A.P. Chekhov -
The Two Volodyas
"LET me; I want to drive myself! I'll sit by
the driver!" Sofya Lvovna said in a loud voice. "Wait a minute,
driver; I'll get up on the box beside you."
She stood up in the sledge, and her husband, Vladimir Nikititch,
and the friend of her childhood, Vladimir Mihalovitch, held her
arms to prevent her falling. The three horses were galloping
"I said you ought not to have given her brandy," Vladimir
Nikititch whispered to his companion with vexation. "What a
fellow you are, really!"
The Colonel knew by experience that in women like his wife,
Sofya Lvovna, after a little too much wine, turbulent gaiety was
followed by hysterical laughter and then tears. He was afraid
that when they got home, instead of being able to sleep, he
would have to be administering compresses and drops.
"Wo!" cried Sofya Lvovna. "I want to drive myself!"
She felt genuinely gay and triumphant. For the last two months,
ever since her wedding, she had been tortured by the thought
that she had married Colonel Yagitch from worldly motives and,
as it is said, par dpit; but that evening, at the restaurant,
she had suddenly become convinced that she loved him
passionately. In spite of his fifty-four years, he was so slim,
agile, supple, he made puns and hummed to the gipsies' tunes so
charmingly. Really, the older men were nowadays a thousand times
more interesting than the young. It seemed as though age and
youth had changed parts. The Colonel was two years older than
her father, but could there be any importance in that if,
honestly speaking, there were infinitely more vitality, go, and
freshness in him than in herself, though she was only
"Oh, my darling!" she thought. "You are wonderful!"
She had become convinced in the restaurant, too, that not a
spark of her old feeling remained. For the friend of her
childhood, Vladimir Mihalovitch, or simply Volodya, with whom
only the day before she had been madly, miserably in love, she
now felt nothing but complete indifference. All that evening he
had seemed to her spiritless, torpid, uninteresting, and
insignificant, and the sangfroid with which he habitually
avoided paying at restaurants on this occasion revolted her, and
she had hardly been able to resist saying, "If you are poor, you
should stay at home." The Colonel paid for all.
Perhaps because trees, telegraph posts, and drifts of snow kept
flitting past her eyes, all sorts of disconnected ideas came
rushing into her mind. She reflected: the bill at the restaurant
had been a hundred and twenty roubles, and a hundred had gone to
the gipsies, and to-morrow she could fling away a thousand
roubles if she liked; and only two months ago, before her
wedding, she had not had three roubles of her own, and had to
ask her father for every trifle. What a change in her life!
Her thoughts were in a tangle. She recalled, how, when she was a
child of ten, Colonel Yagitch, now her husband, used to make
love to her aunt, and every one in the house said that he had
ruined her. And her aunt had, in fact, often come down to dinner
with her eyes red from crying, and was always going off
somewhere; and people used to say of her that the poor thing
could find no peace anywhere. He had been very handsome in those
days, and had an extraordinary reputation as a lady-killer. So
much so that he was known all over the town, and it was said of
him that he paid a round of visits to his adorers every day like
a doctor visiting his patients. And even now, in spite of his
grey hair, his wrinkles, and his spectacles, his thin face
looked handsome, especially in profile.
Sofya Lvovna's father was an army doctor, and had at one time
served in the same regiment with Colonel Yagitch. Volodya's
father was an army doctor too, and he, too, had once been in the
same regiment as her father and Colonel Yagitch. In spite of
many amatory adventures, often very complicated and disturbing,
Volodya had done splendidly at the university, and had taken a
very good degree. Now he was specialising in foreign literature,
and was said to be writing a thesis. He lived with his father,
the army doctor, in the barracks, and had no means of his own,
though he was thirty. As children Sofya and he had lived under
the same roof, though in different flats. He often came to play
with her, and they had dancing and French lessons together. But
when he grew up into a graceful, remarkably handsome young man,
she began to feel shy of him, and then fell madly in love with
him, and had loved him right up to the time when she was married
to Yagitch. He, too, had been renowned for his success with
women almost from the age of fourteen, and the ladies who
deceived their husbands on his account excused themselves by
saying that he was only a boy. Some one had told a story of him
lately that when he was a student living in lodgings so as to be
near the university, it always happened if one knocked at his
door, that one heard his footstep, and then a whispered apology:
"Pardon, je ne suis pas setul." Yagitch was delighted with him,
and blessed him as a worthy successor, as Derchavin blessed
Pushkin; he appeared to be fond of him. They would play
billiards or picquet by the hour together without uttering a
word, if Yagitch drove out on any expedition he always took
Volodya with him, and Yagitch was the only person Volodya
initiated into the mysteries of his thesis. In earlier days,
when Yagitch was rather younger, they had often been in the
position of rivals, but they had never been jealous of one
another. In the circle in which they moved Yagitch was nicknamed
Big Volodya, and his friend Little Volodya.
Besides Big Volodya, Little Volodya, and Sofya Lvovna, there was
a fourth person in the sledge -- Margarita Alexandrovna, or, as
every one called her, Rita, a cousin of Madame Yagitch -- a very
pale girl over thirty, with black eyebrows and a pince-nez, who
was for ever smoking cigarettes, even in the bitterest frost,
and who always had her knees and the front of her blouse covered
with cigarette ash. She spoke through her nose, drawling every
word, was of a cold temperament, could drink any amount of wine
and liquor without being drunk, and used to tell scandalous
anecdotes in a languid and tasteless way. At home she spent her
days reading thick magazines, covering them with cigarette ash,
or eating frozen apples.
"Sonia, give over fooling," she said, drawling. "It's really
As they drew near the city gates they went more slowly, and
began to pass people and houses. Sofya Lvovna subsided, nestled
up to her husband, and gave herself up to her thoughts. Little
Volodya sat opposite. By now her light-hearted and cheerful
thoughts were mingled with gloomy ones. She thought that the man
sitting opposite knew that she loved him, and no doubt he
believed the gossip that she married the Colonel par dpit. She
had never told him of her love; she had not wanted him to know,
and had done her best to hide her feeling, but from her face she
knew that he understood her perfectly -- and her pride suffered.
But what was most humiliating in her position was that, since
her wedding, Volodya had suddenly begun to pay her attention,
which he had never done before, spending hours with her, sitting
silent or chattering about trifles; and even now in the sledge,
though he did not talk to her, he touched her foot with his and
pressed her hand a little. Evidently that was all he wanted,
that she should be married; and it was evident that he despised
her and that she only excited in him an interest of a special
kind as though she were an immoral and disreputable woman. And
when the feeling of triumph and love for her husband were
mingled in her soul with humiliation and wounded pride, she was
overcome by a spirit of defiance, and longed to sit on the box,
to shout and whistle to the horses.
Just as they passed the nunnery the huge hundred-ton bell rang
out. Rita crossed herself.
"Our Olga is in that nunnery," said Sofya Lvovna, and she, too,
crossed herself and shuddered.
"Why did she go into the nunnery?" said the Colonel.
"Par dpit," Rita answered crossly, with obvious allusion to
Sofya's marrying Yagitch. "Par dpit is all the fashion
nowadays. Defiance of all the world. She was always laughing, a
desperate flirt, fond of nothing but balls and young men, and
all of a sudden off she went -- to surprise every one!"
"That's not true," said Volodya, turning down the collar of his
fur coat and showing his handsome face. "It wasn't a case of par
dpit; it was simply horrible, if you like. Her brother Dmitri
was sent to penal servitude, and they don't know where he is
now. And her mother died of grief."
He turned up his collar again.
"Olga did well," he added in a muffled voice. "Living as an
adopted child, and with such a paragon as Sofya Lvovna, -- one
must take that into consideration too!"
Sofya Lvovna heard a tone of contempt in his voice, and longed
to say something rude to him, but she said nothing. The spirit
of defiance came over her again; she stood up again and shouted
in a tearful voice:
"I want to go to the early service! Driver, back! I want to see
They turned back. The nunnery bell had a deep note, and Sofya
Lvovna fancied there was something in it that reminded her of
Olga and her life. The other church bells began ringing too.
When the driver stopped the horses, Sofya Lvovna jumped out of
the sledge and, unescorted and alone, went quickly up to the
"Make haste, please!" her husband called to her. "It's late
She went in at the dark gateway, then by the avenue that led
from the gate to the chief church. The snow crunched under her
feet, and the ringing was just above her head, and seemed to
vibrate through her whole being. Here was the church door, then
three steps down, and an ante-room with ikons of the saints on
both sides, a fragrance of juniper and incense, another door,
and a dark figure opening it and bowing very low. The service
had not yet begun. One nun was walking by the ikon-screen and
lighting the candles on the tall standard candlesticks, another
was lighting the chandelier. Here and there, by the columns and
the side chapels, there stood black, motionless figures. "I
suppose they must remain standing as they are now till the
morning," thought Sofya Lvovna, and it seemed to her dark, cold,
and dreary -- drearier than a graveyard. She looked with a
feeling of dreariness at the still, motionless figures and
suddenly felt a pang at her heart. For some reason, in one short
nun, with thin shoulders and a black kerchief on her head, she
recognised Olga, though when Olga went into the nunnery she had
been plump and had looked taller. Hesitating and extremely
agitated, Sofya Lvovna went up to the nun, and looking over her
shoulder into her face, recognised her as Olga.
"Olga!" she cried, throwing up her hands, and could not speak
from emotion. "Olga!"
The nun knew her at once; she raised her eyebrows in surprise,
and her pale, freshly washed face, and even, it seemed, the
white headcloth that she wore under her wimple, beamed with
"What a miracle from God!" she said, and she, too, threw up her
thin, pale little hands.
Sofya Lvovna hugged her and kissed her warmly, and was afraid as
she did so that she might smell of spirits.
"We were just driving past, and we thought of you," she said,
breathing hard, as though she had been running. "Dear me! How
pale you are! I . . . I'm very glad to see you. Well, tell me
how are you? Are you dull?"
Sofya Lvovna looked round at the other nuns, and went on in a
"There've been so many changes at home . . . you know, I'm
married to Colonel Yagitch. You remember him, no doubt. . . . I
am very happy with him."
"Well, thank God for that. And is your father quite well?
"Yes, he is quite well. He often speaks of you. You must come
and see us during the holidays, Olga, won't you?"
"I will come," said Olga, and she smiled. "I'll come on the
Sofya Lvovna began crying, she did not know why, and for a
minute she shed tears in silence, then she wiped her eyes and
"Rita will be very sorry not to have seen you. She is with us
too. And Volodya's here. They are close to the gate. How pleased
they'd be if you'd come out and see them. Let's go out to them;
the service hasn't begun yet.''
"Let us," Olga agreed. She crossed herself three times and went
out with Sofya Lvovna to the entrance.
"So you say you're happy, Sonitchka?" she asked when they came
out at the gate.
"Well, thank God for that."
The two Volodyas, seeing the nun, got out of the sledge and
greeted her respectfully. Both were visibly touched by her pale
face and her black monastic dress, and both were pleased that
she had remembered them and come to greet them. That she might
not be cold, Sofya Lvovna wrapped her up in a rug and put one
half of her fur coat round her. Her tears had relieved and
purified her heart, and she was glad that this noisy, restless,
and, in reality, impure night should unexpectedly end so purely
and serenely. And to keep Olga by her a little longer she
"Let us take her for a drive! Get in, Olga; we'll go a little
The men expected the nun to refuse -- saints don't dash about in
three-horse sledges; but to their surprise, she consented and
got into the sledge. And while the horses were galloping to the
city gate all were silent, and only tried to make her warm and
comfortable, and each of them was thinking of what she had been
in the past and what she was now. Her face was now passionless,
inexpressive, cold, pale, and transparent, as though there were
water, not blood, in her veins. And two or three years ago she
had been plump and rosy, talking about her suitors and laughing
at every trifle.
Near the city gate the sledge turned back; when it stopped ten
minutes later near the nunnery, Olga got out of the sledge. The
bell had begun to ring more rapidly.
"The Lord save you," said Olga, and she bowed low as nuns do.
"Mind you come, Olga."
"I will, I will."
She went and quickly disappeared through the gateway. And when
after that they drove on again, Sofya Lvovna felt very sad.
Every one was silent. She felt dispirited and weak all over.
That she should have made a nun get into a sledge and drive in a
company hardly sober seemed to her now stupid, tactless, and
almost sacrilegious. As the intoxication passed off, the desire
to deceive herself passed away also. It was clear to her now
that she did not love her husband, and never could love him, and
that it all had been foolishness and nonsense. She had married
him from interested motives, because, in the words of her school
friends, he was madly rich, and because she was afraid of
becoming an old maid like Rita, and because she was sick of her
father, the doctor, and wanted to annoy Volodya.
If she could have imagined when she got married, that it would
be so oppressive, so dreadful, and so hideous, she would not
have consented to the marriage for all the wealth in the world.
But now there was no setting it right. She must make up her mind
They reached home. Getting into her warm, soft bed, and pulling
the bed-clothes over her, Sofya Lvovna recalled the dark church,
the smell of incense, and the figures by the columns, and she
felt frightened at the thought that these figures would be
standing there all the while she was asleep. The early service
would be very, very long; then there would be "the hours," then
the mass, then the service of the day.
"But of course there is a God -- there certainly is a God; and I
shall have to die, so that sooner or later one must think of
one's soul, of eternal life, like Olga. Olga is saved now; she
has settled all questions for herself. . . . But if there is no
God? Then her life is wasted. But how is it wasted? Why is it
And a minute later the thought came into her mind again:
"There is a God; death must come; one must think of one's soul.
If Olga were to see death before her this minute she would not
be afraid. She is prepared. And the great thing is that she has
already solved the problem of life for herself. There is a God .
. . yes. . . . But is there no other solution except going into
a monastery? To go into the monastery means to renounce life, to
spoil it . . . ."
Sofya Lvovna began to feel rather frightened; she hid her head
under her pillow.
"I mustn't think about it," she whispered. "I mustn't. . . ."
Yagitch was walking about on the carpet in the next room with a
soft jingle of spurs, thinking about something. The thought
occurred to Sofya Lvovna that this man was near and dear to her
only for one reason -- that his name, too, was Vladimir. She sat
up in bed and called tenderly:
"What is it?" her husband responded.
She lay down again. She heard a bell, perhaps the same nunnery
bell. Again she thought of the vestibule and the dark figures,
and thoughts of God and of inevitable death strayed through her
mind, and she covered her ears that she might not hear the bell.
She thought that before old age and death there would be a long,
long life before her, and that day by day she would have to put
up with being close to a man she did not love, who had just now
come into the bedroom and was getting into bed, and would have
to stifle in her heart her hopeless love for the other young,
fascinating, and, as she thought, exceptional man. She looked at
her husband and tried to say good-night to him, but suddenly
burst out crying instead. She was vexed with herself.
"Well, now then for the music!" said Yagitch.
She was not pacified till ten o'clock in the morning. She left
off crying and trembling all over, but she began to have a
splitting headache. Yagitch was in haste to go to the late mass,
and in the next room was grumbling at his orderly, who was
helping him to dress. He came into the bedroom once with the
soft jingle of his spurs to fetch something, and then a second
time wearing his epaulettes, and his orders on his breast,
limping slightly from rheumatism; and it struck Sofya Lvovna
that he looked and walked like a bird of prey.
She heard Yagitch ring the telephone bell.
"Be so good as to put me on to the Vassilevsky barracks," he
said; and a minute later: "Vassilevsky barracks? Please ask
Doctor Salimovitch to come to the telephone . . ." And a minute
later: "With whom am I speaking? Is it you, Volodya? Delighted.
Ask your father to come to us at once, dear boy; my wife is
rather shattered after yesterday. Not at home, you say? H'm! . .
. Thank you. Very good. I shall be much obliged . . . Merci."
Yagitch came into the bedroom for the third time, bent down to
his wife, made the sign of the cross over her, gave her his hand
to kiss (the women who had been in love with him used to kiss
his hand and he had got into the habit of it), and saying that
he should be back to dinner, went out.
At twelve o'clock the maid came in to announce that Vladimir
Mihalovitch had arrived. Sofya Lvovna, staggering with fatigue
and headache, hurriedly put on her marvellous new lilac
dressing-gown trimmed with fur, and hastily did up her hair
after a fashion. She was conscious of an inexpressible
tenderness in her heart, and was trembling with joy and with
fear that he might go away. She wanted nothing but to look at
Volodya came dressed correctly for calling, in a swallow-tail
coat and white tie. When Sofya Lvovna came in he kissed her hand
and expressed his genuine regret that she was ill. Then when
they had sat down, he admired her dressing-gown.
"I was upset by seeing Olga yesterday," she said. "At first I
felt it dreadful, but now I envy her. She is like a rock that
cannot be shattered; there is no moving her. But was there no
other solution for her, Volodya? Is burying oneself alive the
only solution of the problem of life? Why, it's death, not
At the thought of Olga, Volodya's face softened.
"Here, you are a clever man, Volodya," said Sofya Lvovna. "Show
me how to do what Olga has done. Of course, I am not a believer
and should not go into a nunnery, but one can do something
equivalent. Life isn't easy for me," she added after a brief
pause. "Tell me what to do. . . . Tell me something I can
believe in. Tell me something, if it's only one word."
"One word? By all means: tararaboomdeeay."
"Volodya, why do you despise me?" she asked hotly. "You talk to
me in a special, fatuous way, if you'll excuse me, not as one
talks to one's friends and women one respects. You are so good
at your work, you are fond of science; why do you never talk of
it to me? Why is it? Am I not good enough?"
Volodya frowned with annoyance and said:
"Why do you want science all of a sudden? Don't you perhaps want
constitutional government? Or sturgeon and horse-radish?"
"Very well, I am a worthless, trivial, silly woman with no
convictions. I have a mass, a mass of defects. I am neurotic,
corrupt, and I ought to be despised for it. But you, Volodya,
are ten years older than I am, and my husband is thirty years
older. I've grown up before your eyes, and if you would, you
could have made anything you liked of me -- an angel. But you"
-- her voice quivered -- "treat me horribly. Yagitch has married
me in his old age, and you . . ."
"Come, come," said Volodya, sitting nearer her and kissing both
her hands. "Let the Schopenhauers philosophise and prove
whatever they like, while we'll kiss these little hands."
"You despise me, and if only you knew how miserable it makes
me," she said uncertainly, knowing beforehand that he would not
believe her. "And if you only knew how I want to change, to
begin another life! I think of it with enthusiasm!" and tears of
enthusiasm actually came into her eyes. "To be good, honest,
pure, not to be lying; to have an object in life."
"Come, come, come, please don't be affected! I don't like it!"
said Volodya, and an ill-humoured expression came into his face.
"Upon my word, you might be on the stage. Let us behave like
To prevent him from getting cross and going away, she began
defending herself, and forced herself to smile to please him;
and again she began talking of Olga, and of how she longed to
solve the problem of her life and to become something real.
"Ta-ra-ra-boomdee-ay," he hummed. "Ta-ra-ra-boom-dee-ay!"
And all at once he put his arm round her waist, while she,
without knowing what she was doing, laid her hands on his
shoulders and for a minute gazed with ecstasy, almost
intoxication, at his clever, ironical face, his brow, his eyes,
his handsome beard.
"You have known that I love you for ever so long," she confessed
to him, and she blushed painfully, and felt that her lips were
twitching with shame. "I love you. Why do you torture me?"
She shut her eyes and kissed him passionately on the lips, and
for a long while, a full minute, could not take her lips away,
though she knew it was unseemly, that he might be thinking the
worse of her, that a servant might come in.
"Oh, how you torture me!" she repeated.
When half an hour later, having got all that he wanted, he was
sitting at lunch in the dining-room, she was kneeling before
him, gazing greedily into his face, and he told her that she was
like a little dog waiting for a bit of ham to be thrown to it.
Then he sat her on his knee, and dancing her up and down like a
"Tara-raboom-dee-ay. . . . Tara-raboom-dee-ay." And when he was
getting ready to go she asked him in a passionate whisper:
"When? To-day? Where?" And held out both hands to his mouth as
though she wanted to seize his answer in them.
"To-day it will hardly be convenient," he said after a minute's
thought. "To-morrow, perhaps."
And they parted. Before dinner Sofya Lvovna went to the nunnery
to see Olga, but there she was told that Olga was reading the
psalter somewhere over the dead. From the nunnery she went to
her father's and found that he, too, was out. Then she took
another sledge and drove aimlessly about the streets till
evening. And for some reason she kept thinking of the aunt whose
eyes were red with crying, and who could find no peace anywhere.
And at night they drove out again with three horses to a
restaurant out of town and listened to the gipsies. And driving
back past the nunnery again, Sofya Lvovna thought of Olga, and
she felt aghast at the thought that for the girls and women of
her class there was no solution but to go on driving about and
telling lies, or going into a nunnery to mortify the flesh. . .
. And next day she met her lover, and again Sofya Lvovna drove
about the town alone in a hired sledge thinking about her aunt.
A week later Volodya threw her over. And after that life went on
as before, uninteresting, miserable, and sometimes even
agonising. The Colonel and Volodya spent hours playing billiards
and picquet, Rita told anecdotes in the same languid, tasteless
way, and Sofya Lvovna went about alone in hired sledges and kept
begging her husband to take her for a good drive with three
Going almost every day to the nunnery, she wearied Olga,
complaining of her unbearable misery, weeping, and feeling as
she did so that she brought with her into the cell something
impure, pitiful, shabby. And Olga repeated to her mechanically
as though a lesson learnt by rote, that all this was of no
consequence, that it would all pass and God would forgive her.
title: a literal translation would be "Big Volodya and Little
par dpit;: out of spite
sangfroid: coolness and composure
make love: in the 19th century making love meant declaring one's
Derchavin blessed Pushkin: in 1815 the aged poet Gabriel
Derzhavin (1743-1816) heard Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837) recite
reading thick magazines: the literary and intellectual magazines
tararaboomdeeay: the refrain of a song then popular in French
Schopenhauer: German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1869)