The story revolves around Elena, a girl with a very affected mother and a father who is a retired guards lieutenant and keeps a mistress. On the eve of the Crimean War, Elena is pursued by a free-spirited sculptor (Shubin) and an uptight student (Berzeniev). But when Berzeniev's dashing Bulgarian friend Insarov meets Elena, they soon fall in love. Secretly marrying the Bulgarian revolutionary, Elena invites the ire of her parents, who had hoped to marry her to a more respectable suitor. Insarov falls ill, but partly recovers. On the outbreak of the war, Insarov's call home only complicates matters further. Insarov returns with Elena to Bulgaria, but dies on the way in Venice. Elena is never heard of again.