In the foreword the author informs the reader that these notes belong to the pen of his friend Maksudov, who committed suicide and ordered him to straighten them, to sign by his own name and publish it. The author warns that the suicide had no relation to the theater, so that these notes are the fruit of his sick imagination. The narrative is conducted on behalf of Maksudov.
Sergei Leontievich Maksudov, an employee of the newspaper “Herald of the shipping company,” seeing in a dream his native city, snow, civil war, begins to write about this novel. Having finished, he reads it to his acquaintances who claim that he will not be able to publish this novel. Sending in two thick magazines excerpts from the novel, Maksudov gets them back with the resolution “does not fit.” Convinced that the novel is bad, Maksudov decides that his life has come to an end. Having stolen a revolver from his friend, Maksudov prepares to commit suicide, but suddenly there is a knock at the door, and Rudolfi appears in the room, the editor-publisher of the only private magazine Rodina in Moscow. Rudolfi reads Maksudov’s novel and offers to publish it.
Maksudov imperceptibly returns the stolen revolver, throws service in the “Steamboat” and sinks into another world: visiting Rudolfi, gets acquainted with writers and publishers. Finally the novel is printed, and Maksudov receives several copyright copies of the magazine. The same night, Maksudov begins to have flu, and when, after ten days, he goes to Rudolfi, it turns out that Rudolfi left for America a week ago, and the entire magazine ran out.
Maksudov returns to the “Steamship” and decides to compose a new novel, but does not understand what this novel will be about. And again one night he sees in the dream the same people, the same distant city, snow, side of the piano. Taking out the book of the novel from the drawer, Maksudov, looking narrowly, sees a magic camera that grew from a white page, and the piano sounds in the chamber, the people described in the novel are moving. Maksudov decides to write what he sees, and, having begun, he understands that he is writing a play.
Suddenly, Maksudov receives an invitation from Ilchin, the director of the Independent Theater – one of the most outstanding Moscow theaters. Ilchin informs Maksudov that he read his novel, and suggests that Maksudova write a play. Maksudov admits that he already writes
the play, and concludes a contract for its production by the Independent Theater, and in the treaty each paragraph begins with the words “the author has no right” or “the author undertakes”. Maksudov gets acquainted with the actor Bombardov, who shows him the portrait gallery of the theater with portraits of Sarah Bernard, Moliere, Shakespeare, Nero, Griboedov, Goldoni and others hanging in her, and intermittent portraits of actors and theater employees.
A few days later, on his way to the theater, Maksudov sees a poster at the door, after which the names of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Lope de Vega, Schiller and Ostrovsky stand: Maksudov “Black Snow.”
Bombardov explains to Maksudov that at the head of the Independent Theater there are two directors: Ivan Vasilievich, who lives on Sivtsev Vrazhke, and Aristarkh Platonovich, now traveling in India. Each of them has his own office and his own secretary. The directors have not spoken to each other since 1885, having delineated the spheres of activity, but this does not interfere with the work of the theater. Secretary Aristarkh Platonovich Poliksena Toropetskaya dictated by Maksudov reprinted his play. Maksudov stared in amazement at the photographs hung on the walls of the office, on which Aristarkh Platonovich was imprinted in the company of Turgenev, then Pisemsky, Tolstoy, and Gogol. During breaks in dictation, Maksudov strolls about the building of the theater, going into the room where the scenery is stored, in a tea-room, in the office where the internal order director Philip Philipovich is sitting.
Ivan Vasilyevich invites Maksudov to Sivtsev Vrazhek to read the play, Bombards instructs Maksudov how to behave, what to say, and, most importantly, not to object to Ivan Vasilyevich’s utterances about the play. Maksudov reads the play to Ivan Vasilyevich, and he offers it thoroughly to remake: the hero’s sister must be turned into his mother, the hero should not shoot himself, but be stabbed with a dagger, etc. – while he calls Maksudov then Sergei Pafnutovich, then Leonty Sergeyevich. Maksudov tries to object, provoking Ivan Vasilyevich’s obvious displeasure.
Bombardov explains to Maksudov how it was necessary to behave with Ivan Vasilyevich: not to argue, but to answer all “very much to you”, because no one ever objects to Ivan Vasilyevich, whatever he says. Maksudov is confused, he believes that everything is lost. Suddenly, he is invited to a meeting of the elders of the theater – the “founders” – to discuss his play. From the opinions of the elders Maksudov understands that they do not like the play and they do not want to play it. Grief-stricken Maksudov Bombardov explains that, on the contrary, the founders really liked the play and they would like to play it, but there are no roles for them: the youngest of them is twenty-eight years old, and the oldest character of the play is sixty-two years old.
For several months Maksudov lives a monotonous boring life: he goes daily to the Vestnik of the Shipping Company, tries to write a new play in the evenings, but does not record anything. Finally, he receives a message stating that director Thomas Strizh is beginning to rehearse his “Black Snow”. Maksudov returns to the theater, feeling that he can no longer live without him, like a morphine without morphine.
The rehearsals of the play begin, at which Ivan Vasilievich is present. Maksudov very much tries to please him: he gives in a day to iron his suit, buys six new shirts and eight ties. But all is in vain: Maksudov feels that every day he likes Ivan Vasilyevich ever less and less. And Maksudov understands that this is because he himself absolutely does not like Ivan Vasilyevich. At the rehearsals, Ivan Vasilyevich suggests actors to play various sketches, in Maksudov’s opinion, completely meaningless and not directly related to the production of his play: for example, the entire company then gets invisible wallets from their pockets and recounts invisible money, then writes an invisible same letter, then Ivan Vasilyevich offers the hero to ride a bike so that it was clear that he was in love. Sinister suspicions creep into Maksudov’s soul:
At this point, Sergei Leontievich Maksudov’s notes are cut short.