"The Lady with the Dog" - A quick glance back.
Thanks for writing, "AP". I learned Russian the hard way -- in graduate school, then on to the University of Leningrad.
As a follow-on to looking for other media for The Lady with the Dog, I found the DVD of the Soviet movie on Amazon, in Russian with subtitles. Excellent. Look for Director: Iosif Heifitz, 1960.
Someone commented somewhere that Gurov calls Anne pitiful. That's been bothering me. I would translate the word as "pitiable" and not "pitiful". A big difference in emotion, don't you think?
Not sure this is the right place to ask, but I can't seem to find a place to generate a query. Using a new computer. I'm just wondering if my subscription will automatically renew or if I need to take any steps. I don't want to miss anything.
This was really insightful. Thank you 🙏
“And, as we’ve discussed here, that’s the question the story might ultimately be asking: “What is the deepest form of love of which we’re capable?”’ This is my first post, and it is to thank you for the column and this luminous question. I am reading Tenth of December and Raymond Carver’s work to learn to write short stories. Now I know (but did not before) I want those stories to explore the question you articulate above.
Too often I reject the voice of an author without questioning why, what it is bringing up within myself. Similar to how certain people with their behaviors and attitudes remind us of parts of ourselves we’ve tried to rout or forget or not allow to become something. Seems like you are pointing to how mature readers are able to mine the depths of the feelings incurred by certain stories instead of instantly setting them aside. This is something I need to grow in this year, this season of my life. Asking why before rejecting .
Back when I taught 2nd-year Russian, I used to assign Lady with the Dog (in the original of course). The students had a bit of a difficult time with it, but the excellent translation has a good glossary. As has been said here, the sentence structure is fairly straight-forward. I used the story not only to teach grammar, but also to introduce them to French-style explication de textes -- detailed look at language -- to show them connections between changing verb tense, etc. to show the change in mindset of the characters.
Back then, it was very difficult to obtain Russian / Soviet books, but I managed to get enough for my classes. The edition we used (you may be lucky enough to find it) was reprinted in 1970 by Bradda Books Ltd. I mention this because there is "an excellent" film of this story, and the line drawings in the book are taken after the actors and sets. There apparently is also a "complete recording of the story", though I haven't found it (yet)!
Can you please share some essays/stories (perhaps unpublished) about this period of reawakening to your new reality of balancing work/family/writing, while keeping yourself open and eager to write?
Thank you for this, George. You said the answer to the question (what changed that made you love the story?) “was really just time” but I would push back a bit on that. It wasn’t “just time,” it seems to me; it was your openness to moving beyond wanting to just read about “adventurers, rebels, outcasts,” and coming to appreciate that the lives of “regular people” could be the stuff of art. You tell a story of personal growth. I take your answer to the question as a demonstration that reading fiction can lead to greater openness, compassion and generosity. That, I think, takes not just time, but some doing
I myself am not there yet (I hope “yet” is the appropriate word here) with “The Lady and the Dog.” My problem, mostly, is Gurov. I just don’t like him. The ONLY problem he seems to have (as I see it) is, in your excellent formulation: how to “move through superficiality and selfishness to the deepest form of love of all.” That’s staggeringly HUGE of course, (and I’m not proud of reacting this way) but that’s not enough to get me past the aversion I feel to characters who are NOT, in my view, “regular people.” Gurov’s story doesn’t move me in large part because he’s so well off that he doesn’t seem to have problems like, e.g., how to pay the rent, i.e., the problems of regular people making their way in the world, coping with “ongoing struggles with money and class and work and all of that.” Without that, I can’t seem to work up all that much sympathy for Gurov and he remains, for me, just a jerk. Not a very generous view of a fellow human, I know, but I have hard time getting past it.
But I think what your piece says to me is that with time and openness it’s possible to move past/come to terms with one’s “aversions” and arrive at a better place. I don’t know if others have this problem but I just find it a real challenge to get to such a place through stories of characters I find unlikeable.
This is unrelated to George’s post re ‘The Lady with the Dog’ - apologies.
One of the best short stories ever, ‘The Dead’ by James Joyce is set in Dublin on January 6th.
It’s the last story in ‘The Dubliners’(1914).
"Just look at the text," George advises, "and see what it did to you." In the case of the Barthelme it didn't do much. Never has, multiple times with his stuff though I've tried. But so what? Liking or not liking may not be the point, although, same as anyone else, I'd much prefer to like. George urges an honest reaction to the experience & to know the cause, "the exact instant & flavor of the offense." To this I couldn't agree more. I know exactly what I like & dislike & why, where & which, as he has it, "flavor". (None of which is interesting enough to include here.) That we're not reading, "to judge, but to improve" is a distinction not so much fine, I don't think, as often overlooked & discarded & in much need of being repeatedly pointed out. And for this I give a yay & thanks, George!, for the reminder. So what if I'm not big on Barthelme, so what. I don't think I'm alone in that. But that isn't the question. Have I, or anyone else, improved by way of the experience? Well, that might depend on the definition of improved. But thanks to you, George, and to some of my friends & colleagues here at SC (I'm thinking esp of Nan's exhaustive researching & Stephen Hunter's insights) I may be creeping, however reluctantly, toward enlightenment.
While reading this, a few pieces of media came to mind.
"No offense, story – I bet I’ll be back later. Just…wait here for me." This reminded me of the last line in the song "Helplessness Blues" by Fleet Foxes: "And I know, I know you will keep me on the shelf / I'll get back to you someday soon, myself." One of the most mysterious lines in an otherwise straightforward song, I always took this line to be Robin Pecknold (or even more directly, the song itself) speaking directly to the listener, predicting that the song will get "shelved" and forgotten, but later return to the listener. I like the idea of the stories and books we don't connect with the first time being aware of the situation and patiently waiting for us to return.
"No trout fishing in Spain necessary," reminded me of Richard Brautigan's novel Trout Fishing in America, a book that mixes the surreal and the mundane in a way I found mesmerizing and entertaining.
Lastly, the question posed at the end of the post made me think of George's story "My House," the last one in Liberation Day. I don't want to say much else about that. I just hope it will maybe encourage a few Story Clubbers to read it if they haven't already.
I think if you take a look back through the Archive you' find quite a lot of illuminating discussion relating to 'Translation' AP.
The thread on the stories 'An Incident' and 'My First Goose' would be good places to start.
I think the comment I recently made was 'a placeholder not to self' to go back and check out something I happened to notice in reflecting on different translations I had come across in reading 'The Lady and the Dog'.
I don't think it is reasonable, or too sensible, to expect translators to offer detailed comments on every aspect of their translations ... not least because, I suspect, there are things that readers may notice which translators may not actually have been consciously intended.
Good luck with learning Russian: you will I think find reading Chekov different again.
Every time I read this story, I feel like I am looking deeper into it. As I approach the end of my life (I am 83 and in good health but know that my time gets shorter and shorter), I feel its sadness deepen. How short our lives are and how sad but how lovely these short lives are. I think of the two characters spending a white night in Yalta and the beauty of the sunrise they experience together. And yet he does not even recognize what is happening to him. Just another fling! But then he is caught up in love, or something he recognizes is love.
As a new member of Story Club, I thank you for your biweekly posts. They are nourishing we at the deepest darkness of winter.
Double dipping here, having just finished the story on my lunch hour. I read recently that all great stories are about Death. So to me this represented Gurov's love affair with Death and his shadow self. The color grey is used repeatedly at the seaside, in the town and finally in her dress. Gurov feels his secret life is "the very essence of his life", his true self. But his actions belie his thoughts in the way he disregards his daughter. In the final scene, while Anna cries bitterly, he looks not at her but at himself in the mirror (going grey) and wonders how he is still so darn attractive. In spite of his "bitter" experience in multiple affairs, with every new encounter this experience was forgotten. So he begins again on a journey with an ending far, far away and cheats Death once again. This is a timeless story and reminds me of the movie Moonstruck. Sorry, this is rushed.
Thank you George for your honesty in writing how you felt about Lady with dog over the years. A persons likes and dislikes change over time like liking candy as a child and not liking it much as an adult. I find that with every decade I find myself sympathizing with problems of that decade as well as the earlier ones. A jaded man in his forties finds falls in love with a younger woman is the story, but in Chekhov’s hands this mundane event becomes humane.
You, in your analysis, read a lot into Chekhov’s literary techniques, his ability to create mood by describing surroundings, but I think he simply wrote in flow with full sympathy for the character as if he was himself experiencing it. Remarkable indeed.
What I find amazing is that after a 100+ years, reading a culture that is Russian and foreign to me, his story still feels current and so easily applicable anywhere any time. As do Dickens stories and Jane Austens Pride and prejudice.
There is that quality to Chekhov and other Russian masters that makes it everlasting.