Anton Chekhov’s short story “The Lady with the Dog” centers on the passionate affair between Dmitri Gurov and Anna Sergeevna. The two meet while on vacation in the city of Yalta, and what begins as a lovely yet ostensibly fleeting romance turns into a deeply meaningful relationship—one that, because both parties are married, must be maintained in secret. As Gurov in particular navigates his feelings in society beyond Yalta, he comes to feel that the “kernel” of his life with Anna is, while outwardly concealed, the most essential thing about him. Through this revelation, Chekhov’s story suggests the potential for truth to be mined even from deception. At the same time, the tale’s ambiguous ending questions whether such truth can survive in the light of day.
Chekhov immediately establishes Gurov’s tendency towards hypocrisy and self-deception in order to highlight the transformative effect Anna has on his life. Having had many past affairs, Gurov “had been taught enough by bitter experience to call [women] anything he liked, and yet he could not have lived without the ‘inferior race’ even for two days.” He asserts that women are beneath him even as he craves their constant company. Because Gurov has for so long sought to escape his stilted marriage in meaningless affairs, at first this is what he imagines with Anna. The thought of a “swift, fleeting love affair” takes “possession of him,” though this will prove to be a sort of self-deception; his romance with Anna will be nothing like the affairs of his past. In fact, Gurov comes to feel that the “kernel” of his life with Anna is, while outwardly concealed, the most essential thing about him. That Gurov grows to feel genuine love for the first time in his life with Anna inherently means that, in searching for fulfillment in haphazard affairs, he has been deceiving himself for years.
Though Gurov and Anna have found genuine, truthful connection with each other, the maintenance of their relationship requires a continuous, ever-broadening web of lies. While taking his daughter to school, for example, Gurov is outwardly explaining thunderstorms to his child while inwardly reflecting on his love for Anna and on this complex double life he leads. Both he and Anna must also lie to their spouses in order to see each other. Anna tells her husband that she is visiting a doctor when she goes to Moscow, while Gurov tells his wife he is going to St. Petersburg to “solicit for a certain young man.”
Anna and Gurov even feel that they are deceiving each other. Gurov fears Anna sees him as a better man than he really is, calling him “kind, extraordinary lofty; obviously, he had appeared to her not as he was in reality and therefore he had involuntarily deceived her.” Anna, meanwhile, worries that Gurov views her as only a common woman, despite his repeated assurances to the contrary. Somewhat paradoxically, it seems, their attempts to preserve the truth they’ve found together leads only to more paranoia and deception.
What’s more, the story suggests that everyone is engaging is some form of deceit. Gurov comes to believe that everything “which constituted the core of his life, occurred in secret from others, while everything that made up his lie, his shell, in which he hid in order to conceal the truth […] all this was in full view.” He applies this logic to the world around him: “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.” Gurov’s deception, then, has opened his eyes to the truth of the society in which he lives—a truth that, ironically, suggests that everyone’s outward “shell” is a lie.
By the end of the tale, maintaining their façade has clearly begun to take its toll on Gurov and Anna—they meet to discuss a future in which they talk “about how to rid themselves of the need for hiding, for deception.” Both seem to realize that they cannot continue as they are, and that, though they have found truth in deception, that their love cannot continue to bloom in darkness. Whether their truth will survive the light, however, is notably left unsaid. By ending the story ambiguously—with no resolution as to how Gurov and Anna will maintain their relationship—Chekhov leaves the reader to question how much of people’s secret inner worlds are meaningful specifically because they are unknown—and untainted—by the rest of the world.
Truth in Deception ThemeTracker
Truth in Deception Quotes in The Lady With the Dog
Repeated experience, and bitter experience indeed, had long since taught him that every intimacy, which in the beginning lends life such pleasant diversity and presents itself as a nice and light adventure, inevitably, with decent people—especially Muscovites, who are slow starters—grows into a major task, extremely complicated, and the situation finally becomes burdensome. But at every new meeting with an interesting woman, this experience somehow slipped from his memory, and he wanted to live, and everything seemed quite simple and amusing.
Afterwards, in his hotel room, he thought about her, that tomorrow she would probably meet him again. It had to be so. Going to bed, he recalled that still quite recently she had been a schoolgirl, had studied just as his daughter was studying now, recalled how much timorousness and angularity there was in her laughter, her conversation with a stranger—it must have been the first time in her life that she was alone in such a situation, when she was followed, looked at, and spoken to with only one secret purpose, which she could not fail to guess. He recalled her slender, weak neck, her beautiful gray eyes.
“There’s something pathetic in her all the same,” he thought and began to fall asleep.
Then he looked at her intently and suddenly embraced her and kissed her on the lips, and he was showered with the fragrance and moisture of the flowers, and at once looked around timorously—had anyone seen them?
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.
Those words, so very ordinary for some reason suddenly made Gurov indignant, struck him as humiliating, impure. Such savage manners, such faces! These senseless nights, and such uninteresting, unremarkable days! Frenzied card-playing, gluttony, drunkenness, constant talk about the same thing. Useless matters and conversations about the same thing took for their share the best part of one’s time, the best of one’s powers, and what was left in the end was some sort of curtailed, wingless life, some sort of nonsense, and it was impossible to get away or fee, as if you were sitting in a mad- house or a prison camp!
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.
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.