Very brief summary
Princess Vera Sheina was celebrating her name day.
During a holiday meal, she received an unexpected gift: a gold bracelet decorated with pomegranates. It was sent by a man who had been courting Vera for seven years, sending her letters and keeping an eye on her. The Princess did not know him and had never seen him, knew only his initials, which were signed letters.
Up to this time the Princess's family had treated the admirer as a funny joke, but the obscenely expensive gift angered Vera's husband and brother. They found the admirer, the petty official Zheltkov, returned the bracelet to him and demanded that he leave Vera alone.
Zheltkov replied that the only way for him to give up his love for Vera was to die. He then asked the prince for permission to speak to Vera by telephone. The princess asked him to finish the story, and he promised to disappear forever.
In the morning Vera read in the newspaper that Zheltkov had committed suicide. In the evening the princess received a farewell letter in which he wrote of his love for her and asked her to play Beethoven's Second Piano Sonata in his memory.
With her husband's permission, Vera went to say goodbye to the dead Zheltkov. She looked at him for a long time and realized that the great love had passed her by. In the evening, the princess asked a pianist friend to play a Beethoven sonata, wept as she listened to the music, and then felt that Zheltkov had forgiven her.
Detailed chapter-by-chapter retelling
The titles of the chapters are conventional.
Chapter 1. The Dacha of the Princes of Shein
In mid-August the weather on the northern coast of the Black Sea deteriorated badly, and the inhabitants of the resorts began to hastily move into town. But in early September, summer suddenly returned.
Princess Vera Sheina had not yet had time to leave her dacha: her Moscow house was being repaired. Now she was enjoying warm days, silence and solitude.
Chapter 2: The Sisters
On the day of Princess Vera's name-day, September 17th, it was quiet and warm. Prince Vasily Shein could hardly make ends meet, and Vera was glad that her name-day coincided with the time of her summer cottage, and that they would not have to spend money on a dinner party in town.
Princess Vera, whose former passionate love for her husband had long ago been transformed into a sense of lasting, faithful, true friendship, tried her best to help the prince keep from total ruin.
Only the closest friends were to come to the birthday party. Vera's younger sister Anna, the wife of a rich and foolish man, was the first to arrive.
The sisters, very attached to each other, were not alike in appearance. Vera resembled her English mother; Anna took after her father, a Tatar prince. Vera had no children and adored her pretty nephews.
Anna was wasteful, loved flirting and gambling, and despised her husband, though he adored her. At the same time, she was kind, deeply religious, and never cheated on her unloved husband.
Chapter 3: Anna's Gift
Sitting on the bench, the sisters looked out at the calm, cheerful blue, darkening sea near the horizon, on which the fishing boats were dozing motionlessly. Her sister gave Vera a notebook repurposed from an antique prayer book. Anna found in an antique shop prayer book cover, covered with shabby blue velvet with a gold cross pattern, and instead of paper ordered to stitch into it thin plates of ivory.
Vera was delighted with the gift. She said that only Anna could have had the crazy idea of turning the prayer book into a ladies' notebook.
Chapter 4. Guests
By five o'clock the rest of the guests had arrived, including a famous pianist, Vera's brother and General Anosov, whom the sisters called Grandfather.
The general was a man of courage, had fought many wars, and now served as commandant of the fortress. In his entire military career, he never once struck a soldier. Anosov's current position was symbolic: the sickly old man had been appointed commandant for his military service. He was famous in the city for his eccentricities and his kind attitude toward the officers in the brig.
Anosov was lonely: his wife ran off with an actor, there were no children. After moving to K., the general became close to the children of his combat friend and visited them every evening.
Chapter 5. Unexpected gift
After a festive dinner Prince Vasily set about entertaining the guests. He was able to think up funny stories based on real events, and tell them with a very serious look. The stories were supplemented by an album with funny drawings and poetical comments on them.
At this moment the maid handed Vera a package that had been brought during lunch. There was a note and a bracelet in it, with a bracelet in low-cut blown gold, decorated with garnets and a strange green stone. The gift was sent by an old admirer of the princess, whom she had never seen, knowing only his initials - G. S. J. The note attached to the gift said that all the garnets were taken from a bracelet that belonged to the grandmother of admirers, and the green stone - a very rare green garnet - gave women the gift of foresight, and men guarded against violent death.
With sudden alarm Vera thought that the pomegranates in the bracelet looked like drops of blood.
Chapter 6. The humorous story of the "telegrapher in love"
Vera returned to the guests at the moment when Prince Vasily was telling the story "Princess Vera and the Telegraphist in Love," in which the girl became the object of an unknown admirer's passion, but in the end she chose the "handsome Vasyu Shein." Today the princess did not like her husband's jokes for some reason.
Chapter 7. The General Remembers
After dinner General Anosov tells how he fought and was slightly shell-shocked. Then he remembers a short romance he had "with a pretty little Bulgarian girl" in Bucharest.
Chapter 8: The Stories of General Anosov and the Princess' Account of G. S. J.
In the evening, seeing her guests off, Vera whispered to her husband to look in the case and read the note. Leading Anosov to his carriage, the sisters talked to him about love. The general believed that people have forgotten how to love, and marry only for profit.
Love must be a tragedy. The greatest mystery in the world! No convenience, calculation or compromise should touch it.
The general had never met true love, but he told his sisters two interesting stories. The first story was about the wife of a regimental commander, an experienced libertine, who seduced a young ensign. Very quickly she became bored with the boy, left him, and the ensign suffered terribly and was jealous. One day she asked if the warrant officer could throw himself under a train for love of her. He did, but was prevented from killing himself. The ensign lost both hands, became a beggar, and froze "somewhere on a wharf in Petersburg."
The second story is about a young and beautiful woman whom her husband loved so much that he tolerated her lover, a coward and bum. In fact, they lived in a threesome. When the regiment was sent to war, the husband took care of his wife's lover for fear she would leave him. Everyone sympathized with this brave man and rejoiced when the lover died of typhoid.
Loving women Anosov also met and was sure "that almost every woman is capable of the highest heroism in love. It was men's fault that love had turned from the meaning of life into a small entertainment.
Anosov then asked Vera what the story of the "telegrapher in love" was all about. She told of a madman with the initials G. S. J., who had pursued her even before her marriage, writing love letters until Vera asked him to stop. After that, he wrote to her only at Easter, New Year's, and her name day.
Princess Vera also told her about today's parcel. In the general's opinion, this man was either a maniac, or his Verochka's life path had been "crossed by precisely the kind of love that women dream of and men are no longer capable of."
Chapter 9. Reaction to an immodest gift
When Vera returned to the house, she saw that her brother Nicholas was outraged by G. S. J.'s gift.
He decided to find an admirer and stop his advances. Nicholas, who was working in court, wanted to involve the gendarmes in the case, but Prince Vasily asked not to involve outsiders.
Chapter 10. Meeting with G. S. G.
Г. G. S. J., a petty official by the name of Zheltkov, lived on the top floor of a cheap apartment house. Nicholas and Prince Vasily returned his pomegranate bracelet to him and demanded that he leave Vera alone, threatening to go to the authorities. At first Zheltkov was confused and embarrassed, but relaxed when he heard the threat.
Ignoring Nikolai, he told Prince Vasily that for seven years he had hopelessly loved Vera and that he would love her even if he were sent out of town or imprisoned. The only way for him to give up this love was to die.
...Is it possible to control such a feeling as love, a feeling that has not yet found an interpreter.
Then he asked Prince Vasily for permission to speak to Vera by telephone and went out. Zheltkov returned with eyes full of tears. Forgetting all secular propriety, he said that the Sheins would never hear from him again: he had embezzled public money and now had to go into hiding.
Vera asked him to stop the story, and he promised. Zheltkov's last request was to write a farewell letter to the princess. Prince Vasily, out of pity, allowed it.
Chapter 11. Zheltkov's Farewell Letter
In the evening the Prince told his wife all the details of his meeting with Zheltkov. In the morning Vera read in the newspaper that G. S. Zheltkov had committed suicide "because of embezzlement of state money," and in the evening mail came his last letter.
It so happens that I am not interested in anything in life: neither politics, nor science, nor philosophy, nor care about the future happiness of people - for me, all life is only about you.
Zheltkov wrote about his love - the only thing that interested him in this life, wished Vera happiness and asked to play Beethoven's second piano sonata in his memory. Weeping, Vera showed the letter to her husband and asked permission to go to town and see Zheltkov.
Chapter 12. The Love Every Woman Dreams of
Vera was met by Zheltkov's housewife. She told her that in eight years Zheltkov had become almost a son to her. She knew nothing of the embezzlement, otherwise she would not have spared her savings to cover the debt. Zheltkov gave her the pomegranate bracelet and asked her to hang it on the icon.
Vera looked for a long time at Zheltkov, who died with a serene smile on his lips, and realized "that the love that every woman dreams of has passed her by." Then she placed a large red rose in the casket and kissed his cold, wet forehead.
Chapter 13. Beethoven's Second Piano Sonata
Late at night Vera asked her pianist friend to play her something. She had no doubt that she would choose Beethoven's Second Sonata. It was as if the music was telling the Princess about the great, but unfulfilled love of a small, simple man.
Vera wept as she listened to the sonata, and then felt that G. S. J. had forgiven her.
The retelling is based on edition of the story from Kuprin's Collected Works in 9 volumes (M.: Pravda, 1964).