“The Lady with the Dog" is perhaps Anton Chekhov's best known and certainly one of his best-loved stories. It exemplifies the author's subtle yet powerful style, as Chekhov is economical with language and never says more than he needs. It tells the story of Moscow banker Dmitri Gurov and the young Anna Sergeyevna who are both trapped in unhappy marriages. The pair meets by chance while they are both vacationing in Yalta and they fall in love while having an affair. The text is an exploration of second chances, mortality, and the transformative power of love.

When the story opens, Dmitri has been vacationing in Yalta for two weeks. The reader then learns that Dmitri is a middle-aged man, about forty years of age, who has been trapped in a loveless marriage since he was a young man. Over the course of the story’s introductory paragraphs, the narrator explains that Dmitri has had a string of love affairs to cope with his domestic constraints but that none of them have been fulfilling and all of them have ended poorly. In the text’s inciting incident, Dmitri learns that a newcomer has arrived at the Yalta seafront. None of the other vacationers know her name or who she is—the only information that Dmitri can glean about Yalta’s new and elusive resident is that she is young, she has a dog, and she is always alone. Dmitri is instantly intrigued and wishes to meet her. Chekhov initially surrounds Anna with mystery by not giving her a name or any defining characteristics. This is effective storytelling; it forces the reader to engage in the sort of gossip and speculation that Dmitri and his fellow vacationers are engaged in at the start of the text. It also produces a intriguing tone that both matches Dmitri’s interest in this newcomer and generates suspense. As a result, the reader is just as fascinated with Anna as Dmitri is by the time that the two finally speak. 

The rising action portion of the story can be divided into two phases that are set in three different locations. The first phase is set in Yalta as Dmitri and Anna’s affair blossoms from a dalliance to a budding romance. Chekhov’s use of setting and descriptive language presents Yalta as a romantic oasis for Anna and Dmitri, a place of color, freedom, and intimacy that they cannot hope to recreate elsewhere. For example, the Yalta sea that Dmitri and Anna gaze at together is suffused with color with water of a “soft warm lilac hue” that is accented by a “golden streak from the moon upon it.” However, Dmitri and Anna’s paradise is not impenetrable and both of them, but especially Anna, worry about the morality of conducting an affair. Anna’s repeated insistence that Dmitri cannot possibly respect her after what they have done highlights the illicit nature of their affair and bursts their idyllic bubble. 

The second phase of rising action occurs in the winter months where Dmitri and Anna have both returned to their respective homes after agreeing to terminate their affair. Dmitri is surprised to discover that he is unable to forget about Anna even though he had no difficulty ending relationships in the past. Dmitri is so consumed with his love for Anna and feels so oppressed by his monotonous existence in Moscow that he impulsively decides to travel to Anna’s hometown so that he can see her again. He is unable to catch a glimpse of her at her home but he successfully locates her at a local theater. Dmitri is overcome when he finally sees Anna after so many months and Chekhov expresses Dmitri's romantic yearning with the passage: "this little woman, lost in the provincial crowd, in no way remarkable, holding a silly lorgnette in her hand, now filled his whole life, was his grief, his joy, all that he desired.” Here, Chekhov conveys Dmitri’s emotional complexity in just a few words, thus preserving the intensity of his protagonist’s feelings. As is often the case with Chekhov, he writes as though he is painting a canvas, producing a work that is grand in scope yet intimate in feel. The lovers then reunite during intermission and they agree that Anna will secretly come to visit Dmitri because their separation has been too painful.  

An indeterminate amount of time passes, during which the reader is informed that Anna has been traveling to Moscow every few months under the guise of seeing a gynecologist so that she and Dmitri can spend a few stolen moments together. The final section of the text opens with Dmitri rushing to a hotel where he knows that Anna is waiting for him. When he arrives, he is greeted by a tearful Anna who is struggling to bear the strain of spending so much time away from the man she loves. Dmitri attempts to comfort Anna until he, too, is jarred when, in the text’s climax, he glances in the mirror and realizes that his hair has turned gray and that he is in love for the first time in his life. His is a bittersweet epiphany because Dmitri is both happy to have found love and saddened by the knowledge that he wasted so much of his life on bitter and meaningless affairs instead of trying to make a genuine connection with someone. 

“The Lady with the Dog” famously ends rather abruptly, with the narrator alluding to an arduous course of action that could potentially allow Dmitri and Anna to be together without actually telling the reader what the lovers are planning. Chekhov plays on our expectations and leaves us guessing about how things will work out without giving us a satisfying conclusion to the narrative. As a result, the reader plays a cyclical role while reading the story because the narrative both begins and ends with vague descriptions that force the reader to draw their own conclusions.