Vladimir Petrovich Voldemar, a 16-year-old, is staying in the country with his family and meets Zinaida Alexandrovna Zasyekina, a beautiful 21-year-old woman, staying with her mother, Princess Zasyekina, in a wing of the manor. This family, as with many of the Russian minor nobility with royal ties of that time, were only afforded a degree of respectability because of their titles; the Zasyekins, in the case of this story, are a very poor family. The young Vladimir falls irretrievably in love with Zinaida, who has a set of several other (socially more eligible) suitors whom he joins in their difficult and often fruitless search for the young lady's favour.
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