Uncle Vanya, by Anton Chekhov

Act 4

Voitski’S bedroom, which is also his office. A table stands near the window; on it are ledgers, letter scales, and papers of every description. Near by stands a smaller table belonging to Astroff, with his paints and drawing materials. On the wall hangs a cage containing a starling. There is also a map of Africa on the wall, obviously of no use to anybody. There is a large sofa covered with buckram. A door to the left leads into an inner room; one to the right leads into the front hall, and before this door lies a mat for the peasants with their muddy boots to stand on. It is an autumn evening. The silence is profound. Telegin and Marina are sitting facing one another, winding wool.

Telegin. Be quick, Marina, or we shall be called away to say good-bye before you have finished. The carriage has already been ordered.

Marina. [Trying to wind more quickly] I am a little tired.

Telegin. They are going to Kharkoff to live.

Marina. They do well to go.

Telegin. They have been frightened. The professor’s wife won’t stay here an hour longer. “If we are going at all, let’s be off,” says she, “we shall go to Kharkoff and look about us, and then we can send for our things.” They are travelling light. It seems, Marina, that fate has decreed for them not to live here.

Marina. And quite rightly. What a storm they have just raised! It was shameful!

Telegin. It was indeed. The scene was worthy of the brush of Aibazofski.

Marina. I wish I’d never laid eyes on them. [A pause] Now we shall have things as they were again: tea at eight, dinner at one, and supper in the evening; everything in order as decent folks, as Christians like to have it. [Sighs] It is a long time since I have eaten noodles.

Telegin. Yes, we haven’t had noodles for ages. [A pause] Not for ages. As I was going through the village this morning, Marina, one of the shop-keepers called after me, “Hi! you hanger-on!” I felt it bitterly.

Marina. Don’t pay the least attention to them, master; we are all dependents on God. You and Sonia and all of us. Every one must work, no one can sit idle. Where is Sonia?

Telegin. In the garden with the doctor, looking for Ivan. They fear he may lay violent hands on himself.

Marina. Where is his pistol?

Telegin. [Whispers] I hid it in the cellar.

Voitski and Astroff come in.

Voitski. Leave me alone! [To Marina and Telegin] Go away! Go away and leave me to myself, if but for an hour. I won’t have you watching me like this!

Telegin. Yes, yes, Vanya. [He goes out on tiptoe.]

Marina. The gander cackles; ho! ho! ho!

[She gathers up her wool and goes out.]

Voitski. Leave me by myself!

Astroff. I would, with the greatest pleasure. I ought to have gone long ago, but I shan’t leave you until you have returned what you took from me.

Voitski. I took nothing from you.

Astroff. I am not jesting, don’t detain me, I really must go.

Voitski. I took nothing of yours.

Astroff. You didn’t? Very well, I shall have to wait a little longer, and then you will have to forgive me if I resort to force. We shall have to bind you and search you. I mean what I say.

Voitski. Do as you please. [A pause] Oh, to make such a fool of myself! To shoot twice and miss him both times! I shall never forgive myself.

Astroff. When the impulse came to shoot, it would have been as well had you put a bullet through your own head.

Voitski. [Shrugging his shoulders] Strange! I attempted murder, and am not going to be arrested or brought to trial. That means they think me mad. [With a bitter laugh] Me! I am mad, and those who hide their worthlessness, their dullness, their crying he artlessness behind a professor’s mask, are sane! Those who marry old men and then deceive them under the noses of all, are sane! I saw you kiss her; I saw you in each other’s arms!

Astroff. Yes, sir, I did kiss her; so there. [He puts his thumb to his nose.]

Voitski. [His eyes on the door] No, it is the earth that is mad, because she still bears us on her breast.

Astroff. That is nonsense.

Voitski. Well? Am I not a madman, and therefore irresponsible? Haven’t I the right to talk nonsense?

Astroff. This is a farce! You are not mad; you are simply a ridiculous fool. I used to think every fool was out of his senses, but now I see that lack of sense is a man’s normal state, and you are perfectly normal.

Voitski. [Covers his face with his hands] Oh! If you knew how ashamed I am! These piercing pangs of shame are like nothing on earth. [In an agonised voice] I can’t endure them! [He leans against the table] What can I do? What can I do?

Astroff. Nothing.

Voitski. You must tell me something! Oh, my God! I am forty-seven years old. I may live to sixty; I still have thirteen years before me; an eternity! How shall I be able to endure life for thirteen years? What shall I do? How can I fill them? Oh, don’t you see? [He presses Astroff’S hand convulsively] Don’t you see, if only I could live the rest of my life in some new way! If I could only wake some still, bright morning and feel that life had begun again; that the past was forgotten and had vanished like smoke. [He weeps] Oh, to begin life anew! Tell me, tell me how to begin.

Astroff. [Crossly] What nonsense! What sort of a new life can you and I look forward to? We can have no hope.

Voitski. None?

Astroff. None. Of that I am convinced.

Voitski. Tell me what to do. [He puts his hand to his heart] I feel such a burning pain here.

Astroff. [Shouts angrily] Stop! [Then, more gently] It may be that posterity, which will despise us for our blind and stupid lives, will find some road to happiness; but we — you and I— have but one hope, the hope that we may be visited by visions, perhaps by pleasant ones, as we lie resting in our graves. [Sighing] Yes, brother, there were only two respectable, intelligent men in this county, you and I. Ten years or so of this life of ours, this miserable life, have sucked us under, and we have become as contemptible and petty as the rest. But don’t try to talk me out of my purpose! Give me what you took from me, will you?

Voitski. I took nothing from you.

Astroff. You took a little bottle of morphine out of my medicine-case. [A pause] Listen! If you are positively determined to make an end to yourself, go into the woods and shoot yourself there. Give up the morphine, or there will be a lot of talk and guesswork; people will think I gave it to you. I don’t fancy having to perform a post-mortem on you. Do you think I should find it interesting?

Sonia comes in.

Voitski. Leave me alone.

Astroff. [To Sonia] Sonia, your uncle has stolen a bottle of morphine out of my medicine-case and won’t give it up. Tell him that his behaviour is — well, unwise. I haven’t time, I must be going.

Sonia. Uncle Vanya, did you take the morphine?

Astroff. Yes, he took it. [A pause] I am absolutely sure.

Sonia. Give it up! Why do you want to frighten us? [Tenderly] Give it up, Uncle Vanya! My misfortune is perhaps even greater than yours, but I am not plunged in despair. I endure my sorrow, and shall endure it until my life comes to a natural end. You must endure yours, too. [A pause] Give it up! Dear, darling Uncle Vanya. Give it up! [She weeps] You are so good, I am sure you will have pity on us and give it up. You must endure your sorrow, Uncle Vanya; you must endure it.

Voitski takes a bottle from the drawer of the table and hands it to Astroff.

Voitski. There it is! [To Sonia] And now, we must get to work at once; we must do something, or else I shall not be able to endure it.

Sonia. Yes, yes, to work! As soon as we have seen them off we shall go to work. [She nervously straightens out the papers on the table] Everything is in a muddle!

Astroff. [Putting the bottle in his case, which he straps together] Now I can be off.

Helena comes in.

Helena. Are you here, Ivan? We are starting in a moment. Go to Alexander, he wants to speak to you.

Sonia. Go, Uncle Vanya. [She takes Voitski ‘S arm] Come, you and papa must make peace; that is absolutely necessary.

Sonia and Voitski go out.

Helena. I am going away. [She gives Astroff her hand] Good-bye.

Astroff. So soon?

Helena. The carriage is waiting.

Astroff. Good-bye.

Helena. You promised me you would go away yourself to-day.

Astroff. I have not forgotten. I am going at once. [A pause] Were you frightened? Was it so terrible?

Helena. Yes.

Astroff. Couldn’t you stay? Couldn’t you? To-morrow — in the forest —

Helena. No. It is all settled, and that is why I can look you so bravely in the face. Our departure is fixed. One thing I must ask of you: don’t think too badly of me; I should like you to respect me.

Astroff. Ah! [With an impatient gesture] Stay, I implore you! Confess that there is nothing for you to do in this world. You have no object in life; there is nothing to occupy your attention, and sooner or later your feelings must master you. It is inevitable. It would be better if it happened not in Kharkoff or in Kursk, but here, in nature’s lap. It would then at least be poetical, even beautiful. Here you have the forests, the houses half in ruins that Turgenieff writes of.

Helena. How comical you are! I am angry with you and yet I shall always remember you with pleasure. You are interesting and original. You and I will never meet again, and so I shall tell you — why should I conceal it? — that I am just a little in love with you. Come, one more last pressure of our hands, and then let us part good friends. Let us not bear each other any ill will.

Astroff. [Pressing her hand] Yes, go. [Thoughtfully] You seem to be sincere and good, and yet there is something strangely disquieting about all your personality. No sooner did you arrive here with your husband than every one whom you found busy and actively creating something was forced to drop his work and give himself up for the whole summer to your husband’s gout and yourself. You and he have infected us with your idleness. I have been swept off my feet; I have not put my hand to a thing for weeks, during which sickness has been running its course unchecked among the people, and the peasants have been pasturing their cattle in my woods and young plantations. Go where you will, you and your husband will always carry destruction in your train. I am joking of course, and yet I am strangely sure that had you stayed here we should have been overtaken by the most immense desolation. I would have gone to my ruin, and you — you would not have prospered. So go! E finita la comedia!

Helena. [Snatching a pencil off Astroff’S table, and hiding it with a quick movement] I shall take this pencil for memory!

Astroff. How strange it is. We meet, and then suddenly it seems that we must part forever. That is the way in this world. As long as we are alone, before Uncle Vanya comes in with a bouquet — allow me — to kiss you good-bye — may I? [He kisses her on the cheek] So! Splendid!

Helena. I wish you every happiness. [She glances about her] For once in my life, I shall! and scorn the consequences! [She kisses him impetuously, and they quickly part] I must go.

Astroff. Yes, go. If the carriage is there, then start at once. [They stand listening.]

Astroff. E finita!

Voitski, Serebrakoff, Mme. Voitskaya with her book, Telegin, and Sonia come in.

Serebrakoff. [To Voitski] Shame on him who bears malice for the past. I have gone through so much in the last few hours that I feel capable of writing a whole treatise on the conduct of life for the instruction of posterity. I gladly accept your apology, and myself ask your forgiveness. [He kisses Voitski three times.]

Helena embraces Sonia.

Serebrakoff. [Kissing Mme. Voitskaya’S hand] Mother!

Mme. Voitskaya. [Kissing him] Have your picture taken, Alexander, and send me one. You know how dear you are to me.

Telegin. Good-bye, your Exce llency. Don’t forget us.

Serebrakoff. [Kissing his daughter] Good-bye, good-bye all. [Shaking hands with Astroff] Many thanks for your pleasant company. I have a deep regard for your opinions and your enthusiasm, but let me, as an old man, give one word of advice at parting: do something, my friend! Work! Do something! [They all bow] Good luck to you all. [He goes out followed by Mme. Voitskaya and Sonia.]

Voitski [Kissing Helena’S hand fervently] Good-bye — forgive me. I shall never see you again!

Helena. [Touched] Good-bye, dear boy.

She lightly kisses his head as he bends over her hand, and goes out.

Astroff. Tell them to bring my carriage around too, Waffles.

Telegin. All right, old man.

Astroff and Voitski are left behind alone. ASTROFF collects his paints and drawing materials on the table and packs them away in a box.

Astroff. Why don’t you go to see them off?

Voitski. Let them go! I— I can’t go out there. I feel too sad. I must go to work on something at once. To work! To work!

He rummages through his papers on the table. A pause. The tinkling of bells is heard as the horses trot away.

Astroff. They have gone! The professor, I suppose, is glad to go. He couldn’t be tempted back now by a fortune.

Marina comes in.

Marina. They have gone. [She sits down in an arm-chair and knits her stocking.]

Sonia comes in wiping her eyes.

Sonia. They have gone. God be with them. [To her uncle] And now, Uncle Vanya, let us do something!

Voitski. To work! To work!

Sonia. It is long, long, since you and I have sat together at this table. [She lights a lamp on the table] No ink! [She takes the inkstand to the cupboard and fills it from an ink-bottle] How sad it is to see them go!

Mme. Voitskaya comes slowly in.

Mme. Voitskaya. They have gone.

She sits down and at once becomes absorbed in her book. Sonia sits down at the table and looks through an account book.

Sonia. First, Uncle Vanya, let us write up the accounts. They are in a dreadful state. Come, begin. You take one and I will take the other.

Voitski. In account with [They sit silently writing.]

Marina. [Yawning] The sand-man has come.

Astroff. How still it is. Their pens scratch, the cricket sings; it is so warm and comfortable. I hate to go. [The tinkling of bells is heard.]

Astroff. My carriage has come. There now remains but to say good-bye to you, my friends, and to my table here, and then — away! [He puts the map into the portfolio.]

Marina. Don’t hurry away; sit a little longer with us.

Astroff. Impossible.

Voitski. [Writing] And carry forward from the old debt two seventy-five —

Workman comes in.

Workman. Your carriage is waiting, sir.

Astroff. All right. [He hands the Workman his medicine-case, portfolio, and box] Look out, don’t crush the portfolio!

Workman. Very well, sir.

Sonia. When shall we see you again?

Astroff. Hardly before next summer. Probably not this winter, though, of course, if anything should happen you will let me know. [He shakes hands with them] Thank you for your kindness, for your hospitality, for everything! [He goes up to Marina and kisses her head] Good-bye, old nurse!

Marina. Are you going without your tea?

Astroff. I don’t want any, nurse.

Marina. Won’t you have a drop of vodka?

Astroff. [Hesitatingly] Yes, I might.

Marina goes out.

Astroff. [After a pause] My off-wheeler has gone lame for some reason. I noticed it yesterday when Peter was taking him to water.

Voitski. You should have him re-shod.

Astroff. I shall have to go around by the blacksmith’s on my way home. It can’t be avoided. [He stands looking up at the map of Africa hanging on the wall] I suppose it is roasting hot in Africa now.

Voitski. Yes, I suppose it is.

Marina comes back carrying a tray on which are a glass of vodka and a piece of bread.

Marina. Help yourself.

Astroff drinks

Marina. To your good health! [She bows deeply] Eat your bread with it.

Astroff. No, I like it so. And now, good-bye. [To Marina] You needn’t come out to see me off, nurse.

He goes out. Sonia follows him with a candle to light him to the carriage. Marina sits down in her armchair.

Voitski. [Writing] On the 2d of February, twenty pounds of butter; on the 16th, twenty pounds of butter again. Buckwheat flour — [A pause. Bells are heard tinkling.]

Marina. He has gone. [A pause.]

Sonia comes in and sets the candle stick on the table.

Sonia. He has gone.

Voitski. [Adding and writing] Total, fifteen — twenty-five —

Sonia sits down and begins to write.

[Yawning] Oh, ho! The Lord have mercy.

Telegin comes in on tiptoe, sits down near the door, and begins to tune his guitar.

Voitski. [To Sonia, stroking her hair] Oh, my child, I am miserable; if you only knew how miserable I am!

Sonia. What can we do? We must live our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through the long procession of days before us, and through the long evenings; we shall patiently bear the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others without rest, both now and when we are old; and when our last hour comes we shall meet it humbly, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered and wept, that our life was bitter, and God will have pity on us. Ah, then dear, dear Uncle, we shall see that bright and beautiful life; we shall rejoice and look back upon our sorrow here; a tender smile — and — we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith. [Sonia kneels down before her uncle and lays her head on his hands. She speaks in a weary voice] We shall rest. [Telegin plays softly on the guitar] We shall rest. We shall hear the angels. We shall see heaven shining like a jewel. We shall see all evil and all our pain sink away in the great compassion that shall enfold the world. Our life will be as peaceful and tender and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have faith. [She wipes away her tears] My poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are crying! [Weeping] You have never known what happiness was, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait! We shall rest. [She embraces him] We shall rest. [The WATCHMAN’S rattle is heard in the garden; Telegin plays softly; Mme. Voitskaya writes something on the margin of her pamphlet; Marina knits her stocking] We shall rest.

The curtain slowly falls.

This web edition published by:

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06