Zemsky doctor Dmitry Iontovich Startsev comes to work in the provincial city of S., where he soon gets acquainted with the Turks. All members of this hospitable family are famous for their talents: witty Ivan Petrovich Turkin puts amateur performances, his wife Vera Iosifovna writes stories and novels, and her daughter plays on the piano and is going to go to study at the conservatory. The family makes the most favorable impression on Startsev.
Having renewed his acquaintance in a year, he falls in love with Kitty, as they call home to Ekaterina Ivanovna. Calling the girl into the garden, Startsev tries to explain himself in love and suddenly receives a note from Kotik, where he is assigned a date at the cemetery. Startsev is almost sure that this is a joke, and yet at night he goes to the cemetery and for several hours without results he waits for Ekaterina Ivanovna, indulging in romantic dreams. The next day, dressed in someone else’s tailcoat, Startsev goes to make an offer to Catherine Ivanovna and receives a refusal, because, as Kotik explains, “to become a wife – oh no, forgive!” A person should strive for a higher, brilliant goal, and family life would bind me forever “.
Startsev did not expect refusal, and now his pride is wounded. The doctor does not believe that all his dreams, longings and hopes led him to such a stupid end. However, having learned that Ekaterina Ivanovna had gone to Moscow to enter the conservatory, Startsev
It takes another four years. Startsev has a lot of practice and a lot of work. He grew stout and reluctantly walks on foot, preferring to ride a troika with bells. For all this time he visited the Turks no more than twice, but he did not make any new acquaintances, since the townsfolk irritated him with their conversations, their views on life and even their appearance.
Soon Startsev receives a letter from Vera Iosifovna and Kotika and, having thought, goes to the Turkins to visit. It is obvious that the meeting with Ekaterina Ivanovna made a much stronger impression than on Startseva, who, recalling his former love, feels uncomfortable.
As in his first visit, Vera Iosifovna reads out her novel aloud, and Ekaterina Ivanovna plays noisily for a long time on the piano, but Startsev only feels irritation. In the garden, where Kotik invites Startseva, the girl talks about the excitement with which she expected this meeting, and Startseva becomes sad and sorry for the past. He talks about his gray monotonous life, life without impressions, without thoughts. But Kotik objects that Startsev has a noble purpose in life – his work as a zemstvo doctor. Speaking about herself, she confesses that she has lost faith in her pianist’s talent and that Startsev, who serves the people helping the sufferers, seems to her to be an ideal, exalted person. However, in Startsev, such an evaluation of his merits does not cause any emotional upsurge. Leaving the house of the Turkins, he feels relieved, that he did not marry in his time on Catherine Ivanovna, and thinks that if the most talented people in the whole city are so mediocre, then what should be the city. He leaves unanswered a letter from Kotik and never again comes to the Turkins.
With the passage of time, Startsev is getting even fatter, becoming rude and irritable. He’s grown rich, he has a huge practice, but greed does not allow him to abandon his zemstvo place. In the city his name is already just Ionich. Starcevu lives bored, nothing interests him, he is lonely. A Kitten, whose love was the only joy Startseva, aged, often sick and every day for four hours playing the piano.