's literal translation is "Lady with Dog", where "Dog" includes a diminutive morpheme.[1] English language translations of the title include "The Lady with a Dog",[2] "The Lady with the Little Dog",[3] "The Lady with the Small Dog",[4] "The Lady with the Pet Dog",[5] "(The) Lady with (the) Lapdog",[1] etc.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Clark, Billy (2014). "Before and After Chekhov: Inference, Interpretation and Evaluation". In Chapman, Siobhan; Clark, Billy. Pragmatic Literary Stylistics. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-137-02325-4. 
  2. ^ Parts, Lyudmila (2008). The Chekhovian Intertext: Dialogue with a Classic. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press. p. 140. ISBN 978-0814210833. 
  3. ^ Chekhov, Anton (2002). Wilks, Ronald, ed. The Lady with the Little Dog and Other Stories, 1896–1904. London: Penguin Books. p. 223. ISBN 0-14-044787-3. 
  4. ^ Clowes, Edith W. (2011). Russia on the Edge: Imagined Geographies and Post-Soviet Identity. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-8014-7725-6. 
  5. ^ Winner, Thomas G. (1963). "Myth as a Device in the Works of Chekhov". In Slote, Bernice. Myth and Symbol: Critical Approaches and Applications. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. p. 75. ISBN 978-0803250659. 
  6. ^ From Vladimir Nabokov's Lectures on Russian Literature, quoted by Francine Prose in Learning from Chekhov, 231.
  7. ^ a b c d Fulford, Robert (2004). "Surprised by love: Chekhov and 'The Lady with the Dog'". Queen's Quarterly. 
  8. ^ a b Malcolm, Janet (2003). "The Kernel of Truth". The Guardian. 
  9. ^ Coulehan, Jack (2003). "The Lady with the Dog". 
  10. ^ a b McKittrick, Ryan. "Chekhov and the Lapdog". Experience the A.R.T. 
  11. ^ "Surprised by love: Chekhov and "The Lady with the Dog". - Free Online Library". www.thefreelibrary.com. 
  12. ^ Дама с собачкой (in Russian)
  13. ^ For example, CHEKHOV, Anton The lady with the dog and other stories. at the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America, where the story is described as one of Chekhov's "best-known and best-loved works."
  14. ^ Chekhov Stories: Key Facts at sparknotes.com
  15. ^ The Lady with the Dog Film Information at Variety
  16. ^ Awards 1987 at Festival de Cannes site
  17. ^ 1987 Academy Awards Winners and History at AMC filmsite
  18. ^ Gutman, CurtainUp, Les. "2002 Chekhov Now Festival, a CurtainUp review". www.curtainup.com. 
  19. ^ "Plays to See - Sunstroke". Archived from the original on 2014-02-23. 
  20. ^ "Lyric Theatre premieres "Lady with the Pet Dog" - Cornell College". 13 January 2010. 
  21. ^ "Gurov and Anna (2014)". 

External links[edit]