A sitting-room in LEBEDIEFF'S house. In the middle of the wall at
the back of the room is an arch dividing the sitting-room from
the ballroom. To the right and left are doors. Some old bronzes
are placed about the room; family portraits are hanging on the
walls. Everything is arranged as if for some festivity. On the
piano lies a violin; near it stands a violoncello. During the
entire act guests, dressed as for a ball, are seen walking about
in the ball-room.
It is five o'clock. The ceremony must have begun. First
the priest will bless them, and then they will be led to the
church to be married. Is this how virtue and justice triumph? Not
being able to rob Sarah, he has tortured her to death; and now he
has found another victim whom he will deceive until he has robbed
her, and then he will get rid of her as he got rid of poor Sarah.
It is the same old sordid story. [A pause] He will live to a fine
old age in the seventh heaven of happiness, and will die with a
clear conscience. No, Ivanoff, it shall not be! I shall drag your
villainy to light! And when I tear off that accursed mask of
yours and show you to the world as the blackguard you are, you
shall come plunging down headfirst from your seventh heaven, into
a pit so deep that the devil himself will not be able to drag you
out of it! I am a man of honour; it is my duty to interfere in
such cases as yours, and to open the eyes of the blind. I shall
fulfil my mission, and to-morrow will find me far away from this
accursed place. [Thoughtfully] But what shall I do? To have an
explanation with Lebedieff would be a hopeless task. Shall I make
a scandal, and challenge Ivanoff to a duel? I am as excited as a
child, and have entirely lost th e power of planning anything.
What shall I do? Shall I fight a duel?
I declared a little slam in clubs yesterday, and made a
grand slam! Only that man Barabanoff spoilt the whole game for me
again. We were playing--well, I said "No trumps" and he said
"Pass." "Two in clubs," he passed again. I made it two in hearts.
He said "Three in clubs," and just imagine, can you, what
happened? I declared a little slam and he never showed his ace!
If he had showed his ace, the villain, I should have declared a
grand slam in no trumps!
Excuse me, I don't play cards, and so it is impossible for
me to share your enthusiasm. When does the ceremony begin?
At once, I think. They are now bringing Zuzu to herself
again. She is bellowing like a bull; she can't bear to see the
He? Yes, he's a good one! He and the Count are a pair of
trumps. They have keen noses for a good game. First, Ivanoff set
his heart on the Jewess, then, when his schemes failed in that
quarter, he turned his thoughts toward Zuzu's money-bags. I'll
wager you he'll ruin Zuzu in a year. He will ruin Zuzu, and the
Count will ruin Martha. They will gather up all the money they
can lay hands on, and live happily ever after! But, doctor, why
are you so pale to-day? You look like a ghost.
Oh, it's nothing. I drank a little too much yesterday.
Sit down, Sasha, there-- [He sits down and looks about
him] Listen to me attentively and with proper respect. The fact
is, your mother has asked me to say this, do you understand? I am
not speaking for myself. Your mother told me to speak to you.
When you are married we mean to give you fifteen
thousand roubles. Please don't let us have any discussion about
it afterward. Wait, now! Be quiet! That is only the beginning.
The best is yet to come. We have allotted you fifteen thousand
roubles, but in consideration of the fact that Nicholas owes your
mother nine thousand, that sum will have to be deducted from the
amount we mean to give you. Very well. Now, beside that---
Leave me in peace! If you had any respect for yourself or
me you could not permit yourself to speak to me in this way. I
don't want your money! I have not asked for it, and never shall.
What are you attacking me for? The two rats in Gogol's
fable sniffed first and then ran away, but you attack without
Leave me in peace, and do not offend my ears with your
LEBEDIEFF [Losing his temper] Bah! You all, every one of you, do
all you can to make me cut my throat or kill somebody. One of you
screeches and fusses all day and counts every penny, and the
other is so clever and humane and emancipated that she cannot
understand her own father! I offend your ears, do I? Don't you
realise that before I came here to offend your ears I was being
torn to pieces over there, [He points to the door] literally
drawn and quartered? So you cannot understand? You two have
addled my brain till I am utterly at my wits' end; indeed I am!
[He goes toward the door, and stops] I don't like this business
at all; I don't like any thing about you--
What is it, especially, that you don't like?
Let me explain exactly what I mean. Everything
displeases me. As for your marriage, I simply can't abide it. [He
goes up to SASHA and speaks caressingly] Forgive me, little
Sasha, this marriage may be a wise one; it may be honest and not
misguided, nevertheless, there is something about the whole
affair that is not right; no, not right! You are not marrying as
other girls do; you are young and fresh and pure as a drop of
water, and he is a widower, battered and worn. Heaven help him. I
don't understand him at all. [He kisses his daughter] Forgive me
for saying so, Sasha, but I am sure there is something crooked
about this affair; it is making a great deal of talk. It seems
people are saying that first Sarah died, and then suddenly
Ivanoff wanted to marry you. [Quickly] But, no, I am like an old
woman; I am gossiping like a magpie. You must not listen to me or
any one, only to your own heart.
Papa, I feel myself that there is something wrong about my
marriage. Something wrong, yes, wrong! Oh, if you only knew how
heavy my heart is; this is unbearable! I am frightened and
ashamed to confess this; Papa darling, you must help me, for
heaven's sake. Oh, can't you tell me what I should do?
I am so frightened, more frightened than I have ever been
before. [She glances around her] I cannot understand him now, and
I never shall. He has not smiled or looked straight into my eyes
once since we have been engaged. He is forever complaining and
apologising for something; hinting at some crime he is guilty of,
and trembling. I am so tired! There are even moments when I
think--I think--that I do not love him as I should, and when he
comes to see us, or talks to me, I get so tired! What does it
mean, dear father? I am afraid.
My darling, my only child, do as your old father
advises you; give him up!
Yes, do it, little Sasha! It will make a scandal, all
the tongues in the country will be wagging about it, but it is
better to live down a scandal than to ruin one's life.
Don't say that, father. Oh, don't. I refuse to listen! I
must crush such gloomy thoughts. He is good and unhappy and
misunderstood. I shall love him and learn to understand him. I
shall set him on his feet again. I shall do my duty. That is
Seriously, I must really do something horrid and
rascally, so that not only I but everybody else will be disgusted
by it. I certainly shall find something to do, upon my word I
shall! I have already told Borkin to announce that I am to be
married. [He laughs] Everybody is a scoundrel and I must be one
I am tired of you, Matthew. Look here, man you talk in
such a way that, excuse my saying so, you will soon find yourself
in a lunatic asylum!
Could a lunatic asylum possibly be worse than this
house, or any othe r? Kindly take me there at once. Please do!
Everybody is wicked and futile and worthless and stupid; I am an
object of disgust to myself, I don't believe a word I say----
Let me give you a piece of advice, old man; fill your
mouth full of tow, light it, and blow at everybody. Or, better
still, take your hat and go home. This is a wedding, we all want
to enjoy ourselves and you are croaking like a raven. Yes,
What, are you crying too? Stop, Sasha! Dear me, they
are both howling now, and I--and I-- Do go away; the guests will
Paul, when the sun is shining, it is gay even in a
cemetery. One can be cheerful even in old age if it is lighted by
hope; but I have nothing to hope for--not a thing!
Yes, it is rather sad for you. You have no children,
no money, no occupation. Well, but what is there to be done about
it? [To SASHA] What is the matter with you, Sasha?
Paul, give me some money. I will repay you in the next
world. I would go to Paris and see my wife's grave. I have given
away a great deal of money in my life, half my fortune indeed,
and I have a right to ask for some now. Besides, I am asking a
LEBEDIEFF [Embarrassed] My dear boy, I haven't a penny. All
right though. That is to say, I can't promise anything, but you
understand--very well, very well. [Aside] This is agony!
Well, now you are all bawling. What a quartette! Come,
come, don't let us have any more of this dampness! Matthew!
Martha! If you go on like this, I--I--shall cry too. [Bursts into
If you don't need your mother any more, if you are
determined not to obey her, I shall have to do as you want, and
you have my blessing.
Enter IVANOFF, dressed in a long coat, with gloves on.
This is the finishing touch! What do you want?
I am choking with anger; I cannot speak calmly. Listen
to me; as I was dressing just now for the wedding, I looked in
the glass and saw how grey my temples were. Sasha, this must not
be! Let us end this senseless comedy before it is too late. You
are young and pure; you have all your life before you, but I---
The same old story; I have heard it a thousand times and I
am tired of it. Go quickly to the church and don't keep everybody
I shall go straight home, and you must explain to your
family somehow that there is to be no wedding. Explain it as you
please. It is time we came to our senses. I have been playing the
part of Hamlet and you have been playing the part of a noble and
devoted girl. We have kept up the farce long enough.
SASHA [Losing her temper] How can you speak to me like this? I
won't have it.
But I am speaking, and will continue to speak.
What do you mean by coming to me like this? Your
melancholy has become absolutely ridiculous!
No, this is not melancholy. It is ridiculous, is it?
Yes, I am laughing, and if it were possible for me to laugh at
myself a thousand times more bitterly I should do so and set the
whole world laughing, too, in derision. A fierce light has
suddenly broken over my soul; as I looked into the glass just
now, I laughed at myself, and nearly went mad with shame. [He
laughs] Melancholy indeed! Noble grief! Uncontrollable sorrow! It
only remains for me now to begin to write verses! Shall I mope
and complain, sadden everybody I meet, confess that my manhood
has gone forever, that I have decayed, outlived my purpose, that
I have given myself up to cowardice and am bound hand and foot by
this loathsome melancholy? Shall I confess all this when the sun
is shining so brightly and when even the ants are carrying their
little burdens in peaceful self-content? No, thanks. Can I endure
the knowledge that one will look upon me as a fraud, while
another pities me, a third lends me a helping hand, or worst of
all, a fourth listens reverently to my sighs, looks upon me as a
new Mahomet, and expects me to expound a new religion every
moment? No, thank God for the pride and conscience he has left me
still. On my way here I laughed at myself, and it seemed to me
that the flowers and birds were laughing mockingly too.
You think so, do you? No, I am not mad. I see things in
their right light now, and my mind is as clear as your
conscience. We love each other, but we shall never be married. It
makes no difference how I rave and grow bitter by myself, but I
have no right to drag another down with me. My melancholy robbed
my wife of the last year of her life. Since you have been engaged
to me you have forgotten how to laugh and have aged five years.
Your father, to whom life was always simple and clear, thanks to
me, is now unable to understand anybody. Wherever I go, whether
hunting or visiting, it makes no difference, I carry depression,
dulness, and discontent along with me. Wait! Don't interrupt me!
I am bitter and harsh, I know, but I am stifled with rage. I
cannot speak otherwise. I have never lied, and I never used to
find fault with my lot, but since I have begun to complain of
everything, I find fault with it involuntarily, and against my
will. When I murmur at my fate every one who hears me is seized
with the same disgust of life and begins to grumble too. And what
a strange way I have of looking at things! Exactly as if I were
doing the world a favour by living in it. Oh, I am contemptible.
Wait a moment. From what you have just said, it is obvious
that you are tired of your melancholy mood, and that the time has
come for you to begin life afresh. How splendid!
I don't see anything splendid about it. How can I lead a
new life? I am lost forever. It is time we both understood that.
A new life indeed!
Nicholas, come to your senses. How can you say you are
lost? What do you mean by such cynicism? No, I won't listen to
you or talk with you. Go to the church!
Don't talk so loud; our guests will hear you!
If an intelligent, educated, and healthy man begins to
complain of his lot and go down-hill, there is nothing for him to
do but to go on down until he reaches the bottom--there is no
hope for him. Where could my salvation come from? How can I save
myself? I cannot drink, because it makes my head ache. I never
could write bad poetry. I cannot pray for strength and see
anything lofty in the languor of my soul. Laziness is laziness
and weakness weakness. I can find no other names for them. I am
lost, I am lost; there is no doubt of that. [Looking around] Some
one might come in; listen, Sasha, if you love me you must help
me. Renounce me this minute; quickly!
Oh, Nicholas! If you only knew how you are torturing me;
what agony I have to endure for your sake! Good thoughtful
friend, judge for yourself; can I possibly solve such a problem?
Each day you put some horrible problem before me, each one more
difficult than the last. I wanted to help you with my love, but
this is martyrdom!
And when you are my wife the problems will be harder
than ever. Understand this: it is not love that is urging you to
take this step, but the obstinacy of an honest nature. You have
undertaken to reawaken the man in me and to save me in the face
of every difficulty, and you are flattered by the hope of
achieving your object. You are willing to give up now, but you
are prevented from doing it by a feeling that is a false one.
What strange, wild reasoning! How can I give you up now?
How can I? You have no mother, or sister, or friends. You are
ruined; your estate has been destroyed; every one is speaking ill
It was foolish of me to come here; I should have done as
I wanted to--
SASHA [Running to her father] Father! He has rushed over here
like a madman, and is torturing me! He insists that I should
refuse to marry him; he says he doesn't want to drag me down with
him. Tell him that I won't accept his generosity. I know what I
I can't understand a word of what you are saying. What
It is going to take place. Papa, tell him that it is going
to take place.
Wait! Wait! What objection have you to the marriage?
I have explained it all to her, but she refuses to
Don't explain it to her, but to me, and explain it so
that I may understand. God forgive you, Nicholas, you have
brought a great deal of darkness into our lives. I feel as if I
were living in a museum; I look about me and don't understand
anything I see. This is torture. What on earth can an old man
like me do with you? Shall I challenge you to a duel?
There is no need of a duel. All you need is a head on
your shoulders and a knowledge of the Russian language.
SASHA [Walks up and down in great excitement] This is dreadful,
dreadful! Absolutely childish.
Listen to me, Nicholas; from your point of view what
you are doing is quite right and proper, according to the rules
of psychology, but I think this affair is a scandal and a great
misfortune. I am an old man; hear me out for the last time. This
is what I want to say to you: calm yourself; look at things
simply, as every one else does; this is a simple world. The
ceiling is white; your boots are black; sugar is sweet. You love
Sasha and she loves you. If you love her, stay with her; if you
don't, leave her. We shan't blame you. It is all perfectly
simple. You are two healthy, intelligent, moral young people;
thank God, you both have food and clothing--what more do you
want? What if you have no money? That is no great
misfortune--happiness is not bought with wealth. Of course your
estate is mortgaged, Nicholas, as I know, and you have no money
to pay the interest on the debt, but I am Sasha's father. I
understand. Her mother can do as she likes--if she won't give any
money, why, confound her, then she needn't, that's all! Sasha has
just said that she does not want her part of it. As for your
principles, Schopenhauer and all that, it is all folly. I have
one hundred thousand roubles in the bank. [Looking around him]
Not a soul in the house knows it; it was my grandmother's money.
That shall be for you both. Take it, give Matthew two thousand--
Listen to me, poor old friend. I shall not try to
explain myself to you. I shall not tell you whether I am honest
or a rascal, healthy or mad; you wouldn't understand me. I was
young once; I have been eager and sincere and intelligent. I have
loved and hated and believed as no one else has. I have worked
and hoped and tilted against windmills with the strength of
ten--not sparing my strength, not knowing what life was. I
shouldered a load that broke my back. I drank, I worked, I
excited myself, my energy knew no bounds. Tell me, could I have
done otherwise? There are so few of us and so much to do, so much
to do! And see how cruelly fate has revenged herself on me, who
fought with her so bravely! I am a broken man. I am old at
thirty. I have submitted myself to old age. With a heavy head and
a sluggish mind, weary, used up, discouraged, without faith or
love or an object in life, I wander like a shadow among other
men, not knowing why I am alive or what it is that I want. Love
seems to me to be folly, caresses false. I see no sense in
working or playing, and all passionate speeches seem insipid and
tiresome. So I carry my sadness with me wherever I go; a cold
weariness, a discontent, a horror of life. Yes, I am lost for
ever and ever. Before you stands a man who at thirty-five is
disillusioned, wearied by fruitless efforts, burning with shame,
and mocking at his own weakness. Oh, how my pride rebels against
it all! What mad fury chokes me! [He staggers] I am
staggering--my strength is failing me. Where is Matthew? Let him
take me home.
[Voices from the ball-room] The best man has arrived!
In an old worn-out coat--without gloves! How many
scornful glances I get for it! Such silly jokes and vulgar grins!
Enter BORKIN quickly. He is carrying a bunch of flowers and is in
a dress-coat. He wears a flower in his buttonhole.
This is dreadful! Where is he? [To IVANOFF] They have
been waiting for you for a long time in the church, and here you
are talking philosophy! What a funny chap you are. Don't you know
you must not go to church with the bride, but alone, with me? I
shall then come back for her. Is it possible you have not
understood that? You certainly are an extraordinary man!
SASHA [To LVOFF] Why, oh why, have you insulted him? Gentlemen,
I beg you, let him tell me why he has insulted him.
Miss Sasha, I have not insulted him without cause. I came
here as a man of honour, to open your eyes, and I beg you to
listen to what I have to tell you.
What can you possibly have to tell me? That you are a man
of honour? The whole world knows it. You had better tell me on
your honour whether you understand what you have done or not. You
have come in here as a man of honour and have insulted him so
terribly that you have nearly killed me. When you used to follow
him like a shadow and almost keep him from living, you were
convinced that you were doing your duty and that you were acting
like a man of honour. When you interfered in his private affairs,
maligned him and criticised him; when you sent me and whomever
else you could, anonymous letters, you imagined yourself to be an
honourable man! And, thinking that that too was honourable, you,
a doctor, did not even spare his dying wife or give her a
moment's peace from your suspicions. And no matter what violence,
what cruel wrong you committed, you still imagined yourself to be
an unusually honourable and clear-sighted man.
IVANOFF [Laughing] This is not a wedding, but a parliament!
SASHA [To LVOFF] Now, think it over! Do you see what sort of a
man you are, or not? Oh, the stupid, heartless people! [Takes IVANOFF by the hand] Come
away from here Nicholas! Come, father, let us go!
Where shall we go? Wait a moment. I shall soon put an
end to the whole thing. My youth is awake in me again; the former
Ivanoff is here once more.