On the 20th of May in the year 1859, Nikolai Kirsanov comes out on his porch and asks his servant, Piotr, if his son has returned yet.
Piotr announces that he has not.
As Nikolai sits down on a bench to wait "with his feet tucked under him and gazing pensively around let us introduce him to the reader" (1.7).
Nikolai is the son of a Russian general. He was born and brought up in the south and has one brother, Pavel.
Pavel went into the service, but the same day that Nikolai was commissioned he broke his leg. His father gave him up as a bad case and entered him in the University at Petersburg.
Nikolai's father retired from the service the same year that Nikolai graduated. He was about to move to Petersburg with his wife, but he had a stroke and died. His wife followed shortly after.
In the meantime, Nikolai made up his mind to fall in love with the daughter of his former landlord.
When they were married, Nikolai quit his job at the Ministry of Land Distribution and moved out to the country. Before long his son, Arkady, was born.
They lived a quiet life there for ten years and then, in 1847, Nikolai's wife died; "The blow nearly killed him and in a few weeks his hair turned grey" (1.8).
To free his thoughts, Nikolai planned to travel abroad. Bad timing, though, because as soon as he left the revolutions of 1848 spread across Europe. He returned home to improve the management of his estate.
In 1855, Nikolai enrolled Arkady in the University at Petersburg. He spent the first three winters there, looking after him, but he was not able to go this most recent winter, "and so we meet him, quite grey now, stoutish and a trifle bent, in this month of May 1859, waiting for the arrival of his son, who has just taken his degree as once he himself had done" (1.8).
Nikolai thinks of Arkady and his dead wife. He watches a fat pigeon flying down on the road, and then hears the wheels of Arkady's carriage approaching. He runs out to greet him happily.