Lieutenant General von Rabbek hosts a party for members of the regiment in his magnificent home. Of all the attendees, the most awkward is Ryabovitch, "a little officer in spectacles, with sloping shoulders and whiskers like a lynx's." He considers himself the shyest, most undistinguished officer in the whole brigade. While wondering through the mansion, trying to avoid talking to people, he stumbles into a dark room, whereupon a woman rushes up to him, whispering, "At last!" She throws her arms around his neck and kisses him. At once, however, she realizes her mistake, runs from the room, and is lost in the crowd.

Ryabovitch's passion awakes! He feels that his life is beginning anew. For the rest of the evening, he searches in vain for the woman who kissed him. The next day his regiment departs for another area, but some time later, when he returns to the same town, Ryabovitch continues his obsession with the kiss he experienced that night, and still hopes to discover who the woman in the dark room was.

If only he could communicate with General von Rabbek--but no, Rabbek doesn't respond. In the end he stands on the riverbank: "Now that he expected nothing, the incident of the kiss, his impatience, his vague hopes and disappointment, presented themselves in a clear light . . . And the whole world, the whole of life, seemed to Ryabovitch an unintelligible, aimless jest . . . "


In this story, Ryabovitch, a real loser of an ordinary man, undergoes two extraordinary experiences. In the first of these, he stumbles by chance into a passionate kiss, a kiss that seems to promise a plenitude of future happiness. However, kisses like appearances can be deceiving. In fact, the kiss fires a disabling obsession with finding the woman. In modern parlance, Ryabovitch searches desperately for closure, or for human attachment, or at least for an answer to his questions.

The second extraordinary experience takes place near the end of the tale, when Ryabovitch undergoes a flash of insight or enlightenment. He suddenly detaches himself from the world, learns to expect nothing, and comes to understand that life is "an unintelligible, aimless jest." Thus, when it turns out that General von Rabbek has, in fact, invited the regiment to visit his home again, Ryabovitch decides to remain in the barracks, thus relinquishing the vain hope of finding the mysterious woman.


Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett. First published in 1887.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol. 4: The Party and Other Stories



Place Published

New York



Page Count