Makar Alekseevich Devushkin is a titular counselor for forty-seven years, rewriting for a small salary of paper in one of the St. Petersburg departments. He has just moved to a new apartment in the “capital” house near Fontanka. Along the long corridor are the doors of the rooms for the tenants; The hero himself is hiding behind the partition in the common kitchen. His former home was “not an example better.” However, now for Devushkin, the main thing is cheap, because in the same yard he is renting a more convenient and expensive apartment for his distant relative Varvara Alekseevna Dobroselova. The poor official takes under his protection a seventeen-year-old orphan, for whom, beside him, there is no one to intercede. Living side by side, they rarely see, since
Varenka is angry with the patron for excessive expenses, he is cooling his ardor with irony: “… there are not enough poems…”
“My fatherly affection animated me, the only pure paternal affection…” – embarrassed Makar.
Varya persuades a friend to visit her more often: “What a different matter!” She takes a job at home – sewing.
In subsequent letters, Devushkin describes in detail his home – “Noah’s Ark” in the abundance of the motley public – with a “rotten, sharply sweetened smell,” in which “chizhi and mrut.” He paints portraits of his neighbors: the card-player of the midshipman,
Varenka shares her anxiety: Anna Fyodorovna, a distant relative, “picks” about her. Earlier, Varya and her mother lived in her house, and then, allegedly to cover the expenses for them, the “benefactress” offered the orphaned by that time a girl to the rich landowner Bykov, who dishonored her. Only the help of Makar saves the defenseless from the final “death”. If only the bug and Bykov did not recognize her address! Poor thing gets sick from fear, almost a month lies in unconsciousness. Makar all this time close. To put his “yasochku” on his feet, he sells a new uniform. By June, Varenka recovers and sends a caring friend notes with a history of his life.
Her happy childhood passed in her own family in the bosom of rural nature. When my father lost the place of the manager in the estate of Prince P-go, they came to Petersburg – “rotten”, “angry”, “dreary”. Constant failure brought his father to the grave. The house was sold for debts. The fourteen-year-old Varya and her mother were left without shelter and means. Here they were and sheltered Anna Feodorovna, soon began to reproach the widow. She worked beyond her strength, ruining her poor health for the sake of a piece of bread. For a whole year Varya studied with a former student, Peter Pokrovsky, who lived in the same house. She was surprised at “the kindest, most worthy person, the best of all,” a strange disrespect for the old man, his father, who often visited his adored son. It was a bitter drunk, once a petty official. Mother Peter, a young beauty, was issued for him with a rich dowry landowner Bykov. Soon she died. Widower married again. Peter also grew up separately, under the protection of Bykov, who placed a young man left for health reasons, “for bread”, to his “short acquaintance” Anna Fedorovna.
Joint vigil at the bedside of the patient Varina mother brought young people together. An educated friend taught the girl to read, developed her taste. However, Pokrovsky soon died and died of consumption. The mistress of the funeral took all the things of the deceased. The old father took the books from her as much as he could, and stuffed them into his pockets, his hat, etc. It began to rain. The old man ran, crying, behind the cart with the coffin, and the books fell from his pockets into the mud. He picked them up and ran again after… Varya in anguish returned home, to her mother, who too was soon killed by death…
Devushkin responds with a story about his own life. He has served for thirty years. “Smirnenky,” “quiet,” and “good-natured,” he became the object of constant ridicule: “Makar Alekseevich was introduced into the whole department as a whole”, “… to boots, to uniforms, to hair, to my figure: all are not for them, everything needs to be changed! “. The hero is indignant: “Well, what is it that I’m copying, what, is it a sin to rewrite, or something?” The only joy is Varenka: “just as a house and family, the Lord blessed me!”
On June 10, Devushkin is taking his ward to walk on the islands. She’s happy. Naive Makar is delighted with the works of Ratazyaev. Varenka also notes the bad taste and vysprennost “Italian passions”, “Ermak and Zulyakeki”, etc.
Realizing all the irresponsibility for Devushkin’s material worries about himself, the sick Varenka wants to get a job as a governess. Makar against: her “usefulness” – in the “beneficial” influence on his life. For Rataziaev, he intercedes, but after reading the dispatched Varya “Stationmaster” Pushkin – shocked: “I feel the same, that’s exactly the same as in the book.” Vyrin tries on the destiny and asks her “native” not to leave, not to “ruin” him. July 6 Varenka sends Makaru Gogol’s “Overcoat”; the same evening they attend the theater.
If Pushkin’s story exalted Devushkin in his own eyes, then Gogol’s story offends. Identifying himself with Bashmachkin, he believes that the author spied all the little things, his life and unceremoniously unveiled. The dignity of the hero is offended: “after this one must complain…”
By early July, Makar had spent everything. More terrible than lack of money is only the mockery of the tenants over him and Varenka. But the most terrible thing is that to it is the “seeker” – of the officer, from the former neighbors, with the “unworthy proposal.” In despair, the poor fellow drank, for four days he was missing, skipping the service. Went ashamed of the abuser, but was thrown off the stairs.
Varya comforts her defender, asks, despite the gossip, to come to her dinner.
Since the beginning of August, Devushkin has been vainly trying to borrow money, especially necessary due to a new disaster: the other day a different “seeker” came to Varenka, directed by Anna Fedorovna, who will soon visit the girl herself. We must urgently move. Makar again drinks with impotence. “For my sake, my love, do not ruin yourself and do not ruin me,” begged his unfortunate, sending the last “thirty kopecks in silver.” The emboldened poor man explains his “fall”: “how I lost respect to myself, how I surrendered to denying the good qualities of my own and my dignity, so here everything is lost!” Self-respect Makaru gives Varya: people “abhorred” him, “and I began to disdain myself. And you have lighted up my dark life all my life, and I learned that it is not worse than others, that I do not shine anything, there is no shine,
Varenka’s health worsens, she is no longer able to sew. In alarm, Makar appears on the September evening in the Fontanka embankment. Dirt, mess, drunk – “boring”! And on the neighboring Gorokhovaya – rich shops, luxurious carriages, elegant ladies. The walker falls into “freethinking”: if work is the basis of human dignity, then why are so many idlers fed? Happiness is not due to merit – so the rich should not be deaf to the complaints of the poor. Makar is a bit proud of his reasoning and notes that he has “recently formed a syllable.” On September 9, Devushkin smiles luck: due to a mistake in the paper for “crashing out” to the general, a humble and miserable official received the sympathy of “His Excellency” and personally received a hundred rubles from him. This is real salvation: paid for an apartment, a table, clothes. Devushkin is suppressed by the magnanimity of the chief and he reproaches himself for recent “liberal” thoughts. Reads the “Northern Bee”. Full of hope for the future.
In the meantime, Varenka will find out about the Bulls and on September 20 is going to ask for her. His goal is to get legal children to deprive the inheritance of a “worthless nephew.” If Varya is against, he marries a Moscow merchant. Despite the brusqueness and rudeness of the proposal, the girl agrees: “If anyone can return an honest name to me, turn me away from poverty so it’s him alone.” Makar dissuades: “Your heart will be cold!” Getting sick from grief, he still shared her efforts to the road to the last day.
September 30 – wedding. On the same day, on the eve of his departure to Bykov’s estate, Varenka wrote a farewell letter to an old friend: “To whom you will remain here, kind, priceless, unique!”
The answer is full of despair: “I worked, and wrote papers, and walked and walked, all because you were here, on the contrary, lived nearby.” Who now needs his formed “syllable”, his letters, he himself? “By what right” destroy “human life”?