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 Lisa by Renoir 1867

ANTON CHEKHOV    Uncle Vanya






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G. R. Ledger, Dec 2014. 


A drama of country life in four acts.



SEREBRYAKOV Alexander Vladimirovich, a retired professor.

ELENA Andreyevna, his wife, 27 years old.

SOFIA Alexandrovna (Sonya), his daughter from his first marriage.

VOYNITSKAYA Maria Vasilyevna, the widow of a high ranking state official, the mother of the professorís first wife.

VOYNITSKY  Ivan Petrovitch, (Uncle Vanya), her son.

ASTROV  Mixhael Lyvovich, a doctor.

TELYEGIN   Ilya Ilyich, an impoverished landowner.

MARINA  An old nanny.


The action takes place on the estate of Professor Serebryakov.



A garden. Part of the garden with the terrace of the house is visible. On a pathway under an old poplar a table is set for tea. Benches and chairs. A guitar is lying on one of the benches. It is three in the afternoon and overcast.

Marina, a quiet arthritic old woman is sitting by the samovar knitting a sock. Astrov is walking nearby.

MARINA  (pours a glass of tea from the samovar.) Drink this, itíll do you good.

ASTROV (takes the glass from her unwillingly.) Somehow I donít seem to want it.

MARINA  Perhaps youíld like a nip of vodka?

ASTROV  No. I donít drink vodka every day. Besides its stifling.

A pause.

Nanny, how long is it since weíve known each other?

MARINA  (thinking it over.) How long? Let me think... You came here, to these parts... when?.. Vera Petrovna was still alive, little Sonyaís mother. While she was with us you came to visit us for two whole winters... So that means eleven years have gone by. (Considering.) Or even more...

ASTROV  Have I changed very much since then?

MARINA  A lot. You were young then, and handsome, but now youíve grown old. And not as handsome. And of course, now you drink vodka.

ASTROV  Yes...In ten years Iíve become a different man. And what is the reason? Iíve been overworked. From morning to night Iím on my feet, I have no rest, and at night I lie in bed dreading that they are going to drag me out to some sick invalid. In all the time that Iíve known you I havenít had one free day. How could one not grow old? Besides life itself here is boring, stupid, dirty... Itís a life that drags you down. All around you they are all weirdos, nothing but weirdos. If you live among them for two or three years, then gradually, you yourself, without even noticing it, you become a weirdo. Itís an unavoidable fate. (He twists his long moustache.) Look what a huge moustache Iíve grown... A stupid moustache. Iíve become a weirdo, Nanny. As for being stupid, Iím not yet stupid, thank God for that, my brain is still okay, but my feelings have grown dull. I donít long for anything, I donít need anything, I donít love anyone... Unless of course I do love you. (He kisses her head.) When I was growing up I had a nanny like you.

MARINA  Will you have something to eat?

ASTROV  During Lent, in the third week, I went to Malitskoe for the epidemic... It was typhus... People were stretched out in the huts... Dirt, stench, smoke, calves all around on the floor alongside the sick... Piglets as well... I toiled all day, never sat down, not a crumb passed my lips, and when I got home I still couldnít rest. They brought in a signalman from the railway. I put him on the table so as to operate, and then he went and died in front of me under the chloroform. And just when I didnít need it my feelings woke up and my conscience started to prick me as if I had killed him on purpose... I sat down and closed my eyes, just like this, and I am thinking: all those who will live two hundred years after us and for we are now clearing the pathways, will they remember us with a kind word? No, Nanny, they wonít remember us!

MARINA  People will not remember, but God will remember.

ASTROV  Thank you for that. Those are fine words.

(Uncle Vanya enters.)

UNCLE VANYA  (He comes out of the house. He has had a long sleep after lunch and has a crumpled appearance. He sits on a bench and adjusts his fashionable tie.) Yes...    (A pause.)  Yes...

ASTROV  Had a good sleep?

UNCLE VANYA  Yes... Very much so. (He yawns.) Since the professor has been living here with his wife, life has just gone off the rails... I sleep at the wrong time, I eat all sorts of strange exotic foods for lunch and dinner, I drink wine... Itís all so unhealthy! We used never to have a free minute, Sonya and I worked all the time Ė and now, heavens above, only Sonya works, and I sleep, eat, drink... Itís so healthy!

Marina  (shaking her head.) Thereís no sense of order! The professor gets up at eleven, the samovar has been boiling since the morning, everything is kept for him. Before they came here we used to dine at one, as everyone does, but with them itís at seven. At night the professor reads and writes and suddenly, at two in the morning, he rings the bell. What is it? Holy Fathers! Some tea. Wake up the maid for him, bring in the samovar... Whatís it all coming  to?

ASTROV  And will they stay here for long?

UNCLE VANYA  (He whistles.) A hundred years. The professor has decided to settle here.

MARINA  Take now for instance. The samovar has been on for two hours and theyíve gone for a stroll.

UNCLE VANYA  Theyíre coming. Theyíre coming. Donít fret yourself.

(Voices are heard approaching. From the depth of the garden Serebyakov, Elena Andryevna, Sonya and Telyegin come on stage.)

SEREBRYAKOV  So beautiful, so beautiful... Wonderful views.

TELYEGIN  Quite remarkable, your excellency.

SONYA  Tomorrow weíll go into the woodland. Would you like that papa?

UNCLE VANYA  Ladies and Gentlemen, tea is served.

SEREBRYAKOV  My friends, please send the tea up to my study, would you be so kind. I still have some work to do.

SONYA  You really would enjoy seeing the woodland...

(Serebryalov, Elena Andreyevna and Sonya go into the house. Telyegin, goes to the table and sits down beside Marina.)

UNCLE VANYA  Its hot, its stifling and our great scholar is wearing an overcoat, galoshes, he has an umbrella, and heís also wearing gloves.

ASTROV  It must be that heís looking after himself.

UNCLE VANYA  But isnít she beautiful! So beautiful! In all my life Iíve never seen a more beautiful woman.

TELYEGIN  If I walk in the fields, Marina Timofeyevna, if I stroll in the shady garden, or even if I look at this table, I experience an inexpressible happiness! The weather is enchanting, the birds are singing, we are all living together in peace and harmony, - what more could we want? (He takes his glass of tea.) Thatís very kind of you. 

UNCLE VANYA  Her eyes...  A wonderful woman.

ASTROV  Tell us something then, Ivan Petrovich.

UNCLE VANYA  (Lazily) What can I tell you?

ASTROV  Hasnít anything new happened?

UNCLE VANYA  Nothing. Itís all the same old stuff. Iím just the same as I was, or perhaps Iíve got worse, since Iíve turned lazy, I do nothing, I only sit around grumbling like an old fogey. My old jackdaw, maman, still mumbles on about womenís emancipation. With one eye sheís staring in the grave, with the other sheís seeking the dawn of a new life somewhere in her academic journals.

ASTROV  And the professor?

UNCLE VANYA  Well the professor as before from morning  till the depth of night sits in his study and writes. ďWith straining mind, with wrinkled brow, we write our odes, and never hear a word of praise for them or for our genius.Ē The poor paper! Heíd do better to write his autobiography. What an excellent subject that would be! A retired professor, you understand, a dried out rusk, a learned old trout... Gout, rheumatism, migraine, from jealousy and envy his liver is inflamed... This old roach has come to live on the estate of his first wife, he lives here under protest, because he canít afford any more to live in the capital. He moans continuously about his bad luck, although, in reality, heís been unbelievably fortunate. (Excitedly.)  You just think, incredible good fortune. The son of a simple deacon, a theology student, he reaches the highest academic levels, gets a university chair, becomes your excellency, then a senator and so on and so on.  All of that is unimportant of course. But you just consider this. A man sits in his chair for a whole twenty five years reading and writing about art although he understands absolutely nothing about art. For twenty five years he chews over other peopleís thoughts about realism, naturalism and all sorts of other nonsense; for twenty five years he reads and writes about things that intelligent people already know, and for thickos itís of no interest; evidently then, for twenty five years he has been pouring water from one vessel into another and back again. And in all that time what an exalted ego! What pretentiousness! He retired and not one living soul was aware of him, he was entirely unknown: evidently, for twenty five years he had just occupied empty space. But just look at him Ė he parades around as if he were a demi-god!

ASTROV  So it seems you are jealous of him.

UNCLE VANYA  Yes, I am jealous! And look at his success with women! Not even Don Juan had such success. His first wife, my sister, a beautiful creature, pure like this sky above us, noble, high minded, having more admirers than he had pupils, - she loved him as only the purest angels can love those who are as beautiful and pure as themselves. My mother, his mother Ėin-law, still worships him, and he still inspires in her a sort of holy dread. His second wife, a great beauty and so intelligent Ė you have just seen her Ė married him when he was already old, she sacrificed to him her youth, her beauty, her freedom, her radiance. For what? Why did she do it?

ASTROV  Is she faithful?

UNCLE VANYA  Unfortunately, yes.

ASTROV  Why unfortunately?

UNCLE VANYA  Because that faithfulness is false from beginning to end. Thereís a lot of posturing in it, but no reason. To betray an old husband whom you canít endure Ė that is considered immoral; but to struggle to stifle in oneself oneís wretched  youth and vital  feelings Ė that is not thought to be immoral.

TELYEGIN  (In a tearful voice.) Vanya, I donít like it when you talk like that. Well, look, really... Anyone who betrays either a wife or husband, that person is untrustworthy and could easily betray their country!

UNCLE VANYA  (irritated.) Oh do dry up Waffles!

TELYEGIN  Permit me to speak,Vanya. My wife ran away from me on the day we were married, with her lover, and because of my unprepossessing appearance. But even so, I did not neglect my duty. I still love her and I am still faithful to her, I help her out as best I can, and I sold my estate to help with the education of the children she had with her lover. I deprived myself of happiness, but I am still left with my pride. And as for her? Her youth has already gone, her beauty under the influence of the laws of nature has faded, the man she loved has died... What is left to her?

(Sonya and Elena Andreyevna enter; a short while after Maria Vsalievna enters holding a book; she sits down and reads; she is given a cup of tea which she drinks without looking at anyone.)

SONYA  (hastily, to Nanny.) Out there, nanny, some men have come, can you go and sort it out, Iíll see to the tea... (she pours out a tea.)

(Marina goes out. Elena Andreyevna takes her tea and sips it, sitting on the swing.)

ASTROV  (to Elena Andreyena.) I came to see your husband. You wrote that he was very ill, rheumatism and whatever, but it turns out heís as sprightly as a chicken.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  Yesterday evening he was very low, he complained of pains in his legs, but today itís all gone...

ASTROV  And I of course came here breaking my neck a full fifteen miles. Ah well, itís nothing, itís not the first time. At least I can stay here until tomorrow and sleep my fill, quantum satis.

SONYA  Oh excellent! Itís so rare that you spend the night with us. I donít suppose youíve eaten.

ASTROV  No Miss, I havenít eaten.

SONYA  Well that fits in nicely, you can dine with us. We have dinner at seven now. (She drinks.) This tea is cold!

TELYEGIN  Yes, in the samovar the temperature has dropped significantly.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  It doesnít matter, Ivan Ivanich, weíll drink it cold.

TELYEGIN  I beg pardon maíam, itís not Ivan Ivanich, itís Ilya Ilyich... Ilya Ilyich Telegin, or as some people call me because of my pock marked face, Waffles. I was Sonyaís godfather, and his excellency, your husband, knows me very well. I live now in this house maíam... Perhaps you might notice that I dine with you each evening.

SONYA  Ilya Ilyich - our indispensable assistant, our right hand man. (Tenderly.)  Here, dear godfather, let me pour you some more tea.


SONYA  Whatís the matter grandma?

MARYA VASILYEVNA  I forgot to tell Alexander ... my memory is going... I had a letter today from Pavel Alexeyevich, from Kharkov... He sent his new pamphlet...

SONYA  Is it interesting?

MARYA VASILYEVNA  Interesting, but very strange. He renounces all the things which seven years ago he defended. Itís appalling!

UNCLE VANYA  Itís not appalling at all. Drink your tea maman.

MARYA VASILYEVNA  But I want to talk.

UNCLE VANYA  We have been talking and talking already for fifty years, and reading pamphlets. Itís time to bring it to an end.

MARYA VASILYEVNA  For some reason you find it unpleasant to listen when I am speaking. Excuse me Jean[1] but you have changed so much over the last year that I donít recognise you at all... You were a man of firm convictions, an enlightened personality...

UNCLE VANYA  Oh yes! I was an enlightened personality from whom nobody drew enlightenment...


I was an enlightened personality... You could not have said anything more bitter to me! I am now forty seven years old. Until last year, just like you I purposely blinded myself with these academic studies of yours, so as not to see life as it was, - and I thought it was the right thing to do. And now, if only you knew! At night I donít sleep out of vexation and rage that I so stupidly frittered away the time when I could have everything, everything which my age now prevents me from having!

SONYA  Uncle Vanya, this is tiresome.

MARYA VASILEYEVNA  (to her son.) Itís as if you blame your former convictions for something or other... but itís not your convictions which are at fault, but you yourself. You have forgotten that convictions by themselves are nothing, a dead letter... It was necessary to get on with the task in hand.  

UNCLE VANYA  The task in hand? Not everyone can be a writing perpetuum mobile, like your Herr Professor.

MARYA VASILEYEVNA  What do you mean by that?

SONYA (in a pleading voice.) Grandma! Uncle Vanya! Please, I beg you.

UNCLE VANYA  Alright, Iíll be quiet. Iíll be quiet, I apologise.


ELENA ANDREYEVNA  Wonderful weather today... Not too hot...


UNCLE VANYA  Just the right weather for hanging oneself...

(Telyegin strums on the guitar.Marina appears near the house and calls the chickens.)

MARINA  Cheep, cheep, cheep...

SONYA  What did the men want nanny?   

MARINA  The same as ever, just the same old nonsense.  Cheep, cheep, cheep...

SONYA  Why are you calling them?

MARINA  The speckled one has disappeared with the chicks... Iím afraid the crows might have got them... (Exit.)

(Telyegin plays a polka; all listen in silence; a workman enters.)

WORKMAN  Is the doctor here? (To Astrov.) Excuse me Dr. Astrov, they have sent for you.

ASTROV  Who has?

WORKMAN  From the factory.

ASTROV  (Annoyed.) Oh, thank you very much. Well then, I suppose I must be off... (He looks around for his cap.) Itís annoying, dammit...

SONYA  Itís very unpleasant, itís true... Why donít you come back from the factory for dinner?

ASTROV  No. It will already be late. How could I... Itís not possible... (To the workman.) Here now, thereís a good chap, fetch me a glass of vodka would you. (Exit the workman.) How could I... Itís not possible... (he finds his cap.) In Ostrovsky in one of his plays thereís a character with a long moustache but short on wit... That is me. Well, I take my leave, ladies and gentlemen... (To Elena Andryevna.) If you could find time for a visit to my place, with Sonya that is, you would be most welcome. Iíve only got a small estate, only eighty odd acres, but, if you would be interested, it has a model garden and a nursery section such as you would not find for a thousand miles around. It is all surrounded by government forests... The forester there is an old man, heís always sick, so that in reality I see to everything there.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA   Iíve already been told that youíre a great lover of the woods. Of course it could be of considerable usefulness, but does it not interfere with your true vocation? After all you are a doctor.

ASTROV  Only god knows what a manís true vocation is.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  Is it interesting?

ASTROV  Yes, the woods are interesting.

UNCLE VANYA  (With irony.) Yes, very interesting!

ELENA ANDREYEVNA   Youíre still a young man, you look to be about, say, thirty six or thirty seven... well, it canít be as interesting as you say it is. Itís just woods, and more woods. I would say itís monotonous.

SONYA  Oh no, itís extremely interesting! Mixhael Lyvovich plants new woodland every year. Heís already been awarded a bronze medal and a diploma. He takes great care to see that they donít remove old forest. If you heard him speak on it, youíd be fully convinced. He tells us that forests add beauty to the earth, that they teach mankind how to understand beauty and they inspire us with majestic thoughts. Forests soften a harsh climate. In countries where the climate is soft less effort is spent on the struggle with nature, and for that reason humanity there is softer and more gentle. There people are handsome, supple, easily stimulated, their speech is refined, their movements elegant. Science and the arts flourish with them, their philosophy is enlightened, their treatment of women is full of gracious nobility.

UNCLE VANYA  (laughing.) Bravo, bravo!  All that is pleasant, but not convincing, so (to Astrov)allow me to continue to burn wood in my stove and to build my barn with timber.

ASTROV  You could burn turf in your stove and build your barn out of stone. In any case, Iíll let you cut timber for your needs, but why destroy the forests? The Rjussian forests are groaning under the axe, millions of trees are perishing, the dens of beasts and birds are being laid waste, the rivers are dwindling and drying, wonderful landscapes are disappearing forever, and all because we lazy humans havenít the good sense to bend down and pick up the fuel from the ground. (To Elena Andreyevna.) Isnít that so, Madame? One needs to be a mindless vandal to burn all that beauty in oneís stove, to destroy that which we cannot recreate. Mankind is gifted with reason and creative energy, in order to increase the wealth all around us, but up till now he has not created but only destroyed. The woods are growing less and less, the rivers are drying, the game is disappearing, the climate is getting worse, and with every day that passes the earth becomes poorer and more ugly. (To Uncle Vanya.)I see you are looking at me with irony, and everything I say seems to you not to be serious, and... and, well perhaps itís mere freakishness, but when I walk past one of the peasant forests that I saved from the axe, or when I hear how the plantation which I planted with my own hands is rustling, than I realise that the climate is partly under my control, and that if in a thousand years time mankind will be happy, then I will have been partly responsible for it. When I plant a young birch and then see how it is turning green and swaying in the wind, then my heart fills with pride, and I... (Seeing the workman who returns bringing a glass of vodka on a tray.) However... (He drinks.) Time for me to go. Itís all probably nonsense, when allís said and done. I bid you farewell. (Goes into the house.)

SONYA  (takes his arm and walks off with him.) When will you come and see us again?

ASTROV  I donít know...

SONYA  In a month do you think?

(Astrov and Sonya exit into the house. Maria Vasilyevna and Telyegin remain beside the table. Elena Andryevna and Uncle Vanya walk to the terrace.)

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  And you, Ivan Petrovich, your behaviour was impossible, again. Did you need to upset Maria Vasilyevna with your talk about perpetuum mobile! And today at lunch you quarrelled again with Alexander. How petty it all is!

UNCLE VANYA  But if I hate him!

ELENA ANREYEVNA  Thereís no need for hatred, heís just the same as everyone. Heís no worse than you.

UNCLE VANYA  If only you could see your face, your movements... What an effort it is for you to move! How tedious just to live!

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  Yes, its tedious, and boring! Everyone takes my husband to task , everyone looks at me with pity. Poor thing, her husbandís an old man! That pity for me, how I understand it! It is just as Astrov said just now: you all of you irrationally destroy the woods, and soon there wonít be anything left upon the earth. In the same way you irrationally destroy another man, and soon, thanks to you, there will no longer be left on the earth either faithfulness, or purity, or the ability to make sacrifices. Why canít you look dispassionately at a woman if she is not yours. The reason is ó that Doctor Astrov is right ó in all of you there sits a monster of destruction. You have no pity for the woods, for birds, for women, or for each other.

UNCLE VANYA  I donít like this philosophy.

ELENA  ANDREYEVNA  That doctor has a tired and an intense face. An interesting face. Sonya has taken a shine to him, sheís in love with him, and I can understand it. Heís been here three times, but Iím shy and I havenít managed even once to talk to him properly, or said kind words. He thinks that Iím bad tempered. Probably, Ivan Petrovich, you and I are such good friends because we are both such tedious, boring people. Tedious! Donít look at me like that, I donít like it.

UNCLE VANYA  How can I look at you otherwise if I love you? You are my happiness, my life, my youth! I know that the chance of a mutual response is unlikely, practically nil, but I donít want anything, just let me look at you, hear your voice...

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  Shush, somebody might hear you.

(They walk to the house.)

UNCLE VANYA  (following her.) Just let me talk to you about my love, donít drive me away, and that alone for me will be the greatest happiness...

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  This is sheer torture...

(They both go inside. Telyegin strums the guitar and then plays a polka. Marya Vasilyevna makes a note on the margin of the brochure.)



[1] From the French. Pronounced John. An affectation on the part of Marya Vasileyevna.

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Lisa by Renoir. 1867

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