A tale of a love lost and found, a romance of adulterous spouses and secret meetings; both the original “The Lady with the Pet Dog” by Anton Chekhov and Joyce Carol Oates’ retelling of “The Lady with the Pet Dog” present the actions and decisions of two very unhappily married individuals who meet by chance and fall in love. Both the plot and resolution of the two versions are strikingly similar: the love affair between two adulterers ending with the couple discovering true love from each other, but the emotions and voice of the pieces differ largely based on the point of view projected.
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In Chekhov’s telling, Gurov is a man who can no longer relate to his wife and has therefore lost faith in his wife and marriage. He even goes as far as to condemn her as “of limited intelligence, narrow-minded, and dowdy” (Chekhov 235), not nearly the high-class, educated woman he so desires her to be. In his rejection of his, in his opinion inferior, wife, Gurov grows very lonely and turns to a series of short-term affairs to cure his lonesome emotion. Each of these affairs ends poorly, but Gurov continues to try and try again hoping that maybe someday he will find someone who will cure his loneliness for good. This cycle continues until, on vacation in Yalta, he meets Anna, a high-class intelligent young lady displeased with her marriage. This affair initially begins the same way every other did, but this time Gurov slowly begins to realize that the reason he feels a continued loneliness and the reason affair after affair failed was that he was focused solely on the sexual aspect of a relationship and never considered the need for an emotional and intellectual relationship. Anna makes him realize that he does not just want a body for a physical love, but wishes for someone to connect and talk with about life and his intimate thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, Anna appears to exhibit and express all that Gurov’s wife is not, adding to his attraction to the young lady. Gurov finally realizes these things after Anna has gone back home to S—-. Gurov has returned to his regular routine in Moscow, but cannot stop thinking about Anna. It is in this rut of his life that he realizes that he has found true love in Anna: “really, truly – for the first time in his life” (Chekhov 245), and finally knows that she is what he has been searching endlessly for. He travels to S— in order to proclaim his love for her. She fears being caught but promises to meet him in Moscow. They arranged to meet in secret in hotels quite regularly. Then on one occasion, while contemplating how this would all work with the deception and secrecy, with them living in different cities miles apart, they come to the realization that this would not be a short lived relationship nor was it near its end, but rather that “it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and glorious life would beginâ€¦” (Chekhov 246)
Joyce Carol Oates decided, 73 years later, that we needed a different, modern view of the story from a new perspective. She borrowed Chekov’s plot and characters and wrote a new story which described similar issues told looking through the woman’s eyes, through Anna’s eyes. Also, in order to make it fit a more modern, 1970’s atmosphere and social standards, she drastically altered the setting. In this version, Anna meets a man introduced and known only as “the stranger” during her stay in Nantucket, Michigan. As with the Chekhov’s original 1899 telling, both characters fall in love with each other and find happiness and hope for a new love and new life.
While Chekhov chooses a chronological approach, Oates decides to take a much different advancement by dividing it into three parts. “Part I depicts the climaxâ€¦ Part II both repeats the climax and relates for the first time, the falling actionâ€¦ Part IIIâ€¦. Moves inward again retracing chronologically the rising action, the climax, and the falling action.”(Brennan 262-263) Oates opens with “the stranger” surprising Anna with a visit in the theater. In the other story, this is the scene where Gurov travels to Anna’s hometown, S—, to meet her after realizing his adoration for her. Chekhov’s Anna is shocked by his sudden appearance but shows no regret, only fear of being caught. In Oates’s telling, however, Anna is shaken and upset that he dared to appear. Because of the new perspective Oates provides, the reader now can comprehend what Anna’s thought and feelings of “the stranger” really are. As it so happens, she is torn apart by her love for him; she is head-over-heels for him because he offers so much for her: entertainment, a purpose for her life and someone love and trust; but on the other hand, she feels guilty for her adulterous affair with some strange man. According to her, she must accept her misfortune “â€¦to be here and not there, to be one person and not another, a certain man’s wife and not the wife of another man” (Oates 252). This dilemma pushes her to the point of even contemplating suicide. She goes a step further to add a comment about how it would be better for her if either Gurov or her husband would just die so she would not have to face the situation and decision. By the end she decides that she could not ever bring herself to commit suicide nor will her marriage situation ever improve, so she might as well keep seeing her secret lover. She accepts him as “her truest lover, her destiny” (Oates 261). This shows her acceptance of their secret love, and ends her longing for love and sense of self.
The way Oates structured her version of “The Lady with the Pet Dog” had pros and cons. By choosing to introduce the parts of the story as she did, Oates’ accented Anna’s inner conflict between her love for “the stranger” and her moral obligations to her marriage. More so, it exhibits the complexity of her feelings and guilt of her secret life. Chekhov’s chronological approach would have limited the reader’s observations of her conflicting emotions and hindered the understanding of Anna’s full thoughts. Chekhov’s linear approach however was much simpler to read and follow.
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Despite the differences in setting and perspective, both versions of “The Lady with the Pet Dog” express a social double standard: both authors, Chekhov and Oates, show how having affairs and cheating affects men and women differently. While both men, Gurov and “the stranger”, show no regret for either the adulterous acts or lies to their spouses, both the women, Anna, are torn apart inside and wrought with guilt. This reflects in the social values that adultery and cheating is more acceptable, and even almost expected, from a man than a woman. All the while, if a woman should be the adulterer, it is abhorable, intolerable and inexcusable. In both stories this is the cause of the central conflict within Anna: how can she keep the man she loves when it violates every moral and sociologic value she has ever known?
In both versions of the story, the pet dog serves one of the most important parts. In the 1899 telling, the white Pomeranian is the one thing that sets Anna apart allowing Gurov to distinguish her. Her pet was the detail he could recognize, the one thing that he did not see as just any other woman. Without the canine, it is likely Gurov wouldn’t have ever noticed her again or even attributed that he had seen that specific woman because they were all the same to him. Likewise, in the Oates telling, the dog serves as a point of reference only this time to “the stranger”. The pup also serves the secondary purpose of further drawing Anna’s attention in turn causing their first meeting. The story tells us the dog made Anna feel more comfortable and open talking to the man but also provided the man with something to break the ice. These events could mean that the dog is the most important character to the plot. Maybe without this pet dog these meetings would have never occurred; and therefore, no affair would have been had, and the lovers would never have fallen in love. In effect this means no dog, no story.
While both the plot and resolution of the two versions stay roughly the same, the emotions and voice of the pieces differ largely depending on the point of view projected. Anton Chekhov’s story presents a very masculine way of looking at the situation without much detail or insight into the mind of Anna. In other words it “gives the reader no way to understand the feminine side of a masculine story” (Brennan 262). His chronological progression is easy to follow and paints a vivid step by step, scene by scene depiction of his tale. Joyce Carol Oates, on the other hand, presents us with a very unique approach to telling the same story. Not only does she change the perspective so that Anna’s voice, emotions, and thoughts are heard and presented, she also cleverly arranges the sequence so that it accented Anna’s inner conflict between her love for “the stranger” and her moral obligations to her marriage.
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