May 5, 1838 a young woman throws a newborn girl into the house of Prince Dmitry Shadursky. The thirty-eight-year-old prince is little surprised at the appearance of the foundling; knowing the way of life of the prince, does not see anything strange in this, and his wife Tatyana Lvovna. Shadursky decides to get rid of the girl and goes for advice to General Von Spilze – a famous St. Petersburg lady of dubious origin, who knows all and everything and knows how to arrange all sorts of things in various ways.
Mother of the newborn girl, twenty-five-year-old Princess Anna Chechevinskaya, eagerly awaits in the secret shelter of the return of her maid Natasha, who was instructed to take his illegitimate child to the prince. Princess Anna was brought up in the village, at the drinking
Outraged by her daughter’s immorality, the old princess deprives her of her inheritance in favor of Nikolai’s beloved son, a rake and a gambler. The disgrace of Princess Chechevinskaya is made the property of St. Petersburg light; the old princess falls ill with a nervous shock.
Meanwhile, Natasha has her own plans for further action. This eighteen-year-old serf-girl grew up in the house of the brother of the old princess Chechevinskaya, who spoiled a pretty girl and brought her up like a young lady. After the unexpected death of the master, Natasha inherited his sister and instantly lost the usual benefits. She was separated from her mother and placed by the maid to Princess Anna. Natasha, a cold-blooded nature, ruthless and consistent, harbored a desire to take revenge on the hated princess.
After the scandal in the family Chechevinskih Natasha goes to Ascension Avenue to his lover, engraver
Prince Dmitry Platonovich Shadursky agrees with Generalz von Spielze about the arrangement of the child and then forgets about the existence of his illegitimate daughter – as, however, does not want to remember the fate of her mother. Shadursky is more interested in who is pregnant with his 25-year-old wife, with whom, after the birth of his son, Vladimir supports only the appearance of family relations. Six years ago, Shadursky married Tatyana Lvovna, in order to annoy the friend in love with her; his wife soon bored him. Insulted by the indifference and infidelity of her husband, the princess found consolation in a society of a man of “low” origin. Unaware of this, the prince suspects that the father of a future child, Tatyana Lvovna, is a secular rape like him. What is his shock, when he finds the princess in the arms of his manager Mordenko! The furious prince gives him a slap in the face and drives him out of the house; in response to the reproaches of the princess Shadursky slaps her. At night, Tatyana Lvovna begins premature births and the frightened Shadursky takes her to the same secret shelter, where all the abandoned Anna Chechevinskaya is. While the princess is giving birth, there is an explanation of Anna and Prince Shadursky; fearing to become a hero of a secular scandal, he refuses the princess. Anna unsuccessfully asked to return her child.
The newborn son of Princess Shadurskaya is left with a midwife. Soon Princess secretly sends Mordenko money in order that he placed the child in good hands – and also forgets about the existence of his son. She came to her for her child, Anne Che-Chevinskaya Shadurskaya arrogantly dismissed, accusing of immorality. Without a child, without friends, without means of livelihood, Anna disappears in the slums of Petersburg. Shadurskie together with his five-year-old son Vladimir are serving abroad.
The daughter of Shadursky and Chechevinskaya is called Masha and given to general-general von Spilze for education to the kind and God-fearing elderly Povetins living on the Petersburg side. The son of Mordenko and Shadursky is baptized by Ivan Veresov and is placed in the family of a retired Major Spitsa, who earns a living by giving adopted children to beggars for better collection of alms.
Twenty years later the princes of Shadur returned to St. Petersburg. In one car with them travel from the Russian border, Baroness von Dering and her brother, Austrian subject Jan Karosic. For the beauty of the Baroness on the road, both Shadurskys, old and young, take care of. Courts continue in St. Petersburg, which irritates Princess Tatyana Lvovna, as she counts on the profitable marriage of her son with the daughter of the wealthy gold miner Shinsheev.
On a visit to the Shinsheevs Vladimir Shadursky gets acquainted with Yulia Nikolaevna Beroeva, wife of the Shinsheevsky employee. The beauty of a young woman awakens in the selfish Shadursky desire to achieve her favor. His pride is exasperated by the fact that, being a loving wife and mother of two children, Beroev rejects all the boyfriends, including Mr. Shinsheev himself. Not having got used to anything in itself to refuse, Vladimir concludes on Бероеву of a bet with friends. At his request, taking advantage of the long absence of her husband, Generala von Spielec lures her to her, prefers to drink a special drink that makes Julia give herself to Vladimir Shadursky.
Under the names of Baroness von Dering and Jan Karosich, Natasha and Bodlevsky returned to St. Petersburg. For twenty years of staying abroad they have become dexterous international scammers and had to flee from the French court. In St. Petersburg they form an “association” of fraudsters with an old acquaintance, Sergei Kovrov, and a new one – the Hungarian Count Nikolai Callash, who calls himself. With the help of deft adventures, they lure money from a representative of the Jesuit order, from trusting secular persons. Karozich becomes the last lover of the aging Tatiana Lvovna Shadurskaya, who willingly supplies him with money.
Soon after the incident, the general’s wife, Shpilce, Julia Beroeva feels pregnant. She is desperate to think how hard her unfaithful betrayal for her husband will be. Hiding her pregnancy, Julia gives birth to a secret midwife, expecting to leave her child. But she feels sorry for the newborn boy, and she decides to ask Prince Vladimir Shadursky to take care of him. Beroev wrote a note to him, inviting him to a masquerade, and then, during dinner at a restaurant, he asked to take part in the fate of the child. The prince agrees to do this in exchange for an affinity with her. Fighting off Shadursky, Julia pierces a silver fork in his throat. The prince is wounded, Berieva is arrested, the baby is sold to the poor, who are dying in terrible tortures.
Shortly before this incident, Vladimir Shadursky threw his guard Masha Povetina. At the instigation of Princess Shadurskaya, who wanted to distract her son from the baroness von Dering, the girl delivered the young prince to Generala von Spielez, taking her from her teachers. Unable to withstand the separation from her beloved Masha, the old woman Povetina died, the old man lost his sanity. Masha fell in love with the young prince, unaware of his true attitude towards her: the egoist Shadursky long wanted to have a beautiful woman to show off to her friends. Even less, she could imagine that she became the mistress of her own half-brother. Realizing that sincere, pure soul Masha does not suit the role of “camellia”, Shadursky throws her without a livelihood.
Masha settles down as a servant in a pedantic German family, but from there she is expelled during illness. Not finding another job, without housing, Masha sleeps in an abandoned riverboat. Here she meets Ivan Veresov, to whom fate was equally unfriendly.
Ivan Veresov since birth was brought up from Major Spitsa, not knowing parental affection, although the neighbor who lived next door visited him. Mordenko arranged it for the theater school, from which Ivan was released as incapable of a wordless role. He earned his own bread by modeling plaster figures for street vendors. Ivan lived separately from Mordenko, who did not help his son in any way. Since the time of the expulsion from the house of the Shadur Mordenko, the only secret passion was possessed: to take revenge on the prince for a slap in the face, and to the princess for contempt. To put together capital, he began to give money in growth; his first pledge was the princess Anna Chechevinskaya, who took off her cross. Gradually Mordenko began to buy up the overdue bills of the prodigal Shadurskys, waiting for the day when he could finally ruin his enemies. Absorbed by this idea, Mordenko became so suspicious, that he accused his own son of aiding robbers – who came to kill the usurer. Ivan was arrested, got into a society of murderers and bandits and survived in prison only thanks to the intercession of one of them, Ramzi. Released to freedom, Ivan had no shelter, no means, because of what he was forced to spend the night in a boat. His ways with Masha Povetina soon dispersed, but they were destined to meet again.
Conscious of the hopelessness of her situation, Masha decides to drown herself in an ice hole. But at the last minute she is rescued by an old beggar and prostitute Chuha. Masha notices that the Chukha, who sank to the bottom of the life, once for certain had received a good upbringing. Women are imbued with trust to each other, and Chuha tells Masha the story of her life – the life of the former princess Chechevinskaya – without suspecting that before her her lost daughter. Chukha leads Masha to spend the night in a stash, where she again meets Ivan Veresova and rescues him from bullying of bandits. But the young people again parted. Escaping from the brothel, after heavy life upheavals, Masha appears in a brothel.
Mr. Beroyev is trying to rescue the arrested wife, but this is impeded by the Shadurskys, who are afraid of a fair punishment for their son. The people bought by them tossed Beroev with a set of the banned “Kolokol” magazine, thus condemning him to arrest. Unable to withstand the prison life, public shame, the arrest of her husband, Yulia Beroeva, from a violent nervous shock, falls into prison in a lethargic sleep, which the surrounding people take for death. She is buried in the far corner of Mitrofanievsky cemetery. Soon runaway felon Grechka unearths the grave, hoping to withdraw from Beroeva an incense with an “indissoluble ruble”, which she kept as a memory of children. To the horror of Grechka, the dead person rises from the coffin. Beroev is found and nursed by the “associators”, who have established counterfeit money near the cemetery.
Mordenko finally manages to implement his plan of revenge: he presents for payment bills on a huge amount, which should ruin the Shadurskys. But Mordenko does not stand up to the shock and is seriously ill. Before his death, he finds a son, Ivan Veresov, and bequeath to him his fortune, taking from him an oath in that he will avenge the end of Shadursky. In order to get Ivan to violate the oath, Princess Shadurskaya discovers to him the secret of his birth and plays before the youth the role of a loving mother who finally has a son. Ivan tears to pieces of the bill, after which the princess stops meeting with him. The last person who left a bright trace in Ivan’s life is Masha Povetina; he is trying to find her.
On the Fontanka embankment, the crowd mocks Chukha. Under the general laughter, the completely drunk Chukha calls herself Princess Chechevinskaya. It hears the passing Count Nikolai Kallash and, astonished, takes her to his luxurious house. In conversation with the sobering Chuh, the real name of Kallash opens: this is her own brother, Prince Nikolai Chechevinsky. In the heart of the swindler and the gambler, pity and love for the sister awaken. He promises that she will be the wife of the once dishonored prince. Nikolai hires a doctor who slowly poison Tatiana Lvovna Shadurskaya. With the help of a clever adventure carried out by Baroness von De-ring, Nicholas forces the widowed Shadursky to marry his sister. Anna makes the prince tell whom he gave her daughter to. Nikolay Chechevinsky helps his sister to get a response from Generalzi von Spilze, pointed out by Shadursky. Anna in horror learns that the girl Masha, whom she saved from suicide, was her daughter. She rushes in search of her daughter, but finds her dying from consumption, to which she brought Masha an awful life in a brothel. At the funeral of Masha there is also Ivan Veresov. Soon he bequeaths to Anna Chechevinskaya the remaining money from him and shoots. He is buried in a cemetery for suicides and animals, next to the grave of his mother’s favorite dog, Princess Shadurskaya.
Accidentally seeing the picture of Nicholas’s companion, Baroness von Dering, Anna recognizes in her her former maid Natasha. Nicholas blackmails the baroness to return the sister’s money, but in response to blackmail, “associates” entice him to ride on the underground channels of St. Petersburg and there they are killed. The Baroness and Bodlevsky leave for Warsaw to “fish in the muddy waters” of the Polish uprising.
Vladimir Shadursky marries the rich man Shishneva, the same “decorum of secular decency” is observed in their family, which was observed in the family of the senior Shadurskys. The prince has on the content “six pairs of excellent horses and a couple of the same dancers.” Venerable generalzha von Spilze closes his craft on the device of various affairs and becomes a highly moral person.
Coming out of prison, the justified husband Beroeva visits the grave of his wife. But in the cemetery he meets the living Julia. Not wanting to remain in the homeland, where Julia does not even have a right to live, the spouses take their children and leave for the United States.