Following his wife’s untimely death, Pyotr Leontievich, a school teacher in a provincial town, is left caring for their three children – a grown-up daughter, Anna (Anyuta) and two young sons, Petya and Andryusha. Pining for his dearly loved wife, Pyotr Leontievich takes to drowning his sorrows in vodka.
An elderly civil servant, Modest Alexeyevich, woos Anyuta. She accepts his proposal hoping that, by marrying him, she will break free from her miserable, uneventful life, on the brink of starvation, and save her family from poverty.
Anyuta ends the relationship with her first love, a poor student and, after the wedding, moves into Modest Alexeyevich’s house. Very soon she realizes that everything she hoped for will never come to pass. Her husband is mean, cold and pragmatic, and has no intention of helping his wife’s family.
The Christmas holidays are approaching and at a ball, which is part of the festive celebrations, Anyuta’s youthfulness, intelligence and beauty win the hearts of all the men in the room.
They all compete for the attention and affection of Modest Alexeyevich’s young wife. A wealthy landowner Artynov, army officers and, finally, His Excellency himself, are infatuated with Anyuta. They are willing to do whatever it takes to please her. Anyuta’s head is spinning from such an unexpected, whirlwind success.
The attentions and love from the male members of the upper crust of society in the provincial town, help Anna to forget all her troubles – her much-hated and de- tested husband, her father losing himself to drink, her poor starving brothers and even her once, much loved, student.
Modest Alexeyevich immediately realizes he stands to gain from his wife’s popularity and encourages her love affairs. His career and social status come first for him. In a short while, he is awarded the Order of Saint Anna and is looking forward to new favours from his wife’s suitor.
Pyotr Leontievich is declared bankrupt. The few possessions he has left are confiscated. On a frosty night, Pyotr Leontievich and his children are thrown out onto the streets…
At the town skating rink, a carefree Anyuta, surrounded by amorous suitors, is enjoying herself. Led by her admirers, she sweeps past her father and brothers, failing to notice them. A homeless Pyotr Leontievich and his children silently watch her go by.