Chekhov - Uncle Vanya
The drawing-room of SEREBRAKOFF'S house. There are three doors:
one to the right, one to the left, and one in the centre of the
room. VOITSKI and SONIA are sitting down. HELENA is walking up
and down, absorbed in thought.
VOITSKI. We were asked by the professor to be here at one
o'clock. [Looks at his watch] It is now a quarter to one. It
seems he has some communication to make to the world.
HELENA. Probably a matter of business.
VOITSKI. He never had any business. He writes twaddle, grumbles,
and eats his heart out with jealousy; that's all he does.
SONIA. [Reproachfully] Uncle!
VOITSKI. All right. I beg your pardon. [He points to HELENA]
Look at her. Wandering up and down from sheer idleness. A sweet
HELENA. I wonder you are not bored, droning on in the same key
from morning till night. [Despairingly] I am dying of this
tedium. What shall I do?
SONIA. [Shrugging her shoulders] There is plenty to do if you
HELENA. For instance?
SONIA. You could help run this place, teach the children, care
for the sick--isn't that enough? Before you and papa came, Uncle
Vanya and I used to go to market ourselves to deal in flour.
HELENA. I don't know anything about such things, and besides,
they don't interest me. It is only in novels that women go out
and teach and heal the peasants; how can I suddenly begin to do
SONIA. How can you live here and not do it? Wait awhile, you
will get used to it all. [Embraces her] Don't be sad, dearest.
[Laughing] You feel miserable and restless, and can't seem to
fit into this life, and your restlessness is catching. Look at
Uncle Vanya, he does nothing now but haunt you like a shadow,
and I have left my work to-day to come here and talk with you. I
am getting lazy, and don't want to go on with it. Dr. Astroff
hardly ever used to come here; it was all we could do to
persuade him to visit us once a month, and now he has abandoned
his forestry and his practice, and comes every day. You must be
VOITSKI. Why should you languish here? Come, my dearest, my
beauty, be sensible! The blood of a Nixey runs in your veins.
Oh, won't you let yourself be one? Give your nature the reins
for once in your life; fall head over ears in love with some
other water sprite and plunge down head first into a deep pool,
so that the Herr Professor and all of us may have our hands free
HELENA. [Angrily] Leave me alone! How cruel you are! [She tries
to go out.]
VOITSKI. [Preventing her] There, there, my beauty, I apologise.
[He kisses her hand] Forgive me.
HELENA. Confess that you would try the patience of an angel.
VOITSKI. As a peace offering I am going to fetch some flowers
which I picked for you this morning: some autumn roses,
beautiful, sorrowful roses. [He goes out.]
SONIA. Autumn roses, beautiful, sorrowful roses!
[She and HELENA stand looking out of the window.]
HELENA. September already! How shall we live through the long
winter here? [A pause] Where is the doctor?
SONIA. He is writing in Uncle Vanya's room. I am glad Uncle
Vanya has gone out, I want to talk to you about something.
HELENA. About what?
SONIA. About what?
[She lays her head on HELENA'S breast.]
HELENA. [Stroking her hair] There, there, that will do. Don't,
SONIA. I am ugly!
HELENA. You have lovely hair.
SONIA. Don't say that! [She turns to look at herself in the
glass] No, when a woman is ugly they always say she has
beautiful hair or eyes. I have loved him now for six years, I
have loved him more than one loves one's mother. I seem to hear
him beside me every moment of the day. I feel the pressure of
his hand on mine. If I look up, I seem to see him coming, and as
you see, I run to you to talk of him. He is here every day now,
but he never looks at me, he does not notice my presence. It is
agony. I have absolutely no hope, no, no hope. Oh, my God! Give
me strength to endure. I prayed all last night. I often go up to
him and speak to him and look into his eyes. My pride is gone. I
am not mistress of myself. Yesterday I told Uncle Vanya I
couldn't control myself, and all the servants know it. Every one
knows that I love him.
HELENA. Does he?
SONIA. No, he never notices me.
HELENA. [Thoughtfully] He is a strange man. Listen, Sonia, will
you allow me to speak to him? I shall be careful, only hint. [A
pause] Really, to be in uncertainty all these years! Let me do
SONIA nods an affirmative.
HELENA. Splendid! It will be easy to find out whether he loves
you or not. Don't be ashamed, sweetheart, don't worry. I shall
be careful; he will not notice a thing. We only want to find out
whether it is yes or no, don't we? [A pause] And if it is no,
then he must keep away from here, is that so?
HELENA. It will be easier not to see him any more. We won't put
off the examination an instant. He said he had a sketch to show
me. Go and tell him at once that I want to see him.
SONIA. [In great excitement] Will you tell me the whole truth?
HELENA. Of course I will. I am sure that no matter what it is,
it will be easier for you to bear than this uncertainty. Trust
to me, dearest.
SONIA. Yes, yes. I shall say that you want to see his sketch.
[She starts out, but stops near the door and looks back] No, it
is better not to know--and yet--there may be hope.
HELENA. What do you say?
SONIA. Nothing. [She goes out.]
HELENA. [Alone] There is no greater sorrow than to know
another's secret when you cannot help them. [In deep thought] He
is obviously not in love with her, but why shouldn't he marry
her? She is not pretty, but she is so clever and pure and good,
she would make a splendid wife for a country doctor of his
years. [A pause] I can understand how the poor child feels. She
lives here in this desperate loneliness with no one around her
except these colourless shadows that go mooning about talking
nonsense and knowing nothing except that they eat, drink, and
sleep. Among them appears from time to time this Dr. Astroff, so
different, so handsome, so interesting, so charming. It is like
seeing the moon rise on a dark night. Oh, to surrender oneself
to his embrace! To lose oneself in his arms! I am a little in
love with him myself! Yes, I am lonely without him, and when I
think of him I smile. That Uncle Vanya says I have the blood of
a Nixey in my veins: "Give rein to your nature for once in your
life!" Perhaps it is right that I should. Oh, to be free as a
bird, to fly away from all your sleepy faces and your talk and
forget that you have existed at all! But I am a coward, I am
afraid; my conscience torments me. He comes here every day now.
I can guess why, and feel guilty already; I should like to fall
on my knees at Sonia's feet and beg her forgiveness, and weep.
ASTROFF comes in carrying a portfolio.
ASTROFF. How do you do? [Shakes hands with her] Do you want to
see my sketch?
HELENA. Yes, you promised to show me what you had been doing.
Have you time now?
ASTROFF. Of course I have!
He lays the portfolio on the table, takes out the sketch and
fastens it to the table with thumb-tacks.
ASTROFF. Where were you born?
HELENA. [Helping him] In St. Petersburg.
ASTROFF. And educated?
HELENA. At the Conservatory there.
ASTROFF. You don't find this life very interesting, I dare say?
HELENA. Oh, why not? It is true I don't know the country very
well, but I have read a great deal about it.
ASTROFF. I have my own desk there in Ivan's room. When I am
absolutely too exhausted to go on I drop everything and rush
over here to forget myself in this work for an hour or two. Ivan
and Miss Sonia sit rattling at their counting-boards, the
cricket chirps, and I sit beside them and paint, feeling warm
and peaceful. But I don't permit myself this luxury very often,
only once a month. [Pointing to the picture] Look there! That is
a map of our country as it was fifty years ago. The green tints,
both dark and light, represent forests. Half the map, as you
see, is covered with it. Where the green is striped with red the
forests were inhabited by elk and wild goats. Here on this lake,
lived great flocks of swans and geese and ducks; as the old men
say, there was a power of birds of every kind. Now they have
vanished like a cloud. Beside the hamlets and villages, you see,
I have dotted down here and there the various settlements,
farms, hermit's caves, and water-mills. This country carried a
great many cattle and horses, as you can see by the quantity of
blue paint. For instance, see how thickly it lies in this part;
there were great herds of them here, an average of three horses
to every house. [A pause] Now, look lower down. This is the
country as it was twenty-five years ago. Only a third of the map
is green now with forests. There are no goats left and no elk.
The blue paint is lighter, and so on, and so on. Now we come to
the third part; our country as it appears to-day. We still see
spots of green, but not much. The elk, the swans, the black-cock
have disappeared. It is, on the whole, the picture of a regular
and slow decline which it will evidently only take about ten or
fifteen more years to complete. You may perhaps object that it
is the march of progress, that the old order must give place to
the new, and you might be right if roads had been run through
these ruined woods, or if factories and schools had taken their
place. The people then would have become better educated and
healthier and richer, but as it is, we have nothing of the sort.
We have the same swamps and mosquitoes; the same disease and
want; the typhoid, the diphtheria, the burning villages. We are
confronted by the degradation of our country, brought on by the
fierce struggle for existence of the human race. It is the
consequence of the ignorance and unconsciousness of starving,
shivering, sick humanity that, to save its children,
instinctively snatches at everything that can warm it and still
its hunger. So it destroys everything it can lay its hands on,
without a thought for the morrow. And almost everything has
gone, and nothing has been created to take its place. [Coldly]
But I see by your face that I am not interesting you.
HELENA. I know so little about such things!
ASTROFF. There is nothing to know. It simply isn't interesting,
HELENA. Frankly, my thoughts were elsewhere. Forgive me! I want
to submit you to a little examination, but I am embarrassed and
don't know how to begin.
ASTROFF. An examination?
HELENA. Yes, but quite an innocent one. Sit down. [They sit
down] It is about a certain young girl I know. Let us discuss it
like honest people, like friends, and then forget what has
passed between us, shall we?
ASTROFF. Very well.
HELENA. It is about my step-daughter, Sonia. Do you like her?
ASTROFF. Yes, I respect her.
HELENA. Do you like her--as a woman?
ASTROFF. [Slowly] No.
HELENA. One more word, and that will be the last. You have not
ASTROFF. No, nothing.
HELENA. [Taking his hand] You do not love her. I see that in
your eyes. She is suffering. You must realise that, and not come
here any more.
ASTROFF. My sun has set, yes, and then I haven't the time.
[Shrugging his shoulders] Where shall I find time for such
things? [He is embarrassed.
HELENA. Bah! What an unpleasant conversation! I am as out of
breath as if I had been running three miles uphill. Thank
heaven, that is over! Now let us forget everything as if nothing
had been said. You are sensible. You understand. [A pause] I am
ASTROFF. If you had spoken a month ago I might perhaps have
considered it, but now--[He shrugs his shoulders] Of course, if
she is suffering--but I cannot understand why you had to put me
through this examination. [He searches her face with his eyes,
and shakes his finger at her] Oho, you are wily!
HELENA. What does this mean?
ASTROFF. [Laughing] You are a wily one! I admit that Sonia is
suffering, but what does this examination of yours mean? [He
prevents her from retorting, and goes on quickly] Please don't
put on such a look of surprise; you know perfectly well why I
come here every day. Yes, you know perfectly why and for whose
sake I come! Oh, my sweet tigress! don't look at me in that way;
I am an old bird!
HELENA. [Perplexed] A tigress? I don't understand you.
ASTROFF. Beautiful, sleek tigress, you must have your victims!
For a whole month I have done nothing but seek you eagerly. I
have thrown over everything for you, and you love to see it. Now
then, I am sure you knew all this without putting me through
your examination. [Crossing his arms and bowing his head] I
surrender. Here you have me--now, eat me.
HELENA. You have gone mad!
ASTROFF. You are afraid!
HELENA. I am a better and stronger woman than you think me.
Good-bye. [She tries to leave the room.]
ASTROFF. Why good-bye? Don't say good-bye, don't waste words.
Oh, how lovely you are--what hands! [He kisses her hands.]
HELENA. Enough of this! [She frees her hands] Leave the room!
You have forgotten yourself.
ASTROFF. Tell me, tell me, where can we meet to-morrow? [He puts
his arm around her] Don't you see that we must meet, that it is
He kisses her. VOITSKI comes in carrying a bunch of roses, and
stops in the doorway.
HELENA. [Without seeing VOITSKI] Have pity! Leave me, [lays her
head on ASTROFF'S shoulder] Don't! [She tries to break away from
ASTROFF. [Holding her by the waist] Be in the forest tomorrow at
two o'clock. Will you? Will you?
HELENA. [Sees VOITSKI] Let me go! [Goes to the window deeply
embarrassed] This is appalling!
VOITSKI. [Throws the flowers on a chair, and speaks in great
excitement, wiping his face with his handkerchief] Nothing--yes,
ASTROFF. The weather is fine to-day, my dear Ivan; the morning
was overcast and looked like rain, but now the sun is shining
again. Honestly, we have had a very fine autumn, and the wheat
is looking fairly well. [Puts his map back into the portfolio]
But the days are growing short.
HELENA. [Goes quickly up to VOITSKI] You must do your best; you
must use all your power to get my husband and myself away from
here to-day! Do you hear? I say, this very day!
VOITSKI. [Wiping his face] Oh! Ah! Oh! All right! I--Helena, I
HELENA. [In great agitation] Do you hear me? I must leave here
this very day!
SEREBRAKOFF, SONIA, MARINA, and TELEGIN come in.
TELEGIN. I am not very well myself, your Excellency. I have been
limping for two days, and my head--
SEREBRAKOFF. Where are the others? I hate this house. It is a
regular labyrinth. Every one is always scattered through the
twenty-six enormous rooms; one never can find a soul. [Rings]
Ask my wife and Madame Voitskaya to come here!
HELENA. I am here already.
SEREBRAKOFF. Please, all of you, sit down.
SONIA. [Goes up to HELENA and asks anxiously] What did he say?
HELENA. I'll tell you later.
SONIA. You are moved. [looking quickly and inquiringly into her
face] I understand; he said he would not come here any more. [A
pause] Tell me, did he?
SEREBRAKOFF. [To TELEGIN] One can, after all, become reconciled
to being an invalid, but not to this country life. The ways of
it stick in my throat and I feel exactly as if I had been
whirled off the earth and landed on a strange planet. Please be
seated, ladies and gentlemen. Sonia! [SONIA does not hear. She
is standing with her head bowed sadly forward on her breast]
Sonia! [A pause] She does not hear me. [To MARINA] Sit down too,
nurse. [MARINA sits down and begins to knit her stocking] I
crave your indulgence, ladies and gentlemen; hang your ears, if
I may say so, on the peg of attention. [He laughs.]
VOITSKI. [Agitated] Perhaps you do not need me--may I be
SEREBRAKOFF. No, you are needed now more than any one.
VOITSKI. What is it you want of me?
SEREBRAKOFF. You--but what are you angry about? If it is
anything I have done, I ask you to forgive me.
VOITSKI. Oh, drop that and come to business; what do you want?
MME. VOITSKAYA comes in.
SEREBRAKOFF. Here is mother. Ladies and gentlemen, I shall
begin. I have asked you to assemble here, my friends, in order
to discuss a very important matter. I want to ask you for your
assistance and advice, and knowing your unfailing amiability I
think I can count on both. I am a book-worm and a scholar, and
am unfamiliar with practical affairs. I cannot, I find, dispense
with the help of well-informed people such as you, Ivan, and
you, Telegin, and you, mother. The truth is, _manet omnes una
nox,_ that is to say, our lives are in the hands of God, and as
I am old and ill, I realise that the time has come for me to
dispose of my property in regard to the interests of my family.
My life is nearly over, and I am not thinking of myself, but I
have a young wife and daughter. [A pause] I cannot continue to
live in the country; we were not made for country life, and yet
we cannot afford to live in town on the income derived from this
estate. We might sell the woods, but that would be an expedient
we could not resort to every year. We must find some means of
guaranteeing to ourselves a certain more or less fixed yearly
income. With this object in view, a plan has occurred to me
which I now have the honour of presenting to you for your
consideration. I shall only give you a rough outline, avoiding
all details. Our estate does not pay on an average more than two
per cent on the money invested in it. I propose to sell it. If
we then invest our capital in bonds, it will earn us four to
five per cent, and we should probably have a surplus over of
several thousand roubles, with which we could buy a summer
cottage in Finland--
VOITSKI. Hold on! Repeat what you just said; I don't think I
heard you quite right.
SEREBRAKOFF. I said we would invest the money in bonds and buy a
cottage in Finland with the surplus.
VOITSKI. No, not Finland--you said something else.
SEREBRAKOFF. I propose to sell this place.
VOITSKI. Aha! That was it! So you are going to sell the place?
Splendid. The idea is a rich one. And what do you propose to do
with my old mother and me and with Sonia here?
SEREBRAKOFF. That will be decided in due time. We can't do
everything at once.
VOITSKI. Wait! It is clear that until this moment I have never
had a grain of sense in my head. I have always been stupid
enough to think that the estate belonged to Sonia. My father
bought it as a wedding present for my sister, and I foolishly
imagined that as our laws were made for Russians and not Turks,
my sister's estate would come down to her child.
SEREBRAKOFF. Of course it is Sonia's. Has any one denied it? I
don't want to sell it without Sonia's consent; on the contrary,
what I am doing is for Sonia's good.
VOITSKI. This is absolutely incomprehensible. Either I have gone
MME. VOITSKAYA. Jean, don't contradict Alexander. Trust to him;
he knows better than we do what is right and what is wrong.
VOITSKI. I shan't. Give me some water. [He drinks] Go ahead! Say
anything you please--anything!
SEREBRAKOFF. I can't imagine why you are so upset. I don't
pretend that my scheme is an ideal one, and if you all object to
it I shall not insist. [A pause.]
TELEGIN. [With embarrassment] I not only nourish feelings of
respect toward learning, your Excellency, but I am also drawn to
it by family ties. My brother Gregory's wife's brother, whom you
may know; his name is Constantine Lakedemonoff, and he used to
be a magistrate--
VOITSKI. Stop, Waffles. This is business; wait a bit, we will
talk of that later. [To SEREBRAKOFF] There now, ask him what he
thinks; this estate was bought from his uncle.
SEREBRAKOFF. Ah! Why should I ask questions? What good would it
VOITSKI. The price was ninety-five thousand roubles. My father
paid seventy and left a debt of twenty-five. Now listen! This
place could never have been bought had I not renounced my
inheritance in favour of my sister, whom I deeply loved--and
what is more, I worked for ten years like an ox, and paid off
SEREBRAKOFF. I regret ever having started this conversation.
VOITSKI. Thanks entirely to my own personal efforts, the place
is entirely clear of debts, and now, when I have grown old, you
want to throw me out, neck and crop!
SEREBRAKOFF. I can't imagine what you are driving at.
VOITSKI. For twenty-five years I have managed this place, and
have sent you the returns from it like the most honest of
servants, and you have never given me one single word of thanks
for my work, not one--neither in my youth nor now. You allowed
me a meagre salary of five hundred roubles a year, a beggar's
pittance, and have never even thought of adding a rouble to it.
SEREBRAKOFF. What did I know about such things, Ivan? I am not a
practical man and don't understand them. You might have helped
yourself to all you wanted.
VOITSKI. Yes, why did I not steal? Don't you all despise me for
not stealing, when it would have been only justice? And I should
not now have been a beggar!
MME. VOITSKAYA. [Sternly] Jean!
TELEGIN. [Agitated] Vanya, old man, don't talk in that way. Why
spoil such pleasant relations? [He embraces him] Do stop!
VOITSKI. For twenty-five years I have been sitting here with my
mother like a mole in a burrow. Our every thought and hope was
yours and yours only. By day we talked with pride of you and
your work, and spoke your name with veneration; our nights we
wasted reading the books and papers which my soul now loathes.
TELEGIN. Don't, Vanya, don't. I can't stand it.
SEREBRAKOFF. [Wrathfully] What under heaven do you want, anyway?
VOITSKI. We used to think of you as almost superhuman, but now
the scales have fallen from my eyes and I see you as you are!
You write on art without knowing anything about it. Those books
of yours which I used to admire are not worth one copper kopeck.
You are a hoax!
SEREBRAKOFF. Can't any one make him stop? I am going!
HELENA. Ivan, I command you to stop this instant! Do you hear
VOITSKI. I refuse! [SEREBRAKOFF tries to get out of the room,
but VOITSKI bars the door] Wait! I have not done yet! You have
wrecked my life. I have never lived. My best years have gone for
nothing, have been ruined, thanks to you. You are my most bitter
TELEGIN. I can't stand it; I can't stand it. I am going. [He
goes out in great excitement.]
SEREBRAKOFF. But what do you want? What earthly right have you
to use such language to me? Ruination! If this estate is yours,
then take it, and let me be ruined!
HELENA. I am going away out of this hell this minute. [Shrieks]
This is too much!
VOITSKI. My life has been a failure. I am clever and brave and
strong. If I had lived a normal life I might have become another
Schopenhauer or Dostoieffski. I am losing my head! I am going
crazy! Mother, I am in despair! Oh, mother!
MME. VOITSKAYA. [Sternly] Listen, Alexander!
SONIA falls on her knees beside the nurse and nestles against
SONIA. Oh, nurse, nurse!
VOITSKI. Mother! What shall I do? But no, don't speak! I know
what to do. [To SEREBRAKOFF] And you will understand me!
He goes out through the door in the centre of the room and MME.
VOITSKAYA follows him.
SEREBRAKOFF. Tell me, what on earth is the matter? Take this
lunatic out of my sight! I cannot possibly live under the same
roof with him. His room [He points to the centre door] is almost
next door to mine. Let him take himself off into the village or
into the wing of the house, or I shall leave here at once. I
cannot stay in the same house with him.
HELENA. [To her husband] We are leaving to-day; we must get
ready at once for our departure.
SEREBRAKOFF. What a perfectly dreadful man!
SONIA. [On her knees beside the nurse and turning to her father.
She speaks with emotion] You must be kind to us, papa. Uncle
Vanya and I are so unhappy! [Controlling her despair] Have pity
on us. Remember how Uncle Vanya and Granny used to copy and
translate your books for you every night--every, every night.
Uncle Vanya has toiled without rest; he would never spend a
penny on us, we sent it all to you. We have not eaten the bread
of idleness. I am not saying this as I should like to, but you
must understand us, papa, you must be merciful to us.
HELENA. [Very excited, to her husband] For heaven's sake,
Alexander, go and have a talk with him--explain!
SEREBRAKOFF. Very well, I shall have a talk with him, but I
won't apologise for a thing. I am not angry with him, but you
must confess that his behaviour has been strange, to say the
least. Excuse me, I shall go to him.
[He goes out through the centre door.]
HELENA. Be gentle with him; try to quiet him. [She follows him
SONIA. [Nestling nearer to MARINA] Nurse, oh, nurse!
MARINA. It's all right, my baby. When the geese have cackled
they will be still again. First they cackle and then they stop.
MARINA. You are trembling all over, as if you were freezing.
There, there, little orphan baby, God is merciful. A little
linden-tea, and it will all pass away. Don't cry, my sweetest.
[Looking angrily at the door in the centre of the room] See, the
geese have all gone now. The devil take them!
A shot is heard. HELENA screams behind the scenes. SONIA
MARINA. Bang! What's that?
SEREBRAKOFF. [Comes in reeling with terror] Hold him! hold him!
He has gone mad!
HELENA and VOITSKI are seen struggling in the doorway.
HELENA. [Trying to wrest the revolver from him] Give it to me;
give it to me, I tell you!
VOITSKI. Let me go, Helena, let me go! [He frees himself and
rushes in, looking everywhere for SEREBRAKOFF] Where is he? Ah,
there he is! [He shoots at him. A pause] I didn't get him? I
missed again? [Furiously] Damnation! Damnation! To hell with
He flings the revolver on the floor, and drops helpless into a
chair. SEREBRAKOFF stands as if stupefied. HELENA leans against
the wall, almost fainting.
HELENA. Take me away! Take me away! I can't stay here--I can't!
VOITSKI. [In despair] Oh, what shall I do? What shall I do?
SONIA. [Softly] Oh, nurse, nurse!
The curtain falls.