Feb. 21, 2020
How much influence can an unremarkable woman have on a womanizing, well-to-do banker? Anton Chekhov, today on The Classic Tales Podcast.
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Today’s story is by the master of the short story: Anton Chekhov. Now, I’ve known of this story for years. It’s one of his most famous. But when I read it years ago, it scared me. It seemed like it was a story the legitimized illicit infidelity, and it freaked me out.
Now that I’m a little older, and hopefully a little wiser, I could look at it more objectively. I was amazed at what I found.
The infidelity in the story is simply a vehicle. The theme of the story is essentially: the black and white world we live in is constructed for us by others, and cannot make us happy. Only when we dare to look at and live in the gray area, and choose to live life on our own terms can we be happy.
Dmitri is a wealthy banker. He did it all right – married young, has kids, and is successful in his vocation – banking. And he hates it. He lives a black and white life. He knows his infidelities are wrong, and categorizes them as such. His “white” life above board dissatisfies him, so he delves into the “black” from time to time.
Then he meets Anna, the lady with the dog. Notice how with her, everything is described as gray. Her eyes, her dress, even the town where she lives is enigmatic, only described as “S---“ And she lives behind a gray fence. In her foray with Dmitri into the “black” area, she’s not okay with it. She doesn’t like it. She belongs in the gray area.
I don’t want to go too into detail, but the reason this story hit me with such force now, is that I can now see it’s truth. If I had a vocation like banking, or worked in a cubicle, and had to sign the card for Bill in accounting’s birthday, and talk over the ramen in my cup in a break room that smells like microwaved bad breath, etc. etc., I would go crazy. I’d probably make good money, and have things like health insurance, retirement, and stock options, but I’d be dead inside.
Cilla told me when we first got married that she needed to live in the gray area, and it changed my life. Living in the gray, outside the clear cut boundaries of work, school, business, etc., and scrapping work as a freelance artist for 19 years, then trying to eke out a living by making audiobooks of classic literature is about the most crazy, off the rails way to raise a family and make a career. But I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s infinitely rewarding, but it’s so complicated and difficult. Nobody would choose this unless they had to. But once you allow yourself to live in the gray area, you have to stay. Because you know what it’s like in the black and white world, and it’s just not for you.
The last line of the story is: “…the most complicated and difficult part of it was only the beginning.”
Yes. People don’t just live complicated and difficult lives just because. Their reasons are their own. And they are complicated. But for them, it’s worth it.
And now, The Lady With The Dog, by Anton Chekhov.