Dmitri Gurov has been in Yalta for a two weeks when a mysterious woman appears in town with her white Pomeranian. No one knows anything about the woman, and people refer to her simply as “the lady with the little dog.”
Gurov, out of a mix of curiosity, boredom, and the desire for the pleasures of an affair, strikes up a conversation with the woman, whose name is Anna Sergeyevna Von Diderits, one night at dinner. The two trade a little bit about their backgrounds: he’s a banker from Moscow who’s been married with three children for some time, and gave up on his artistic training as a singer; she’s from St. Petersburg, is only recently married, and seems quite disconnected from whatever her husband does for the government. They part, but that evening Gurov has trouble getting Anna out of his thoughts.
A week later, the two go to see a steam ship bring new people to Yalta, and then linger long after the crowds have dispersed. They later return to Gurov’s hotel room, in which he dispels a great deal of fear on Anna’s part that he is losing respect for her. The two consummate their relationship and then drive out to the scenic suburb of Oreanda to watch the sun rise. Both are incredibly moved by the scene, and soon begin a routine of dining together, stealing kisses in the gardens, sleeping together, and driving out late at night to see the natural beauty of the landscape.
Eventually word reaches Anna that her husband is sick, and she returns to St. Petersburg. Gurov goes back to Moscow shortly after, thinking that the affair has run its course. However, Gurov struggles to get Anna off his mind. The world of his wife, children, and Moscow society more generally loses all of its luster for him. In fact, he comes to see it as a hypocritical, shallow farce in comparison to his time full of true and tender emotions with Anna.
Gurov comes up with a pretext to go to St. Petersburg, where he stakes out Anna’s house but doesn’t see her. Later that evening, he attends a premiere at the opera in the hopes of spotting Anna, and in fact does. She appears to him completely unremarkable and lost in the crowd, yet remains the source of all his happiness nonetheless.
Gurov confronts Anna outside of the opera, badly shocking her. Anna confesses that she’s also been unable to put Gurov out of her mind and promises that she will come to Moscow to see him if he will only leave the opera before people spot them together.
Anna is true to her word and begins coming to Moscow semi-regularly. The two rekindle their affair without any real consequences or threats of exposure. The strength of the relationship and the fact that they’ve been able to successfully keep it secret completely changes Gurov’s outlook on life—he is now convinced that people’s personal lives exist in the most secret parts of themselves, and is somewhat amazed he’s able to handle the double-life of his old Moscow relationships as well as his truest, best life with Anna.
Neither Gurov nor Anna, however, is happy that their actual marriages and the geographical distance them are keeping them apart. After some time, the two meet at Anna’s hotel room in Moscow, desperately searching for a solution that will bring them together more permanently. The hardest part of their relationship is just beginning, they realize, but Gurov feels love so strongly for the first time in his life that he is ready to try and surmount those complications.