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Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov, 1896


VOYNITSKY'S bedroom, which is also his office. A table stands near the window; on it are ledgers, letter scales, and papers of every description. Near by stands a smaller table belonging to ASTROV, with his paints and drawing materials alongside them a portfolio. On the wall hangs a cage containing a starling. There is also a map of Africa on the wall, obviously of no use to anybody. There is a large sofa covered with oilcloth. A door to the left leads into an inner room; one to the right leads into the front hall, and before this door lies a mat for the peasants with their muddy boots to stand on. It is an autumn evening. The silence is profound. TELEGIN and MARINA are sitting facing one another, winding wool.

TELEGIN. Be quick, Marina, or we shall be called away to say good-bye before you have finished. The carriage has already been ordered.

MARINA. [Trying to wind more quickly] There's only a little left.

TELEGIN. They are going to Kharkov to live.

MARINA. They do well to go.

TELEGIN. They have been frightened. The professor's wife won't stay here an hour longer. "If we are going at all, let's be off," says she, "we shall go to Kharkov and look about us, and then we can send for our things." They are travelling light. It seems, Marina, that fate has decreed for them not to live here.

MARINA. And quite rightly. What a storm they've raised this afternoon -- and all that shooting! It was shameful!

TELEGIN. It was indeed. The scene was worthy of the brush of Ayvazovsky.

MARINA. I wish I'd never laid eyes on them. [A pause] Now we'll have things as they were again: breakfast at eight, dinner at one, and supper in the evening; everything in order as decent folks, as Christians like to have it. [Sighs] It's a long time since I have eaten noodles, old sinner that I am.

TELEGIN. Yes, we haven't had noodles for ages. [A pause] Not for ages. As I was going through the village this morning, Marina, one of the shop-keepers called after me, "Hi! you hanger-on!" I felt it bitterly, I can tell you.

MARINA. Don't pay the least attention to them, my dear; we're all "hangers-on" in God's eyes. You and Sonya and all of us. Everyone must work, no one can sit idle. Where is Sonya?

TELEGIN. In the garden with the doctor, looking for Ivan. They fear he may lay violent hands on himself.

MARINA. Where's his pistol?

TELEGIN. [Whispers] I hid it in the cellar.

MARINA. [With a grin] What a sinful business!

VOYNITSKY and ASTROV come in from outside.

VOYNITSKY. Leave me alone! [To MARINA and TELEGIN] Go away! Go away and leave me to myself, at least for an hour. I won't have you watching me like this!

TELEGIN. Yes, yes, Vanya. [He goes out on tiptoe.]

MARINA. The gander cackles; ho! ho! ho!

[She gathers up her wool and goes out.]

VOYNITSKY. Leave me alone!

ASTROV. I would, with the greatest pleasure. I ought to have gone long ago, but I won't leave you until you have returned what you took from me.

VOYNITSKY. I took nothing from you.

ASTROV. I'm not jesting, don't detain me, I really must go.

VOYNITSKY. I took nothing of yours. [Both sit down]

ASTROV. You didn't? Very well, I'll have to wait a little longer, and then you'll have to forgive me if I resort to force. We'll have to bind you and search you. I mean what I say, I tell you.

VOYNITSKY. Do as you please. [A pause] Oh, to make such a fool of myself! To shoot twice and miss him both times! I'll never forgive myself.

ASTROV. When the impulse came to shoot, it would have been better if you had put a bullet through your own head.

VOYNITSKY. [Shrugging his shoulders] Strange! I attempted murder, and am not going to be arrested or brought to trial. That means they think me mad. [With a bitter laugh] Me! I'm mad, and those who hide their worthlessness, their dullness, their blatant heartlessness behind a professor's mask, are sane! Those who marry old men and then deceive them under the noses of all, are sane! I saw you kiss her; I saw you in each other's arms!

ASTROV. Yes, sir, I did kiss her, sir; so there. [He puts his thumb to his nose.]

VOYNITSKY. [His eyes on the door] No, it's the earth that is mad, because she still lets you exist.

ASTROV. That's nonsense.

VOYNITSKY. Well? Am I not a madman, and therefore irresponsible? Haven't I the right to talk nonsense?

ASTROV. That line's old as time! You're not mad; you're simply a ridiculous fool. You're full of beans. I used to think every fool was out of his senses, but now I see that lack of sense is a man's normal state, and you're perfectly normal.

VOYNITSKY. [Covers his face with his hands] Oh! If you knew how ashamed I am! These piercing pangs of shame are like nothing on earth. [In an agonised voice] I can't endure them! [He leans against the table] What can I do? What can I do?

ASTROV. Nothing.

VOYNITSKY. You must give me something! Oh, my God! I'm forty-seven years old. I may live to sixty; I still have thirteen years before me; an eternity! How will I be able to endure life for thirteen years? What shall I do? How can I fill them? Oh, don't you see? [He presses ASTROV'S hand convulsively] Don't you see, if only I could live the rest of my life in some new way! If I could only wake some still, bright morning and feel that life had begun again; that the past was forgotten and had vanished like smoke. [He weeps] Oh, to begin life anew! Tell me, tell me how to begin, what to begin with.

ASTROV. [Crossly] What nonsense! What sort of a new life can you and I look forward to? We can have no hope.


ASTROV. None. Of that I am convinced.

VOYNITSKY. Give me something at least. [He puts his hand to his heart] I feel such a burning pain here.

ASTROV. [Shouts angrily] Stop it! [Then, more gently] It may be that in one or two hundred years posterity, which will despise us for our blind and stupid lives, will find some road to happiness; but we -- you and I -- have but one hope, the hope that we may be visited by visions, perhaps by pleasant ones, as we lie resting in our graves. [Sighing] Yes, brother, there were only two respectable, intelligent men in this district, you and I. Ten years or so of this life of ours, this miserable life, have sucked us under. Its rotten atmosphere has poisoned our blood, and we have become as contemptible and petty as the rest. [With vigor] But don't keep trying to talk your way out of it! Give me what you took from me, will you?

VOYNITSKY. I took nothing from you.

ASTROV. You took a little bottle of morphine out of my medicine-case. [A pause] Listen! If you're positively determined to make an end to yourself, go into the woods and shoot yourself there. Give up the morphine, or there will be a lot of talk and guesswork; people will think I gave it to you. I don't like the idea of having to perform a postmortem on you. Do you think I should find it entertaining?

SONYA comes in.

VOYNITSKY. Leave me alone.

ASTROV. [To SONYA] Sonya, your uncle has stolen a bottle of morphine out of my medicine-case and won't give it back. Tell him that his behaviour is -- well, unwise. Besides, I haven't time for this, I must be going.

SONYA. Uncle Vanya, did you take the morphine? [A pause]

ASTROV. Yes, he took it. I'm absolutely sure.

SONYA. Give it back! Why do you want to frighten us? [Tenderly] Give it back, Uncle Vanya! My misfortune is perhaps even greater than yours, but I'm not plunged in despair. I endure my sorrow, and shall endure it until my life comes to a natural end. You must endure yours, too. [A pause] Give it back! [Kisses his hand] Dear, darling Uncle Vanya. Give it back! [She weeps] You are so good, I'm sure you'll have pity on us and give it back. You must endure your sorrow, Uncle Vanya; you must endure it.

VOYNITSKY takes a bottle from the drawer of the table and hands it to ASTROV.

VOYNITSKY. There it is! [To SONYA] And now, we must get to work at once; we must do something, or else I won't be able to endure it.

SONYA. Yes, yes, to work! As soon as we have seen them off we'll go to work. [She nervously straightens out the papers on the table] Everything is in a muddle!

ASTROV. [Putting the bottle in his case, which he straps together] Now I can be off.

HELENA comes in.

HELENA. Are you here, Ivan? We're leaving in a moment. Go to Alexander, he wants to speak to you.

SONYA. Go, Uncle Vanya. [She takes VOYNITSKY 'S arm] Come, you and papa must make peace and be friends; that is absolutely necessary.


HELENA. I'm going away. [She gives ASTROV her hand] Good-bye.

ASTROV. So soon?

HELENA. The carriage is waiting.

ASTROV. Good-bye.

HELENA. You promised me you'd go away yourself today.

ASTROV. I haven't forgotten. I'm going at once. [A pause] Are you frightened? [Takes her hand] Is it so terrible?


ASTROV. Couldn't you stay? Couldn't you? Tomorrow -- in the forest --

HELENA. No. It's all settled, and that's why I can look you so bravely in the face. Our departure is fixed. One thing I must ask of you: don't think too badly of me; I'd like you to respect me.

ASTROV. Ah! [With an impatient gesture] Stay, please stay! Confess that there is nothing for you to do in this world. You have no object in life; there's nothing to occupy your attention, and sooner or later your feelings must master you. It's inevitable. It would be better if it happened not in Kharkov or in Kursk, but here, in nature's lap. It would then at least be poetical, it's even beautiful in autumn. Here you have the forests, the houses half in ruins that Turgenev writes of.

HELENA. How comical you are! I'm angry with you and yet I'll always remember you with pleasure. You're interesting and original. You and I will never meet again, and so I'll tell you -- why should I conceal it? -- that I'm just a little in love with you. Come, one more shake of our hands, and then let's part good friends. Let's not bear each other any ill will.

ASTROV. [Having shaken hands] Yes, go. [Thoughtfully] You seem to be sincere and good, and yet there's something strangely disquieting about your personality. No sooner did you arrive here with your husband than every one whom you found busy and actively creating something was forced to drop his work and give himself up for the whole summer to your husband's gout and yourself. You and he have infected us with your idleness. I've been swept off my feet; I've not put my hand to a thing for weeks, during which sickness has been running its course unchecked among the people, and the peasants have been pasturing their cattle in my woods and newly-planted forests. Go where you will, you and your husband will always carry destruction in your train. I'm joking of course, and yet I'm strangely sure that had you stayed here we should have been overtaken by the most immense devastation. I'd have gone to my ruin, and you -- you would not have prospered. So off with you! Finita la comedia!

HELENA. [Snatching a pencil off ASTROV'S table, and hiding it with a quick movement] I'll take this pencil to remember you by!

ASTROV. How strange it is. We meet, and then suddenly it seems that we must part forever. That's the way in this world. As long as we are alone, before Uncle Vanya comes in with a bouquet -- allow me -- to kiss you good-bye -- may I? [He kisses her on the cheek] So! Splendid!

HELENA. I wish you every happiness. [She glances about her] For once in my life, I shall! and scorn the consequences! [She embraces him impetuously, and they quickly part] I must go.

ASTROV. Yes, go. If the carriage is there, then start right now.

HELENA. I think they're coming. [They stand listening.]

ASTROV. Finita!


SEREBRYAKOV. [To VOYNITSKY] Let's let bygones be bygones. I have gone through so much in the last few hours that I feel capable of writing a whole treatise on the conduct of life for the instruction of posterity. I gladly accept your apology, and myself ask your forgiveness. [He and VOYNITSKY kiss each other three times.]

VOYNITSKY. You'll be receiving the regular amount as before. Everything will be just the same.

HELENA embraces SONYA.


MME. VOYNITSKAYA. [Kissing him] Have your picture taken, Alexander, and send me one. You know how dear you are to me.

TELEGIN. Good-bye, your Excellency. Don't forget us.

SEREBRYAKOV. [Kissing his daughter] Good-bye, good-bye all. [Shaking hands with ASTROV] Many thanks for your pleasant company. I have a deep regard for your opinions and your enthusiasm, but let me, as an old man, give one word of advice at parting: do something, my friend! Work! Do something! [They all bow] Good luck to you all. [He goes out followed by MME. VOYNITSKAYA and SONYA.]

VOYNITSKY [Kissing HELENA'S hand fervently] Good-bye -- forgive me. I'll never see you again!

HELENA. [Touched] Good-bye, my dear.

She lightly kisses his head as he bends over her hand, and goes out.

ASTROV. [To TELEGIN] Tell them to bring my carriage around too, Waffles.

TELEGIN. All right, old man. [Goes out]

ASTROV and VOYNITSKY are left behind alone. ASTROV collects his paints and drawing materials on the table and packs them away in a box.

ASTROV. Why don't you go to see them off?

VOYNITSKY. Let them go! I -- I can't go out there. I feel too sad. I must go to work on something at once. To work! To work!

He rummages through his papers on the table. A pause.

The tinkling of bells is heard as the horses trot away.

ASTROV. They've gone! The professor, I suppose, is glad to go. He couldn't be tempted back now by a fortune.

MARINA comes in.

MARINA. They've gone. [She sits down in an arm-chair and knits her stocking.]

SONYA comes in.

SONYA. They've gone. [Wiping her eyes] God be with them. [To her uncle] And now, Uncle Vanya, let's do something!

VOYNITSKY. To work! To work!

SONYA. It's been a long, long time since you and I have sat together at this table. [She lights a lamp on the table] No ink! [She takes the inkstand to the cupboard and fills it from an ink-bottle] How sad it is to see them go!

MME. VOYNITSKAYA comes slowly in.

MME. VOYNITSKAYA. They have gone.

She sits down and at once becomes absorbed in her book.

SONYA sits down at the table and looks through an account book.

SONYA. First, Uncle Vanya, let's write up the accounts. They're in a dreadful state. Come on, begin. You take one and I'll take the other.

VOYNITSKY. In account with -- Mr. -- [They sit silently writing.]

MARINA. [Yawning] The sand-man has come.

ASTROV. How still it is. Their pens scratch, the cricket sings; it's so warm and comfortable. I hate to go. [The tinkling of bells is heard.]

ASTROV. My carriage has come. There now remains but to say good-bye to you, my friends, and to my table here, and then -- away! [He puts the map into the portfolio.]

MARINA. Don't hurry away; sit a little longer with us.

ASTROV. Impossible.

VOYNITSKY. [Writing] And carry forward from the old debt two roubles seventy-five --

The WORKMAN comes in.

WORKMAN. Your carriage is waiting, sir.

ASTROV. I heard it. [He hands the WORKMAN his medicine-case, portfolio, and suitcase] Look out, don't crush the portfolio!

WORKMAN. Very well, sir. [Goes out]

ASTROV. Well, now -- [Goes to say good-bye]

SONYA. When shall we see you again?

ASTROV. Hardly before next summer. Probably not this winter, though, of course, if anything should happen you'll let me know. [He shakes hands with them] Thank you for your kindness, for your hospitality, for everything! [He goes up to MARINA and kisses her head] Good-bye, old Nanny!

MARINA. Are you going without your tea?

ASTROV. I don't want any, Nanny.

MARINA. Won't you have a drop of vodka?

ASTROV. [Hesitatingly] Yes, I might.

MARINA goes out.

ASTROV. [After a pause] My trace horse has gone lame for some reason. I noticed it yesterday when Peter was taking him to water.

VOYNITSKY. You should have him re-shod.

ASTROV. I'll have to go around by the blacksmith's on my way home. It can't be avoided. [He stands looking up at the map of Africa hanging on the wall] I suppose it's roasting hot in Africa now.

VOYNITSKY. Yes, I suppose it is.

MARINA comes back carrying a tray on which are a glass of vodka and a piece of bread.

MARINA. Help yourself.

ASTROV drinks the vodka.

MARINA. To your good health, my dear! [She bows deeply] Eat your bread with it.

ASTROV. No, I like it so. And now, all the best to you! [To MARINA] You needn't come out to see me off, Nanny.

He goes out. SONYA follows him with a candle to light him to the carriage. MARINA sits down in her armchair.

VOYNITSKY. [Writing] On the 2d of February, twenty pounds of butter; on the 16th, twenty pounds of butter again. Buckwheat flour -- [A pause. Bells are heard tinkling.]

MARINA. He's gone. [A pause.]

SONYA comes in and sets the candle stick on the table.

SONYA. He has gone.

VOYNITSKY. [Adding on an abacus and writing] Total, fifteen -- twenty-five --

SONYA sits down and begins to write.

MARINA. [Yawning] Oh, ho! The Lord have mercy.

TELEGIN comes in on tiptoe, sits down near the door, and begins to tune his guitar.

VOYNITSKY. [To SONYA, stroking her hair] Oh, my child, I'm terribly depressed; if you only knew how miserable I am!

SONYA. What can we do? We must live our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, you and I shall see that bright and beautiful life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile -- and -- we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith. [SONYA kneels down before her uncle and lays her head on his hands. She speaks in a weary voice] We shall rest. [TELEGIN plays softly on the guitar] We shall rest. We shall hear the angels. We shall see heaven all shining with diamonds. We shall see all evil and all our pain sink away in the great compassion that shall enfold the world. Our life will be as peaceful and tender and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have faith. [She wipes away her tears with a handkerchief] My poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are crying! [Weeping] You have never known what happiness was, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait! We shall rest. [She embraces him] We shall rest! [The WATCHMAN'S rattle is heard in the garden; TELEGIN plays softly; MME. VOYNITSKAYA writes something on the margin of her pamphlet; MARINA knits her stocking] We shall rest!

The curtain slowly falls.



brush of Ayvazovsky: I. K. Ayvazovsky (1817-1900) painted stormy seas and naval battles, Chekhov visited his estate in 1888 and described him as an old man married to a young and very beautiful woman

You're full of beans: lit., "you're a clown full of peas"

Finita la comedia!: The comedy is over (Italian)

for your hospitality: lit., "for your bread and salt"

trace horse: In the Russian troika, or cart with three horses, the two outside horses are called trace horses

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