The Minor (Fonvizin)

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The Minor
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Summary of the Play
Microsummary: An evil woman has taken an orphan girl into her home. The girl's uncle decided to leave her a large inheritance, and the woman wanted to marry the girl off to her stupid son. The girl is saved by her uncle and her lover.

Plot Summary

An orphan girl has fallen into the clutches of a greedy and wicked landlady who wants to marry her off to her brother. Suddenly it became known that the orphan's long-missing uncle was alive. All this time he had been in Siberia and had accumulated a large fortune, which he decided to bequeath to his niece. On hearing of the money, the landowner decided to give the orphan away not to her brother, but to her stupid and uneducated son, a simpleton.

The landlady had a visiting government official, who was obliged to protect the common peasants from the arbitrariness of the landowners. He did not like the cruel landlady and was waiting for a chance to deprive her of her power over the peasants. The official's friend, a young officer who turned out to be the orphan's lover, also appeared on the same estate.

When the uncle came to fetch the orphan, the landowner began to flatter him and praise her son in order to obtain the coveted arrangement. However, the uncle had time to meet the noble and brave officer. It turned out that the officer had long been in the uncle's mind as a suitor for the orphan. The lovers confessed their feelings, and the uncle blessed them.

When the landowner found out about it, she tried to kidnap the orphan and marry him by force, but the officer saved her beloved. As punishment the officer deprives the landlady of her right to rule her estate and sends the underling to the army.

Act-by-Act Summary

The names of the acts are conditional.

Act 1. Meeting the Prostakovs and Sophia. Unexpected return of Uncle. Sophia becomes a rich heiress

The Prostakovs' estate. Prostakova is trying on her son's caftan made by a self-taught serf, scolding him for his ineptitude.

Prostakova Wikidata.svg — a middle-aged woman, harsh, imperious, quick to crack, loves only her son.

The caftan was sewn for Skotinin's engagement.

Taras Skotinin — Prostakova's brother, a boor and ignoramus, loves only pigs.

Prostakova was going to marry her brother to Sophia without asking the girl's consent.

Sophia — Prostakov's distant relative, orphan, sweet, pure, defenseless.

Sophia's only relative, her own uncle, has gone to Siberia and is missing. Prostakova took advantage of this and got her hands on the girl's estate. She put Sofia in her house and treated her severely and unfairly. Prostakov pitied the girl, but he dared not answer her.

Terence Prostakov — Prostakov's husband, shy, he is often beaten by his wife..

Skotinin did not like the girl; he wanted to marry her for the sake of the huge pigs bred on her estate.

The Prostakovs were discussing Skotinin's engagement when a joyful Sofia walked in and announced that she had received a letter from her uncle. Prostakova could not believe that her uncle was alive.

How he did not die! What are you confusing grandmother for? Don't you know that it's been several years since I've had a memorial for him? Didn't my sinful prayers get through!

None of the Prostakovs could read. Three teachers, including a real German, had been seeing Mitrofan for four years, but the boy could never learn to read or count.

Mitrofan Wikidata.svg — Prostakova's only son, 15 years old, large, fat, gluttonous, exceptionally stupid.

Not trusting the girl, Prostakova asks her guest Pravdin to read the letter.

Pravdin Wikidata.svg — Government official, very honest, sympathetic to the common people.

The uncle wrote that he had returned from Siberia, where he had become very rich, and now he intended to take his niece to him and make her his heiress. When Prostakova heard this, she changed her mind at once to marry Sofia off to her brother and decided to marry the immature Mitrophan off to her.

Prostakova has taken Sophia away. A runaway servant runs up to Prostakov and tells him that soldiers have stopped in their village.

Action 2. The Tsar's Official. Sophia and her lover. The Underdog Wants to Marry

Pravdin meets his friend Milon, the commander of the soldiers.

Milon — Young officer, straightforward, honest, loves Sophia.

Pravdin told his friend that it was his duty to see to it that landlords were not cruel to their serfs. He considered Prostakov a fool and his wife an evil fury. Pravdin had already informed his superior "of all the barbarities here," and he hoped that measures would soon be taken against Prostakov's arbitrary behaviour.

Milon confessed that he loved the girl, whom his relatives had taken away somewhere. He feared that his beloved had been at the mercy of greedy men. Then Sophia, who happened to be Milon's sweetheart, entered.

Sophia said that Prostakova was trying to persuade her to marry Mitrofan. The girl replied that she wanted to obtain the consent of her uncle, who will be arriving soon.

Think how miserable my condition is! I couldn't answer this silly suggestion decisively either. To get rid of their rudeness, to have some freedom, I was forced to hide my feelings.

Skotinin appeared and began to complain that his sister had summoned him to marry, and now convinced him that he did not need a wife. Pravdin explains to him that Prostakova wants to marry Sofia to Mitrofan.

The irritated Skotinin lashes out at Mitrofan with his fists. The old nurse protects the cowardly runts and chases Skotinin away. Prostakova came in and asked Sofia to see the room prepared for her uncle.

Then came Mitrofan's teachers. He was taught mathematics by a retired soldier, and reading by a former seminarian. Pravdin and Milon left, and Mitrophan complained to his mother about Sotinin and threatened to drown himself if his uncle touched him. Prostakova scolded the nurse for not interceding on his son's behalf and took her son away, vowing not to let him out of her sight. The teachers sympathized with the offended nanny.

Action 3. The arrival of Uncle. Lessons of the Foolish Undergrowth

In the afternoon Starodum, whom Pravdin happens to know, arrives.

Starodum Wikidata.svg — Sophia's own uncle, 60 years old, honest and straightforward.

Starodum's father had served in the court of Peter the Great and had instilled in his son high notions of duty and honor. Starodum was angry at the Prostakovs because of their treatment of Sophia, but life has taught him to restrain his impulses.

He had once served at court and was friends with the young Count. When war broke out, Starodum offered his friend to enlist together in the army, but he refused. Starodum fought and was wounded, and the count serving at the court overtook him in ranks.

Here I saw that sometimes there is an immeasurable difference between men of chance and honorable men, and that there are gentle souls in high society, and that a great enlightenment can lead to a great fool.

The insulted Starodum resigned, after which he served briefly at court. He did not like the duplicity and meanness of the court and went to Siberia, where he earned his fortune by hard work. He believed that he should have restrained himself and not resigned, because he could still be of use to his fatherland.

Sophia joyfully met her uncle. He, too, was glad to see his only sister's daughter. Oldodum decided to make her his heiress, believing that his children must make their own way in life.

Then a fight broke out between Prostakova and Scotinin and Milon tried to separate them. Prostakova sees Starodumov and starts fawning all over him and makes Mitrofan kiss his hand.

Starodumov was not moved by this and announced that tomorrow he would take Sophia to Moscow and look for a good groom for her. He did not, however, intend to force her into marriage, believing that the girl must love the man she had chosen.

Prostakova was encouraged by this. She told him that her father had never taught her and her brother anything, but that Mitrophan "did not get up for twenty-four hours because of a book", and offered to see how her son was learning. The old man refused and was taken to the room prepared for him.

Mitrofan's teachers stayed in the room. They scolded the German for disturbing them by trying to drum science into the child's empty head. Mitrophan and Prostakova came back. The child did not want to study, he wanted to get married, but the lessons nevertheless began.

Mityrofan could not put 10 and 10 together and did not read a single line. Prostakova stirred, making silly remarks. Then a German came and said that Mitrophan would manage to get on without studying and that the main thing was not to mix with clever people. When Prostakova and her son left, the teachers almost beat the German.

Action 4. The uncle approves of Sophia's choice, examines the undergrad and rejects the unworthy suitors

The old man has a long moral conversation with Sophia about honour, decency, good and evil, wealth, court manners and the duties of a wife and makes sure that his niece fully shares his views.

A husband of prudence! A virtuous wife! What could be more honourable! It is necessary, my friend, that your husband should obey your reason, and you your husband, and you both be perfectly well off.

The conversation was interrupted by a servant who brought Starodum a letter from Moscow, a friend of Starodum's. He was wooing Sophia to his nephew and informed him that the young man would lead a detachment of soldiers to Moscow, just past the Prostakovs' estate.

No sooner had Starodum spoken of this to his niece than Pravdin and Milon came. The uncle guessed at once that the young officer was the count's nephew. Having spoken to him, Oldodum was convinced that Milon was a worthy and brave man who valued his honour. It turned out that Sophia's mother loved him as a son and he was often at their house.

Milon told her that he and Sophia had been in love for a long time and he asked Old Dumas for her hand. The uncle gladly gave his blessing to the lovers.

Then Scotinin appeared and demanded that Starodum give Sophia to him. His utter stupidity and his strange love for pigs made the uncle and Pravdin laugh. Then the Prostakovs come and begin to match Sofia to Mitrofan.

The old man decided to test the youngster's learning for fun. It turned out that Mitrophan did not know what nouns and adjectives were, and had never heard of history and geography.

The old fool rejected both suitors and declared that Sophia is already engaged to Milon. In spite of this, Prostakova decided to insist on her own.

Action 5. Prostakova tries to kidnap Sophia and as punishment is deprived of power and her son

Pravdin has been ordered to "take custody of the house and villages" of Prostakova at the first of her pranks, from which the serfs will suffer. Starodum was pleased that the state cares about the common people.

Then Starodum and Pravdin began to argue about education. Starodum did not like the fact that the landowners' children were taught by ignorant teachers, often from the serfs. An example of this was Mitrofan. But also education in high society does not teach, but corrupts the youth.

...Science in a corrupted man is a fierce weapon to do evil. Enlightenment elevates one virtuous soul.

The conversation was interrupted by a noise. It was Milon who saw the servants leading the struggling Sophia to the carriage and interceded for her. Pravdin questioned the servants. It transpired that Prostakova had ordered her abduction in order to marry her to Mitrofan by force.

Prostakova fell on her knees before Starodum and Sofia, and they decided not to sue her. On learning that the servants had betrayed her, Prostakova ordered them all to be flogged. This allowed Pravdin to put into action the order he had received. Skotinin, who was present when this happened, left as quickly as possible, fearing "any Skotinin could be put under guardianship".

Pravdin ordered that Mitrofan's teachers be summoned to settle accounts with them. It turned out that the German pretending to be a teacher used to be Starodum's coachman. Starodum took him back.

Starodum and Sofia get ready to leave. As they were saying goodbye to Pravdin, they saw Mitrofan treating his mother rudely, which made her lose consciousness. Pravdin decided to punish the runt by sending him to the army. Starodum pointed at the grieving Prostakova with the words, "Here is the wickedness worthy fruit!"

The retelling is based on edition of the play, prepared by G. P. Makogonenko (Moscow: Goslitizdat, 1959).