Pyotor Mihailitch Ivashin and his mother are plunged into despair; Ivashin's young sister Zina has just left home to live with Vlassitch, an unhappy man who is separated from his wife. Pyotor doesn't know why he feels so outraged at this development; after all, he is a progressive and free thinking person, and Vlassitch is a neighbor. Yet, Pyotor worries that people will think he should do something about his sister's scandalous behavior.

Finally, he resolves to ride over to Vlasslitch's estate and express his anger. However, when he arrives, he is charmed by Vlassitch's gentleness and saddened by his sister's apparent unhappiness, despite her determination to carry through with her chosen path. As he leaves them, it seems that all three are unhappy: "And so the whole of life seemed to him as dark as this water in which the night sky was reflected . . . And it seemed to him that nothing could ever set it right."


One of Chekhov's fine character studies, this story suggests some of the themes more fully developed in his later plays, The Seagull and Three Sisters (see this database). Each of the characters has strengths and weaknesses, each is trying to find happiness, but ultimately finds it impossible to communicate with the others.

Zina asserts herself (the ideal of self-determination?), but causes her mother to suffer and seems to find little happiness in her transgression of social mores. Pyotor strives to suppress his own needs for the sake of his family, but finds only emptiness. Vlassitch is a somewhat foolish fanatic who has mortgaged everything he owns to buy off his wife. How will any of these characters find happiness in their lives?


First published: 1892. Translated by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

The Tales of Chekhov, Vol.2: The Duel and Other Stories



Place Published

New York