The action takes place in the mid-40’s. XIX century. in the county town of Zn-sk. The schoolmaster Pyotr Mikhailovich Godnev resigns with the pension, and in his place a certain Kalinovich, a young man who graduated from the law faculty of Moscow University as a candidate, was identified.
Godezdin is a kind, sociable old man, a widower, who lives with the housekeeper Palageya Evgrafovna, whom the sick and destitute once picked up, and her daughter Nastenka – a pretty, intelligent and sensitive girl for twenty years. After a single and unsuccessful attempt to get out into the little uyezd light (at the evening of General Shevalova, the richest landowner of the province), reading became her only entertainment: “she began to live in some special world filled with Homer, Horas, Onegins, heroes of the French Revolution.” Every evening, the younger brother of Pyotr Mikhailovich, a retired captain, comes to Godnev with his dog.
Presenting teachers to the new guard, Godevny is unpleasantly struck by his arrogance; among other things, Kalinovich pretends that he does not recognize his classmate – the teacher of history.
Kalinovich decides to pay visits to the local nobility and high officials, but it turns out that there is no such custom in the province – they do not accept him at all or, like Shevalova, take it coldly; Only Godnev saw a young man in Kalinovich, lonely in a strange city,
At the school, the new caretaker tries to restore order; the victim of his severity is, incidentally, an able and honest, but a drinking history teacher.
Once Kalinovich receives a letter that impresses him greatly: “It was one of those life clicks that take away faith in oneself and make a person a rag, rubbish, who sees ahead only the need to live, and why and for what, he does not know” . On this day, Kalinovich tells the Godnevs the story of his life, “constant moral humiliation”: he was orphaned early, he grew up on bread with a man who once ruined his father, and was a playful and a toy for his stupid children; after the death of the “benefactor”, a student, he lived already in complete poverty and starving; after the successful completion of the course he was given this place in the province, where he “must wallow and suffocate.” The last blow – the story of Kalinovich, his first literary experience, was not accepted in a thick magazine. The world seems to the young man unjust, and he defends his right to cruelty before the benign Godnes, who reproaches him for excessive severity: “I want and will take out on vicious people what I myself carry innocently.” Then Kalinovich and Nastenka talk privately: Nastenka reproaches Kalinovich for calling himself unlucky, although he knows that she loves him; Kalinovich also admits that “one love can not fill the heart of a man, let alone my heart, because I am terribly ambitious.” A few days later Kalinovich reads his Godnes novels; Pyotr Mikhailovich recalls his old acquaintance, an influential man, and sends him Kalinovich’s work. A few days later Kalinovich reads his Godnes novels; Pyotr Mikhailovich recalls his old acquaintance, an influential man, and sends him Kalinovich’s work. A few days later Kalinovich reads his Godnes novels; Pyotr Mikhailovich recalls his old acquaintance, an influential man, and sends him Kalinovich’s work.
The captain (Uncle Nastenka), who loves her very much, guesses that young people are in an unacceptably intimate relationship; One night, trying to find Kalinovich, he catches the Medeacritic official at the gate of the Godnevs, who tries to smear them with tar: Mediokritsky once unsuccessfully wooed Nastenka and was jealous of Kalinovich. At the insistence of Kalinovich, the act of Mediokritsky is brought to the attention of the authorities; they are excluded from the service, but since that time Nastenka has been gossiping in the city.
After a while, Kalinovich’s story appeared in the Moscow magazine; Godunov proud and happy almost more than the author himself. Nastenka’s relatives are concerned only that Kalinovich not only does not hurry to make a match, but also declares aloud that “marrying a mean calculation, and marrying a poor woman on a poor girl is stupid.”
New faces begin to take part in the novel’s action: General Shevalova, a widow, a sick and irritable old woman, her daughter Polina and Prince Ivan, a handsome man of fifty, a swindler and, as one might guess, Polina’s lover. Pauline is exhausted by the miserliness of his mother and the ambiguity of his position; Prince Ivan advises her to marry; suitable suitor, the only decent person in the city, he seems Kalinovich (about his literary studies Prince heard from Godnev). Nastenka, having learned that Kalinovich was invited to visit the Shevalovs, that same house where she had been humiliated once, asks Kalinovich to refuse the invitation, speaks of bad forebodings; Kalinovich accuses her of selfishness. Shevalov Kalinovich is most struck by comfort: “for the children of this century, fame… love… world ideas… immortality – nothing before comfort.” Soon Kalinovich at the evening at Shevalov read his story; They called Nastenka, too, curious to see Kalinovich’s lover; Nastenka’s presence for Kalinovich is unexpected, he is even ashamed of her non-Soviet appearance and “indecent” love. At the evening Kalinovich saw the daughter of Prince Ivan, a brilliant beauty, and, not stopping from loving Nastenka, fell in love with the princess: “Two love lived in the soul of the hero, which, as is known, is not allowed in novels in any way, but in life occurs at every step” .
The prince invites Kalinovich to stay a little in his estate in the summer; Shevalovs are his neighbors. Once the prince frankly offers Kalinovich to marry rich bride Polina and convinces him that an early marriage to the poor will ruin a career. The prince’s cynicism amazes the hero, he renounces Pauline. The conversation, however, has its effect: Kalinovich decides to quit Nastenka and leaves for St. Petersburg; to avoid heavy scenes, he, deceiving the Godnevs, announces an engagement with Nastenka.
The decision made torments Kalinovich to the point that he wants to die. On the way, looking at the fellow traveler, the hero thinks with indignation: “For ten rubles he is ready to probably give up ten mistresses, and certainly aspens rather than him, we can explain that in this case the person must suffer.” Despite the anguish, Kalinovich, however, already on a train going from Moscow to Petersburg, gets acquainted with a pretty woman of free conduct, and the author writes: “Here again I have to explain the truth, completely not accepted in novels, the truth that we never are able to change so beloved our woman, as in the first time of separation from her, although we still love her former passion. “
Petersburg – “the burial city” – further strengthens the anguish of the hero: in the editorial office of the magazine he is met more than indifferently, after a date with Amalchen, he feels disgraced, the director of the department to whom Kalinovich has a letter of recommendation from Prince Ivan does not give him a place; Finally, Kalinovich’s old friend, the leading critic of the magazine, where his story “Strange Relationships” was published, dying of consumption Zykov (Belinsky), does not recognize the literary talent in the hero: Kalinovich is too rational.
Kalinovich met, and then made friends with a certain Belavin, an intellectual and a gentleman who “whole life honestly thought and ate well.” In disputes with Kalinovich, Belavin denounces a new generation that has completely lost “romanticism,” a powerless and incapable of love; the author notes, however, that in the life of Belavin’s romanticism there seemed to be no strong passions and sufferings, whereas Kalinovich, “with all practical aspirations, we have for about three years found in a truly romantic position romanticism, like people with stricter ideal, as if they live less and less stumble. “
Unhappy, sick and sitting without money Kalinovich writes to Nastenka, revealing, among other things, the past intention to abandon her. Soon she comes to him – all forgiven, with money borrowed. Her father is in paralysis; Nastenka herself, after Kalinovich did not write to her for half a year, thought that he was dead, wanted to commit suicide, and only the Christian faith saved her. After the story, Nastenka Kalinovich, in thoughtfulness and with tears in her eyes, says: “No, love is impossible!”
For a while the couple lives quietly and happily; they hang Bela-vin, making friends with Nastenka. But soon Kalinovich begins to be tormented with ambition, a thirst for comfort and contempt for himself for his parasitism. Once Kalinovich meets Prince Ivan in the street; the prince again begins to seduce the hero: he takes him to dinner at Dussault and to a luxurious dacha to Pauline. Polina’s mother died, and Pauline is now very rich, Kalinovich dares: he asks the prince if he can still ask Pauline; the prince undertakes to secure him the consent of the girl and demands for mediation fifty thousand. The author protects the hero from the reader: “if you blame someone, it’s better than a century…”
From the remorse of conscience Kalinovich especially rudely keeps himself and Nastenka before leaving her; at the same time she receives news that her father passed away.
Elderly and ugly, Pauline passionately falls in love with her fiancé, which causes him irresistible aversion. Before the wedding, Kalinovich learns from the chef Shevalov that Polina and her mother were mistresses of the prince, and he was dragging money out of them.
Having acquired marriage status and ties, Kalinovich finally gets what he has always strived for: a good place, an opportunity to show his abilities. A brilliant investigator came out of him; a few years later he became vice-governor of the same province, where he was once a school-master.
Kalinovich “always felt great sympathy for the conduct of the impassive idea of the state, with the possible repulse of all class and private harassment”; in the province there was official burglary and lawlessness, and the governor directed everything. In a fierce struggle with the bureaucracy and the governor, Kalinovich wins a temporary victory. The last major crime, discovered by Kalinovich, is a forgery committed by Prince Ivan, whom Kalinovich fiercely hates; The arrest of the prince restores all local nobility against Kalinovich.
Kalinovich suddenly receives a letter from Nastenka: she became an actress, the public appreciates her talent; their troupe will play in Ensk; she informs her address and waits for a meeting: “Ten years later this woman responded, feeding him some kind of dog attachment.” Kalinovich, in joy, thanks God: “I am not alone now: it will save me from surrounding enemies and villains!”
Meanwhile Pauline, long hating her husband, secretly visiting the arrested prince Ivan, goes to St. Petersburg; she intends to use the same links that once gave her husband a place in the service to now destroy her husband and save Prince Ivan.
Kalinovich sees Godneva in Kotzebue’s melodrama “Hate to people and repentance,” in the role of Eilalia; At Kalinovich she plays especially strongly and shakes the audience. This evening they learn that the governor has been displaced and Kalinovich has been appointed acting head of the province. At home, Godneva meets Kalinovich simply, with friendliness and with the same love; tells how she lived without him, how she fell in love with Belavin: “We all have the wrong ability, that it’s just to love one creature, but just to love or not.” Belavin was frightened of a possible novel, not wanting to take responsibility for another person: “You are also selfish, but you are a living person, you want your life for something, you suffer, finally, you feel either sympathy for people and their known beliefs, or disgust, and now you express it in life, and Belavin never…
In the epilogue it is reported that Polina’s intrigues were a success: Kalinovich “fired for illegal actions”; the prince is justified. Soon the prince finally ruins Pauline; unable to withstand this last blow, she died. Kalinovich resigns, marries Nastenka and settles with her and with her uncle-captain in Moscow, “having joined the party of dissatisfied.” The author refuses to consider the wedding of the main characters as the happy end of the novel: Kalinovich, “a broken morally sick physically, decided to a new marriage solely because he no longer hoped for anything and did not expect anything more from life,” and Nastenka loved him already “more by memories.”