Nikolai Stepanovich, a famous professor of medicine, narrates his own story. An elderly man, he believes he will die in a few months, although he refuses to consult a doctor about his illness. He knows his wife to be a fat, old busybody, but he remembers her as a young beauty. His daughter Lisa is engaged to Gnekker, an ugly young man who seems to have neither talent nor employment. The professor's only enjoyment is to spend hours talking with Katya, his young ward, who once ran off to join the theater in Moscow, but later returned to become an indolent do-nothing.

Although he is not cynical, Nikolai Stepanovich decries the poverty of medical education and he seriously questions the ability of graduating physicians to care for their patients. He finds himself beset by negative thoughts: "Feelings I never felt before have built a nest in my heart. I hate, I despise, I am filled with indignation."

He encourages Katya to go back to Moscow and become an actress, but she admits that she has no talent. After much urging by his wife, Stepanovich agrees to go to Kharkov to investigate Gnekker's background. When he gets there, however, he receives a message that Lisa and Gnekker were secretly married on the day before.


Nikolai Stepanovich is one of Chekhov's most vivid characters. The old professor's ruminations on medical education and the widening gap between medicine and the humanities seem very contemporary. He thinks that his students have little psychological awareness or social skills to bring to their patients. At one point he comments: "My therapeutist colleagues, when teaching, tell their students 'to individualize each separate case.' One has only to take this advice to realize that the remedies recommended in textbooks . . . are quite unsuitable in individual cases."

This story should also evoke discussion about Stepanovich's complex character and the nature of his relationship with Katya. For an interesting commentary on Chekhov's "doctor tales" see: Angela Belli, "Anton Chekhov's Tales: The Physician-Patient Encounter," Medical Heritage, May/June 1985, 158-67.


First published: 1892. Translated by David Magarshack.

Primary Source

Lady With Lapdog and Other Stories



Place Published





David Magarshack