1. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Short Story Club (4): The Lady with the Dog by Anton Chekhov

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by thirdwind, Mar 4, 2013.

    This time, we'll reading and discussing "The Lady with the Dog" by Anton Chekhov. A copy of the story can be found here.

    Chekhov is different from a lot of short story writers in that his endings are unconventional. Rather than bring a conflict to a conclusion, he implies that the conflict continues well after the story is over. "The Lady with the Dog" is a prime example of this. In my opinion, Chekhov is the greatest short story writer ever, and this particular story is one of the best I've ever come across.
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'll start things off by posting a few of my thoughts. One thing I noticed right away is Chekhov's writing style. It reminds me of Hemingway because Chekhov never says more than is needed. You could even say he's a minimalist.

    For me, this story paints a depressing picture of Dmitri's future. It is stated that Dmitri has had affairs before, and even though he loves Anna, I'm inclined to believe that this relationship is bound to have an unhappy ending. I'm not even sure if they'll openly enjoy their relationship. It's clear that Dmitri doesn't think very highly of women (he calls them "the lower race"), so his affairs are probably not a result of sexual desire but rather a desire to feel alive ("eager for life"). I definitely think this relationship has an expiration date, and chances are it's not to going to end well for Anna.

    I also get the feeling that Chekhov is idolizing extramarital affairs in a way. Both Anna and Dmitri married when they were young. Anna got married because she wanted something exciting out of life, and Dmitri probably got married because he had an idealistic view of love. Once Dmitri saw that marriage was a monotonous way of life, he turned to having affairs as a way to find purpose. I think there's a bit of Chekhov's life in this story. Chekhov had affairs with many different women at a young age, and he married a young woman when he was in his 40s. He also liked to visit brothels. Based on this, I get the impression that Chekhov didn't value marriage that much. In fact, after he got married, he and his wife lived in different cities, and he only saw her occasionally.
     
  3. Revenant
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    Revenant Member

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    Dmitri and Anna's situation is depressing at the point that the story ends, but I think the ending is hopeful. "And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would begin; and it was clear to both of them that they had still a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning." Basically they're planning their escape, and they know it will be difficult, but they have some hope that they will get there eventually. Maybe the affair won't last. Who knows? Apparently it's the first time Dmitri has been in love. He was never in love with any of the women he had previously had affairs with, so it's no wonder those didn't last. But this is different from those. So maybe it will last. What in particular makes you think it won't, Thirdwind?
     
  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I got the impression that Dmitri is a hopeless romantic based on his affairs and his early marriage. His affairs tell me that he's constantly seeking this idealized vision of love. Besides, I don't think it ever says that he wasn't in love with all those women. To me, his relationship with Anna is a short-term relationship, and it's likely that some other woman will come along and be the focus of his attention.
     
  5. Sved
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    Sved Senior Member

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    I think you are right, notice how the husband seems to accept the fate.

    'Once in two or three months she left S----, telling her husband that she was going to consult a doctor about an internal complaint -- and her husband believed her, and did not believe her.'

    Another thing is Guro's confusion at Anna's remorse after their first encounter, and later his confusion over his own feelings. Ultimately I think it's a nice story of how and old womanizer finds love in older days.

    I have to disagree. His feeling is different this time, but Anna's feeling is also different (from other girl's)

    'He always seemed to women different from what he was, and they loved in him not himself, but the man created by their imagination, whom they had been eagerly seeking all their lives; and afterwards, when they noticed their mistake, they loved him all the same. And not one of them had been happy with him. Time passed, he had made their acquaintance, got on with them, parted, but he had never once loved; it was anything you like, but not love.'

    He hasn't been 'marriage material' before. Seems like me he charmed the women, by saying the right things and acting the right way, but eventually the bubble burst. It's of course possible it will burst again, but at least he view her in a different perspective than his other women.
     
  6. Sved
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    Sved Senior Member

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    Or perhaps he just saw them as 'natural'. Things that are bound to happen sooner or later. 'The husband who believed her and yet didn't. ' When I read it I got the image of a a tired 'right then. Go if you must'......
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Perhaps you're right. I wonder if the women Dmitri has been with before were married. Maybe he sees Anna differently precisely because she is married. To him, she may represent some sort of forbidden love.

    However, I'm not sure he actually is in love with Anna. In fact, he has doubts about it himself.

     
  8. Sved
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    Sved Senior Member

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    He could very well be confused. An aging womanizer. Or you are right.

    We don't know how it eventually ended... Just like Chekhov wanted :)
     
  9. molark
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    molark Member

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    Here was a man who did not like women, he thought of them as the "lower race" and yet he could not do without women. In their society he "was at ease with them even when he was silent." A force drew him to women just as his own elusive character "allured women and disposed them in his favour."

    The reason Gurov did not like women was simply because he was in a bitter relationship with his wife. Because of her, he could surmise (imagine) that "every intimacy" at first agreeable always leads to "a regular problem of extreme intricacy" until it becomes "unbearable."

    Chekov is particularly skilled in writing of women. He tells, he does not show. In fact the piece moves comfortably with the telling, the unwinding of many subtle philosophical insights. Note how, via the technique of Gurov's thought, he describes women in one interesting paragraph, , beginning with "Careless, good-nature women," moving to "those who loved without any genuine feeling," and then to "very beautiful, cold women." Indeed, what is he lining up? The last case includes those who show "the angularity of inexperienced youth" who may unsafely advance to "the woman who was a sinner."

    I have to check, but I believe Chekov is regarded as a sympathetic writer of women. (Even if he is, what does that mean?)

    Were it not for Chekov's descriptive language and philosophical insights, this would easily be a simple un-glorified story of marriage infidelity - backward and forward motions of passionate embraces, giving rise to the boring affected emotions of guilt. Chekov covers these exchanges brilliantly without being boring. Certainly it's the setting that gives this story life. We have the accoutrements of the class of rich vacationers; we could just as well have had the detailed and colorful accoutrements of the blue color class, I would guess.

    Imagine, a young lady and an older man, both decidedly unsatisfied by their contracted, home loves, determined to find adventurous, satisfying, adulterous love. The young woman could not help but feel guilty. She practically called her husband a wimp. The man liked neither his wife nor his children. Both were inherently selfish and did not want to deny themselves. They were both wrong and immoral. But how sharply to such tales of infidelity are we attached. We reach the pinnacle of distrust that at the end is heightened for us to hopefulness. Many of the great writers wrote such tales (Tostoi, Flaubert) - what are they telling us? It's a serious, emotional tale and Chekhov, the fine doctor, elaborates it artfully. And he does it by disobeying many of the minimalist creative writing rules. The tale is full of colorful adjectives, adverbs, passive voice usage. Raymond Carver's mean editor would have had a feast and have reduced it to nothing.

    How my heart palpitated when she "continually urged him to confess that he did not respect her" after he had conquered her. Conquer? No,wrong word. Chekov equalizes the guilt and the emotions in this beautiful tale. (One could argue that Anna came specifically to Yalta to be conquered.) Another palpitation when Guro nearly trips over himself to find this love he realized had "struck" him to his chore. It's a wonderful story and the ending is apropos. Who wants to see the sheer negativity of the payback. Let – the delicacy of - illicit love keep blooming before it becomes the "unbearable" and "regular problem of" committed, "extreme intricacy": marriage.

    (The theme would be great for flash story competition.)
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Based on what I know of his life, I have to agree with you. But his sympathy isn't limited to women; he seems sympathetic of the Russian people (at least, that's the impression I get). There are a few stories (such as "Ward No. 6") where he makes it clear that there is a clash between the Russian people and philosophical ideas. The ideals put forth by the intellectual elite didn't seem to apply to the general public. Basically, there seemed to be more value attached to the ideas rather than the people. This is sort of similar to the idea Dostoevsky was toying with in one of his novels (Demons maybe?). He was trying to imagine a society in which 90% of the population slaved and toiled for the benefit of the top 10% (the numbers may be a bit off). He, or rather, his character, argued that this would be the best way to advance society. So I certainly think Russians writers of the late 19th century and early 20th century were influenced by philosophy and current events a great deal.
     
  11. Solar
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    Solar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not a fan of this translation. As soon as I saw the first line,
    I reached for my trusty Koteliansky translation (which has the title
    'Lady with the Toy Dog'). I'll read it again tomorrow. Been years.
     
  12. molark
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    molark Member

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    I think it good to remember that Chekhov overwhelmed the theater world with "The Sea Gulls" and that he 'ran' with the Moscow Art Theatre, clashed with the famed Stanislavski. I've forgotten this as I read the story. Good points thirdwind. Also Chekhov's grandfather was a serf. I believe Chekhov said his life faced the serious task of wiping away the blood of slavery, serfdom from his veins. And Gogol's "The Overcoat" was about a poor bureaucrat who lacked a proper overcoat for the severe winters, was given one, lost it; he died from the cold and came back as a ghost to get the overcoat back from a better off bureacrat. The ideas were so rich.
     

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