"The Schoolmistress" Summary

The Schoolmistress” is a short story about Marya Vassilyevna, a schoolteacher in a small Russian village.

  • Marya rides back to the village after collecting her pay in town, ruminating on her dull, lonely life and ignoring the attempts of Semyon, the cart driver, to make conversation.
  • Hanov, a rich landowner, rides alongside them for a while. Marya briefly imagines marrying him before returning to her hopeless thoughts.
  • At the train platform, Marya sees a woman who resembles her mother and for a moment is filled with joy as she remembers her past in Moscow.

Summary

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Anton Chekhov's “The Schoolmistress” begins on a bright spring morning. Marya Vassilyevna is riding in a cart driven by an old man named Semyon. She has been the village schoolmistress for thirteen long, dull years, and she has gone up to town for her pay many times. Now she is returning to the village, but she notices nothing of the beauty of nature around her. Her only thought is to finish her journey as quickly as possible.

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Marya feels as though she has always lived in this muddy, depressing country. She has lost touch with her past and no longer thinks of her dead parents, the life she had in Moscow, or the brother who no longer writes to her. Even her mother's picture is dull and faded.

Semyon attempts conversation, speaking of a government clerk caught in a plot against Moscow's mayor. Marya does not care and returns to thinking about her school and examinations. Just then, the landowner Hanov rides up in his four-horse carriage. He recognizes Marya, for he was once an examiner at the school, and he greets her politely. Marya thinks Hanov is attractive, but she also notices his listlessness and recalls a rumor that he drinks. Hanov tells Marya that he is going to visit a friend, whom he does not expect to find at home.

The cart and the carriage travel together through mud, snow, and water, and Marya's thoughts return to her school. She reflects in annoyance on how difficult it is to contact the board, how rudely the watchman behaves, how incompetent the school inspector was on his last visit, and how the school guardian is rude and illiterate. She has no one to turn to for help with these grievances.

In the midst of these troubled thoughts, Marya suddenly appreciates Hanov's handsome countenance. She cannot understand why he would live all alone in this bleak place when he has the means to go elsewhere or even to build a better road. She thinks that he really does not understand life or the way things are in this backwater country. He has even given the school the useless gift of globes.

Hanov laughs as his coachman and Semyon struggle through the mud. The cart almost upsets, and the horse struggles. Semyon snaps at Hanov, telling him he should stay home. Hanov responds that he does not like staying at home, and Marya receives a sudden insight that Hanov is “touched by decay” and on his way to ruin. She thinks that if she were his wife or sister, she would save him from that ruin. She is struck by the idea of being his wife, but such a thing is impossible in the current situation. Marya laments that God could give such beauty and charm to a useless, weak person.

Hanov soon turns off to continue his journey, and Marya is left to think of both her school and its troubles and of love that can never be. Her life now is lonely, for she lives in a little room, constantly struggling for firewood, suffering from ill health, and fearing that she is growing old, ugly, and awkward. She almost grovels before the school board and completely lacks affection or sympathy from any acquaintance. She cannot even enjoy...

(The entire section contains 882 words.)

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