A night on the town with two friends turns into "an attack of nerves" for Vasilyev, a law student. The three students spend the night drinking and visiting houses of prostitution; Vasilyev is horrified and repulsed by the women, who he thinks are "more like animals than human beings." The social problem of prostitution becomes an obsession; he is so fixated on finding a solution that he is in moral agony. His friends, among whom is a medical student, are concerned only with his health; they take him to a psychiatrist who "cures" Vasilyev with bromide and morphine.


Chekhov considers the dilemma posed by the recognition that there is large scale human suffering in the world which the individual is powerless to alter. The medical student and the psychiatrist (as well as the artist) view the situation with clinical detachment, but the law student cannot. Physicians must strike a balance between concern and detachment, in order to best serve individuals, but perhaps the larger ills of society become at times overwhelming.



First published: 1888

Primary Source

The Portable Chekhov


Viking: Penguin

Place Published

New York


1988 (paperback)


Avrahm Yarmolinsky

Page Count