A retired professor has returned to his estate to live with his beautiful young wife, Yelena. The estate originally belonged to his first wife, now deceased; her mother and brother still live there and manage the farm. For many years the brother (Uncle Vanya) has sent the farm’s proceeds to the professor, while receiving only a small salary himself. Sonya, the professor’s daughter, who is about the same age as his new wife, also lives on the estate. The professor is pompous, vain, and irritable. He calls the doctor (Astrov) to treat his gout, only to send him away without seeing him. Astrov is an experienced physician who performs his job conscientiously, but has lost all idealism and spends much of his time drinking.

The presence of Yelena introduces a bit of sexual tension into the household. Astrov and Uncle Vanya both fall in love with Yelena; she spurns them both. Meanwhile, Sonya is in love with Astrov, who fails even to notice her. Finally, when the professor announces he wants to sell the estate, Vanya, whose admiration for the man died with his sister, tries to kill him. But the professor survives and he and Yelena leave the estate.


While Vanya is the protagonist of this play (and a rather ineffectual one, at that), Doctor Astrov plays a major supporting role. Like most of Chekhov’s physicians, Astrov has lost his idealism and much of his capacity for close human relationships. Unlike some of them, though, Astrov has not become narrow-minded, greedy, or pompous. He does his job conscientiously and still retains active curiosity about the world. As far as the emotional life is concerned, he seems to rely on alcohol. Yelena re-awakens in him the desire for intimacy, but this desire is doomed to fail.

For an interesting discussion of the role of physicians in Chekhov’s drama, see Louis Pedrotti, "Chekhov’s Major Plays: A Doctor in the House," which appears in Chekhov’s Great Plays: A Critical Anthology, edited by Jean-Pierre Barricelli (New York Univ. Press, New York, 1981). An excellent recent film of this play is available on videotape: Vanya on 42nd Street (see film database).


  Produced by the Moscow Arts Theater in 1899. Translated by Michael Frayn.

Primary Source

The Plays of Chekhov



Place Published