A week after their initial meeting, Gurov and Anna spend a hot Yalta day together, having ice cream and soft drinks. In the evening, they go out to the jetty to see a steamer bring passengers in to Yalta, along with a crowd full of strollers, people holding bouquets, old women “dressed like young ones,” and a number of generals.
There isn’t much in the way of excitement for Gurov and Anna in Yalta, and the society they’re among appears faintly pretentious. Everyone who goes out to see the steamer is putting on a bit of a show. Gurov and Anna are teetering on the edge of beginning their relationship.
The steamer takes the steamer a long time to come into port, which gives Anna and Gurov even more time together. Once the ship arrives, Anna seems captivated, looking at the passengers “as if searching for acquaintances” and then turning to Gurov with shining eyes. Anna begins to talk a lot, asking a many questions and then quickly forgetting them, before dropping her lorgnette at one point in the crowd.
Anna isn’t as socially adept or polished as Gurov is, and her eyes shine with an excitement that is both curiosity at the spectacle and affection for Gurov.
After the crowd disperses, Gurov and Anna remain on the docks for a moment as though they are waiting for someone else to depart from the steamer. When no one does, Gurov suddenly kisses Anna on the lips, before nervously looking around to see if anyone had spotted them. He then suggests that they go to her hotel room. As they both walk quickly away from the docks, Gurov reflects on the many women he has been with, some “cheerful” and “grateful,” others—like his wife—insincere and hysterical, and finally those women were beautiful yet domineering and cold.
Gurov and Anna may be looking for her husband to depart from the boat, and also simply lingering out of a desire not to part quite yet. Finally finding themselves away from the prying eyes of society, they’re free to act on their feelings for one another. Gurov’s thoughts on past women again reflect his history of unsatisfying, shallow affairs and unhappiness in his marriage.
Once they’re back in the room, after consummating their relationship, Gurov is again struck by how different Anna is from other women that he’s been with in the past. She seems awkward and timid in her youth and declares that Gurov must no longer respect her. Gurov grows bored and annoyed by her naivete, and he eats a watermelon while she frets.
So far, Gurov has been attracted to Anna but hasn’t really considered her feelings on the matter. These are especially fraught, contrasting with Gurov’s previous experience with affairs. He hardly considers the possibility that she genuinely likes him and wants him to think well of her. He will eventually come to be a more tender and sincere person through her influence.
Gurov tries to reason with Anna that her anxieties are unfounded. Anna wells up and confesses that she’s come to Yalta to try and get away from her “lackey” of a husband and “to live.” She insists she is pure, honest woman. She also feels “tormented by curiosity,” that she married too young and can no longer control herself. Here desire is mad, something set on her by the Devil.
Anna reveals that her motives for being in Yalta are very similar to Gurov’s. She’s fleeing an unhappy marriage and a sense of confinement in her day to day life. She worries that desire, earnest but socially unacceptable, might be the Devil’s work; however, the affair will prove a more genuine love than either party has with their spouses.
Gurov tenderly comforts Anna to assuage her concerns about being perceive as a trite woman, still noticing how scared and unhappy she seems to be. Once he successfully cheers her up, the two “began laughing.”
Whatever misgivings Anna has about starting an affair, they’re not strong enough that Gurov can’t overcome them. Her wanting to be a woman who loves an honest, pure life and hates sin is just a story. Gurov is able to tell a far more convincing one.
Later, Gurov and Anna drive out from Yalta to the scenic suburb of Oreanda. “Not a soul” is out at the time. Gurov learns a little bit more about Anna’s husband, including that he is descended from a German family although he is Russian Orthodox himself. The two of them find a place near a church to watch the sun rise.
Gurov and Anna find the freedom to connect away from society’s prying eyes. Germans were a distinct ethnic minority in Imperial Russia, often keeping to their own religion and language, so the fact that Anna’s husband comes from that background but considers himself Russian Orthodox perhaps suggests how important it is to him to fit in, echoing Anna’s comment about him being a “lackey.”
Gurov and Anna sit in silence. Gurov observes the natural surroundings, reflecting on how the sea has sounded the same since long before there was a town called Yalta, and how it will sound the same long after. Sitting next to Anna, who looks “so beautiful in the dawn,” Gurov comes to connect such natural constancy to a transcendental love for all creation.
A watchman interrupts Gurov’s silent musing, and the two poignantly realize that the moment they’ve both shared has ended. They decide to head back to Yalta.
Nothing lasts forever. The watchman’s abrupt interruption punctures Gurov and Anna’s reverie and is a reminder that their affair is only possible away from the prying eyes of the rest of the world .
Gurov and Anna develop a routine of meeting for meals, kissing in gardens, and driving out late in the evening to look at nature. Anna continues to be anxious about Gurov’s opinion of her and Gurov continues to reassure her that he finds her both beautiful and fascinating. The “complete idleness” of their days, combined with the proximity to the sea, the sight of “idle” people, and threat of being seen themselves makes Gurov feel yet ever closer to and more strongly about Anna.
Even as Anna and Gurov’s affair deepens and they develop something of a routine, there’s still anxiety—both that they will be discovered and, for Anna, that Gurov doesn’t respect her enough. There’s a tension between the idleness of how they’re spending their time, the growing intensity of their feelings, and the threat of being found out. It’s possible the affair wouldn’t be so memorable if it weren’t such a potent mix of all three.
Word finally comes that Anna’s husband is sick, forcing Anna to return to St. Petersburg. Gurov takes her to the train station. As the train is boarding, Anna seems to accept their parting. She does not cry, but again, looks “sad, as if ill.” She predicts that she and Gurov will never see each other again and that it is right, because they should never have met. The train pulls away from the station, leaving Gurov alone on the platform.
The two prepare to resume their obligations, thinking this will be the end of the affair. Anna recognizes the tragic mistiming of her and Gurov’s relationship, and tries to let go of her feelings for him because they were never meant to be. Gurov doesn’t feel the full weight of that tragedy in this moment, but he will come to.
Gurov also comes to feel “as if he had just woken up” and accepts the affair as a sweet madness that has now ended. He feels he has involuntarily deceived Anna, who seems to think him a better man than the man he really is. There is “a breth of autumn” in the air, and he decides it is time for him to return to his life in Moscow.