Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Astrov, the doctor, calls to attend the retired Professor Serebryakov, who complained all night of pains in his legs. To the doctor’s annoyance, the professor leaves for a long walk with his wife, Yelena, and his daughter, Sonya. Astrov tells the old nurse, Marina, that he is so overworked he feels a hundred years old. He also feels that, having worked with weak, discontented people for years, he became as strange as they. Caring for nothing and no one, he wonders if people living a hundred years hence will remember men like him who struggled to beat out the road for them.
Marina explains that the professor completely changed the routine of the house, so that everyone waits on him and routine work is fitted in where possible. Ivan Voynitsky enviously describes the fortunate life the professor has. The professor lives on the estate of his first wife, whose mother dotes on his every word. He is retired now and writing as he pleases; he has a new and beautiful young wife to cater to him. It is, however, Ivan, Sonya’s Uncle Vanya, who blindly follows his mother’s ideals and makes the estate a splendidly productive place that can supply all the professor’s needs. Only recently did Ivan realize how selfish the professor is. Ivan tells his mother that he can no longer bear to hear of the pamphlets that were her life for the last fifty years.
When the professor comes in, he immediately excuses himself to return to his writing. Yelena,...
(The entire section is 1108 words.)
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The play opens on a cloudy afternoon in a garden behind the family estate of Serebryakov. Marina, the old nurse, is knitting a stocking, while Astrov, the doctor who has been called to tend to one of Professor Serebryakov’s ailments, is pacing nearby. Astrov laments that he’s aged tending the sick and that life ‘‘itself is boring, stupid, dirty.’’ Having no one to love, he complains that his emotions have grown numb. When he worries that people won’t remember him, Marina answers: ‘‘People won’t remember but God will remember.’’
When Vanya enters, yawning from a nap, the three complain about how all order has been disrupted since the professor and his wife, Yelena, arrived. As they’re talking, Serebryakov, Yelena, Sonya, and Telegin return from a walk. Vanya calls the professor ‘‘a learned old dried mackerel,’’ criticizing him for his pomposity and the smallness of his achievements. Vanya’s mother, Maria Vasilyevna, objects to her son’s derogatory comments. Vanya also praises the professor’s wife, Yelena, for her beauty, arguing that faithfulness to an old man like Serebryakov means silencing youth and emotions—an immoral waste of vitality. Act I closes with Yelena becoming exasperated as Vanya declares his love for her.
It is evening and this act is set in Serebryakov’s dining room. Before going to bed, Serebryakov complains of being in pain...
(The entire section is 1253 words.)