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Virgin Soil Summary

(Essentials of European Literature)

Miss Mashurin and Ostrodumoff, both Socialists, were waiting in Nezhdanoff’s room in a poor quarter of St. Petersburg. A letter from a high leader had made a conference necessary, for another vague revolutionary project was under way. While they waited they were joined by Pahklin, a sly hanger-on of the intelligentsia, who wanted to discuss a critical matter with Nezhdanoff the student.

Nezhdanoff was late, but when he arrived, they plunged into a discussion of their project. They needed money for a trip to Moscow, and they were all poor. Nezhdanoff, however, was the illegitimate son of a nobleman, and in a pinch he could secure small sums of money from his father. He promised to have the required sum the next day.

The conspirators were interrupted by the arrival of the elegant and noble Sipyagin, who had sat next to Nezhdanoff at the theater. A dilettante liberal, he had been attracted by the opinions and views of the poor student, and he came to offer Nezhdanoff a post as tutor to his young son at a salary of a hundred roubles a month. Sipyagin was generous, even offering to pay a month’s salary in advance. So with the blessing of his Socialist comrades, Nezhdanoff accepted the offer and went to live on the country estate of Sipyagin.

The household of Sipyagin was interesting, and after Nezhdanoff got over his shyness, he made good progress with nine-year-old Kolya, his student. For a time, Nezhdanoff was content to live a leisurely life, for his duties were light. Although she scarcely spoke to him, Marianna, the penniless niece, greatly attracted Nezhdanoff. She was evidently unhappy, and she was abrupt and forthright in her attitude toward her rich relatives.

Valentina, Sipyagin’s wife, was a beautiful woman without much heart. Although she herself was coldly virtuous, she enjoyed snaring men to see them dance at her bidding. She invited Nezhdanoff to her boudoir ostensibly to discuss her son’s education, but in reality to captivate the young tutor. When he failed to respond to her attractions, she was annoyed at his indifference. Then it became apparent that Nezhdanoff was attracted to Marianna, and Valentina became jealous.

Markeloff, Valentina’s brother, came to visit the family. He was a savage, intense man who expressed his liberal opinions with great emphasis and alienated most of the company with his boorish ways. During a walk Nezhdanoff surprised Marianna and Markeloff in a lonely wood; he heard Marianna refuse something vigorously. Later, in an impulsive outburst, Marianna confided that Markeloff had proposed marriage.

This confidence strengthened the bond between Marianna and Nezhdanoff. That evening the tutor was surprised by an invitation to Markeloff’s room. There he learned that Markeloff was a party member and a vigorous exponent of immediate action, who had been ordered to question Nezhdanoff about party activities on Sipyagin’s estate and in his factory. Nezhdanoff had done nothing to stir up discontent among the peasants or workers, for he had been apathetic toward socialism for some time. Under Markeloff’s urging he resolved to spread propaganda among the workmen.

Nezhdanoff confided his aims and problems to Marianna, who became a ready convert to revolutionary thought, her zeal surpassing his. Nezhdanoff and Markeloff then visited some of the party members in the neighborhood, among them a man named Solomin.

Solomin was a factory manager and a good one—a calm, taciturn man of great strength of character. Sipyagin had tried to hire him to manage Sipyagin’s own factory, but Solomin had refused. He was content where he was and could scarcely conceal his contempt for the whole aristocracy. Sipyagin had taken the refusal with bad grace and now began to show suspicion of Nezhdanoff.

From time to time Marianna and Nezhdanoff met in her room at night to discuss socialism. Although they were in love, they did not act as lovers. Valentina spied on the girl constantly. She made insinuations about her...

(The entire section is 1,205 words.)