Elisaveta Andreevna Protasova decides to part with her husband, Fedor Vasilyevich, whose way of life becomes intolerable for her: Fedya Protasov drinks, squanders his and his wife’s fortune. Lisa’s mother approves of her decision, Sasha’s sister – categorically against parting with such an amazing, though with weakness, person, like Fedya. Mother believes that, having received a divorce, Lisa will join her fate with childhood friend Viktor Mikhailovich Karenin. Lisa makes her last attempt to return her husband and for this sends Karenin to him. He finds Protasov from the gypsies, in the company of several officers. Listening to your favorite songs “Canavella”, “Fatal Hour”, “Not Evening,” Fedya notes: “And why can a person get to this delight, but you can not continue it?” He rejects the request of his wife to return to the family.
Everything speaks for the fact that Lisa Protasova must unite her fate with Viktor Karenin: he loves her since childhood, she inwardly responds to him in kind; Victor loves her little son Misha. Viktor’s mother, Anna Dmitriyevna, would also be happy to see Lisa with her son’s wife, if not for the difficult circumstances involved.
Fedya falls in love with the gypsy Masha, whose singing he loves so much. This causes indignation of her parents, who believe that the master ruined their daughter. Masha is also trying to persuade Fedya to feel sorry for his wife and return home. He also rejects this request – confident that he lives now in harmony with his conscience. After leaving the family, alone, Protasov begins to write. He reads to Masha the beginning of his prose: “In late autumn, we conspired with a friend to gather at the Muryg-i site, which was a strong island with strong broods, there was a dark, warm, quiet day… A fog…”
Victor Karenin through Prince Abrezkova tries to find out about the future intentions of Protasov. He confirms that he is ready to divorce, but is not capable of the related lies. Fedya tries to explain Abrezkova why she can not lead a respectable life: “And whatever I do, I always feel that I’m not what I need and I’m ashamed.” And being a leader, sitting in a bank is so embarrassing, so ashamed.. And, only when you drink, will no longer be ashamed. ” He promises in two weeks to remove obstacles to the marriage of Lisa and Karenin, whom he considers a decent and boring person.
To free his wife, Fedya tries to shoot himself, even writes a farewell letter, but does not find the strength for this action. Gypsy Masha suggests that he stage a suicide, leaving clothes and a letter on the river bank. Fedya agrees.
Liza and Karenin are waiting for news from Protasov: he must sign a petition for divorce. Lisa tells Victor about her love without remorse and without a return, that from her heart all but love for him has disappeared. Instead of the signed petition, Karenin’s secretary, Voznesensky, brings a letter from Protasov. He writes that he feels himself an outsider, hindering the happiness of Lisa and Victor, but can not lie, give bribes in the consistory to... get a divorce, and therefore wants to be physically destroyed, thus freeing all. In the last lines of the farewell letter he asks to help some weak, but good watchmaker Evgeniev. Shaken by this letter, Lisa in despair repeats that she loves only Fedya.
A year later, in the dirty room of the tavern, Fyodor Protasov, sitting down and torn, sat sitting and talking with the artist Petushkov. Fedya explains to Petushkov that he could not choose for himself a single fate that is possible for a person of his circle: he was disgusted to serve, to make money and thus “increase the mischief in which he lives,” but he was not a hero, capable of destroying this dirty trick. Therefore, he could only forget himself-drinking, walking, singing; which he did. In his wife, an ideal woman, he did not find what is called a highlight; in their lives there was no game, without which it is impossible to forget. Fedya remembers Gypsy Masha, whom he loved-most of all for having left her, and thus did good to her, and not evil. “But you know,” says Fedya, “we love people for the kindness that we did to them,
Protasov tells Petushkov the story of his transformation into a “living corpse”, after which his wife was able to marry a respectable, loving person. This story is eavesdropped by Artyomiev who happened to be nearby. He begins to blackmail Fedya, asking him to demand money from his wife in exchange for silence. Protasov refuses; Artemiev gives it to the policeman.
In the village, on the terrace, entwined with ivy, the pregnant Lisa awaits her husband’s arrival, Victor Karenina. He brings letters from the city, among which there is also a paper from a forensic investigator with a report that Protasov is alive. All in despair.
The judicial investigator removes the testimony from Lisa and Karenin. They are accused of double-banging and that they knew about the suicide of Protasov. The matter is complicated by the fact that before Liza recognized the dead body found in the water as the corpse of her husband, and in addition, Karenin regularly sent money to Saratov, and now refuses to explain to whom they were intended. Although the money was sent to the frontman, it was in Saratov that Protasov lived all this time.
Given for the confrontation, Protasov asks for forgiveness from Lisa and Victor and assures the investigator that they did not know that he was alive. He sees that the investigator tortures them all only in order to show his power over them, not understanding the spiritual struggle that was taking place in them.
During the trial, Fedya is in some special excitement. At the break, his former friend Ivan Petrovich Aleksandrov passes him a gun. Having learned that his wife’s second marriage will be dissolved, and he and Lisa are threatened with exile to Siberia, Protasov shoots himself in the heart. Liza, Masha, Karenin, judges and defendants run out to the sound of the shot. Fedya asks Liza for forgiveness for not being able to “untangle” her otherwise. “How good… How good…” – he repeats before his death.