The drawing-room of SEREBRAKOFF'S house. There are three doors:
one to the right, one to the left, and one in the centre of the
room. VOITSKI and SONIA are sitting down. HELENA is walking up
and down, absorbed in thought.
We were asked by the professor to be here at one
o'clock. [Looks at his watch] It is now a quarter to one. It
seems he has some communication to make to the world.
You could help run this place, teach the children, care
for the sick--isn't that enough? Before you and papa came, Uncle
Vanya and I used to go to market ourselves to deal in flour.
I don't know anything about such things, and besides,
they don't interest me. It is only in novels that women go out
and teach and heal the peasants; how can I suddenly begin to do
How can you live here and not do it? Wait awhile, you will
get used to it all. [Embraces her] Don't be sad, dearest.
[Laughing] You feel miserable and restless, and can't seem to fit
into this life, and your restlessness is catching. Look at Uncle
Vanya, he does nothing now but haunt you like a shadow, and I
have left my work to-day to come here and talk with you. I am
getting lazy, and don't want to go on with it. Dr. Astroff hardly
ever used to come here; it was all we could do to persuade him to
visit us once a month, and now he has abandoned his forestry and
his practice, and comes every day. You must be a witch.
Why should you languish here? Come, my dearest, my
beauty, be sensible! The blood of a Nixey runs in your veins. Oh,
won't you let yourself be one? Give your nature the reins for
once in your life; fall head over ears in love with some other
water sprite and plunge down head first into a deep pool, so that
the Herr Professor and all of us may have our hands free again.
HELENA [Angrily] Leave me alone! How cruel you are! [She tries
to go out.]
VOITSKI [Preventing her] There, there, my beauty, I apologise.
[He kisses her hand] Forgive me.
Confess that you would try the patience of an angel.
As a peace offering I am going to fetch some flowers
which I picked for you this morning: some autumn roses,
beautiful, sorrowful roses. [He goes out.]
Don't say that! [She turns to look at herself in the
glass] No, when a woman is ugly they always say she has beautiful
hair or eyes. I have loved him now for six years, I have loved
him more than one loves one's mother. I seem to hear him beside
me every moment of the day. I feel the pressure of his hand on
mine. If I look up, I seem to see him coming, and as you see, I
run to you to talk of him. He is here every day now, but he never
looks at me, he does not notice my presence. It is agony. I have
absolutely no hope, no, no hope. Oh, my God! Give me strength to
endure. I prayed all last night. I often go up to him and speak
to him and look into his eyes. My pride is gone. I am not
mistress of myself. Yesterday I told Uncle Vanya I couldn't
control myself, and all the servants know it. Every one knows
that I love him.
Splendid! It will be easy to find out whether he loves
you or not. Don't be ashamed, sweetheart, don't worry. I shall be
careful; he will not notice a thing. We only want to find out
whether it is yes or no, don't we? [A pause] And if it is no,
then he must keep away from here, is that so?
HELENA [Alone] There is no greater sorrow than to know another's
secret when you cannot help them. [In deep thought] He is
obviously not in love with her, but why shouldn't he marry her?
She is not pretty, but she is so clever and pure and good, she
would make a splendid wife for a country doctor of his years. [A
pause] I can understand how the poor child feels. She lives here
in this desperate loneliness with no one around her except these
colourless shadows that go mooning about talking nonsense and
knowing nothing except that they eat, drink, and sleep. Among
them appears from time to time this Dr. Astroff, so different, so
handsome, so interesting, so charming. It is like seeing the moon
rise on a dark night. Oh, to surrender oneself to his embrace! To
lose oneself in his arms! I am a little in love with him myself!
Yes, I am lonely without him, and when I think of him I smile.
That Uncle Vanya says I have the blood of a Nixey in my veins:
"Give rein to your nature for once in your life!" Perhaps it is
right that I should. Oh, to be free as a bird, to fly away from
all your sleepy faces and your talk and forget that you have
existed at all! But I am a coward, I am afraid; my conscience
torments me. He comes here every day now. I can guess why, and
feel guilty already; I should like to fall on my knees at Sonia's
feet and beg her forgiveness, and weep.
You don't find this life very interesting, I dare say?
Oh, why not? It is true I don't know the country very
well, but I have read a great deal about it.
I have my own desk there in Ivan's room. When I am
absolutely too exhausted to go on I drop everything and rush over
here to forget myself in this work for an hour or two. Ivan and
Miss Sonia sit rattling at their counting-boards, the cricket
chirps, and I sit beside them and paint, feeling warm and
peaceful. But I don't permit myself this luxury very often, only
once a month. [Pointing to the picture] Look there! That is a map
of our country as it was fifty years ago. The green tints, both
dark and light, represent forests. Half the map, as you see, is
covered with it. Where the green is striped with red the forests
were inhabited by elk and wild goats. Here on this lake, lived
great flocks of swans and geese and ducks; as the old men say,
there was a power of birds of every kind. Now they have vanished
like a cloud. Beside the hamlets and villages, you see, I have
dotted down here and there the various settlements, farms,
hermit's caves, and water-mills. This country carried a great
many cattle and horses, as you can see by the quantity of blue
paint. For instance, see how thickly it lies in this part; there
were great herds of them here, an average of three horses to
every house. [A pause] Now, look lower down. This is the country
as it was twenty-five years ago. Only a third of the map is green
now with forests. There are no goats left and no elk. The blue
paint is lighter, and so on, and so on. Now we come to the third
part; our country as it appears to-day. We still see spots of
green, but not much. The elk, the swans, the black-cock have
disappeared. It is, on the whole, the picture of a regular and
slow decline which it will evidently only take about ten or
fifteen more years to complete. You may perhaps object that it is
the march of progress, that the old order must give place to the
new, and you might be right if roads had been run through these
ruined woods, or if factories and schools had taken their place.
The people then would have become better educated and healthier
and richer, but as it is, we have nothing of the sort. We have
the same swamps and mosquitoes; the same disease and want; the
typhoid, the diphtheria, the burning villages. We are confronted
by the degradation of our country, brought on by the fierce
struggle for existence of the human race. It is the consequence
of the ignorance and unconsciousness of starving, shivering, sick
humanity that, to save its children, instinctively snatches at
everything that can warm it and still its hunger. So it destroys
everything it can lay its hands on, without a thought for the
morrow. And almost everything has gone, and nothing has been
created to take its place. [Coldly] But I see by your face that I
am not interesting you.
Yes, but quite an innocent one. Sit down. [They sit down]
It is about a certain young girl I know. Let us discuss it like
honest people, like friends, and then forget what has passed
between us, shall we?
HELENA [Taking his hand] You do not love her. I see that in your
eyes. She is suffering. You must realise that, and not come here
My sun has set, yes, and then I haven't the time.
[Shrugging his shoulders] Where shall I find time for such
things? [He is embarrassed.
Bah! What an unpleasant conversation! I am as out of
breath as if I had been running three miles uphill. Thank heaven,
that is over! Now let us forget everything as if nothing had been
said. You are sensible. You understand. [A pause] I am actually
If you had spoken a month ago I might perhaps have
considered it, but now--[He shrugs his shoulders] Of course, if
she is suffering--but I cannot understand why you had to put me
through this examination. [He searches her face with his eyes,
and shakes his finger at her] Oho, you are wily!
ASTROFF [Laughing] You are a wily one! I admit that Sonia is
suffering, but what does this examination of yours mean? [He
prevents her from retorting, and goes on quickly] Please don't
put on such a look of surprise; you know perfectly well why I
come here every day. Yes, you know perfectly why and for whose
sake I come! Oh, my sweet tigress! don't look at me in that way;
I am an old bird!
HELENA [Perplexed] A tigress? I don't understand you.
Beautiful, sleek tigress, you must have your victims!
For a whole month I have done nothing but seek you eagerly. I
have thrown over everything for you, and you love to see it. Now
then, I am sure you knew all this without putting me through your
examination. [Crossing his arms and bowing his head] I surrender.
Here you have me--now, eat me.
I am a better and stronger woman than you think me.
Good-bye. [She tries to leave the room.]
Why good-bye? Don't say good-bye, don't waste words. Oh,
how lovely you are--what hands! [He kisses her hands.]
Enough of this! [She frees her hands] Leave the room! You
have forgotten yourself.
Tell me, tell me, where can we meet to-morrow? [He puts
his arm around her] Don't you see that we must meet, that it is
He kisses her. VOITSKI comes in carrying a bunch of roses, and
stops in the doorway.
HELENA [Without seeing VOITSKI] Have
pity! Leave me, [lays her head on ASTROFF'S shoulder] Don't!
[She tries to break away from him.]
ASTROFF [Holding her by the waist] Be in the forest tomorrow at
two o'clock. Will you? Will you?
HELENA [Sees VOITSKI] Let me go! [Goes to the window deeply
embarrassed] This is appalling!
VOITSKI [Throws the flowers on a chair, and speaks in great
excitement, wiping his face with his handkerchief] Nothing--yes,
The weather is fine to-day, my dear Ivan; the morning
was overcast and looked like rain, but now the sun is shining
again. Honestly, we have had a very fine autumn, and the wheat is
looking fairly well. [Puts his map back into the portfolio] But
the days are growing short.
HELENA [Goes quickly up to VOITSKI] You must do your best; you
must use all your power to get my husband and myself away from
here to-day! Do you hear? I say, this very day!
VOITSKI [Wiping his face] Oh! Ah! Oh! All right! I--Helena, I
HELENA [In great agitation] Do you hear me? I must leave here
this very day!
I am not very well myself, your Excellency. I have been
limping for two days, and my head--
Where are the others? I hate this house. It is a
regular labyrinth. Every one is always scattered through the
twenty-six enormous rooms; one never can find a soul. [Rings] Ask
my wife and Madame Voitskaya to come here!
SEREBRAKOFF [To TELEGIN] One can, after all, become reconciled
to being an invalid, but not to this country life. The ways of it
stick in my throat and I feel exactly as if I had been whirled
off the earth and landed on a strange planet. Please be seated,
ladies and gentlemen. Sonia! [SONIA does not hear. She is
standing with her head bowed sadly forward on her breast] Sonia!
[A pause] She does not hear me. [To MARINA] Sit down too, nurse.
[MARINA sits down and begins to knit her stocking] I crave your
indulgence, ladies and gentlemen; hang your ears, if I may say
so, on the peg of attention. [He laughs.]
VOITSKI [Agitated] Perhaps you do not need me--may I be excused?
Here is mother. Ladies and gentlemen, I shall begin.
I have asked you to assemble here, my friends, in order to
discuss a very important matter. I want to ask you for your
assistance and advice, and knowing your unfailing amiability I
think I can count on both. I am a book-worm and a scholar, and am
unfamiliar with practical affairs. I cannot, I find, dispense
with the help of well-informed people such as you, Ivan, and you,
Telegin, and you, mother. The truth is, _manet omnes una nox,_
that is to say, our lives are in the hands of God, and as I am
old and ill, I realise that the time has come for me to dispose
of my property in regard to the interests of my family. My life
is nearly over, and I am not thinking of myself, but I have a
young wife and daughter. [A pause] I cannot continue to live in
the country; we were not made for country life, and yet we cannot
afford to live in town on the income derived from this estate. We
might sell the woods, but that would be an expedient we could not
resort to every year. We must find some means of guaranteeing to
ourselves a certain more or less fixed yearly income. With this
object in view, a plan has occurred to me which I now have the
honour of presenting to you for your consideration. I shall only
give you a rough outline, avoiding all details. Our estate does
not pay on an average more than two per cent on the money
invested in it. I propose to sell it. If we then invest our
capital in bonds, it will earn us four to five per cent, and we
should probably have a surplus over of several thousand roubles,
with which we could buy a summer cottage in Finland--
Hold on! Repeat what you just said; I don't think I
heard you quite right.
I said we would invest the money in bonds and buy a
cottage in Finland with the surplus.
Aha! That was it! So you are going to sell the place?
Splendid. The idea is a rich one. And what do you propose to do
with my old mother and me and with Sonia here?
That will be decided in due time. We can't do
everything at once.
Wait! It is clear that until this moment I have never
had a grain of sense in my head. I have always been stupid enough
to think that the estate belonged to Sonia. My father bought it
as a wedding present for my sister, and I foolishly imagined that
as our laws were made for Russians and not Turks, my sister's
estate would come down to her child.
Of course it is Sonia's. Has any one denied it? I
don't want to sell it without Sonia's consent; on the contrary,
what I am doing is for Sonia's good.
This is absolutely incomprehensible. Either I have gone
Jean, don't contradict Alexander. Trust to him;
he knows better than we do what is right and what is wrong.
I shan't. Give me some water. [He drinks] Go ahead! Say
anything you please--anything!
I can't imagine why you are so upset. I don't
pretend that my scheme is an ideal one, and if you all object to
it I shall not insist. [A pause.]
TELEGIN [With embarrassment] I not only nourish feelings of
respect toward learning, your Excellency, but I am also drawn to
it by family ties. My brother Gregory's wife's brother, whom you
may know; his name is Constantine Lakedemonoff, and he used to be
Stop, Waffles. This is business; wait a bit, we will
talk of that later. [To SEREBRAKOFF] There now, ask him what he
thinks; this estate was bought from his uncle.
Ah! Why should I ask questions? What good would it
The price was ninety-five thousand roubles. My father
paid seventy and left a debt of twenty-five. Now listen! This
place could never have been bought had I not renounced my
inheritance in favour of my sister, whom I deeply loved--and what
is more, I worked for ten years like an ox, and paid off the
I regret ever having started this conversation.
Thanks entirely to my own personal efforts, the place is
entirely clear of debts, and now, when I have grown old, you want
to throw me out, neck and crop!
For twenty-five years I have managed this place, and
have sent you the returns from it like the most honest of
servants, and you have never given me one single word of thanks
for my work, not one--neither in my youth nor now. You allowed me
a meagre salary of five hundred roubles a year, a beggar's
pittance, and have never even thought of adding a rouble to it.
What did I know about such things, Ivan? I am not a
practical man and don't understand them. You might have helped
yourself to all you wanted.
Yes, why did I not steal? Don't you all despise me for
not stealing, when it would have been only justice? And I should
not now have been a beggar!
TELEGIN [Agitated] Vanya, old man, don't talk in that way. Why
spoil such pleasant relations? [He embraces him] Do stop!
For twenty-five years I have been sitting here with my
mother like a mole in a burrow. Our every thought and hope was
yours and yours only. By day we talked with pride of you and your
work, and spoke your name with veneration; our nights we wasted
reading the books and papers which my soul now loathes.
SEREBRAKOFF [Wrathfully] What under heaven do you want, anyway?
We used to think of you as almost superhuman, but now
the scales have fallen from my eyes and I see you as you are! You
write on art without knowing anything about it. Those books of
yours which I used to admire are not worth one copper kopeck. You
are a hoax!
Ivan, I command you to stop this instant! Do you hear me?
I refuse! [SEREBRAKOFF tries to get out of the room, but
VOITSKI bars the door] Wait! I have not done yet! You have
wrecked my life. I have never lived. My best years have gone for
nothing, have been ruined, thanks to you. You are my most bitter
I can't stand it; I can't stand it. I am going. [He goes
out in great excitement.]
But what do you want? What earthly right have you to
use such language to me? Ruination! If this estate is yours, then
take it, and let me be ruined!
I am going away out of this hell this minute. [Shrieks]
This is too much!
My life has been a failure. I am clever and brave and
strong. If I had lived a normal life I might have become another
Schopenhauer or Dostoieffski. I am losing my head! I am going
crazy! Mother, I am in despair! Oh, mother!
Mother! What shall I do? But no, don't speak! I know
what to do. [To SEREBRAKOFF] And you will understand me!
He goes out through the door in the centre of the room and MME.
VOITSKAYA follows him.
Tell me, what on earth is the matter? Take this
lunatic out of my sight! I cannot possibly live under the same
roof with him. His room [He points to the centre door] is almost
next door to mine. Let him take himself off into the village or
into the wing of the house, or I shall leave here at once. I
cannot stay in the same house with him.
HELENA [To her husband] We are leaving to-day; we must get ready
at once for our departure.
SONIA [On her knees beside the nurse and turning to her father.
She speaks with emotion] You must be kind to us, papa. Uncle
Vanya and I are so unhappy! [Controlling her despair] Have pity
on us. Remember how Uncle Vanya and Granny used to copy and
translate your books for you every night--every, every night.
Uncle Vanya has toiled without rest; he would never spend a penny
on us, we sent it all to you. We have not eaten the bread of
idleness. I am not saying this as I should like to, but you must
understand us, papa, you must be merciful to us.
HELENA [Very exited, to her husband] For heaven's sake,
Alexander, go and have a talk with him--explain!
Very well, I shall have a talk with him, but I won't
apologise for a thing. I am not angry with him, but you must
confess that his behaviour has been strange, to say the least.
Excuse me, I shall go to him.
You are trembling all over, as if you were freezing.
There, there, little orphan baby, God is merciful. A little
linden-tea, and it will all pass away. Don't cry, my sweetest.
[Looking angrily at the door in the centre of the room] See, the
geese have all gone now. The devil take them!
A shot is heard. HELENA screams behind the scenes. SONIA
SEREBRAKOFF [Comes in reeling with terror] Hold him! hold him!
He has gone mad!
HELENA and VOITSKI are seen struggling in the doorway.
HELENA [Trying to wrest the revolver from him] Give it to me;
give it to me, I tell you!
Let me go, Helena, let me go! [He frees himself and
rushes in, looking everywhere for SEREBRAKOFF] Where is he? Ah,
there he is! [He shoots at him. A pause] I didn't get him? I
missed again? [Furiously] Damnation! Damnation! To hell with him!
He flings the revolver on the floor, and drops helpless into a
chair. SEREBRAKOFF stands as if stupefied. HELENA leans against
the wall, almost fainting.
Take me away! Take me away! I can't stay here--I can't!
VOITSKI [In despair] Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?