Chekhov’s short story, “The Lady with the Dog,” is described as a work of realism because it depicts life as it is without making moral judgements. Dmitri Gurov, a middle-aged banker who is bored with his marriage, begins an affair with a young woman, Anna, while each is vacationing sans spouse at Yalta, the equivalent of Vegas (what happens in Yalta, stays in Yalta). Gurov returns home but cannot forget Anna. The more he thinks of her, the more he desires to be in her presence. He is driven by passion to the provincial town where she lives, though he has no real plan for communicating with her.* The two meet and continue their affair, until at the end of the story when they both commit to making their relationship public and legitimate.
Gurov and Anna are cheaters in love. In a moralistic tale, their affair would demand punishment. Maybe that’s why the story ends when it does. Their commitment to turn the affair into a legitimate relationship will no doubt inspire gossip, civil and social conflict, and other difficulties for both of them. Realistically, society will takes sides.
While the story is realistic, it’s safe to say that Gurov is a romantic. He has always been popular with women and imagines himself a great lover, until the moment he catches sight of himself in a mirror in the hotel room he shares with Anna. His assessment: “His hair was already beginning to turn gray. It struck him as strange that he should have aged so much in the last few years, have lost so much of his looks.” Realizing his own mortality, he also realizes that for the first time in his life, he is in love. But in love with what? Anna’s beauty, her emotional fragility, her innocence and naivety. His commitment turns on a desire to reclaim his youth.
What a romantic!
*Symbolism: When Gurov arrives in Anna’s town, he stays in a small hotel. Chekhov writes, “He arrived at S. in the morning and engaged the best suite in the hotel, which had a carpet of gray military frieze, and a dusty ink-pot on the table, surmounted by a headless rider, holding his hat in his raised hand.” Sometimes a dusty ink-pot is more than a dusty ink-pot; our man on a white horse has lost his head!!