The beginning of the last century. A certain traveler, making a trip to Italy, gets acquainted with a sad young man in one of the provincial towns. When a young man becomes ill, the traveler takes care of him, and the one who has recovered grants him his manuscript in gratitude. Confident that the diary of Adolf “can not offend anyone and will not hurt anyone,” the traveler publishes it.
Adolf finished the course of studies in Göttingen, where he stood out among his comrades with intelligence and talents. Adolf’s father, in relation to his son “had more nobility and generosity than tenderness,” has high hopes for him.
But the young man does not strive to advance in any field, he wants only to give himself to “strong impressions,” which
“I want to be loved,” Adolph says to himself, but he does not feel attracted to any woman. Suddenly, in the house of Count P. he meets his mistress, the charming Polish not of his first youth. Despite her ambiguous position, this woman differs in the greatness of her soul, and the Count loves her very much, for she has been dedicating for ten years with him not only joys, but also dangers and deprivations.
Ellenor, that’s the name of the Count’s friend, has sublime feelings and is distinguished by the accuracy of judgments. Everyone in society recognizes the impeccability of her behavior.
Having appeared to Adolf’s gaze at the moment when his heart demands love, and vanity is of success in the light, Ellenor seems to him worthy to be harassed. And his efforts are crowned with success – he manages to win the heart of a woman,
At first Adolf seems that since she gave herself to Ellenora, he loves and respects her even more. But soon this delusion is dispelled: now he is sure that his love is beneficial
For the sake of loving Adolf Ellenor, he breaks off with Count P. and loses his wealth and reputation, won by ten years of “loyalty and constancy”. In the treatment of it, men appear some kind of cheekiness. Adolf takes the victim of Ellenor and at the same time seeks to break with her: her love is already bothering him. Not daring to openly leave his mistress, he becomes a passionate exposer of female hypocrisy and despotism. Now in society, “they hate him,” and “she is pitied, but not respected.”
Finally Adolf leaves for his father. Ellenor, despite his protests, comes to his city. Learning of this, Adolph’s father threatens to send her out of the confines of the kurfust. Outraged by his father’s interference, Adolf reconciles with his mistress, they leave and settle in a small town in Bohemia. The further, the more Adolph is burdened by this connection and languishing with idleness.
Count P. suggests that Ellenore return to him, but she refuses, why Adolphe feels more obligated to her lover, and at the same time even more eager to break with her. Soon Ellenora again has the opportunity to change life: her father is restored in the possession of his estates and calls her to him. She asks Adolf to go with her, but he refuses, and she stays. At this time her father dies, and in order not to feel remorse, Adolf goes with Ellenor to Poland.
They settle in the Ellenory estate near Warsaw. From time to time Adolphe happens to be an old friend of his father, Count T. Striving anxiously to separate Adolphe from his mistress, the Count awakens ambitious dreams in him, leads him into society, and constantly puts Ellenor in an unattractive light. Finally, Adolph promised in writing that he would break with Ellenor. However, after returning home and seeing the tears of his faithful lover, he does not dare to fulfill his promise.
Then Count T. informs Ellenor in writing of the decision taken by the young man, confirming his message with a letter from Adolf. Ellenor is seriously ill. Adolf learns of Count T’s act, is indignant, a sense of contradiction awakens in him, and he does not leave Ellenor until her last breath. When all is over, Adolph suddenly realizes that he is sorely lacking that dependence, which he always wanted to get rid of.
In his last letter, Ellenor writes that the cruel Adolf urged her to take the first step toward their parting. But life without a lover is worse for her than death, so she can only die. The inconsolable Adolf goes on a journey. But “by rejecting the being that loved him,” he, still restless and unhappy, does not “use any freedom from the freedom gained by so many sorrows and tears.”
The publisher of the manuscript of Adolf philosophically notes that the essence of man is in his nature, and since we can not break with ourselves, the change of place does not correct us, but, on the contrary, “we only add to the regrets of remorse, and to suffering – mistakes” .