Remembered as one of the most skillful writers in Russian literature (and one of the most treasured among short story authors of any nationality), Anton Chekhov’s skill was beyond compare. His romantic stories explored many themes, including infidelity and truth in love.
He made no apologies about the effect his writing had on people, and by the time of his death was considered second only to Tolstoy among the most influential Russian writers. As any writer will tell you, their lives influences are what shows up on the page.
It’s no wonder that Chekhov’s writing is admired by romance lovers everywhere. He had plenty of experience. His pursuit of love and romantic adventures with countless women started in his teenage years and a visit to a brothel in his hometown. Although he married in 1893, he continued his quest for love, passion, and romance. This influence shows up in Chekhov’s romantic short stories.
Though we may never know whether his experiences made their way into his writing, the stories are evocative and powerful. No clear self-portraits have been found in his short love stories, but we do know& that by the end of his lifetime, he fell in and out of love and had affairs with more than a dozen women before he died from complications of tuberculosis at the early age of 44.
His short stories are thought of as some of the best in the world, and for good reason.
Here are four of the most romantic short stories by Chekhov short stories, plus quotes that summarize what makes these stories (and love) so powerful.
1. The Lady with the Dog (1899)
What it’s about: Widely considered Chekhov’s best short story, The Lady with the Dog explores what happens to two people who fall truly in love for the first time, despite being married to others.
Favorite line from this love story: “Her expression, her gait, her dress, and the way she did her hair told him that she was a lady.”
My thoughts: In this short story, a Chekhov reveals his extraordinary insight into the mind of a married woman, and how a man can take advantage of her unhappiness in marriage.
Dimitri, the central character observes his next soon-to-be lover at the moment when she first walks into a dining room of a restaurant. The man who sees is also married but unlike his next victim, with a history of long being unfaithful in marriage.
Chekhov describes here what appears to the public eye the vision of a confident, secure, married woman. Later, as the story unfolds, we find her in the throes of despising herself as she falls into Dimitri’s arms.
Perhaps Chekhov’s own love affairs and experiences with an unhappy marriage gave him the edge to write this short story. If you are a romantic at heart but can’t resist a little drama in your stories, this one is a must read for you.
2. A Living Chattel (1882)
What it’s about: A love triangle where a woman is bought and sold. Incredible guilt and remorse make up the core of A Living Chattel, as the actions of Liza, her husband, and her lover come full circle.
Favorite line from this love story: “I love you, and a man in love is not fond of sharing.”
My thoughts: Carrying along the same theme of marital affairs, This line is uttered when Liza is confronted by her lover that he wants her to tell her husband about their affair. She feels shocked and refuses. The reader senses the violation of their unspoken agreement because Liza feels betrayed by Michael’s request.
Here we receive a warning by Chekhov who refused to marry any one of the women he had affairs with. Perhaps he wrote this story from his own personal experiences — no one wants to be the “side chick”, to use modern parlance.
For the person who refuses to share with someone else, you’ll love this short story and all it has to offer about loyalty and trust.
3. About Love (1898)
What it’s about: A story-within-a-story, About Love tells the tale of Alehin and the chance at love he missed, despite knowing for years that his beloved loved him, too.
Favorite line from this love story: “So far only one incontestable truth has been uttered about love: ‘This is a great mystery.’”
My thoughts: Here Chekhov unfolds the dance of love and romance from the perspective of two different couples. One couple carries out the dance of love with calm, quiet, and controlled romance coming out with the image of stability but unexpressed love. The other couple is the chaotic opposite with their fiery fighting but satisfaction in their lives.
If you’re a person who has wondered which type of relationship is best for you, add this short story to your list of one to read.
4. The Grasshopper (1892)
What it’s about: Olga is a devotee of the arts who eventually begins an affair with the fictional artist Ryabovsky, to the detriment of her marriage. She doesn’t know what she has until it’s too late, and will be haunted by the realization of what she has lost forever.
Favorite line from this love story: “Really, fate is so strange at times!”
My thoughts: Curious about the love lives of the rich and famous? This short story centers around what today would be called a “gold digger” who uses her husband’s money and how her bitter attitude leads her astray. Similar to his other short stories, Chekhov shows how forbidden romances, especially extramarital affairs can provide for some sticky scenarios that lead to a break down of trust.
Perhaps Chekhov wrote this short story after he experienced a taste of bad romance? Who knows. The only way for you to find out is to read the short story for yourself. I hope you will, I know I have loved reading Chekhov, especially these unique romantic love stories.
Kristen Droesch is a writer, content strategist and editor who has a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science from Pratt Institute. For more information about Kristen, follow her on LinkedIn.