29 pages 58 minutes read

Anton Chekhov

At Home

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1897

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Summary: “At Home”

“At Home” is a short story by Anton Chekhov, published in 1897. Chekhov was a prolific Russian writer, composing seven plays, one novel, and hundreds of short stories. “At Home” conveys many of the themes common to Chekhov’s body of work, including the search for happiness, the boredom of provincial life, the divide between landowners and the peasantry, and a pessimism about the possibility of change. Vera Ivanovna Kardin, the main character of the story, returns home after boarding school and struggles to find purpose in her life. She has wealth, status, and education but feels that something is missing. Throughout the story, she reflects on the nature of human relationships and the emptiness that can come from a life focused solely on superficial concerns.

Disambiguation: Chekhov wrote a story in 1887 titled "At Home,” or sometimes “Home” (“Doma”), about a little boy whose father catches him smoking. The present story, the title of which is also translated as “At Home,” is sometimes more literally translated as “In My Native Corner” (“V rodnom uglu”).

This guide refers to the public domain version of the story translated by Constance Garnett, located at The Project Gutenberg eBook Compilation of the Stories of Chekhov.

Part 1 begins with a description of the Don railway and the peaceful countryside. Vera Ivanovna Kardin arrives at her family estate in the spring. She is 23 years old, has just finished 10 years of boarding school in Moscow, and is excited about her future. Both her parents have died, and Vera now owns the estate. Her Auntie Dasha runs the estate and anxiously awaits Vera’s return. As she looks out at the fields and the forest, Vera reflects on the beauty of nature and the peacefulness of the countryside: "The steppe, the steppe. . . . The horses trotted, the sun rose higher and higher; and it seemed to Vera that never in her childhood had the steppe been so rich, so luxuriant in June” (Part 1, Paragraph 1). She prays that she might find happiness here in the countryside.

Auntie Dasha is ecstatic that Vera has returned, calling her a “queen” and declaring that she will be Vera’s “willing slave” (Part 1, Paragraph 10). Later, Vera meets her grandfather, who used to beat the servants with a birch stick, crying, “Twenty-five strokes!” Now in his old age, he is hobbled by arthritis and asthma, and spends most of his time eating (Part 1, Paragraph 14).

Auntie Dasha mentions the local doctor, Dr. Neshtchapov, who “fell in love” (Part 1, Paragraph 19) with Vera’s photograph. Auntie Dasha has decided that Vera will marry the doctor, as he is financially stable, having part ownership of a factory that was recently built nearby. Auntie Dasha assures Vera that he is a charming, intelligent man.

The following day, Vera tours the grounds of the estate, looking out on the vast steppe and feeling that “happiness [is] near at hand” (Part 1, Paragraph 20). At the same time, the steppe’s emptiness fills her with unease, as if it “would swallow up her life and reduce it to nothingness” (Part 1, Paragraph 20). Neshtchapov arrives later that day, and Vera finds him dull and unattractive despite his good figure. His white waistcoat strikes her as inappropriate for the countryside, and his silence tells her that, rather than being thoughtful, he has nothing interesting to say.

The estate has fallen into a state of unproductivity as Vera’s grandfather has aged. Auntie Dasha complains that “every one ha[s] grown lazy” (Part 2, Paragraph 7), and the peasants only plant and harvest out of habit. A tenant lives on the land, but he does not pay his rent. Auntie Dasha keeps the household servants in constant flux, firing them for minor infractions while only keeping a single servant girl named Alyona in the house. Vera finds Alyona “a pale, rather stupid little thing” (Part 2, Paragraph 7), who is so nervous about being fired that she constantly drops and breaks things. When this happens, her mother and grandmother must come to the estate and beg on their knees for Auntie Dasha to forgive her.

Occasionally, Vera attends parties she finds despairingly dull. When the estate is hosting, Vera wants nothing more than for the visitors to leave. She disdains their indifference to current issues: “They seemed to have no fatherland, no religion, no public interests” (Part 2, Paragraph 15). Neshtchapov, who often attends these gatherings, strikes Vera as having “read nothing and cared to read nothing” (Part 2, Paragraph 15). He makes great displays of etiquette but otherwise contributes nothing to the conversation. The other guests, particularly the women, find him handsome and charming, but Vera cannot understand this because he never speaks a word.

Vera is a deep reader, spending her nights in bed with books and magazines. As she reads of lives very different from her own, she is constantly haunted by the questions, “What am I to do? Where am I to go?” (Part 2, Paragraph 16). Vera considers the irony of talk of reform coming from the landowning class, whose wealth depends on peasant labor: Had they “believed that enlightenment was necessary, they would not have paid the schoolmasters fifteen roubles a month as they did now, and would not have let them go hungry” (Part 2, Paragraph 17).

Vera has high hopes for herself and dreams of becoming a doctor, a scientist, or a mechanic, but she has no idea where to begin. Auntie Dasha is keenly aware that Vera is unhappy. She goes to Vera to encourage her to marry Dr. Neshtchapov. After all, the estate owes interest on its mortgage, and the tenants are behind on rent. She hints to Vera that the doctor could help alleviate their financial troubles.

One day, a new peasant laborer arrives at the estate, and Vera is drawn into a conversation with him. She asks where he was born, and he tells her about his life, his time in the army, the death of his mother, and the fact that he never knew his father. Auntie Dasha interrupts their conversation, saying to Vera in French, “Il ne faut pas parler aux gens” (“Don’t talk to the help”) (Part 2, Paragraph 15). She sends the laborer back to work but later on fires him for being born out of wedlock, a fact he revealed to Vera during their talk. His firing sends Vera into a deep depression, as “[a]n oppressive, angry feeling sank like a stone on Vera's heart” (Part 3, Paragraph 19).

Alyona disturbs Vera in the middle of her thoughts, and this sends Vera into a rage. She screams at the girl, telling her to go away, and calling for someone to beat her. After Alyona leaves—dropping Vera’s gold watch in her haste—Vera’s rage passes. However, she feels ashamed of her outburst and runs from the house to hide in the ravine. As she gathers her thoughts, she realizes she has become just like Auntie Dasha, her grandfather, and the other members of the nobility who treat their servants inhumanely.

Neshtchapov drives by the ravine where Vera is hiding, and she revolves to marry him. She reasons that there are no better choices left to her; she can still find the time to do the things that might improve the lives of others, such as teach in the local school, provide medical aid to the peasants, and so on. A month after this decision, Vera is living with Neshtchapov in the factory town as his wife.