After having been on vacation in Yalta for two weeks, Dmitri Gurov spots a new arrival: a young woman who routinely walks through the seaside town with her little white Pomeranian dog. No one knows who the woman is, referring to her simply as “the lady with the little dog.” Nevertheless, Gurov, somewhat bored by his time in Yalta, is struck by her appearance and air of the mystery around her.
Gurov’s first introduction to Anna—the titular lady with the dog—is marked by his observations of her appearance, foreshadowing the story’s exploration of outward perception versus people’s inner worlds. Gurov is also established here as a man unsatisfied by his “real” life; it is in this state of mind that he first is intrigued by a woman who seems outside of his dull societal experiences.
Gurov reflects on his experience with women. He has a twelve-year-old daughter and two sons with his wife, whom he married young and has long been unfaithful to. His bitter experiences have led him to believes women are “an inferior race,” yet he cannot go more than two days without their company.
Gurov is hypocritical; he can’t live without women even as he dismisses them as being inferior to men. He is both a product and victim of Russian social mores, doing all that is expected of him as a man of a certain status (getting married, having a family, and even fooling around), and yet remaining deeply unsatisfied.
One evening the lady with the dog sits at the table next to Gurov’s during dinner. Her appearance suggests she is both married and bored, and Gurov quickly becomes taken with the idea of a “fleeting liaison” with “an unknown woman.” He strikes up a conversation, which they continue during a walk after dinner. Gurov tells the lady he is a banker from Moscow and learns that she is a married woman from St. Petersburg named Anna Sergeevna.
In his first meeting with Anna, Gurov assumes that their relationship will be like the many affairs of his past. This will prove far from the truth, of course, making this moment one of self-deception for Gurov.
That night, in his hotel room, Gurov fixates on details about Anna such as her youth and beautiful eyes. He notes that she is not much older than his own daughter, and that the experience of being alone in a strange place and pursued by a man must be new for her. He can’t quite shake the feeling that she’s different from other women he’s been with, even as he asserts there is “something pathetic in her all the same.”
Though Gurov professes to want a fleeting romance with Anna, his inability to shake her from his mind later suggests that their relationship will be different—and more meaningful—than his past affairs. Anna’s youth also serves to highlight Gurov’s age, which will later add a sense of poignant urgency to their relationship. Finally, Gurov is effectively deceiving himself when he calls Anna “pathetic” despite his attraction to her.