Only a year ago, the landowner Nikolai Ivanov was full of energy and optimism, in love with his wife and working hard. Now, for no reason he can understand, Ivanov is overcome with inertia and self-disgust. His wife is dying and he feels nothing. He is drowning in debt and despair, and he does nothing. Is it him? Is it Russia? And is the possibility of happiness with the young woman who loves him just a cruel illusion? Ivanov was the 27-year-old Chekhov's shot at despatching the 'superfluous man' of Russian literature, and in surrounding him with a brilliantly drawn set of provincial types he created some of the best comedy he was ever to write.