Women in Chekhov’s “The Lady With the Dog”

Women living in the 21st century can enjoy the liberties which equality with men grants. However, even to date there are places where many women have to prove or struggle for their freedoms. Of course, the beginning of the twentieth century was characterized by the opposite situation when only small number of women could be free enough and the rest were only realizing their right to be free. This transitional situation is revealed in the short story “The Lady with the Dog” by Anton Chekhov. This master of precision detected the changes emerging in the contemporary society and depicted them in his unique style. Chekhovian Lady embodies misfortune, inclinations and first attempts of women living in the very beginning of the emancipating 20th century. The effect of the short story is enhanced by the style which Chekhov utilized. His short story combines elements of romanticism and realism where realism is proven to be stronger. Thus, the short story “The Lady with the Dog” is a magnificent reflection of the changes in the society: from females’ shells towards manifestation of equality, from romanticism with its heroic delusions towards realism with its objectivity and comprehensiveness.

It goes without saying that such complete work and its creator have been studied thoroughly by many researchers. For instance, Finke surveys Chekhov’s life and literary work in terms of the artist’s two “most prominent” discourses, medicine and literature (199). Virginia Llewellyn Smith also pays much attention to Chekhov’s personal life and especially relationship with women, his “attitude to love” which is crucial for the creation of the short story under consideration (95). Admittedly, Chekhov’s literary works are being excessively discussed. Thus, Antsyferova studied the emptiness of women’s life revealed in the literary works of Chekhov which is explicit in his “The Lady with the Dog” (132). At the same time, Daniels is more concerned with Chekhov’s “unsusceptible” literary style with its ability to create that amazing effect on the reader which was, however, influenced by another great Russian writer, Tolstoy (31). Of course, many scholars are focused on Chekhov’s realistic techniques, his unexplainable ability to include “physical details” (“Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey” (129). However, as far as “The Lady with the Dog” is concerned, one of the most comprehensive works is provided by Fulford who calls Chekhov “omnipresent like no other writer” and his short story – “a profound personal investment in love” (338). Nevertheless, in spite of numerous works on the short story, Chekhov’s life and art, further study is necessary since little attention was paid to the transitional character of epoch depicted (in terms of women’s role in the society and realism establishing).

However, before concentrating on the story itself it is essential to point out the major peculiarities of that period and society the artist lived in. The end of the nineteenth century was a sequence of scientific discoveries and invention of new approaches. People found out, at least they believed they found out, the major secrets of nature. They even started trying to look deeper in human souls, developing psychological theories. Of course, such scientific booming undermined romantic beliefs that industrialized people are capable of everything. In the end of the 19th century people came to realistic understanding that humanity is only on the way to this understanding. However, such trends in the society (at least western societies) contributed to the development of personal self-determination in women. Women understood the triviality of their lives, narrowness of their shells and started making their first attempts of rebel on every level of social and personal fronts. Moreover, many men accepted the absence of male supremacy and did not rejected equality of genders. Thus, all these points were depicted in “The Lady with the Dog” which can serve as a great snapshot of the transitional character of the epoch.

Admittedly, Chekhov, being a medic, could not be unaware of such trends. He had his own vision and eagerly revealed it in his literary works, personal correspondence and everyday discussions with numerous relatives, friends and acquaintances. Being a profound thinker, Chekhov not only noticed existing trends but he was one of those progressive people who contributed to the development of the tendency. His attitude towards women is of special interest since Chekhov is quite inconsistent in this question. He rejects the supremacy and inequality of genders, but at the same time he does not accept the creative ability of women: they can conduct any job and can be anyone so they are equal to men, but they cannot create (Finke 121). As far as creation is concerned women could be only a source of inspiration. This inconsistency is also revealed in the short story. Chekhov creates an image of a naïve, and inexperienced Anna, who does not have any job or does not play any active role in society. Notably, the artist does not despise Anna for such passiveness. On the contrary, Chekhov provides his heroine with hope for changes and better life. Noteworthy, the artist does not suggest any particular role for Anna, he simply promises mutual love with no social niche for her. The reason for such personal life orientation is that Chekhov does not see transparently women as equal participants of social life of the state. As far as Chekhov’s personal relations centeredness is concerned, it is necessary to point out that the great writer regarded love as the most important notion in human life, he strived to feel the real love. Eventually, Chekhov experienced this great feeling. He worshiped the woman he loved, his Olga, and in their relationship there was no supremacy they were equal, two parts of the same. Moreover, Chekhov used to accuse Knipper of the fact that she “unmans him” (Finke 149). Unsurprisingly, Olga played a very important role in Chekhov’s life and art, and was a crucial figure in creating of one of the finest short stories of the world literature. Their relationship and the depth of their mutual feeling became a basis for the short story (Fulford 135). Thus, the combination of scientific and philosophical beliefs of the artist, Chekhov’s observations and conclusions, and finally, his personal experience resulted in the famous work of the short story genius, “The Lady with the Dog”.

This short story, as has been already mentioned, is a precise reflection of the women’s life in the contemporary society. Antsyferova defines the majority of Chekhovian characters as “stamped with the triviality and banality of the real life they try unconsciously to escape” (137). The main heroine of the short story in question is also suppressed by banality of her life. Anna, like many other women of that period, had to play only one role of a grateful and silent person who was to make the life of a man comfortable. Women were believed to be happy to take care of their families. However, the turn of the century brought about the understanding that women are not satisfied with their passiveness and need freedom to realize themselves. Thus, Anna confesses: “I wanted something better. ‘There must be a different sort of life,’ I said to myself. I wanted to live!…” (Chekhov 14). Anna represents a new type of women who are not confined to household duties and their family lives but seek for something better.

Of course, this need for women’s independence was not articulated by Anna, but by Chekhov himself. The writer believed that inequality of genders is an erroneous trend. His principles and experience made him claim the right of women to be free from the triviality of the contemporary female’s life. By all means, those were only first attempts to understand what can and should be done. So, women and even men sharing progressive views were quite at a loss. Chekhov only depicted women’s imprisonment without providing any certain solution. Thus, Anna does not yet know what she really wants, but she already understands that she is in some sort of a prison. It is important to state that such prisons were, to great extent, created by men. For instance, many men, like Gurov, regarded women as “the lower race” (Chekhov 10). Even Chekhov deprived women of ability to create something worthy. Besides, in spite of the industrial revolution the majority of women were to be a kind of men’s home entourage.

Nevertheless, new time gave more opportunities and Chekhov portrayed Anna who had “new” independence to be on vacation without her husband (Fulford 336). Anna disposed her independence to try something new in her life, which turned out to be adultery. However, negative notion rejected by society becomes a first opportunity to escape her prison. Noteworthy, Chekhov does not give Anna some opportunity to find a niche in social life. He suggests that women can find salvation in the true love, not in social success. The artist does not see any social niche for women yet. The writer intuitively sees the unfairness of situation, and supports the changes emerging in that significant period. However, being a bright representative of the transitional period the Chekhov is not ready for dramatic changes. His inconsistent attitude towards women is manifested in the story depicting half-hearted measures of women’s passive rebel. Thus, Chekhov does not suggest the way out, he does not reveal the opportunity for Ann to become totally independent, but rather provides the reader with a shot of that transitional moment in the history, when women were quite free but still under numerous burdens. The idea of transition is also enhanced by the uncertain ending which suggests that the main characters and the writer himself are waiting for some changes. In fact, that entire period can be characterized as a time of anticipation for something unknown.

This feature makes Chekhov a photographer rather than an artist. He just highlights what is happening in the world. His short story does not contain romantic heroes who fearlessly move towards their happiness, as if they could possibly know it. Instead Gurov and Anna are quite at a loss, they do not see the way out but they hope that they will find some. They are not heroes but a real people who hesitate and make mistakes. Anna and Gurov were depicted as only a part of society which at that period was transforming into the world where women would not be imprisoned and men would not try to put them inside those prisons. Chekhov managed to reveal that moment and the very last passage of the story summarizes that transition. The reader cannot but admit that the story of two lovers is a reflection of the transitional character of the period when the old era is substituted by the new one.

Thus, “The Lady with the Dog” is not only a great short story by a genius writer. It is a glance at the significant period of the history of western society. The short story embodies that subtle border between the old society where women were suppressed by the supremacy of males and regarded as “the lower race” and the new world where women are equal to men and not only dream of their personal happiness outside any shells, but do manage to struggle for their happiness. Interestingly, in his short story Chekhov depicted a transition in society and, at the same time, his work contributed to the transition in literature which also came closer to its new stage, when people are not heroes struggling the opposing society, but real personalities living within their surroundings. This comprehensiveness of his works makes Chekhov a genius of a short story who is still followed by many writers.

Works Cited

Antsyferova, Olga. “The Ideologem of Loss in Chekhov and James.” American Studies International (2003): 124-139. Print.

Chekhov, Anton. The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2008.

Daniels, Anthony. “Chekhov & Tolstoy.” New Criterion 23.8 (2005): 31-36. Print.

Finke, Michael C. Seeing Chekhov: Life and Art. New York: Cornell University Press, 2005. Print.

Fulford, Robert. “Surprised by Love: Chekhov and “The Lady with the Dog.” Queen’s Quarterly 111.3 (2004): 331-341. Print.

“Reading Chekhov: A Critical Journey.” The Atlantic Monthly 289.1 (2002): 126-131. Print.

Smith, Virginia Llewellyn. “Love.” Anton Chekhov. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Infobase Publishing, 2003. Print.