The dining-room of SEREBRAKOFF'S house. It is night. The tapping
of the WATCHMAN'S rattle is heard in the garden. SEREBRAKOFF is
dozing in an arm-chair by an open window and HELENA is sitting
beside him, also half asleep.
SEREBRAKOFF [Rousing himself] Who is here? Is it you, Sonia?
Oh, it is you, Nelly. This pain is intolerable.
Your shawl has slipped down. [She wraps up his legs in
the shawl] Let me shut the window.
No, leave it open; I am suffocating. I dreamt just
now that my left leg belonged to some one else, and it hurt so
that I woke. I don't believe this is gout, it is more like
rheumatism. What time is it?
Look for Batushka to-morrow morning; we used to have
him, I remember. Why do I find it so hard to breathe?
You are tired; this is the second night you have had no
They say that Turgenieff got angina of the heart
from gout. I am afraid I am getting angina too. Oh, damn this
horrible, accursed old age! Ever since I have been old I have
been hateful to myself, and I am sure, hateful to you all as
You speak as if we were to blame for your being old.
HELENA gets up and walks away from him, sitting down at a
You are quite right, of course. I am not an idiot; I
can understand you. You are young and healthy and beautiful, and
longing for life, and I am an old dotard, almost a dead man
already. Don't I know it? Of course I see that it is foolish for
me to live so long, but wait! I shall soon set you all free. My
life cannot drag on much longer.
You are overtaxing my powers of endurance. Be quiet, for
It appears that, thanks to me, everybody's power of
endurance is being overtaxed; everybody is miserable, only I am
blissfully triumphant. Oh, yes, of course!
It is funny that everybody listens to Ivan and his
old idiot of a mother, but the moment I open my lips you all
begin to feel ill-treated. You can't even stand the sound of my
voice. Even if I am hateful, even if I am a selfish tyrant,
haven't I the right to be one at my age? Haven't I deserved it?
Haven't I, I ask you, the right to be respected, now that I am
No one is disputing your rights. [The window slams in the
wind] The wind is rising, I must shut the window. [She shuts it]
We shall have rain in a moment. Your rights have never been
questioned by anybody.
I have spent my life working in the interests of
learning. I am used to my library and the lecture hall and to the
esteem and admiration of my colleagues. Now I suddenly find
myself plunged in this wilderness, condemned to see the same
stupid people from morning till night and listen to their futile
conversation. I want to live; I long for success and fame and the
stir of the world, and here I am in exile! Oh, it is dreadful to
spend every moment grieving for the lost past, to see the success
of others and sit here with nothing to do but to fear death. I
cannot stand it! It is more than I can bear. And you will not
even forgive me for being old!
Wait, have patience; I shall he old myself in four or
It is stifling in here. Sonia, hand me that bottle
on the table.
Here it is. [She hands him a bottle of medicine.]
SEREBRAKOFF [Crossly] No, not that one! Can't you understand me?
Can't I ask you to do a thing?
Please don't be captious with me. Some people may like it,
but you must spare me, if you please, because I don't. Besides, I
haven't the time; we are cutting the hay to-morrow and I must get
VOITSKI comes in dressed in a long gown and carrying a candle.
A thunderstorm is coming up. [The lightning flashes]
There it is! Go to bed, Helena and Sonia. I have come to take
SEREBRAKOFF [Frightened] No, n o, no! Don't leave me alone with
him! Oh, don't. He will begin to lecture me.
But you must give them a little rest. They have not
slept for two nights.
Then let them go to bed, but you go away too! Thank
you. I implore you to go. For the sake of our former friendship
do not protest against going. We will talk some other time---
I haven't cleared away the tea things. Can't go to bed
No one can go to bed. They are all worn out, only I
enjoy perfect happiness.
MARINA [Goes up to SEREBRAKOFF and speaks tenderly] What's the
matter, master? Does it hurt? My own legs are aching too, oh, so
badly. [Arranges his shawl about his legs] You have had this
illness such a long time. Sonia's dead mother used to stay awake
with you too, and wear herself out for you. She loved you dearly.
[A pause] Old people want to be pitied as much as young ones, but
nobody cares about them somehow. [She kisses SEREBRAKOFF'S
shoulder] Come, master, let me give you some linden-tea and warm
your poor feet for you. I shall pray to God for you.
My own feet are aching so badly, oh, so badly! [She and
SONIA lead SEREBRAKOFF out] Sonia' s mother used to wear herself
out with sorrow and weeping. You were still little and foolish
then, Sonia. Come, come, master.
I am absolutely exhausted by him, and can hardly stand.
You are exhausted by him, and I am exhausted by my own
self. I have not slept for three nights.
Something is wrong in this house. Your mother hates
everything but her pamphlets and the professor; the professor is
vexed, he won't trust me, and fears you; Sonia is angry with her
father, and with me, and hasn't spoken to me for two weeks; I am
at the end of my strength, and have come near bursting into tears
at least twenty times to-day. Something is wrong in this house.
You are cultured and intelligent, Ivan, and you surely
understand that the world is not destroyed by villains and
conflagrations, but by hate and malice and all this spiteful
tattling. It is your duty to make peace, and not to growl at
Help me first to make peace with myself. My darling!
[Seizes her hand.]
Soon the rain will be over, and all nature will sigh and
awake refreshed. Only I am not refreshed by the storm. Day and
night the thought haunts me like a fiend, that my life is lost
for ever. My past does not count, because I frittered it away on
trifles, and the present has so terribly miscarried! What shall I
do with my life and my love? What is to become of them? This
wonderful feeling of mine will be wasted and lost as a ray of
sunlight is lost that falls into a dark chasm, and my life will
go with it.
I am as it were benumbed when you speak to me of your
love, and I don't know how to answer you. Forgive me, I have
nothing to say to you. [She tries to go out] Good-night!
VOITSKI [Barring the way] If you only knew how I am tortured by
the thought that beside me in this house is another life that is
being lost forever--it is yours! What are you waiting for? What
accursed philosophy stands in your way? Oh, understand,
HELENA [Looking at him intently] Ivan, you are drunk!
VOITSKI [Alone] She is gone! I met her first ten years ago, at
her sister's house, when she was seventeen and I was
thirty-seven. Why did I not fall in love with her then and
propose to her? It would have been so easy! And now she would
have been my wife. Yes, we would both have been waked to-night by
the thunderstorm, and she would have been frightened, but I would
have held her in my arms and whispered: "Don't be afraid! I am
here." Oh, enchanting dream, so sweet that I laugh to think of
it. [He laughs] But my God! My head reels! Why am I so old? Why
won't she understand me? I hate all that rhetoric of hers, that
morality of indolence, that absurd talk about the destruction of
the world--- [A pause] Oh, how I have been deceived! For years I
have worshipped that miserable gout-ridden professor. Sonia and I
have squeezed this estate dry for his sake. We have bartered our
butter and curds and peas like misers, and have never kept a
morsel for ourselves, so that we could scrape enough pennies
together to send to him. I was proud of him and of his learning;
I received all his words and writings as inspired, and now? Now
he has retired, and what is the total of his life? A blank! He is
absolutely unknown, and his fame has burst like a soap-bubble. I
have been deceived; I see that now, basely deceived.
ASTROFF comes in. He has his coat on, but is without his
waistcoat or collar, and is slightly drunk. TELEGIN follows him,
carrying a guitar.
What a beautiful woman! [Looking at the medicine
bottles on the table] Medicine, is it? What a variety we have;
prescriptions from Moscow, from Kharkoff, from Tula! Why, he has
been pestering all the towns of Russia with his gout! Is he ill,
or simply shamming?
What do you mean? Yes, I must confess I am getting
vulgar, but then, you see, I am drunk. I usually only drink like
this once a month. At such times my audacity and temerity know no
bounds. I feel capable of anything. I attempt the most difficult
operations and do them magnificently. The most brilliant plans
for the future take shape in my head. I am no longer a poor fool
of a doctor, but mankind's greatest benefactor. I evolve my own
system of philosophy and all of you seem to crawl at my feet like
so many insects or microbes. [To TELEGIN] Play, Waffles!
My dear boy, I would with all my heart, but do listen to
reason; everybody in the house is asleep.
Uncle Vanya, you and the doctor have been drinking! The
good fellows have been getting together! It is all very well for
him, he has always done it, but why do you follow his example? It
looks dreadfully at your age.
Age has nothing to do with it. When real life is
wanting one must create an illusion. It is better than nothing.
Our hay is all cut and rotting in these daily rains, and
here you are busy creating illusions! You have given up the farm
altogether. I have done all the work alone until I am at the end
of my strength--[Frightened] Uncle! Your eyes are full of tears!
Tears? Nonsense, there are no tears in my eyes. You
looked at me then just as your dead mother used to, my
darling--[He eagerly kisses her face and hands] My sister, my
dearest sister, where are you now? Ah, if you only knew, if you
The storm is blowing over. This is only the edge of it.
I must go. And please don't ask me to come and see your father
any more. I tell him he has gout, and he says it is rheumatism. I
tell him to lie down, and he sits up. To-day he refused to see me
He has been spoilt. [She looks in the sideboard] Won't you
have a bite to eat?
I haven't eaten anything to-day. Your father has a very
difficult nature. [He takes a bottle out of the sideboard] May I?
[He pours himself a glass of vodka] We are alone here, and I can
speak frankly. Do you know, I could not stand living in this
house for even a month? This atmosphere would stifle me. There is
your father, entirely absorbed in his books, and his gout; there
is your Uncle Vanya with his hypochondria, your grandmother, and
finally, your step-mother--
A human being should be entirely beautiful: the face,
the clothes, the mind, the thoughts. Your step-mother is, of
course, beautiful to look at, but don't you see? She does nothing
but sleep and eat and walk and bewitch us, and that is all. She
has no responsibilities, everything is done for her--am I not
right? And an idle life can never be a pure one. [A pause]
However, I may be judging her too severely. Like your Uncle
Vanya, I am discontented, and so we are both grumblers.
I like life as life, but I hate and despise it in a
little Russian country village, and as far as my own personal
life goes, by heaven! there is absolutely no redeeming feature
about it. Haven't you noticed if you are riding through a dark
wood at night and see a little light shining ahead, how you
forget your fatigue and the darkness and the sharp twigs that
whip your face? I work, that you know--as no one else in the
country works. Fate beats me on without rest; at times I suffer
unendurably and I see no light ahead. I have no hope; I do not
like people. It is long since I have loved any one.
Not a soul. I only feel a sort of tenderness for your
old nurse for old-times' sake. The peasants are all alike; they
are stupid and live in dirt, and the educated people are hard to
get along with. One gets tired of them. All our good friends are
petty and shallow and see no farther than their own noses; in one
word, they are dull. Those that have brains are hysterical,
devoured with a mania for self-analysis. They whine, they hate,
they pick faults everywhere with unhealthy sharpness. They sneak
up to me sideways, look at me out of a corner of the eye, and
say: "That man is a lunatic," "That man is a wind-bag." Or, if
they don't know what else to label me with, they say I am
strange. I like the woods; that is strange. I don't eat meat;
that is strange, too. Simple, natural relations between man and
man or man and nature do not exist. [He tries to go out; SONIA
I beg you, I implore you, not to drink any more!
It is so unworthy of you. You are well-bred, your voice is
sweet, you are even--more than any one I know--handsome. Why do
you want to resemble the common people that drink and play cards?
Oh, don't, I beg you! You always say that people do not create
anything, but only destroy what heaven has given them. Why, oh,
why, do you destroy yourself? Oh, don't, I implore you not to! I
ASTROFF [Gives her his hand] I won't drink any more.
I have done with it. You see, I am perfectly sober
again, and so I shall stay till the end of my life. [He looks his
watch] But, as I was saying, life holds nothing for me; my race
is run. I am old, I am tired, I am trivial; my sensibilities are
dead. I could never attach myself to any one again. I love no
one, and never shall! Beauty alone has the power to touch me
still. I am deeply moved by it. Helena could turn my head in a
day if she wanted to, but that is not love, that is not
Nothing. During Lent one of my patients died under
It is time to forget that. [A pause] Tell me, doctor, if I
had a friend or a younger sister, and if you knew that she,
well--loved you, what would you do?
ASTROFF [Shrugging his shoulders] I don't know. I don't think I
should do anything. I should make her understand that I could not
return her love--however, my mind is not bothered about those
things now. I must start at once if I am ever to get off.
Good-bye, my dear girl. At this rate we shall stand here talking
till morning. [He shakes hands with her] I shall go out through
the sitting-room, because I am afraid your uncle might detain me.
[He goes out.]
SONIA [Alone] Not a word! His heart and soul are still locked
from me, and yet for some reason I am strangely happy. I wonder
why? [She laughs with pleasure] I told him that he was well-bred
and handsome and that his voice was sweet. Was that a mistake? I
can still feel his voice vibrating in the air; it caresses me.
[Wringing her hands] Oh! how terrible it is to be plain! I am
plain, I know it. As I came out of church last Sunday I overheard
a woman say, "She is a dear, noble girl, but what a pity she is
so ugly!" So ugly!
There, there, don't cry. [She weeps] Silly! Now I am
crying too. [A pause] You are angry with me because I seem to
have married your father for his money, but don't believe the
gossip you hear. I swear to you I married him for
love. I was fascinated by his fame and learning. I know now that
it was not real love, but it seemed real at the time. I am
innocent, and yet your clever, suspicious eyes have been
punishing me for an imaginary crime ever since my marriage.
SONIA [Laughing] I have a stupid face, haven't I? He has just
gone out, and his voice is still in my ears; I hear his step; I
see his face in the dark window. Let me say all I have in my
heart! But no, I cannot speak of it so loudly. I am ashamed. Come
to my room and let me tell you there. I seem foolish to you,
don't I? Talk to me of him.
He is clever. He can do everything. He can cure the sick,
and plant woods.
It is not a question of medicine and woods, my dear, he
is a man of genius. Do you know what that means? It means he is
brave, profound, and of clear insight. He plants a tree and his
mind travels a thousand years into the future, and he sees
visions of the happiness of the human race. People like him are
rare and should be loved. What if he does drink and act roughly
at times? A man of genius cannot be a saint in Russia. There he
lives, cut off from the world by cold and storm and endless roads
of bottomless mud, surrounded by a rough people who are crushed
by poverty and disease, his life one continuous struggle, with
never a day's respite; how can a man live like that for forty
years and keep himself sober and unspotted? [Kissing SONIA] I
wish you happiness with all my heart; you deserve it. [She gets
up] As for me, I am a worthless, futile woman. I have always been
futile; in music, in love, in my husband's house--in a word, in
everything. When you come to think of it, Sonia, I am really
very, very unhappy. [Walks excitedly up and down] Happiness can
never exist for me in this world. Never. Why do you laugh?
SONIA [Laughing and covering her face with her hands] I am so
happy, so happy!
I want to hear music. I might play a little.
Oh, do, do! [She embraces her] I could not possibly go to
sleep now. Do play!
Yes, I will. Your father is still awake. Music irritates
him when he is ill, but if he says I may, then I shall play a
little. Go, Sonia, and ask him.