A Lady’s Story by Anton Chekhov
In A Lady’s Story by Anton Chekhov we have the theme of love, happiness, social order, appearance, regret, change, loneliness, loss and acceptance. Taken from his The Complete Short Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by a woman called Natalya Vladimirovna and after reading the story it becomes clear to the reader that Chekhov may be exploring the theme of love. Pyotr is very much in love with Natalya however due to his background Natalya does not reciprocate Pyotr’s love. She questions herself firstly as to whether she loves Pyotr however the issue of class or social order comes to her mind and she realises that she cannot fall in love with Pyotr even though there is a strong possibility that she already does love him. The fact that Natalya cannot fall in love with Pyotr may be important as Chekhov may be highlighting just how important social order may have been in Russia at the time the story was written. Natalya knows that she will be judged badly by others should she commit herself to Pyotr. It is as though there is an appearance that Natalya must maintain and falling in love with Pyotr would go against what would be deemed by others as being acceptable. Even though Pyotr gives Natalya much joy she still nonetheless adheres to the rules that have been set by society.
This may be important as it would appear that Natalya is following the rules imposed by society rather than following her heart. It is also noticeable that as Natalya grows older she regrets that she did not commit herself to Pyotr. Her attitude towards society has changed yet it seems to be too late for her to find happiness. Any chance of happiness is lost due to the stance that Natalya took in her younger days. It is as though Natalya has allowed time and love to pass her by due to her beliefs in a social order and it is only when she is older that she realises that she may have been wrong. Pyotr could have provided Natalya with the happiness she seems to crave for as she has gotten older. Chekhov’s deliberate limiting of the number of characters in the story, particularly as Natalya grows older, may also be significant as he could be suggesting that Natalya is lonely. Throughout the story the only visitor mentioned to Natalya’s father’s home is Pyotr. It appears that apart from her friendship with Pyotr Natalya has not had any sort of relationship with another man.
It is also noticeable that Natalya’s opinion on rank and wealth also changes over the years. Where once these were important attributes to Natalya. This is no longer the case when she grows older. She would be quite happy if Pyotr declared his love for her now that she is older but he never does. Their relationship never progresses past that of a friendship. Which may be important as there is a sense that as Pyotr has grown older, just like Natalya, he has been beaten by life. It never enters his mind that he might have the opportunity for happiness. The same happiness he looked for when he was a younger man. As to why Natalya does not tell Pyotr how she feels about him is also interesting as Chekhov may be highlighting the role of women in society. It might not have been seen as appropriate at the time for a woman to reveal her heart to a man. Though the same was not the case for a man. It was okay for Pyotr to say that he loved Natalya but Natalya could not tell Pyotr that she loved him.
The end of the story is also interesting as Natalya appears to accept the positon she finds herself in life. She no longer has any fight left in her nor is she prepared to tell Pyotr that she loves him. The happiness she had as a young woman is long gone. Despite changing her opinion on the importance of rank and wealth Natalya may live a lonely life. Lost is the opportunity she once had when she was a younger woman. Now as an older woman she may very well live her days alone and when Pyotr does visit her there will be no mention of love. Both characters feelings towards each other are to remain muted. Never to be spoken of again. Despite the fact that Natalya has changed her opinion on what is important in life and she is now placing her own happiness as being the most important thing in her life there is still a sense that Natalya is still confined in her actions by society. The pain she feels would cease should she tell Pyotr that she loves him. However the reader gets no sense that this will happen. Rather than finding happiness in life Natalya is to live her remaining days without knowing what love feels like. Though she could easily tell Pyotr that she loves him and he would reciprocate. This will never happen. Both Natalya and Pyotr have been defeated by circumstances.