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The Lady With the Dog

The Lady With the Dog Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Anton Chekhov's The Lady With the Dog. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov is considered one of the great writers and playwrights of the 19th century, and one of the greatest fiction writers of all time. Though perhaps best known for plays like The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov wrote over 70 short stories and also worked as a medical doctor throughout his life, often exclusively for poor patients at little or no charge. He also supported his family, which struggled with debts left to them by Chekhov’s father, both from his medical practice and from writing short, humorous sketches under pseudonyms. With the encouragement of editors and fellow writers, Chekhov began to compose more serious stories under his own name and eventually broke into playwriting. He contracted tuberculosis around 1884, which prompted him to take several trips for his health that influenced his writing—one to Ukraine in 1887, after which he wrote The Steppe, and another to Yalta in 1897, where he then moved to try to improve his health. “The Lady with the Dog,” sometimes translated as “The Lady with the Lapdog” or “The Lady with the Toy Dog,” is one of the more famous stories he wrote while in Yalta. In 1901 he married the actress Olga Knipper but they largely lived apart, him in Yalta for his health and her in Moscow to pursue her career. After his death in 1904 from complications related to his tuberculosis, Chekhov’s stories began to be translated into English. His work has gone through several periods of critical re-evaluation, with voices as diverse as Raymond Carver and Virginia Woolf praising the subtly of his writing style and his ability to lay bare the complexity of human emotions. Chekhov’s plays also had an influence on the “Method” acting movement, and in particular Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio.
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Historical Context of The Lady With the Dog

Chekhov lived in the Russian Empire when it was still very much under the rule of the Tsars. He grew up after the last of its most radical reforms, the emancipation of the serfs in 1860, had taken place, and worked during a period of relative peace, limited economic gains, and rising nationalist sentiment. The ideological doctrine of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality,” otherwise known as the “Official Nationality,” came back into fashion after a period of liberalization, making Russia more insular and less trusting of Western or European influences. Increased industrial output led to a rising, if disenfranchised, middle class and crowding in Russian cities, and the problems that would eventually led to the October Revolution were already brewing by the time Tsar Nicholas II came to power in 1884. Chekhov wouldn’t live to see the end of the Russian Empire, or even really any of the crisis that destabilized it in the early 20th century, but the restlessness, disconnect of the upper classes, and poverty of the working people do feature in his work.

Other Books Related to The Lady With the Dog

Chekhov wrote his short stories at the tail end of what is considered the “Golden Age” of Russian fiction. He wasn’t quite a contemporary of notable Russian writers like Pushkin, Gogol, Lermontov, Dostoyevsky, or Tolstoy, but he was in many ways continuing and complicating the tradition of short stories like Gogol’s “The Overcoat,” Pushkin’s “The Queen of Spades,” and Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” These exhibit a very sharp, if ironic, observational style and deal with ordinary yet complex and often hypocritical characters, struggling to navigate the trials of Russian society, money troubles, and matters of the heart. Chekhov’s own work often drops the supernatural elements of Gogol and Pushkin in favor of more emotional and narrative ambiguity. Chekhov’s fiction is unconcerned with teaching a moral lesson or providing a sense of satisfaction and closure, but instead works to evoke the emotional peaks and valleys of life as ordinary people live it. This more “realistic” style paved the way for the modernist fiction of writers like James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield. Some of Chekhov’s other most famous stories include “The Bet,” “Vanka,” “The Black Monk,” “The Bishop,” and “Ward No. 6.”
Key Facts about The Lady With the Dog
  • Full Title: The Lady with the Dog (Russian: Дама с собачкой)
  • When Written: 1899
  • Where Written: Yalta, Crimea
  • When Published: 1899
  • Literary Period: Russian Romanticism
  • Genre: Drama/Romance
  • Setting: The seaside resort town of Yalta, the capital of the Russian Empire Moscow, the Russian city of St. Petersburg
  • Climax: Gurov looks into a mirror and realizes both that he has grown old and is in love for the first time in his life.
  • Antagonist: The contradictions of the human heart, Russian society
  • Point of View: Third person limited

Extra Credit for The Lady With the Dog

Chekhov’s Gun. One of the more famous terms associated with Chekhov is the idea of “Chekhov’s Gun.” This is a principle stating that story elements should only be introduced for a specific dramatic purpose—that is, if the audience sees a gun hanging on the wall at the beginning of the story, it should go off before the story ends. While “The Lady with the Dog” doesn’t have a recurring story element as obvious as a pistol, every detail in the story, including the little Pomeranian, is doing some setting or character development work. 

Transmedia Property. “The Lady with the Dog” has been adapted into diverse mediums: a ballet, several movies, a musical, and a notable Joyce Carol Oates short story told from Anna’s point of view, called “The Lady with the Pet Dog.”