Close Reading of “Her Lehmann’s” and “The Lady with the Dog”
Literary works, “At Lehmann’s”, written in 1910 by author Katherine Mansfield and Anton Chekov’s “The Lady with the Dog”, written in 1899, both are characterised under the short story genre. Their subgenres however, speak ample about their literary context, style and tone. “At Lehmann’s” is a coming of age, comedy of manners short story, that explores elements of Marxism in relation to power aspects in both love and work relationships and examines proprietary and the infatuate love between naïve Sabina and the crude young man that she serves. Short story “The Lady with the Dog” has a subgenre reminiscent of a “soap opera” in its numerically inscribed parts, that indicate the chapters and progression of the illicit love affair between Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov and Anna Sergeyevna. Both written in a time where women were notoriously oppressed and objectified, both short stories speak with historicism and a dramatic tone.
Katherine Mansfield, born on the 14th of October 1888 in Wellington, New Zealand was the third daughter born to a socially expansive family. Although having a close relationship with her maternal grandmother, her birth order in the family, childhood pudginess and the fact she wore glasses left her feeling ignored and neglected. This is prominent in her writing, as Mansfield’s short stories focus on those estranged or isolated by society, in particular women.
With an achieved reputation as one of the most talented writers of modern short stories, Mansfield’s writing is known to be innovative and psychologically acute. The literary language used are clear and precise, the imagery and symbolism sharp, suggestive and new and the themes based around the hardships and ambivalences of sexuality, the fragility and vulnerability of relationships, the complexities and insensitivities of the rising middle class, and affectively the attempt to extract whatever beauty and vitality one can from mundane and increasingly difficult experience – which are all portrayed in “Her Lehmann’s”.
Set in a café known as Lehmann’s in a small village called Mindelau, just to the south-west of a historical town in southern Bavaria, protagonist Sabina works, with Ana, the cook, and Hans, the scullery boy. Inferior to Frau and Herr Lehmann, Sabina works as a good-willed and naïve server, who is confronted with a corrupt situation with a seemingly already married young man that enters the café. This encounter challenges the themes of innocence and vulnerability. It is clear that in this, Sabina is physically attracted to him but she is not prepared for the conversation to come. The young man provokes Sabina with an image of a naked woman in a man’s opera hat in a crumpled bed, symbolising the sexuality in mature women (the opera hat of a man’s depicting power and masculinity) and their assertiveness in the bedroom. Young Sabina only brushes off the image as “funny”, showing her innocence in response to...