Katerina Maslova, better known as Katusha, is being led out of prison to attend her trial for murder. Of illegitimate birth, she had been taken in by Sophia and Mary Ivanovna, well-to-do sisters who had cared for her and begun to educate her. When she turned sixteen, Katusha had been seduced by her guardians’ nephew, Prince Dmitri Ivanovitch Nekhludoff. Learning that she was to become a mother, Katusha stayed with a village midwife until her child was born. The baby was taken to the foundling hospital, where it soon died, and Katusha, after a series of tribulations, became a prostitute. When she is twenty-six years old, she is accused of complicity in the murder of a Siberian merchant.
While Katusha is being led into court, Nekhludoff, her seducer, lays in bed considering his position. He had recently been having an affair with a married woman, even though he is almost engaged to marry Princess Mary Korchagin. He also thinks of having given away some of his lands to the peasants. Having arisen, Nekhludoff is reminded that he has to serve that day as a juror in the criminal court.
In court, Nekhludoff is astonished to see that the defendant is Katusha and that she is accused of having helped rob and poison the merchant from Siberia. The trial is disgusting because the officials are vain, stupid, and more concerned with formalities and their own self-interest than with a fair trial for the accused.
When Nekhludoff was a student at the university, he had spent his summers with his aunts, and it was there that he had first come to know and to like Katusha. He had given her books to read and had eventually fallen in love with her. When he next returned, three years later, military life had made him depraved and selfish, and he seduced her. On the following day, he had given her money and left for his regiment. When he returned after the war, he had learned that she had become pregnant and had gone away. Somewhat relieved, he had tried to forget her.
Now, at the trial, the sight of Katusha fills Nekhludoff with a mixture of loathing and pity. At first, he is afraid that his relation to her will be discovered, but Katusha does not recognize him, and gradually he begins to feel remorse for the life to which he has driven her. Because of a careless legalistic oversight by the jury, Katusha, though innocent, is sentenced to four years of hard labor in Siberia. Driven by his uneasy conscience, Nekhludoff goes to a lawyer to discuss the possibility of an appeal.
Later, when Nekhludoff is with the Korchagins, he realizes that their lives are empty and degenerate. He feels the need to cleanse his soul and decides that he will marry Katusha and give up his land.
When Nekhludoff goes to the prison and reveals his identity to Katusha, he is treated coldly by her. She also seems proud of her occupation as a prostitute, because it alone gives some meaning to her otherwise empty life. The next time he visits her, she behaves coarsely to him, and when he says that he wants to marry her, she becomes angry with him and returns to her cell.
On his next visit to the prison, Nekhludoff is told that Katusha cannot be seen because she had become drunk on vodka...
(The entire section is 1315 words.)