a detailed summary of:


Samuil Aleshin

Scene One

It is evening at the Platonov apartment, Mariya Platonova, a 40-year-old school teacher, is asleep on the sofa. Also present are Mariya's mother, Grandma Vera, and Mariya's 15-year-old daughter, Nina. They are awaiting the return of the family's husband and father, Sergei, who has been absent for three months on a business trip. For all that time, the pendulum clock on the wall has stood still because of Mariya and Nina's belief that winding the clock is a man's job.

Nina awakens Mariya, so she can grade her school papers. Mariya jokingly complains of her work, but then admits that she was born to be a teacher...only not the kind of teacher that her school's director likes. The director, Mariya says, wants a female teacher who does not resemble a woman and a male teacher who does not resemble a man. Mariya continues: " I'm an ordinary woman. I love to get dressed up. I love to cook. I love to do my hair. I find it pleasant to walk around in summer with my arms exposed. And I like to like....And I don't like to be reprimanded for decollete or a slit in my skirt.
Be a kid again

Read V. Kaverin's novel
"Two Captains"

A 12-year-old neighbor boy named Petya comes to return a book and he asks if he can borrow something else interesting. Mariya gives him a copy of Two Captains by Veniamin Kaverin.

Petya is a shy boy who never looks anyone in the eye. He feels ashamed because has no father and his mother makes him sit in the kitchen when she entertains "guests", which she does often.

Mariya invites Petya's mother, Lida, over for a little talk. Lida is slightly tipsy. Mariya gently suggests that instead of sleeping in the kitchen, Petya should spend the night with the Platonovs. Lida thanks Mariya, but refuses the offer, saying Petya will get used to the insults of life. Mariya tries to insist, but Lida cuts her off, saying their situations are not comparable--Mariya is a happily married woman whereas Lida was abandoned by her husband. Lida leaves.

A married couple who are also work colleagues of Sergei's arrives. They are Pavel Nefedov (34), and his beautiful 30-year-old wife, Varya. This is the first time Mariya, Nina, and Grandma Vera are meeting Varya, and they chastise Pavel for hiding her for so long. Pavel says it's just because either he or Varya are always off on business trips. Grandma Varya comments:

Grandma Vera: A completely modern family. The husband and wife see each other only at the train station.

Pavel and Varya have come because Varya wants to drop off some notes she made concerning the engine that Sergei has designed. She couldn't wait until tomorrow because she is leaving tonight on an extended business trip, although she sees it as an enforced exile, an attempt to keep her out of the way. Pavel tells her she's imagining things.

Sergei arrives home. His family happily kiss him. He is stunned to see Varya there. Saying that they must discuss some technical matters on the engine, Sergei and Varya remain in the living room while everyone else adjourns to the kitchen for tea.

Sergei and Varya pretend to look at Varya's technical notes for a few moments. Then Sergei says seriously that Varya should not have come. On the verge of tears, Varya says she came hoping only to hear Sergei's words in a telegram to his family.

Varya says that she is leaving. But she will not write to Sergei and does not want him to write to her.

When Varya and Pavel depart, Sergei sees that no one has wound the clock. He repeats the dictum that winding a clock is a man's job. He winds it, then embraces Mariya and Nina as they all listen to the clock chime.

Scene Two

It is New Year's Eve in a small, provincial town. Varya, on her business trip, is sharing a hotel room with a middle-aged woman named Margarita. Varya drags in a fir tree and some food so that they can have their own New Year's party.

Varya reacts excitedly as she hears that a telegram has come for her. She is disappointed to find out that it is from her husband, Pavel. In the telegram, Pavel tells her that the testing of the engine is progressing just fine. Varya senses, however, that that is not true.

Varya explains to Margarita that Sergei Platonov has designed a new engine. Varya, however, has identified some potentially fatal flaws in the engine design, which will doom it to failure. Sergei thinks that the problems can be overcome. Varya does not share this optimism.

Varya confesses that she loves not her husband, but another man, one with a wife and daughter. She thinks, however, that her time spent away on this business trip will help her forget him.

Margarita has been married and divorced three times. Each time, it was she herself who left her husband. She's independent and intelligent and doesn't need to suffer any insult. She notes that love always disappears like water in the sand. She concedes, however, that women also take part in the initial deception--getting dressed up, wearing make-up, flirting with and seducing men.

She says that it is hard to live alone, especially for a woman, but it is possible.

As the women get ready to meet the New Year, they pour some wine. Margarita offers a toast which she learned from her father. Instead of wishing everyone the usual health, happiness, etc., etc., she merely wishes that everyone gets what they deserve.

At the stroke of twelve, the telephone rings. It is Sergei calling. (Just think of how he must have begged the operator to get the call through.) Varya excitedly takes the call. But after hanging up, she tells Margarita that her affair with Sergei is over. "Over, over, and over."

Margarita wisely reacalls an Eastern proverb:

Margarita: You told me once--I believed. You repeated it--I got suspicious. You told me a third time--and I understood that you were lying.

Scene One

It is now March. At his office, Sergei is working on the designs for his new engine. His assistant, Kolya, says they did some tests last night. Present at the tests was a ministry representative name Chivikhlikhin, known to Sergei and his colleagues as a rouge, bureaucrat, rumor-monger, and idler. Kolya doesn't really want to say what happened, but he finally admits that he lied to Chivikhlikhin, claiming that earlier test results were all positive (they were, in fact, all bad).

Sergei is enraged at Kolya for lying. He fires Kolya, but relents when the young man refuses to leave. Sergei calls Chivikhlikhin and tells him the truth about the test results. Sergei takes all blame for the disinformation on himself.

Sergei consults with Pavel about the fly-wheel for the engine. Pavel opines on how he misses his wife, Varya, who has been away for three months now. In each letter, Pavel says, Varya expresses impatience to learn about how the engine is progressing.

Unable to restrain himself, Sergei asks when Varya is to return. Pavel responds that she's overdue and could arrive at any time.

A Party colleague named Kravtsov enters. Concerned about the progress of the engine, he wonders if perhaps Varya isn't right in her criticisms and that Sergei is pushing the project merely out of injured pride. Sergei assures Kravtsov that the problems will be overcome.

Moving onto another topic, Kravtsov says that the wife of another Party member, Ignatiuk, has lodged a complaint. Apparently, Ignatiuk has abandoned his wife and children for another woman. In his defense, Ignatiuk refers to "love", a notion which Kravtsov scorns. Kravtsov wants Sergei to look into the matter and report on it to the Party...a businesslike report, without "drivel."

Sergei steps out of his office. Varya enters and gazes longingly at Sergei's jacket, which is hanging on a chair. The phone rings, and Varya answers. It is Nina calling. She wants to remind Sergei that today is his birthday. Guests have been invited, so he mustn't be late coming home. Varya promises to pass on the message.

Sergei enters. He and Varya share a tender moment. Sergei says he can't stay away from her any longer. He wants to be with her forever. Varya says they can't be together and relays Nina's message.

Golovin, the chief designer, enters. After greeting Varya, he complains that Sergei is spending too much time on his engine tests. The engine meets basic specifications and should be put into production immediately, he insists. Besides, the sooner they produce the engine the better their chances for a prize.

Sergei says the engine still has some problems and he won't release it until they are worked out. His conscience won't allow him to do otherwise. Sergei and Golovin exchange heated words. Golovin forbids Sergei to contact the Ministry directly in the future. Sergei says he will defy the order if he sees fit.

Pavel rushes in and lovingly covers Varya with kisses. Varya announces that she is leaving Pavel and will stay with her father because she is in love with another man. Pavel is thunderstruck.

Scene Two

Guests have gathered at the Platonovs' apartment for Sergei's birthday party. Sergei, however, has not shown up. Mariya and Nina, worried, are making frantic phone calls, but can't locate him.

Sailing, sailing....
Stanyukovich Sobolev
"On K.M. Stanyukovich"
by Leonid Sobolev
(in Russian)
Lida arrives with a cake she's made for Sergei. Petya even decorated the cake with a ship design, because he's currently infatuated with sailing. Mariya remembers that today is Petya's birthday, too. So she gives him some sea stories by Stanyukovich and Sobolev.

A disheveled-looking Pavel then arrives. He gives Mariya the bombshell news that Sergei and Varya have run off together. Pavel begs Mariya to go see them and get Sergei come home. Mariya says she can't do it. Pavel pleads, reminding her that she has a daughter. Mariya says it is precisely for that reason that she cannot go to them. Pavel leaves, dispirited.

Mariya wrings her hands, wondering what to do. Perhaps, she hopes, it is just a fling and Sergei will come to his senses.

Sergei finally shows up. Mariya is greatly relieved to see him. She does not mention the delicate situation, and leads Sergei over to the guests at the table.

Scene One

It is April. Varya is living with her father, Vasily Fyodorovich, a respected surgeon. Vasily is not happy with what Varya has done. He defends Pavel as a good, hard-working man, who is devoted to and dotes upon Varya. She says that isn't enough:

Varya: I was living with Pavel. We didn't have children, and that's fine. Even better. There was work, science, and then to suddenly have to deal with diapers and crying and other problems. There's no reason for it. And he agreed. And in general, he always agreed to everything.

Vasily: And that's bad?

Varya:: Very bad. A woman needs to be told "No" sometimes. She has to have things explained, proven to her. She needs to be told, "I want to have a child with you." Understand! A woman needs to be begged; you have to demand a child from her. But Pavel--he agreed to everything. For him, no means no. But now I know what it is to want a child. I want a child with Sergei Petrovich. I want to be a mother. I want it to be his child. I want the crying and diapers and everything. Just let it look like him. And he demands this of me.

Nevertheless, Varya says she won't have a child with Sergei as long as he is still living with his family. Vasily still disapproves, saying that now Varya is alone. She doesn't see it that way:

Varya: I'm alone? Why can't you understand? I am with him. And there is nothing, you hear, nothing that I have to know about him. Whether he good and caring or not doesn't matter. He's mine just as he is. And the opposite is true, too. I find everything about him interesting. Every trifle. Why he combs his hair this way and not that way. Why he doesn't wear galoshes. These facts for me are of great importance.... I'm breathing differently now. I talk with people as if I know something special. I walk down the street and it seems that everything is glowing. You understand, dear Papa. Understand me. Understand that for me Sergei Petrovich is everything. And there will be no one better than him. I think about him constantly. So why shouldn't I be with him? He is my life. You understand? Life.

Varya says that Vasily will see what a good man Sergei is when he meets him. In fact, Sergei should be coming over shortly. Vasily is aghast. He wants to leave immediately so as not to meet Sergei. Before he can go, however, Pavel arrives with a suitcase of Varya's things. Vasily invites Pavel to stay and have some tea. But Varya, afraid that Pavel and Sergei will meet, claims that she has to leave and asks Pavel to see her out. Pavel, still devoted to her, obeys.

When Pavel and Varya leave, Vasily sadly looks at a portrait of his dead wife and addresses it:

Vasily: She's in love. Is it really the same kind of love that we had? When I was ready to believe in a life after death if only to meet with you again.... How casually they deal with one another! And this is a serious woman, your daughter. And what about the ones who aren't serious? Abortions, their own husbands and other people's, it's all the same to them. (to himself) Don't generalize, Vasily Fyodorovich, don't generalize. Medicine teaches us that in life, in man, everything is individual.

Sergei arrives and Vasily grudginly lets him in. Sergei sees the photo of Varya's mother. Vasily points out that she was Varya's mother and his wife, a rare combination these days. Sergei gets beligerant and demands to know how Vasily dare use such a tone of voice with him.

Sergei says it's not his fault that he's fallen in love with Varya, that true happiness has come to him late in life. Sergei claims that he is suffering because of the situation. Vasily scoffs at this. It would have been one thing if Sergei had been in misery in his home life, but he wasn't. Vasily insists, "after love is gone, there still remains duty." Sergei says what Vasily calls duty is the same as misery.

Varya returns, and Vasily exits. Sergei tells Varya that he loves her. However, he can't leave his wife and daughter. Broken-hearted, Varya tells Sergei to leave and never come back. He exits. Varya wants to chase after him, but stops herself, reminding herself that she must maitain her self-respect and worth, in short, she should be a man.

Vasily returns. Varya bursts into tears, saying she tried to avoid this love, run away from it. And when it finally came, she herself must kill it. Vasily comforts her.

Scene Two

It is evening at the Platonov apartment. Mariya grumbles to Grandma Vera about Sergei not needing her. Grandma Vera says Mariya should support her husband if she loves him. Mariya shoots back that she doesn't need a husband who needs supporting. Finally feeling the need to assert her own worth, Mariya says she will tell Sergei they must end this charade as soon as he comes home. Grandma Vera is against this idea.

Sergei comes home, looking tired and ill. He asks if he's late, and Mariya points out that the clock has stopped because he forgot to wind it.

Sergei is curt and irritable. When asked about this, he says he's just tired and it happens like this sometimes with human beings and he is, after all, a human being. Mariya reminds him that she, too, is a human being.

Concerned about Sergei's health, Nina gives him a thermometer to measure his temperature.

Kravtsov arrives. He tells Sergei that Golovin is raising a stink, claiming that Sergei is prolonging the engine tests for other than technical reasons, that he is, in effect, spitting on the whole collective. What's more, Ignatiuk is flinging mud and spreading rumors. Sergei dismisses Ignatiuk as a philanderer and idler. Even so, Kravtsov says, Sergei shouldn't have gotten himself into this scandalous personal position. If he wanted a little nookie, Kravtsov says, Sergei should have chosen some other woman, or at least kept the whole thing quiet.

Sergei says he doesn't care what other people think. Kravtsov says Sergei should at least pity Mariya, who, after all, did nothing wrong. Sergei wants to know how he should show this lying or telling the truth. Kravtsov says sometimes it's best to keep quiet and forget about the truth. Sergei snorts in indignation.

Well, if Sergei doesn't care about anyone else, he should at least be concerned with public opinion. People understand that these things happen, but Sergei shouldn't rub it in their faces. After all, they kicked Ignatiuk out of the Party and they could kick Sergei out, too. Sergei angrily shoots back:

Sergei: I won my Party card at the front. I can defend it. The Party doesn't need me to lie. The Party needs me to be honest. To work honestly. To have a family life based on love. That's what the Party needs. For me to always be honest in everything. Yes. We have only one life, and he who lies deceives both himself and the Party.

Sergei says he must tell the truth. After all, doesn't he have a right to happiness? Kravtsov says, no, Sergei doesn't have such a right. It's too late for that.

Sergei then says it all doesn't matter anyway. He and Varya broke up a month ago. Kravtsov is greatly relieved and leaves.

The phone rings. Mariya answers, but when she says "Hello", the caller hangs up. Exasperated, Mariya says she teaches her students to tell the truth, yet here she is living a lie. She tells Sergei they must part. He protests. Mariya checks the thermometer and sees that Sergei has a fever.

While the women rush about calling doctors, fetching Sergei's robe and slippers, etc., Sergei mutters: "Too late for happiness? How can it be too late when we're both alive?

Scene One
It is June. They Platonovs are at their dacha. Sergei, still ill, has been flat on his back for two weeks or so.

Sergei and Nina cuddle lovingly. Nina asks Sergei if he no longer loves Mariya. Sergei doesn't answer directly, saying only that she'll understand some day when she's older.

Kolya shows up, saying that the tests on the engine have been perfect, proving that Sergei had been right all along.

Kolya and Nina, who are not indifferent to one another, go off for a boat ride.

Meanwhile, Ignatiuk arrives, seeking a conference with Mariya. He tells her his story--he was a philanderer whose wife complained to the Party. Sergei was assigned to look into the matter and, based on Sergei's recommendation, Ignatiuk was thrown out of the Party. Wanting revenge, Ignatiuk urges Mariya to lodge a complaint with the Party about Sergei's philandering. And if Mariya doesn't do it, Ignatiuk will raise a stink with every official he can.

Mariya bravely defends Sergei, saying that Varya is a family friend and all the accusations are lies. Just then, Varya shows up at the dacha gate. Disguising her distress, Mariya points to Varya's arrival as proof of their freindly relations. Shocked at what he sees as Mariya's connivance in Sergei's immorality, Ignatiuk leaves, mumbling about the rotten intelligentsia

Varya tells Mariya she's just come to inquire about Sergei's health and to reassure him that everything is okay with the engine. She then asks to see Sergei. Mariya fumes, but gets him. Sergei walks off with Varya.

Nina sees Varya and runs up to Mariya, demanding to know what Varya is doing here. She wants to know why Mariya didn't chase Varya away and beat her. Mariya shouts at Nina, threatening to hit her if she doesn't shut up. Grandma Vera also says Varya's arrival is too much and that Mariya should say something. Mariya snaps back:

Mariya: I beg you, keep quiet! What do you want from me? You want me to kill her?! Or him?! Or myself?! What are you waiting for from me?! Leave me in peace, you hear?! I'm keeping my mouth shut, so don't torment me with your questions and advice! I'm keeping my mouth shut, so don't try to stop me from keeping it shut! Leave me alone!

Sergei returns and tells Mariya that he is leaving her. She accepts the decision, but says she doubts that Sergei will find happiness. Sergei tries to explain, but Mariya cuts him off, saying it's not necessary.

Scene Two

It is October in Mariya's apartment. Grandma Vera is home alone. Nina bursts in, crying. On the street she just saw Varya and "that man" (Sergei, whom she considers dead). He came up to Nina and asked how she is doing. Instead of answering, she ran away from him. Tired, Nina retires to her bedroom to go to sleep early.

Mariya comes back from school. Grandma Vera tells her that a fellow teacher called to invite her to a birthday party. Mariya says she doesn't want to mingle with people and won't go. Grandma Vera gently chides her, saying that soon Nina will get married and that she (Grandma Vera) isn't long for this world. If Mariya keeps avoiding people, she will end up all alone.

Lida, again tipsy, comes over asking to borrow some vodka. Mariya offers what little she has, but it's not enough for Lida, who says she'll go out and buy some. Mariya tells Lida that she should give up drinking. But Lida says she drinks just because she wants to, not out of grief. She's become content with her single status. Her husband didn't care what he did to her, so now she has the right not to care what others think of her. After all, what's she supposed to do, hang herself out of boredom?

This touches a nerve with Mariya, who, struggling to hold back tears, talks about long, lonely nights spent swallowing screams of rage and struggling with the choice of hanging oneself, drinking, or finding a way to keep on living...somehow. She goes on:

Mariya: You turn to the wall and lie there, just hoping no one bothers you. But life bothers you. ... But then gradually I began to understand: it's right to bother me. And now I know it's good; I am immensely grateful to life for bothering me! In fact, I should rush to meet it. Air? Let me take in a full chestful. Sun? Let it warm me. Rain? Let him soak me, the soundrel. Worries? Bring them here. Clothes? I'm a woman and need new clothes. I need everything, the small and the large. Otherwise I might sink in my own bitterness like a stone in water. I would live only in bitterness and think only of bitterness. And that's shameful! ...I won't give in! I won't allow it! Not for a day!

Mariya sits down to correct her school notebooks. But first, she herself winds the pendulum clock.



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