The story begins with Vera's arrival at her grandfather's estate on the steppe. The young woman has finished school, her father is dead, and now she must make a life for herself. The estate brings back pleasant memories of childhood, but country life is so boring! Vera would like to do something important with her life--become a doctor, or judge, or mechanic--but she feels paralyzed.

Neshtchapov, the local doctor, is a polished, handsome man, who has gone into management, although he still practices medicine. Certainly the most eligible bachelor in the region, the doctor falls in love with Vera, but she finds him vacuous and his conversation utterly boring. Vera sinks into irritability and depression, which culminates in an irrational outburst against her frightened maid. After this, she decides to take control of her life--by marrying Neshtchapov.


Those who think that Chekhov is a depressing writer will find strong support for their view in this story. The major theme here can be summarized as paralysis, ennui, lack of direction, angst, or existential crisis--choose whichever term you prefer. Vera is a young and educated woman. Why can't she take control of her life and find fulfillment? What is stopping her?

In fact, she seems to be smothered by layers and layers of oppression--the steppe itself, her country estate, the vacuous neighbors, and the stultifying late 19th Century Russian society. Rather than fulfilling any of her dreams, she jumps out of the frying pan of ennui into the fire of loveless marriage.

Chekhov frequently portrayed impotent intellectuals and landowners, so-called "superfluous" people, who were unable to find fulfillment in their lives. Another character named Vera (a physician) suffers from a similar existential problem in Excellent People (see annotation in this database), but this Vera is able to stop daydreaming, mobilize herself, and march off to vaccinate the peasants.


Translated by Constance Garnett. First published: 1897

Primary Source

Later Short Stories, 1888-1903


The Modern Library

Place Published

New York




Shelby Foote

Page Count