A Nervous Breakdown
"While we were dancing," said the medical student, as they all
three went out into the street, "I had a conversation with my
partner. We talked about her first romance. He, the hero, was an
accountant at Smolensk with a wife and five children. She was
seventeen, and she lived with her papa and mamma, who sold soap
"How did he win her heart?" asked Vassilyev.
"By spending fifty roubles on underclothes for her. What next!"
"So he knew how to get his partner's story out of her," thought
Vassilyev about the medical student. "But I don't know how to."
"I say, I am going home!" he said.
"Because I don't know how to behave here. Besides, I am bored,
disgusted. What is there amusing in it? If they were human
beings -- but they are savages and animals. I am going; do as
"Come, Grisha, Grigory, darling. . ." said the artist in a
tearful voice, hugging Vassilyev, "come along! Let's go to one
more together and damnation take them! . . . Please do, Grisha!"
They persuaded Vassilyev and led him up a staircase. In the
carpet and the gilt banisters, in the porter who opened the
door, and in the panels that decorated the hall, the same S.
Street style was apparent, but carried to a greater perfection,
"I really will go home!" said Vassilyev as he was taking off his
"Come, come, dear boy," said the artist, and he kissed him on
the neck. "Don't be tiresome. . . . Gri-gri, be a good comrade!
We came together, we will go back together. What a beast you
"I can wait for you in the street. I think it's loathsome,
"Come, come, Grisha. . . . If it is loathsome, you can observe
it! Do you understand? You can observe!"
"One must take an objective view of things," said the medical
Vassilyev went into the drawing-room and sat down. There were a
number of visitors in the room besides him and his friends: two
infantry officers, a bald, gray-haired gentleman in spectacles,
two beardless youths from the institute of land-surveying, and a
very tipsy man who looked like an actor. All the young ladies
were taken up with these visitors and paid no attention to
Only one of them, dressed la Ada, glanced sideways at him,
smiled, and said, yawning: "A dark one has come. . . ."
Vassilyev's heart was throbbing and his face burned. He felt
ashamed before these visitors of his presence here, and he felt
disgusted and miserable. He was tormented by the thought that
he, a decent and loving man (such as he had hitherto considered
himself), hated these women and felt nothing but repulsion
towards them. He felt pity neither for the women nor the
musicians nor the flunkeys.
"It is because I am not trying to understand them," he thought.
"They are all more like animals than human beings, but of course
they are human beings all the same, they have souls. One must
understand them and then judge. . . ."
"Grisha, don't go, wait for us," the artist shouted to him and
The medical student disappeared soon after.
"Yes, one must make an effort to understand, one mustn't be like
this. . ." Vassilyev went on thinking.
And he began gazing at each of the women with strained
attention, looking for a guilty smile. But either he did not
know how to read their faces, or not one of these women felt
herself to be guilty; he read on every face nothing but a blank
expression of everyday vulgar boredom and complacency. Stupid
faces, stupid smiles, harsh, stupid voices, insolent movements,
and nothing else. Apparently each of them had in the past a
romance with an accountant based on underclothes for fifty
roubles, and looked for no other charm in the present but
coffee, a dinner of three courses, wines, quadrilles, sleeping
till two in the afternoon. . . .
Finding no guilty smile, Vassilyev began to look whether there
was not one intelligent face. And his attention was caught by
one pale, rather sleepy, exhausted-looking face. . . . It was a
dark woman, not very young, wearing a dress covered with
spangles; she was sitting in an easy-chair, looking at the floor
lost in thought. Vassilyev walked from one corner of the room to
the other, and, as though casually, sat down beside her.
"I must begin with something trivial," he thought, "and pass to
what is serious. . . ."
"What a pretty dress you have," and with his finger he touched
the gold fringe of her fichu.
"Oh, is it? . . ." said the dark woman listlessly.
"What province do you come from?"
"I? From a distance. . . . From Tchernigov."
"A fine province. It's nice there."
"Any place seems nice when one is not in it."
"It's a pity I cannot describe nature," thought Vassilyev. "I
might touch her by a description of nature in Tchernigov. No
doubt she loves the place if she has been born there."
"Are you dull here?" he asked.
"Of course I am dull."
"Why don't you go away from here if you are dull?"
"Where should I go to? Go begging or what?"
"Begging would be easier than living here."
How do you know that? Have you begged?"
"Yes, when I hadn't the money to study. Even if I hadn't anyone
could understand that. A beggar is anyway a free man, and you
are a slave."
The dark woman stretched, and watched with sleepy eyes the
footman who was bringing a trayful of glasses and seltzer water.
"Stand me a glass of porter," she said, and yawned again.
"Porter," thought Vassilyev. "And what if your brother or mother
walked in at this moment? What would you say? And what would
they say? There would be porter then, I imagine. . . ."
All at once there was the sound of weeping. From the adjoining
room, from which the footman had brought the seltzer water, a
fair man with a red face and angry eyes ran in quickly. He was
followed by the tall, stout "madam," who was shouting in a
"Nobody has given you leave to slap girls on the cheeks! We have
visitors better than you, and they don't fight! Impostor!"
A hubbub arose. Vassilyev was frightened and turned pale. In the
next room there was the sound of bitter, genuine weeping, as
though of someone insulted. And he realized that there were real
people living here who, like people everywhere else, felt
insulted, suffered, wept, and cried for help. The feeling of
oppressive hate and disgust gave way to an acute feeling of pity
and anger against the aggressor. He rushed into the room where
there was weeping. Across rows of bottles on a marble-top table
he distinguished a suffering face, wet with tears, stretched out
his hands towards that face, took a step towards the table, but
at once drew back in horror. The weeping girl was drunk.
As he made his way though the noisy crowd gathered about the
fair man, his heart sank and he felt frightened like a child;
and it seemed to him that in this alien, incomprehensible world
people wanted to pursue him, to beat him, to pelt him with
filthy words. . . . He tore down his coat from the hatstand and
ran headlong downstairs.