Ivanov Summary

Ivanov is a play by Anton Chekhov in which the melancholic Ivanov falls in love with his friend’s daughter, Sasha, while his wife, Anna, is dying of consumption. 

  • Anna’s physician informs Ivanov that Anna’s condition is worsening; Ivanov, however, spends his evenings at his friend’s house instead of with his wife. 
  • At a party, Anna witnesses Ivanov kissing Sasha. In a fit of rage that night, Ivanov reveals to Anna that she is dying. 
  • A year later, Anna has died, and it is Sasha and Ivanov’s wedding day. Ivanov’s melancholy has reached its climax, and after attempting to call off the wedding, he commits suicide.

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Last Updated on March 17, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1197

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Ivanov by Russian writer Anton Chekhov is a four-act tragic play that opens in the countryside home of its titular character, Nicholas Ivanov, a member of nineteenth-century central Russia’s minor aristocracy. Ivanov is married to Anna, a Jewish woman, whose name was Sarah Abramson before marriage. In marrying Ivanov, a Christian member of the Russian orthodox church, Anna has left her faith as well as her disapproving parents.

Act 1 begins with Michael Borkin, Ivanov’s estate manager, requesting that Ivanov give him money to pay their workmen wages. However, Ivanov suggests Borkin wait until Ivanov gets his salary, which suggests that the Ivanovs are struggling financially. The two are joined by Eugene Lvov, a physician, and Count Shabelski, a misanthropic older relative of Ivanov’s who lives with him and Anna. As Anna opens a window to peer into the garden where the men are talking, Ivanov scolds her for exposing herself to the cold.

The reason for Ivanov’s urgent injunction becomes clear when Lvov tells him that Anna’s “consumption,” has worsened. Lvov suggests that Ivanov take Anna to Crimea, which has a well-equipped sanatorium for tuberculosis patients. However, Ivanov dismisses the idea, since he cannot afford to travel. Ivanov seems curiously dispassionate about his wife’s worsening condition while Shabelski dismisses Lvov’s diagnosis, claiming the doctor is a “charlatan.” Thus, the indifferent attitude of both the men she lives with foreshadows Anna’s fate in the play. Though Ivanov’s melancholy and apathy paint him in an unfavourable light, he is, at least, honest. Ivanov confesses to Lvov that he no longer feels either love or pity for his wife, “even though she is… an exceptional woman.” Ivanov’s admission disgusts the upright Lvov.

To escape the stifling atmosphere at his home, Ivanov spends most of his evenings at the house of his old friend Paul Lebedev. However, Ivanov’s relationship with Lebedev is complicated by the fact that he owes Lebedev’s wife, Zinaida, a considerable sum of money. As Ivanov prepares to head off to the Lebedevs’ house, Anna implores him to stay back, but Ivanov refuses, claiming he needs to get away because his dislike for Anna intensifies in the evenings. Shabelski, on the other hand, manages to coax Ivanov to take him along. Left alone with Lvov, Anna decides to follow Ivanov to the Lebedevs’.

Act 2 takes place at the Lebedev home, where many guests, including the wealthy widow Martha Babakina, are talking and playing card games. It is the birthday of Sasha, Lebedev’s daughter. The conversation soon turns to Ivanov. Zinaida expresses the popular opinion that Ivanov’s indifference for Anna stems from the fact that her wealthy parents have denied her a dowry for marrying a Christian. Repelled by the gossip, Sasha expresses the view that despite their own shortcomings, people are too quick to judge complex people like Ivanov. Soon Shabelski, Ivanov, and Borkin join the Lebedevs.

Sasha and Ivanov withdraw to the garden, where Ivanov reveals that he feels little solace even when surrounded by people. Sasha tells him that her love can cure him of his bleak mood and that they should “run off” together to America. Ivanov tells Sasha not to romanticize him, excusing himself briefly to speak to Sasha’s mother, Zinaida, so that he can request an extension on the payment he owes her. Zinaida balks at the request, leaving Ivanov crestfallen.

Anna and Lvov arrive at the Lebedev home, looking for Ivanov. Lvov finds the evening’s atmosphere licentious, chastising Anna for bringing him to a “den of wolves.” Almost as if to prove Lvov’s misgivings, Shabelski and Borkin make an appearance on stage, lasciviously flirting with Babakina. Borkin presses for her to marry the malleable Shabelski so that Babakina can be a “countess.”

Meanwhile, Ivanov is tempted and tormented by Sasha’s declaration of love for him. As Sasha asks Ivanov once again to take her away, his depression lightens briefly. Sensing a renewed “freshness” and hope, Ivanov kisses Sasha. However, when he turns his head, he finds, much to his horror, that Anna has witnessed the kiss.

In act 3, Borkin, Shabelski, Lebedev, and Lvov are gathered in Ivanov’s study. Lvov discloses to Lebedev that Anna is now “very ill.” Despite his wife’s deteriorating condition, Ivanov is once again away.

When he comes home, Ivanov is annoyed to see his visitors turn his library into a “bar-room.” Lebedev tells Ivanov the purpose of his visit: Zinaida wants Ivanov to pay the interest on his loan. Embarrassed, Ivanov tells Lebedev that he has no money to pay back the interest.

After Lebedev leaves, Lvov accuses Ivanov of deliberately hastening his wife’s death through his indifference so he can marry Sasha and inherit her fortune. Outraged, Ivanov asserts that Lvov cannot be a good physician since he has a very limited understanding of human nature.

Unexpectedly, Sasha shows up at Ivanov’s house, troubled by his long absence from the Lebedevs’. Ivanov asks her to leave, since her presence may agitate Anna. Though Ivanov ostentatiously dismisses Sasha, it is clear her presence has had a salutary effect on him. However, matters come to a head when Anna discovers that Sasha has visited Ivanov. She has, until this point, been docile to a fault, but Anna finally expresses her feelings of betrayal to Ivanov, stating that he has deceived her all along and is abandoning her because of her lack of wealth. Ivanov is stung by Anna’s words, and in a fit of vengeance, he tells her that she is dying.

Act 4 begins a year later; it is the wedding day of Ivanov and Sasha at the Lebedev house. As the wedding guests walk around the ballroom, Lvov rues the injustice of fate that Ivanov should find happiness with Sasha after having caused Anna’s death. Lvov decides to confront Ivanov. Meanwhile, Sasha tells her father about her second thoughts on marrying the dour Ivanov, who hasn’t “smiled or looked straight” into her eyes since their engagement.

Lebedev advises Sasha to “give him up,” since he too doubts the alliance between a youthful idealist like Sasha and a depressive cynic like Ivanov. However, Sasha dismisses the suggestion, stating that her company will cure Ivanov of his melancholy.

Shabelski, who himself is to be married to Babakina, adds to the gloom that shrouds the wedding day by weeping. In an uncharacteristic reveal, he states that he is crying because he misses Anna.

Moments before the ceremony is to commence, Ivanov meets Sasha. Stating that his mind is finally as “clear as [her] conscience,” Ivanov desires to call off the wedding and spare Sasha from his depressive nature. Adding to the confusion, the couple are soon joined by Lebedev, Borkin, Shabelski, and, finally, Lvov, making it what Ivanov sarcastically calls a “parliament.”

Lvov confronts Ivanov, denouncing him for his ill treatment of Anna. Borkin, Shabelski, and Sasha jump to Ivanov’s defence, and Sasha asks him to accompany her to the chapel to get married. In the play’s sudden, tragic conclusion, Ivanov pulls out a revolver to show everyone “what honor is” and shoots himself.

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