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 Landscape by Gainsborough

ANTON CHEKHOV    Uncle Vanya







A drama of country life in four acts.




Uncle Vanyaís room. This is where he sleeps, but it is also the estate office. By the window there is a large table with account ledgers and papers of all sorts, a high desk, cupboards, scales. A smaller table for Dr. Astrov, and on it equipment for drawing and some paints, beside it a portfolio. A cage for starlings. On the wall a map of Africa, evidently of no use to anyone here. A huge divan upholstered in imitation leather. On the left a door leading into another room; on the right a door into the hall. Beside the right hand door a door mat so that workmen may wipe their feet. An autumn evening. It is quiet.

Telyegin and Marina are seated facing each other and winding a ball of wool for knitting.

TELYEGIN   Hurry up Marina. Theyíll soon be calling us to say goodbye. Theyíve already sent for the horses to be harnessed.

MARINA  (Tries to wind the wool more quickly.) Thereís only a little left.

TELYEGIN   Theyíre going to Kharkov. They plan to live there.

MARINA  Itíll be far better.

TELYEGIN   They got a scare... Elena Andreyevna said ďI canít live here another minute... Weíll go whatever... Weíll stay in Kharkov and find somewhere, then weíll send for our things.Ē Theyíre travelling light. Evidently, Marina, it is not their fate to live here. Fate decrees it not.   

MARINA  Better that way. That recent racket they raised, the shooting Ė it was shameful!

TELYEGIN   Yes, a subject worthy of the brush of Ayvasovsky.

MARINA  Would that my eyes had never seen it.


Weíll live again as we did before. Tea in the morning at eight. Dinner at one. In the evening supper and sitting down to rest. All in due order, as with decent people... Christians. (With a sigh.) Itís so long since Iíve had noodle soup, sinner that I am.

TELYEGIN   Yes, itís a long time since weíve had it.


Just now... This morning, Marina Timofeyevna, one of the shopkeepers in the village called after me ďHey, you! Parasite, hanger on!Ē It hurt me a lot.

MARINA  Pay no attention to it, dear boy. We are all hangers on in the eyes of God. You, and Sonya, and Vanya Ė none of us must sit idle, we all have to work. All of us. Where is Sonya?

TELYEGIN   In the garden. Still looking round with the doctor, searching for Uncle Vanya. Theyíre afraid that he might lay hands on himself.  

MARINA  And whereís his pistol? 

TELYEGIN  (In a whisper.)  I hid it in the cellar.

MARINA  (With a laugh.) You sinner!

(Uncle Vanya and Astrov come in from outside.)

UNCLE VANYA  Leave me alone! (To Marina and Telyegin.)  Leave this room, give me at least an hour of peace! I canít stand being watched.

TELYEGIN  Right away Vanya. (Goes out on tiptoe.)

MARINA  Goose! Quack, quack, quack!

UNCLE VANYA  Leave me in peace!

ASTROV  With the greatest pleasure. I should have left long ago, but, I shall repeat it, I will not go until you return what you have taken from me.

UNCLE VANYA  I havenít taken anything.

ASTROV  Look, seriously speaking, donít detain me any longer. I need to get away.

UNCLE VANYA  Iíve taken nothing from you.

(Both of them sit down.)

ASTROV  Really. In that case Iíll wait a little longer, and after that, unfortunately, Iíll have to use force. Weíll have to restrain you and then do a search. Iím totally serious about this.

UNCLE VANYA   As you wish.


To make such a fool of myself. To fire twice and miss both times! I shall never forgive myself!

ASTROV  If you were so keen to go shooting, you should have taken a shot at your own forehead.

UNCLE VANYA   (Shrugs his shoulders.) Itís strange. I tried to kill somebody and I have not been arrested, not been charged. That means they must think I am mad. (He laughs bitterly.) I am mad, but those are not mad who hide their lack of talent, their stupidity, their crying heartlessness under the guise of a professor or that of a pompous pedantic sage. They are not mad who marry old men and then deceive them openly for all to see. I saw it, I saw how you kissed her.

ASTROV  Yes, I kissed her, and this to you. (Cocks a snook at him, i.e. puts his thumb o his nose.)

UNCLE VANYA   (Looking at the door.) No, itís the earth thatís mad, it still allows us to live on it.

ASTROV  Thatís just stupid.

UNCLE VANYA   Well then, Iím mad, Iím irresponsible, I have the right to say such things.

ASTROV  Thatís an old story. Youíre not mad, youíre just a weirdo. A simpleton. Previously I used to think that every weirdo was mental, abnormal, but now I think that the normal condition of a human being is to be a weirdo. Youíre entirely normal.

UNCLE VANYA   (Covers his face with his hands.) Itís so shameful! If you could only know how ashamed I feel. This deep feeling of shame is worse than any illness. (In anguish.) Itís unbearable! (Leans his head on the table.) What am I to do? What am I to do?

ASTROV  Nothing.

UNCLE VANYA   Give me something. My God, my God! Iím forty seven. Suppose I live to sixty, I still have another thirteen years left. What an age! How can I survive thirteen years? What can I do? How can I fill up the time? Just think... (He presses Astrovís hand nervously.) Just think, if it were possible to live the remainder of oneís life in some new fashion. To wake some bright, peaceful morning and to feel that you had started life again, that all the past was forgotten, vanishing away like smoke. (He sobs.) To start a new life... Give me some idea how to start... what to begin with...

ASTROV  (Annoyed.) Thatís enough! What would we be doing with a new life! Our condition is hopeless, yours and mine.

UNCLE VANYA   Hopeless?

ASTROV  Iím sure of it.

UNCLE VANYA   Give me some something at least... (Indicating his heart.) It burns so here.

ASTROV  (Shouts angrily.) Stop it! (More gently.) Those who live a hundred or two hundred years after us and who will despise us because we lived our lives so crassly and brutishly Ė they perhaps will find the means to be happy, but we... For you and I there is only one hope. The hope that, when we are peacefully resting in our graves, visions will come upon us, perhaps even pleasant ones. (Sighing.)  Yes, brother. In the whole province there were only two decent, intelligent men: you and I. But in the space of ten years or so the nasty, despicable provincial life has sucked us down. It has poisoned our blood with its putrid, foetid miasma, and we have become as vulgar and common as the rest. (In a lively tone.) But thatís enough, donít try to distract me. Give me back what youíve taken.

UNCLE VANYA   I havenít taken anything from you.

ASTROV  Youíve taken a bottle of morphine from my medicine chest.


Look, if you want for some reason or other to do away with yourself, then go off into the forest and shoot yourself there. Give me back the morphine, otherwise thereíll be talk and conjectures that I gave it to you... Itís enough for me that Iíll have to do the post mortem. Do you think thereís much fun in that?

(Enter Sonya.)

UNCLE VANYA   Leave me in peace!

ASTROV  (To Sonya.) Sofya Alexandrovna, your uncle has pinched a bottle of morphine from my medicine chest and he wonít give it back. Would you tell him that itís not a joke. And I havenít the time. I have got to leave.

SONYA  Uncle Vanya, have you taken the morphine?


ASTROV  Heís taken it. Iím convinced he has.

SONYA  Give it back. Why are you terrifying us all? (Tenderly.) Give it back, Uncle Vanya. I, perhaps am just as unhappy as you, however I am not giving in to despair. I endure it and will continue to do so until my life comes to an end of itself. You must also endure.


Give it back! (Kisses his hands.) Dear, wonderful, gentle Uncle, give it back. Youíre a good man, youíll take pity on us and give it back. Endure, Uncle, endure!

UNCLE VANYA   (Takes a bottle from the drawer of the table and gives it to Astrov.) Here, take it. (To Sonya.) But we must start work right away, do something as soon as possible, otherwise I will not manage, I wonít be able to cope...

SONYA  Yes, yes, we must work. As soon as we have seen them off weíll get down to it. (She anxiously starts sorting through the papers on the table.) Everything is in such a mess.

ASTROV  (Puts the bottle in his medicine bag and then closes it securely.) Now I can get on my way.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  Uncle Vanya, youíre here? We are just going to leave... Do go and see Alexander, he has something to say to you.

SONYA  Come on Uncle Vanya. Letís go. (Takes Uncle Vanya by the arm.) You and papa must make peace. Itís absolutely necessary.

(Sonya and Uncle Vanya leave.)

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  Iím leaving. (Holds out her hand.) Goodbye.

ASTROV  So soon?

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  The horses are already harnessed.

ASTROV  Goodbye.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  You promised me that you would leave here today.

ASTROV  I remember. Iím leaving now.


Were you scared? (Takes her hand.) Was it so terrifying?


ASTROV  You could still stay. What do you say? Tomorrow, in the copse...

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  No... Itís all settled... The only reason I can look at you so confidently is because itís all settled... But I would ask one thing of you: think well of me. I would like it if you respected me.

ASTROV  Achh! (With a gesture of impatience.) Drop it, for heavenís sake. You must realise that there is nothing for you to do on this earth, your life has no aim, nothing grabs your attention, so, sooner or later youíll give way to your feelings Ė thatís inevitable. Better to do that here, in the lap of nature, rather than in Kharkov or Kursk... At least itís poetic, even beautiful... Here we have forests, and half ruined mansions that appealed to Turgenev...

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  How amusing you are. I am angry with you, but all the same... Iíll remember you with pleasure. Youíre an interesting, original man. Weíll never meet each other again, and so Ė why should I hide it? I was carried away by you a little bit. Well, letís shake each otherís hands and part friends. Remember the good things.

ASTROV  (Shakes her hand.) Yes, you must go... (Thoughtfully.) Itís as if youíre a good, sensitive person, but also as if thereís something strange in your entire being. You came here with your husband and everyone who worked here, beavered away, created something, they all had to throw aside their work and occupy themselves the whole summer with your husbandís gout and you. Both of you, he and you, infected us with your idleness. I was carried away. For a whole month I did nothing, and in the meantime people fell ill, In my woods the peasants set their cattle to graze on the young saplings... It seems as if wherever you and your husband set foot you bring ruin... I am joking of course, but all the same... Itís strange, but Iím convinced that if you stayed here there would be widespread devastation. I myself would perish, and you wouldnít escape either. Well, you must set off. Finita la comedia.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  (Takes a pencil from the table and quickly hides it.) Iíll take this pencil as a keepsake.

ASTROV  Itís strange... We got to know each other and suddenly for some reason... we wonít ever meet again. Thatís how it is on this earth... While nobodyís here, while Uncle Vanya does not come in with his bouquet, let me... have one kiss... a farewell... Yes? (He kisses her on the cheek.) Well, there you are... Excellent.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  I wish you all the best. (She looks round.) Well, whatever. For once in my life! (She quickly embraces and kisses him and the two then rapidly part from each other.) I must be going.

ASTROV  Leave quickly. If the horses are ready then set off straight away.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  It seems theyíre coming this way.

(Bothe of them listen.)

ASTROV  Finita!

(Serebryakov, Uncle Vanya, Maria Vasilyevna with a book, Telyegin and Soya enter.)

SEREBRYAKOV  Whoever remembers bad things, let him lose an eye. After all that has happened in the last few hours, I experienced so much and thought over so much, it seems  that I could write a whole tract for the edification of posterity about how to live. I gladly accept your apology and ask you in turn to forgive me. Goodbye! (He and Uncle Vanya kiss three times.)

UNCLE VANYA  You will receive exactly the same as you did in the past. All will be as it was before.

(Elena Andreyevna embraces Sonya.)  

SEREBRYAKOV  (Kisses Maria Vasilyevnaís hand.) Maman...

MARIA VASILYEVNA  Alexander, have your photograph taken again and send it to me. You know how dear you are to me.

TELYEGIN  Goodbye, your excellency! Donít forget us!

SEREBRYAKOV  (Kissing his daughter.) Goodbye... Goodbye all! (Giving his hand to Astrov.) Thank you for your pleasant company... I respect your way of thinking, your enthusiasms and passions, but permit an old man to introduce into his parting speech a word of advice: We must get on with our task in life. Yes, we must get on with the task! (He does a general bow.) Goodbye! (He leaves followed by Maria Vasilyevna and Sonya.)  

UNCLE VANYA  (Kisses Elena Andreyevnaís hand fervently.) Goodbye... Forgive me... We shall never meet again.

ELENA ANDREYEVNA  (Touched. She kisses his head as he bends over her hand.) Goodbye, dearest. (She leaves.)

ASTROV  (To Telyegin.) Go and tell them Waffles to get my trap ready as well.

TELYEGIN  Iíll do that, my friend. (He goes out.)

(Astrov and Uncle Vanya remain alone on the stage.)

ASTROV  (Clears the paints from his desk and puts them in his bag.) Why donít you see them off?

UNCLE VANYA  Let them go... Itís too much for me. Itís hard. Iíve got to get myself busy with something quickly... Work, work! (Rummages amongst the papers on the table.)

(Pause. The sound of carriage bells.)

ASTROV  Theyíve gone. The professor no doubt is glad! Wild horse wouldnít drag him back.

MARINA  (Enters.) Theyíve gone. (She sits in an armchair and knits a sock.)

SONYA  (Enters.) Theyíve gone. (She rubs her eyes.) Safe journey. (To Uncle Vanya.) Well Uncle, Letís start on something.

UNCLE VANYA  Work, work...

SONYA  Itís such a long, long time since we sat together at this table. (Lights the lamp on the table.) The ink, it seems, is dry. (Takes the inkpot to the cupboard and fills it.) I feel sad that theyíve gone.

MARIA VASILYEVNA  (Comes in slowly.) Theyíve gone! (She sits down and buries herself in her book.)

SONYA  (She sits at the table and starts leafing through an account book.) First of all, Uncle Vanya, weíll draw up the accounts. Theyíre in a terrible mess. They sent for them again today. You write in one book, Iíll do the other.

UNCLE VANYA  (He writes.) Account to... to Mr...

MARINA  (Yawns.)  Itís time for bye-byes.

ASTROV  Itís quiet. The pens scratch, the cricket chirps. Itís warm. Itís cosy... Iíd rather not leave here.

(Harness bells are heard.)

Theyíve brought the horses... That just leaves me to say goodbye to you, my friends, to say goodbye to my table Ė then Iím off. (He puts the maps in his portfolio.)

MARINA  Why so much rush? Sit around a while.

ASTROV  I canít.

UNCLE VANYA  (Writes.) Therefore of the previous bill remains two hundred and seventy five...

(Enter a workman.)

WORKMAN  Your horses are at the door Sir.

ASTROV  Very well. (Gives him the medicine chest, his bag and the portfolio.) Here. Take these. Mind you donít bend the portfolio.


ASTROV  Well then... (Prepares to say goodbye.)

SONYA  When shall we see you next?

ASTROV  Unlikely before the summer. In winter I doubt it... But of course, if anything should happen, let me know and I will come. (He shakes hands.) Thank you for the bread and salt and hospitality... in a word, for everything. (He goes to Nanny and kisses her on the head.) Goodbye old one.

MARINA  Are you going without tea?

ASTROV  I can do without, Nanny.

MARINA  Perhaps a wee drop of vodka.

ASTROV  (Hesitantly.) Perhaps... 

(Marina goes out.)

My right trace horse seems to be limping. I noticed it yesterday when Petrushka led her to the water.

UNCLE VANYA  Youíll need to re-shoe her.

ASTROV  Iíll have to drive to the smith in the village. I canít put it off. (He goes up to the map of Africa and looks at it.) Well, there must be a heatwave now in Africa. Terrible.

UNCLE VANYA  Probably.

MARINA  (Returns with a tray with a glass of vodka and some bread.) Help yourself.

(Astrov downs the vodka.

Your good health. (Bows a low bow.) You should have a bite of bread.

ASTROV  No, as it comes... So then, all the best! (To Marina.) Donít bother to come with me Nanny. Thereís no need. (He goes out. Sonya follows him with a candle to see him out. Marina sits down in her armchair.)

UNCLE VANYA  (Writes.) Second of February palm oil twenty pounds... Sixteenth of February ditto... Buckwheat flour...

(Pause. Harness bells are heard jingling.)

MARINA  Heís gone.

SONYA  (Returns and places the candle on the table.) Heís gone.

UNCLE VANYA  (Works out a sum on the abacus and writes.) The sum total... fifteen... twenty five...

(Sonya sits and writes.)

MARINA  (Yawns.) Ooh. For my sins...

(Telyegin comes in on tiptoe and sits by the door. He quietly strums the guitar.)

UNCLE VANYA  (To Sonya, stroking her hair.) My dear child, it is so hard for me! If only you knew how hard!

SONYA  What can we do? We must go on living.


We will go on living. Weíll live through a long course of days and endless evenings; we will patiently bear all trials, whatever fate sends; we will work for others, now and in old age, not knowing any rest, and when out hour comes we will humbly submit and die, and there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we have suffered, that we wept, that it was bitter for us, and God will take pity on us, and you and I Uncle, dearest Uncle, will see a bright, a beautiful, a shining life and we will rejoice, and we will look back on our present unhappiness with emotion and with a smile, and we will find peace. I believe it Uncle, I believe it deeply, passionately... Kneels in front of him and puts her head on his hands.In a tired voice.) We will find peace!

(Telyegin quietly strums the guitar.)

We will find peace. We shall hear the angels, we shall see all the heavens in diamonds, we shall see how all earthly evil, all our sufferings are swept away by mercy which will fill by itself the whole world, and our life will become quiet, tender, sweet, like a caress. I believe it, I believe it... (Wipes away his tears with her hankerchief.) Poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are crying. (Through her tears.) You never knew happiness in your life, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait... We will find peace... (She kisses him.) We will find peace!

(Outside the workman beats on his board. Telyegin quietly strums; Maria Vasilyevna writes on the margins of her brochures; Marina knits a stocking.)

We will find peace!

(The curtain descends slowly.)




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Landscape by Gainsborough

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