In a village of Reybuzh lives an elderly tyrant who has two sons, one of whom works in a factory in the city, while his ailing wife lives in the village with her in-laws. The other son, a disabled alcoholic, has remained at home; his wife is "a handsome young woman, smart and buxom." The two wives are essentially no more than servants in their father-in-law's house. One day a traveler stops overnight in the village. Before going to bed, he relates the sad tale of Kuzka, his adopted son. The boy's mother was beaten by her husband. She subsequently poisoned him and, after being convicted of murder, died in prison.

Later that night, one of the young wives (Varvara) returns home from a toss in the hay with the priest's son. The other (Sofya) accosts her, and they discuss the traveler's story as they ruminate on their own terrible lives. Varvara suggests that they could poison her drunken husband and their father-in-law. Sofya is tempted, but frightened of being caught, and of God's punishment. The next morning the traveler settles his account, and he and the young boy leave.


The frame for this story is a dysfunctional family living in a squalid late 19th century Russian village. Very little happens. A visitor in the village tells his hosts about an unfortunate woman who poisoned her husband after he had beaten her up. Stimulated by this tale, one of the young peasant wives briefly considers poisoning the two men who are making her life a prison. In the light of day, she reconsiders and rejects the fantasy of gaining her freedom. As the visitor departs from the village the next morning, the peasant wives' brief glimmer of hope also disappears.


First published: 1891. Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

Later Short Stories. 1888-1903


Modern Library

Place Published

New York




Shelby Foote

Page Count