- Coulehan, Jack
- Date of entry: Jun-01-2003
Orlov is a young playboy in St. Petersburg whose father is an important political figure. The narrator (the "anonymous man"), who is actually a political activist (perhaps even an anarchist), assumes a new fake identity and takes a job as Orlov's footman, in order to get inside information to use against his father. While working undercover in this way, the narrator ("Stefan") observes a domestic tragedy. Orlov charms and then seduces a beautiful young married woman, Zinaida Fyodorovna Krasnovsky, who subsequently leaves her husband, shows up on Orlov's doorstep, and moves in with him.
Zinaida bursts with romantic visions and loves Orlov passionately. However, Orlov thinks the whole thing is a bore. He can't bring himself to throw her out, yet he detests her assault on his freedom. Eventually, he begins spending weeks at a time away from the flat, supposedly on an inspection tour in the provinces, but he is simply avoiding Zinaida by staying at a friend's house in St. Petersburg. Meanwhile, "Stefan" experiences a growing compassion for the poor woman, who has given up her husband and family for love.
As a result of this situation, "Stefan's" political ideals sink into the background; for example, he gives up an opportunity to murder Orlov's father and, thereby, achieve his radical objectives. Eventually, he confesses the truth to Zinaida--that Orlov has deceived her and doesn't want her. "Stefan" also reveals his true identity (Vladimir Ivanitich) and entices her to flee with him to Europe.
They spend the next several months traveling together. At one point Vladimir has an acute exacerbation of "pleurisy" (actually tuberculosis) and, while nursing him back to health, Zinaida realizes that Vladimir is in love with her. This is a crushing blow to their relationship, because she was under the impression that he had been helping her for purely altruistic, idealistic reasons.
Meanwhile, Zinaida, who is ill herself and pregnant with Orlov's child, dies in childbirth. The baby (Sonya) survives, and Vladimir spends two happy years caring for her, until he, too, is about to die of tuberculosis. At the end of the story, Vladimir meets with Orlov, and they make arrangements for old Krasnovsky--Remember him? He was Zinaida's husband--to take the child and raise her as his own.
The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 3: The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories