Third Act

A reception room in the Silversmith house. Three doors: on the right, on the left and in the middle. — Daytime.

John Peter is there, Sunny (seated) and Helen (going about the stage, deep in thought).

John Peter

Herr professor has graciously expressed the desire that we all gather in this reception room at one o'clock today. [Another music clue, associating the Third Act with both parts of the scherzo of the Pastoral symphony. The professor will come in at the start of the fourth movement (the storm) — i.e. when the time is eine in Beethoven's notation. For now, the third movement is in 3:4 time — it is "one less a quarter".]

He looks at his watch.

Quarter to. He wants to proclaim something to the world.


Probably business of some kind.

John Peter

He doesn't have any business. He writes garbage, he's peevish and he's jealous, nothing else.

Sunny (in a tone of reproach)


John Peter

Yes, yes, guilty as charged.

He points towards Helen.

Would you just look at her, going about swaying with indolence. Very pretty! Oh yes!


All day long with you it's buzz buzz, everything's buzz buzz — as if we're not sick of it!

(With ennui.)

I'm dying of boredom; I don't know what to do.

Sunny shrugs her shoulders.

Isn't there enough to do? If only you wanted to.


For instance?


Busy yourself with the farm, take up teaching, or nursing. Isn't that enough? When you and papa weren't here, Uncle Johnny and I went to the market ourselves.


I don't know how. What's more, it's uninteresting. And how can I, without a by-your-leave, suddenly take myself off either nursing or teaching? It's only in stuffy novels that people do that.


Oh well, I don't understand why you don't go and teach. Give it time and you'll get used to it.

She hugs her.

Don't be bored, darling.


You're bored, you don't know what to do with yourself, well boredom and idleness are catching. See: Uncle Johnny doesn't do anything except follow you about like a shadow; I've given up on my work and come running after you for a chat. I've grown lazy, helpless! Time was, Doctor Astor came to visit us very rarely ‒ once a month ‒ and then it was hard to persuade him,- nowadays he drives over every day, forsaking both his woods and medicine. You're a witch, that must be it.

John Peter

Why languish?

(With animation.)

Come, my dearest, magnifique, be a clever girl! In your veins runs the blood of a rusalka, so be a rusalka! [I have preferred the literal "rusalka" to "mermaid", for example, as otherwise it will cause some surprise when she is supposed to fly through the air as well as the water. English audiences will be familiar with the term, even if they know it from Dvořák rather than Pushkin.] Let yourself go for once in your life; fall head over heels in love with some water-goblin — and plunge headlong into a tumbling weir, [The rusalka dives into a hole in a mill pond formed by a central overflow, like the tall plugs in old-fashioned baths. The only example I know in Devon is Tumbling Weir at Ottery St Mary and I have taken this name as generic. Anyone who has seen it in full flow will understand the magic of such weirs.]making herr professor and the rest of us just throw up our hands!

Helen (with anger.)

Leave me in peace! This is too cruel!

She goes to leave.

John Peter does not let her.

Come, come, my sweet, forgive me ... I'm sorry.

He kisses her hand.



An angel wouldn't put up with it, you must admit.

John Peter

As a token of peace and harmony, I'm going to fetch a rose bouquet I made for you this morning. ... Autumn roses — alluring, saddening roses.... [These roses will remain in plain view throughout the second part of the Third Act, whilst Voinitskii has his working life torn to shreds, reminding us that his emotional life has also been destroyed. Chekhov is careful to animate the roses from the very first, with the poignant repetition of the words used to characterise them — words that are clearly meant to associate them with Voinitskii himself. The roses are not just pretty, but actively charming in a way that lifts the spirits; they are not just mournful, but actively dreary in a way that sinks the heart.
     How can one bouquet be made to embody these two paradoxical characteristics? What must it look like? I think there may be a picture of what Chekhov had in mind in the painting we know as Madame Cézanne in the Conservatory, a painting with which Paul Cézanne demonstrated the distance between his art and Impressionism. The latter is represented by the charm of a bouquet of roses and their reflection in his wife's face, while the real beauty of the scene lies elsewhere, in the tilt of her head and its surrounding geometry. The debt owed by Chekhov in his late plays to the art of Cézanne ‒ and particularly to the paintings collected together by the dealer Ambroise Vollard for the seminal exhibition of 1895 ‒ is a subject that, I am sure, would repay proper investigation.]

He goes out.


Autumn roses — alluring, saddening roses....

Both look out of the window.


September already. How will we endure the winter here!


Where's the doctor?