The Lady with the Dog Introduction
In A Nutshell
Anton Chekhov was a late 19th century Russian writer famous for his short stories and plays. "The Lady with the Dog," a tale of two lovers who carry on an affair while both married to other people, is one of his most famous short stories.
Chekhov wrote the "The Lady with the Dog" in 1899, five years before his death, while he was an invalid suffering from tuberculosis. He was laid up in the seaside town of Yalta, on the coast of the Black Sea, a setting that serves as the backdrop for the lovers' initial meeting in the story. Setting isn't the only tidbit to find its way from Chekhov's life to the page; many scholars argue that the relationship at the center of this story is a reflection of the author's own romance with the actress he would eventually marry in 1901.
"The Lady with the Dog" is in many ways a typical Chekhov tale. It reflects the style and literary preferences of the author who, having written over 200 stories in his career, had certainly established a status quo. In accordance with his typical manner, the story breaks many of the rules of storytelling, particularly when it comes to plot and conclusion.
Why Should I Care?
Reading Chekhov’s short stories is like sitting in a café to eavesdrop and people watch while sipping a latté. Instead of going with the mid-nineteenth century thing where writers felt like they needed to make sure their readers were kept on the straight and narrow by forcing morality lessons down their throats, Chekhov leaps for modernity by washing his hands of the idea that his stories should have a point.
Like all the other creative dudes at the end of the nineteenth century—impressionist painters, say, or psychologists—Chekhov is trying to toss out the traditional approach to literature as a way of teaching a lesson. There is no point to “The Lady with the Dog” because the story is set up as just a slice of life.
And isn’t that so refreshing to read? Like stepping into a clean, modern room after being visually overwhelmed by the overblown, eye-poppingly busy decorating style of Donald Trump. It’s a relief not to be told what to think by the author. You can like the characters or not like them or even not care about them at all, just like you do with real people.
And really, everyone, from TMZ to the British tabloids to reality TV producers, knows that nothing is more interesting than the real lives of real people, and that's exactly what stories like “The Lady with the Dog” serve up to readers.
It’s like the best possible form of gossip: we get a disinterested, almost clinical (Chekhov was a doctor, after all) description of what regular people are doing in the situations life throws at them, and then we get to discuss and moralize and judge the characters for ourselves because the author’s not shoving his opinion on the situation down our throats.
“Here are two people having an affair because they are miserable in their failed marriages,” the story says, “So, what do you think? Are they bad? Are they good? Should they grab onto love and ruin the lives of everyone around them?” And then, you get to be judge, jury, and executioner, as you see fit.