Both Anna and Gurov interpret their initial affair in Yalta as a bout of madness—Gurov approaches Anna when the thought of a romance with an unknown woman “suddenly [takes] possession of him,” and Anna outright says to Gurov before they sleep together that she “couldn’t control [herself] any longer” and that she is going “about as if in a daze, as if I’m out of my mind.” Each character initially views the affair with a certain sense of shame, which they wish to excuse by insisting they are not in control of their actions. Both further question the validity of the other’s desire; Anna, for instance, repeatedly asks Gurov to reassure her that she is not a trite, low woman because of her infidelity. Gurov, meanwhile, never quite knows Anna’s mind and is constantly under the impression that the way she and other women see him isn’t true to who he really is. It is only slowly, over the course of resuming their affair in Moscow, that both break through the self-centered passion they feel and begin seeing themselves the way the other sees them. By showing how another’s affection can better one’s own self-conception, the story suggests the transformative power of love.
Gurov and Anna meet because they have, separately, gone to Yalta to temporarily get away from their spouses and obligations at home. Anna stands out against the women Gurov has previously slept with and also among the vacationing society in Yalta specifically because she is a young woman with no companion but her dog. Her isolation is part of Gurov’s attraction to her, yet once they begin their affair, Gurov finds her somewhat inscrutable. She often seems contradictory, and he does not understand her or what she wants. Gurov also has difficulty understanding what Anna sees in him; she thinks him “kind, extraordinary lofty,” and when they first go their separate ways after Yalta, Gurov reflects that he has “involuntarily deceived” Anna because “he had appeared to her not as he was in reality.”
Gurov thinks, at first, that Anna sees him as better than he really is, but he does the same thing when reminiscing about their time together in Yalta. When he returns to Moscow, Gurov finds that Anna “follow[s] him everywhere like a shadow” and Gurov imagines her “younger, more beautiful, more tender than she was.” The happiness he associates with their time in Yalta has colored his perception of Anna, yet it also begins to actually change his perception of himself: “he also seemed better to himself than he had been then, in Yalta,” Chekhov writes.
By the end of the story both Gurov and Anna seem transformed by the other’s conception of them. Rather than make excuses for the affair, they actively aim to create a life in which they can live together openly—evidencing that they have accepted the truth of each other’s desire as well as the validity and worthiness of their own. Gurov and Anna solidify their love for each other only when they embrace being the person that their lover sees in them. That, Chekhov argues, is how one surmounts a self-centered experience of life and reaches out to another: people become the best version of themselves when they incorporate others’ beliefs about them into what they believe about themselves.
The Transformative Power of Love ThemeTracker
The Transformative Power of Love Quotes in The Lady With the Dog
Anna Sergeevna was not a dream, she followed him everywhere like a shadow and watched him. Closing his eyes, he saw her as if alive, and she seemed younger, more beautiful, more tender than she was; and he also seemed better to himself than he had been then, in Yalta.
The leaves of the trees did not stir, cicadas called, and the monotonous, dull noise of the sea, coming from below, spoke of the peace, of the eternal sleep that awaits us. So it had sounded below when neither Yalta nor Oreanda were there, so it sounded now and would go on sounding with the same dull indifference when we are no longer here. And in this constancy, in this utter indifference to the life and death of each of us, there perhaps lies hidden the pledge of our eternal salvation, the unceasing movement of life on earth, of unceasing perfection. Sitting beside the young woman, who looked so beautiful in the dawn, appeased and enchanted by the view of this magical odor—sea, mountains, clouds, the open sky—Gurov reflected that, essentially, if you thought of it, everything was beautiful in this world, everything except for what we ourselves think and do when we forget the higher goals of being and our human dignity.
Gurov listened to the chirring of the grasshoppers and the hum of the telegraph wires with a feeling as if he had just woken up. And he thought that now there was one more affair or adventure in his life, and it, too, was now over, and all that was left was the memory. . . He was touched, saddened, and felt some slight remorse; this young woman whom he was never to see again had not been happy with him; he had been affectionate with her, and sincere, but all the same, in his treatment of her, in his tone and caresses, there had been a slight shade of mockery, the somewhat coarse arrogance of a happy man, who was, moreover, almost twice her age. She had all the while called him kind, extraordinary lofty; obviously, he had appeared to her not as he was in reality and therefore he had involuntarily deceived her . . .
A month would pass and Anna Sergeevna, as it seemed to him, would be covered by mist in his memory and would only appear to him in dreams with a touching smile, as other women did. But more than a month passed, deep winter came, and yet everything was as clear in his memory as if he had parted with Anna Sergeevna only the day before. And the memories burned brighter and brighter.
Anna Sergeevna came in. She sat in the third row, and when Gurov looked at her, his heart was wrung, and he realized clearly that there was now no person closer, dearer, or more important for him in the whole world; this small woman, lost in the provincial crowd, not remarkable for anything, with a vulgar lorgnette in her hand, now filled his whole life, was his grief, his joy, the only happiness he now wished for himself; and to the sounds of the bad orchestra, with its trashy local violins, he thought how beautiful she was. He thought and dreamed.
He had two lives: an apparent one, seen and known by all who needed it, filled with conventional truth and conventional deceit, which perfectly resembled the lives of his acquaintances and friends, and another that went on in secret. And by some strange coincidence, perhaps an accidental one, everything that he found important, interesting, necessary, in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, which constituted the core of his life, occurred in secret from others, while everything that made up his life, his shell, in which he hid in order to conceal the truth—for instance, his work at the bank, his arguments at the club, his “inferior race,” his attending official celebrations with his wife—all this was in full view.
And he judged others by himself, did not believe what he saw, and always supposed that every man led his own real and very interesting life under the cover of secrecy, as under the cover of night. Every personal existence was upheld by a secret, and it was perhaps partly for that reason that every cultivated man took such anxious care that his personal secret should be respected.
His head was beginning to turn gray. And it seemed strange to him that he had aged so much in those last years, had lost so much of his good looks. The shoulders on which his hands lay were warm and trembled. He felt compassion for this life, still so warm and beautiful, but probably already near the point where it would begin to fade and wither, like his own life.
“Why did she love him so?” Women had always taken him to be other than he was, and they had loved in him, not himself, but a man their imagination had created, whom they had greedily sought all their lives; and then, when they had noticed their mistake, they had still loved him. And not one of them had been happy with him. Time passed, he met women, became intimate, parted, but not once did he love; there was anything else, but not love.
And only now, when his head was gray, had he really fallen in love as one ought— for the first time in his life.
He and Anna Sergeevna loved each other like very close, dear people, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had destined them for each other, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as if they were two birds of passage, a male and a female, who had been caught and forced to live in separate cages. They had forgiven each other the things they were ashamed of in the past, they forgave everything in the present, and they felt that this love of theirs had changed them both.