Eight-year-old Netochka lives in the closet in the attic of a large St. Petersburg house. Her mother sewing and concoction earns for the whole family. Stepfather, Egor Efimov, a strange man. He is a talented violinist, but abandoned music, because the “villain” wife allegedly ruined his talent. Only her death will “untie” him.
Rough and unceremonious, he shamelessly lives at the expense of his discredited woman, who, despite everything, continues to love him. She has been sick for a long time already and dangerously.
In his youth, Efimov was a free clarinet player from a rich and kind landowner, from whose orchestra he left after the sudden death of his friend, an Italian violinist. He was a “bad man”, but with features of the supernatural.
Here, the 30-year-old violinist has come together with his young colleague, a Russian German B. with whom he shared shelter and food. In the lost technical skills, the friend of B. was struck by the “deep, instinctive understanding of art”, but depressed self-confidence and the “unceasing dream of one’s own genius.” B. worked hard and, despite the relatively modest talent, eventually achieved success and became a famous musician. Talented Efimov, not possessing “neither patience nor courage,” gradually drank and behaved more and more dishonorably. Friends parted, but B. forever retained sympathy and compassion for the comrade of youth. Soon Efimov married the mother of two years old Netochka, a dreamer who believed in his talent and was ready to sacrifice everything
Not understanding the true relationship between the mother and stepfather, Netochka is passionately attached to the “father.” He also “persecutes” a strict mother, like herself. The girl is inspired by the dreams inspired by Efimov’s speeches: after the death of the mother, together with the “father” they will leave the poor attic and leave for a new, happy life – in the “house with red curtains”, a rich mansion visible from their window.
When on a tour to St. Petersburg arrives the famous violinist St, for Efimov, it becomes a matter of life to get to his concert. He must prove to himself that St-ts is nothing before his not recognized because of “evil” people, but a great genius. Where can I get money for a ticket? Using her blind love for herself Netochka, her stepfather makes her deceive the sick mother, who sent her daughter for shopping with the latest rubles. Having given money to “father”, the girl should say that she lost them. Having solved her husband’s plan, the mother falls into despair. Suddenly a ticket for the concert of St is brought from B. Efimov leaves. The shocked woman dies the same evening. At night, the poor musician returns, killed by the consciousness of his insignificance before the art of St., Netochka rushes to the distraught “father” in excitement and drags him away from home, towards his childhood dream, although her heart aches and pains over the left dead mother. On the street, Yefimov runs away from the “daughter”, who screams to catch up with the madman, but falls unconscious. He himself soon gets to the hospital, where he dies.
Now Netochka lives in the same “house with red curtains” belonging to Prince X-mu, an intelligent, kind and compassionate “eccentric”. She was ill for a long time after the experience, but then a new feeling seized her heart. It’s a love for the lovely and proud peer of Katya, the daughter of the prince. Cutting Katya first disliked the sad and sickly “orphan”, jealous of her father. However, she inspired respect for herself, with dignity reflecting the princess’s ridicule over her parents. Netochka’s ability to teach also stings an ambitious minx, whose coldness deeply injures the girl. One day Katya decides to play a trick on the prince’s evil and quarreling aunt: she lets in the rooms of the bulldog Falstaff, who inspires the old princess with horror. Netochka takes on Katina’s guilt and is serving a sentence locked in a dark room until four in the morning, because they forgot about her. Excited by injustice, Katya raises a noise, and the girl is released. Now between them is an open mutual love: they cry and laugh, kiss each other, secrecy until the morning. It turns out that Katya also likes her friend for a long time, but she wanted to “torment” her with expectation. Noticing the unnatural excitement of the princess, the adults separate the girls. Soon Katya and her parents leave for Moscow for a long time.
Netochka moved to the house of 22-year-old Alexandra Mikhailovna, the married sister of Katya. “Silent, tender, loving” woman is happy to replace the “orphan” mother and gives a lot of strength to her upbringing. The girl’s happiness is clouded only by unconscious antipathy towards Peter Alexandrovich, Alexandra Mikhailovna’s husband. She feels in some unnatural relationship some mystery: the husband is always morose and “ambiguously compassionate,” and the wife is timid, passionately impressionable and as if in some kind of guilty. She is thin and pale, her health is gradually deteriorating because of constant spiritual pain.
I’m already thirteen. It is capable of much to guess, but from reality it distracts the awakened passion for reading. Accidentally, the girl finds access to the home library, where her forbidden novels are kept. Now she lives “fantasies”, “magic pictures”, far away taking her away from the “dull monotony” of life. For three years she is hiding from her oldest friend. There is no trust between them for a long time, although mutual love is just as strong. When Neotochka turns sixteen, Alexandra Mikhailovna notices her “wonderful voice”: from now on the girl learns singing in the conservatory.
Once in the library Netochka finds the old letter forgotten in the book. A certain SO writes to Alexandra Mikhailovna. The girl finds out the mystery that has tormented her for eight years: already married to Alexandra Mikhaylovna fell in love with the “unevenness,” a petty official. After a short and completely “sinless” happiness, “gossip”, “anger and laughter” began – the society turned away from the “criminal”. The husband, however, defended her, but ordered S. O. to leave urgently. A lowly beloved forever said goodbye to the “forgotten” “sad beauty.”
The shocked Netochka reveals the meaning of “the long, hopeless suffering” of Alexandra Mikhailovna, her “victim, brought humbly, uncomplainingly and in vain.” After all, Peter Alexandrovich “despises her and laughs at her”: before entering his wife’s office, he usually “mirrors” his face before a mirror. From the humming and laughing man turns into a dull, hunched, heartbroken. Netochka, who saw it, laughed sarcastically into the face of “the criminal who forgives sins to the righteous.”
Soon, Peter Alexandrovich, whom his wife suspects in hidden behind the causeless filthy love of Neotochka, traces the girl in the library and sees the cherished letter. Wanting to justify himself, he accuses Netochka of immoral correspondence with her lovers. During the stormy scene in Alexandra Mikhaylovna’s office, her husband threatens to drive the pupil out of the house. Netochka does not refute slander, to “kill” the girlfriend the truth. She protects the girl. The pretender in malice reminds his wife of the past “sin”, which leads her to a faint. Netochka denounces his moral tyranny over his wife for the sake of “proving” that he is “more sinless than her”! Before leaving their home for good, she still has to talk to Pyotr Alexandrovich’s assistant, Ovrov, who suddenly stops her.