Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog”

The compositional structure of the most of Chekhov’s narrative works with classical clarity is presented in the story “The Lady with the Dog.” Ideological loading is concentrated on the image of the protagonist at a crucial moment in his life. Next to him is the heroine who shares his aspirations. The rest characters are outlined briefly, casually and do play no essential role in the plot. The plot is simple, plain but repeated many times in the literature. Its basis is an affair of a married man with a married woman.

The novel contains no dramatic turnarounds in the protagonists’ fate: Dmitri Gurov does not leave his family; Anna Sergeyevna does not break up with her husband, and is not discredited as for example Anna Karenina. There are no external conflicts (no one knows about the “illicit” love of the heroes), no external tragedy (no one dies). Outwardly, it is an adulterous story; that is why in the first chapter it begins in the everyday, prosaic tone, perfectly expressing the hero’s vulgar way of life.

From the brief prehistory we learn about the biography and life principles of the hero, based on compromises that justify his generally dishonest and senseless life. The node of the story is a trivial acquaintance over dinner with a young woman, which is preceded by a thought of the possibility of a fleeting relation. In a playful light conversation it turns out that the protagonist is a man who once used to strive for something, but then vulgarized, became an Everyman, which, thus, complements the description given in the prehistory, hinting at hero’ other possibilities ruined by the marriage, service, a solid position in society (Chekhov 5-9).

The action of the second chapter begins in a week. The story is conducted in the same epic tone: not the thoughts and feelings of the heroes are captured by the author, but their minor actions, words, gestures, in which, however, the growing emotional stress is expressed. For instance, shining eyes of Anna Sergeyevna, abrupt questions she immediately forgets and the loss of the lorgnette speak for the confusion of the heroine (Chekhov 11-13). But Gurov is still calm in this section; the shift has not yet happened. He hugs and kisses the woman, and fearfully looks around, but in the room of Anna Sergeyevna who feels awkward, bewildered, and treats her moral decline seriously, Gurov is cold and indifferent. He is displeased with Anna Sergeyevna’s anxiety and bored by her confessions, being the same indifferent, superficial and non-understanding socialite.

The landscape is already revealing the anticipation of the shift (the city had quite a deathlike air; the sea broke noisily on the shore). In Oreanda, the beauty of the nature pushes the hero to a thought about the beauty of the world which is defiled by the deeds and thoughts of people who forget about the higher order of being (Malcolm 3). But this is only a symptom, a hint at the future evolution of the hero’s consciousness.

Further, Chekhov gives a brief description of daily meetings, kisses, stately impressions of nature, and finally, separation associated with the sorrowful face of Anna Sergeyevna, disappearing lights of the train, as well as sadness and slight regret of Gurov. Thus, the adventure is over, and the story seems to be completed. The story of the failed happiness, the prose of life, triumphing over the minute poetry of love could be the story in Turgenev’s spirit. But this turns to be not that important to Chekhov (Finke 121). For him, this is just the background in relation to the main hero, to his future resurrection, and realization of the abnormality of the normal, conventional order, to the awakening of the highest aspirations in him that are incompatible with a fake routine life, i.e. the background to the story about the growth of moral consciousness of a person.

The third chapter describes Gurov’s life in Moscow. He leads the same habitual vain socialite life: restaurants, clubs, parties, but it is all on the surface, and inside there is a slow latent process of rebirth. The outward life of the hero is fraught with unknown to anyone internal content: a growing discontent, dissatisfaction with himself, and alienation from others. All of this breaks out randomly under the influence of a small external shock. A vulgar utterance of the partner bureaucrat suddenly makes Gurov open his eyes to lives of the people around him, their futility, which is at the same time difficult to escape. Gurov loses his comfort, cannot sleep, gets tired of children and the bank, has no desire to go anywhere, or even talk.

The tone of the story also changes, it becomes tense and dramatic, the lyrical element increases. Gurov goes Anna Sergeyevna’s hometown. He stays at the best hotel room with the floor covered with gray cloth and gray with dust inkwell on the table against Anna Sergeyevna’s house with gray long nailed fence. The gray shade prevailing in the town, gray nailed fence are not just situational details. They characterize the town’s way of life, justify Anna Sergeyevna’s dissatisfaction, and symbolize the limited, wingless life she is trying to escape from.

Having met Anna Sergeyevna in the theater, Gurov realizes that there is no one closer and more important for him in the whole world: this little woman lost in a provincial crowd, in no way remarkable, with a vulgar lorgnette in her hands, now fills his entire life; she is his grief, joy, and the only happiness. Under the sounds of some bad orchestra the skeptic, dandy starts to grieve, rejoice, think, dream, long for the happiness. Internal knot gets tighter, dramatics and lyricism grow, and the adultery turns into a deep drama.

The author here does not describe the emotions of the characters neither demonstrating them by gestures, voice, facial expressions, and a short dramatic dialogue. Repeated Anna Sergeyevna’s word “scared”, and Gurov’s “understand”, agitated tone, appealing, heartfelt lyrical, passionate kisses of Gurov, who no longer looks fearfully around as at the beginning of acquaintance – all this gives a vivid idea of the intensity of their feelings.

Finally, the fourth section describes the periodic dates of the heroes in Moscow. Once, on the way to hotel Anna Sergeyevna stayed at, Gurov starts thinking about two sides of his life: visible one, which is full of conventionalities, and secret one, containing all the important, interesting and necessary things. These reflections of Gurov summarize not only the bitter experience of his life, but also uncovers the fully Chekhovian theme of vulgarity and abnormality of recognized official life and the necessity to hide (as an anomaly) everything that is important, human, and true.
Love which has changed both heroes, made them recognize the abnormality of their lives, and motivated their desire for the free, wise life has put them in front of the question how to break the shell of conventionalities and lies. And it seemed to them that the solution is near, and then a new and splendid life will begin, but both of them know that the end is far, and that the most complicated part is only beginning.

This lack of plot denouement, the incompleteness of the conflict, and addressing to the future makes the specificity of the structure of Chekhov’s short stories. Chekhov’s heroes are ordinary people, they do not go on the direct break with the society, they are not yet ready for action, they are full of conventionalities, they are only slowly and painfully coming to realize the necessity of this break, and they are thinking and looking for, but it is these searches and reflections (characteristic of the era of a new, revolutionary theory formation) that are interesting for Chekhov (Prose 224-25).

Chekhov showed this process in its basic stages, in “discoveries” leaving it for the reader’s imagination to recreate the missing links, to guess the unspeakable. This determines the “ascending” nature of the composition, the usual division into chapters with seemingly incidental facts in each of them giving a hint for discovery of the accumulated internal changes. Staying within the personal love conflict, Chekhov imbues it with a large social and philosophical content: intimate psychological problems somehow imperceptibly grow into large, valid social and philosophical problems, without solving which one cannot resolve personal issues.

Works Cited
Chekhov, Anton. The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories. Book Jungle, 2008. Print.
Finke, Michael. Seeing Chekhov: Life and Art. Cornell UP, 2005. Print.
Malcolm, Jane. Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey. Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2002. Print.
Prose, Francine. Learning from Chekhov, in Writers on Writing, by Pack, Robert, and Jay Parini. Middlebury, 1991. Print.

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