Conflictual natures

The author, at this point, seems to be playing on the ambiguity of Anna’s statement – is it simply a manifestation of her coquetterie, or indeed an indication of Anna’s love for Alyohin (as the latter undoubtedly construes it)? It is perhaps both especially if we consider the patterns of female depiction in Chekhov’s stories as conflictual natures, torn between passion and reason, love and marriage. However, no decisive information throughout the whole story is given to substantially support Alyohin’s inferences.

In his conversations with Anna, Alyohin interprets the long moments of silence as unquestionable marks of Anna’s suffering from their impossible love: “And every time I came to the town I saw from her eyes that she had been expecting me […] We would talk for a long time and then we would be silent, yet we did not confess our love for each other, but timidly and jealously concealed it” (392). Through Alyohin’s eyes, the reader is presented a perspective on women and love which greatly resembles the medieval romance stories, such as Tristan and Isolde or Lancelot and Guinivere, which recount the heroes adulterous and passionate love affaires.

In this stance, of a noble character pining for the woman that he loves whom he believes unjustly imprisoned in a loveless marriage, Alyohin becomes a parodic (almost Quixotic) figure which comes in stark opposition with the much more pragmatic realities of his time – for instance, what Alyohin interprets as Anna’s fall from love with him in her harsher remarks could simply be a symptom of Anna’s ennui in the countryside as well as an indication rather of her ambivalent attitude towards him.

In “About Love” the opposition between love and marriage is made apparent only through Alyohin’s perspective as the character interprets Anna’s breakdown as her realization that she is condemned to live in a loveless marriage and apart from the man whom she really loves. The scene that represents, in Alyohin’s mind, the irrefutable evidence of Anna’s love for him coincides with the climax of the story – the train station scene:

When our eyes met right there in the compartment our spiritual strength deserted us both, took her in my arms, she pressed her face to my breast, and tears flowed from her eyes. Kissing her face, her shoulders, her hands wet with tears – oh, how miserable we were! – I confessed my love to her, and with a burning pain in my heart I realized how needless and petty and deceptive was all that had hindered us from loving each other (395).

This scene is quite telling as concerns the argument we have followed so far – that Alyohin’s perspective distorts the representation of the female image – as the whole account is centered solely on Alyohin’s feelings, giving no sign of Anna’s affections. However, Alyohin’s conclusions about the nature of love might induce the reader to think that Anna shares his love, that they are the two tragic heroes in an impossible love affair.

In the end, however, the whole account is destabilized and made to appear unreliable by two characters from the frame narrative, whose remarks hint to Alyohin’s excessive imagination and naivete: “at the same time they were sorry that this man with the kind, intelligent eyes who had told them his story with such candor should be rushing round and round on this huge estate like a squirrel in a cage instead of devoting himself to some scholarly pursuit or something else which would have made life pleasanter” (395).

“The Lady with the Pet Dog”: Imagining the Female Self As compared to “About Love”, in which the narrator presents an artificial construct of the female image, “The Lady with the Pet Dog” enacts a different perspective of the male imaginary on the woman. The main character and narrator of the story, Dmitry Dmitrich Gurov, re-presents Anna Sergeyevna, the object of his increasing love, if not unrealistically, certainly with much imaginative ethos, seeking in her an ideal model and a refuge from old age.

In this case too, reality does not necessarily overlap with romantic projection as Anna Sergeyevna, although very young, is a married woman who, although she succumbs to passion, is continuously tormented by remorse. Because this story voices the female character more, the reader gets a glimpse into Anna’s motivations and interiority.

We know that she does not love her husband, whom she calls a “flunkey” (418) and that she is permanently conflicted about having an adulterous affair: “How can I exonerate myself? No. I am a bad, low woman; I despise myself and I have no thought of exonerating myself. It’s not my husband but myself that I have deceived. And not only just now; I have been deceiving myself for a long time” (418). This passage is typical of the instances in which Anna voices her own perspective on the love affair.