150 Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Little Dog”

It’s a deceptively simple story: a man and a woman meet, have an affair, are separated, and reunite. And yet, in writing about Anton Chekhov’s story, “The Lady with the Little Dog” (1899), Vladimir Nabokov said, “All the traditional rules have been broken in this wonderful short story…. No problem, no regular climax, no point at the end. And it is one of the greatest stories ever written.”

What makes this story so good? How does it hold up today? In this episode, Jacke and Mike examine the masterpiece of one of the world’s greatest short story writers. NOTE: This is a self-contained episode of the History of Literature – we read the story itself, so no need to read the story on your own (unless you’d like to).

Help support the show at patreon.com/literature. Find out more at historyofliterature.com, jackewilson.com, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC.

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4 thoughts on “150 Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Little Dog””

  1. Hi Jacke!

    I teach high school English, and my colleague and I are crazy about your podcast. Thank you for your humor and your insight, and thank you for helping to keep my love of literature alive.

    I plan on teaching this gem of a story to my senior World Literature class in a few weeks, and I’d like to listen to your reading of it together as a group. Which translation of “The Lady with the Little Dog” did you use for this episode?

    Thank you, and thanks again for your fun podcast –
    Colleen Adkins

    1. Hi Colleen! What a nice note – I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the podcast, and I especially like knowing that the show has found its way to some high school teachers, a saintly profession in my eyes.

      As for the translation, I have so many versions of Chekhov it took me a while to figure this out! I used the Robert Payne translation (found in the collection “Forty Stories” here https://www.amazon.com/Forty-Stories-Vintage-Classics-Chekhov/dp/0679733752/), though I did take the liberty of changing “The Lady with the Pet Dog” to “The Lady with the Little Dog,” which is my personal preference. I hope it works for you and your students. I’m not sure they’d want to hear this, but if their experience is anything like mine, they will tolerate it now, then maybe like it a bit more ten years from now. And then, if they’re lucky enough to read it a third time as they reach middle age, the majestic, aching glory of this little story will resonate with them like the deep music of a cello, smooth and pleasant on its surface, but full of vibrations powerful enough to make them tremble.

      Yikes! I got a little carried away there, but it’s early and it’s October, and I’m in one of those moods. In any case, thank you again and good luck!

      Best wishes,

      Jacke

      1. Hi Jacke!

        I thought I’d follow up with you about teaching this wonderful little story to 51 high school seniors in their World Literature class at an all-girls’ school in Cincinnati, Ohio. We spent 2 days on the story – the first day the students listened to your audio reading of “The Lady with the Little (I like the word ‘little’ better than ‘pet,’ too) Dog,” as they followed along with a reading guide provided by me – “Typical Chekhovian Techniques.” The second day we did some station work about the story, allowing the girls to rotate to 4 different areas of the classroom in small groups where a different question, topic, or issue about the story was waiting for them to brainstorm and discuss. We concluded with a large group discussion about Gurov’s dynamic change at the close, as well as the open-endedness of the conclusion. It was a fun lesson, and my colleague and I have you to thank for its inspiration!

        Some of the girls wrote pseudo-blog posts for you, so I thought I’d share a few:

        STUDENT REACTION 1: What did Catholic, young women learn upon reading a story covering adulterers and falsified love, you ask? Well, for starters we learned that relationships are transformative and messy, extending way beyond our Snapchat texts that disappear upon opening. But like a tempest that destroys all in its path, this short story destroys all perception of what literature is and can become. (And also, eating watermelon is not an appropriate response to someone crying.)

        STUDENT REACTION 2: As two high school students who have read many short stories and novels throughout our time in high school, we believe this story is extremely special because it teaches readers that a good story does not have to follow the typical “story structure.” By having an unresolved ending, readers are able to imagine different scenarios to how “The Lady with the Pet Dog” could have ended, and these endings are endless!

        STUDENT REACTION 3: From the short story “The Lady with the Pet Dog” by Anton Chekhov, we learned an interesting perspective on whether people have the ability to change. In the beginning, Gurov spoke ill of women and called them “‘the lower race” (285). By the end, when he ages, “he had fallen in love- real love- for the first time in his life (302). The final ending of this dynamic character’s journey is never mentioned. Chekhov’s judgment-free and open-ended discussion leads us to believe from this realistic story that we can change our fate by following our emotions.

        STUDENT REACTION 4: “The Lady with the Pet Dog” by Anton Chekhov was an enjoyable experience for us to read in our senior World Literature class. We believe stories like these truly show how similar different cultures are, emphasizing that we are all the same. We come from different backgrounds, upbringings, literally levels and even time periods, but everyone can understand the themes, struggles, and conflicts of the story. We all can feel the pathos portrayed throughout it and connect with the misery and hardships Gurov and Anna go through. We appreciate stories like these that bring different worlds together.

        STUDENT REACTION 5: In “The Lady with the Pet Dog,” Chekhov makes us think about “how everything in the universe, if properly understood, would be entirely beautiful” (291). We have to think about all the intricate pieces that make up our lives and wonder about the beauty of the human race and how oftentimes we are misunderstood. WE LOVE YOU, JACKE!

        (That last student was a bit overzealous.) Thanks again for your fun podcast (I very much enjoyed your recent one on Macbeth), and happy reading!

        Colleen Adkins

        1. What an incredible comment! This one goes into the Hall of Fame of History of Literature comments. I am so glad to hear that Chekhov made his way into your class, and that the podcast was useful in helping to explore the depths of his seemingly unassuming little story. Your students strike me as gifted if not outright geniuses – and they are very lucky to have you as their guide. Many thanks for making my day, best wishes for a successful World Literature class this year, and I hope you all continue to enjoy both the podcast and the world of literature!

          Your humble and grateful servant,

          Jacke

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