Natalia Petrovna Islaevna, bored with Arkady her preoccupied husband, and with her overly ardent cavalier, the well-known poet Rakitin, with the afternoon cardgames and aimless bickering of her mother-in-law Anna and her silly retainers, bored and with the routine, isolation, uselessness and dependency of her existence, exhibits extremes of mood as she and Rakitin come to realize that she has fallen in love with her son's new tutor, an educated young peasant named Belaev.
Her unassimilable passion maddens Rakitin, confuses Belaev, awakens the sexual awareness and jealousy of Vera, her young niece, unleashes the wrath of her mother-in-law, and escapes her husband entirely. Only the subsidiary comic courtship of two servants, the scheming doctor and Lisaveta (Anna's companion, piano teacher to Kolya and Vera) ends satisfactorily.
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