The story begins with a group of young people on a riding party at the Shelestov estate. One of the guests is Nikitin, a young-looking man in his mid-20’s, who teachers literature at the local school, and loves Masha, the 18-year-old younger daughter of their host. Later, over dinner Varya, the older daughter, argues with Nikitin over some points of literature, and another guest scolds him for having never read the German writer, Lessing. But Nikitin glides through the evening on a cloud of love. A day later he returns and proposes to Masha.

In the second part of the story, the wedding occurs. Nikitin and Masha are deliriously happy--"’I am immensely happy with you, my joy,’ he used to say, playing with her fingers or plaiting and unplaiting her hair." But soon one of Nikitin’s friends and fellow teachers develops erysipelas and dies. After that, everything returns to normal, so much so that Nikitin has nothing to write in his diary.

Life seems to be closing in on him. He feels like trying to get away from his wife, "Where am I, my God? I am surrounded by vulgarity and vulgarity. Wearisome, insignificant people, pots of sour cream, jugs of milk, cockroaches, stupid women . . . There is nothing more terrible. I must escape from here, I must escape today . . . "


This story reminds me of the first two of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths: suffering informs all of human life, and the cause of suffering is desire. Nikitin wins the object of his desire, and ought to be perfectly happy, but he soon realizes that something is missing--he is dissatisfied, he wants to escape the confinement and ordinariness of his life. But we know that no matter where he goes, dissatisfaction will follow him, unless he renounces desire and achieves Enlightenment. Perhaps his friend’s death from erysipelas precipitated Nikitin’s restless desperation, but his suffering was inevitable, because that’s the way life is.

Does it matter that Nikitin is a teacher of literature? Are literary people or teachers particularly vulnerable to angst? Chekhov is an equal opportunity employer where restless hearts and failed expectations are concerned. In his stories and plays we discover that doctors, landowners, military men, and revolutionaries may all suffer from the same disease. Failing to find meaning in one’s life appears to be a common malady that cuts across occupation and social class.


First published: 1894. Translated from the Russian by Constance Garnett.

Primary Source

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



Place Published

New York



Page Count