Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Matthias Boryna is a prominent, relatively well-off peasant in Lipka, Poland. Age sixty, twice widowed, he remarries despite the opposition of his children, who worry about their inheritance. Yanga, his new wife, is dissatisfied with having an older husband and begins an affair with Antek, one of Matthias’s sons. Disheartened, Matthias invites Antek’s wife, Hanka, and their children to live with him. The conflicts between the peasants and landowners heat up over the timber from a forested area. During a violent episode over the wood, Matthew is wounded. During a long illness, it is Hanka rather than Yanga who cares for him until his death.
Yagna, Matthias’s wife, is a beautiful but self-centered young woman who has numerous affairs after their marriage. Matthias suffers from the humiliation of her promiscuity, including her affair with Antek. When she pursues a seminary student, the villagers turn on her and drive her out of town.
Antek Boryna, Matthias’s son, falls in love with Yagna despite her reputation. Once their affair begins, he leaves his family. He stands up for his father by killing the man who injured him but is imprisoned for the crime. While he is in jail, his father dies, so he returns as the new master of the family farm.
Hanka, Antek’s wife, raises their children alone after he leaves but is then supported by his father. She takes on administration of the farm and Matthias’s resources. After his father dies, Antek returns, and she takes him back. Her virtues, including love of the land, are clearly contrasted with Yagna’s flaws.
The Voyt, the corrupt village headman, is one of Yagna’s many lovers. He is later apprehended for stealing village funds.
Yanek, a devout young man who plans to be a priest, is an object of Yagna’s desire. He not only resists her but rejects the gossip about her reputation.
Roch is a nomadic holy man and healer. He teaches the Polish peasants to read in their own language, which earns him the Russians’ enmity.
The blacksmith, who is married to Antek’s sister, covets the family farm. He tries to take over the farm while Antek is in prison.