Olenka Plemyannikova is a lonely spinster who is constantly in love with someone or other. She finds it difficult to live without loving someone; she turns pale, loses weight, and is unable to form opinions of her own. When the reader encounters her at the beginning of the story, she has been infatuated with her French teacher, loved her father dearly, and is now ready for marriage. She is young, healthy, and well liked by all, men and women, young and old.
Ivan Kukin, the manager of the local theater and amusement park, lives by Olenka and converses with her regularly. He constantly complains about the indifference of the ignorant public to good theater, the rain and poor weather that keep people from the outdoor amusement park, his financial worries, and life in general. Olenka feels sorry for the hapless Kukin and gradually falls in love with him. They marry, and Olenka begins to help him in his business affairs. Because she has no opinions of her own, she merely repeats whatever her husband says about the public’s relation to good theater and she faithfully echoes his other complaints. She states her feeling that the theater is the most important thing in the world and necessary for all people. Optimistic Olenka prospers in her new life and radiates health while her incurably pessimistic husband continues to complain.
During Lent, Kukin goes to Moscow to book acts for his summer repertoire at the theater. Olenka is beside herself without her husband; she is unable to sleep and compares herself to a hen in the henhouse without a rooster. Kukin dies unexpectedly in Moscow; Olenka returns from his funeral and enters a period of deep mourning, sobbing so loudly that her neighbors can hear her grief.
Three months later, Olenka walks home from church with Vasily Andreich Pustovalov, and a friendship blooms. At loose ends without someone to love, Olenka now fills a void in her life as the courtship progresses. Olenka and Pustovalov marry and the dutiful wife begins to assist her husband...
(The entire section is 826 words.)