(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

In her drawing room, Natalya, a twenty-nine-year-old wife and mother, is talking confidentially to her good friend, Rakitin. She admits that her husband, Islayev, has one fault: He goes into things too enthusiastically. He is with his workmen constantly, and he himself demonstrates how they should do their work. Her complaint ends, and she asks Rakitin to continue reading to her. She really has no interest in the book, but it is being discussed by her friends.

The book is read aloud in the big room, where a card game is in progress. Schaaf, the German tutor, has been winning until Lizaveta, companion to Islayev’s mother, makes a mistake; the German grumbles at her ineptness. The doctor, Shpigelsky, breezes in and, as is his wont, tells a long, pointless story. He had really come to talk privately with Natalya about a friend of his who wishes to marry Vera. Natalya, claiming that at seventeen Vera is too young, puts off a definite answer.

Kolya, Natalya’s little son, runs up, full of news about his tutor Belyayev’s doings. The energetic young tutor, who had been there nearly a month, is making a kite. Vera, also coming from play, tells how Belyayev can climb trees as nimbly as a squirrel. Islayev tries to induce Natalya and Rakitin to look over his new blowing machine, but only Rakitin is interested.

As the room gradually clears, Natalya has a chance to talk with Belyayev at some length. She compliments him on his good singing voice and asks about his family. She is touched to learn that his mother is dead and that he has a sister also named Natalya. In spite of her friendly attitude, Belyayev is nervous and persists in being formal and polite with her.

In the garden, Katya, the maid, is listening to the butler’s proposal. She has some trouble in fending him off, and the arrival of Schaaf makes matters a little more complicated. Schaaf archly sings a love song and tries to kiss her. She escapes by running into a raspberry patch. Vera and Belyayev call her out after Schaaf leaves. They are working on the kite and, as they work, they companionably share Katya’s raspberries. Belyayev tells Vera much of his past life, of his studies in Moscow, of his poverty. Vera describes her loneliness without friends her own age. Interrupted by the arrival of Natalya and Rakitin, they slip out of the garden.

Natalya professes to Rakitin her uneasiness about Vera; the girl is very young and probably should not be so much alone with Belyayev. Rakitin begins to suspect what is happening. Natalya has always been so frank and tender with him. Now she seems preoccupied and talks distractedly. She even accuses him of having a languid mind, and she no longer cares for his descriptions of nature. Rakitin seeks out Belyayev to get better acquainted with him. He is troubled when he discovers that the young tutor...

(The entire section is 1166 words.)