Very brief summary
Ukraine, 17th century. The sons of the old Cossack Taras Bulba returned home after years of study.
Taras decided that the former students should grow up while raiding enemies, and took them to the Zaporizhian Sich. The wild life of the Sich was to the sons' liking. The younger son even began to forget the panorama, whom he had fallen in love with during his studies.
At that time most of the Ukraine was ruled by Poland. Soon the news came that Jews and Polish Catholic priests began to oppress the Orthodox faith. The Zaporizhian Cossacks stood up for their faith and went on a campaign against Poland.
The youngest son Taras's beloved was in the city besieged by Cossacks and was starving. Learning of this, he sneaked to her and decided to stay, thus betraying his homeland. For this, during the battle Taras himself shot him. In the same battle the Poles captured Taras' eldest son and severely wounded him.
After recovering from his wounds, Taras tried to rescue his eldest son, but failed. The boy was tortured and executed. Taras began to take violent revenge on the Poles.
After a while the Polish authorities managed to catch Taras. They chained him to a tree and burned him alive. Before he died, Taras managed to help his comrades.
A detailed retelling by chapters
The titles of the chapters are conventional.
Chapters 1-2. The childhood and youth of the sons. Meeting with parents. The road to the Sech
Taras Bulba sent his sons to the academy when they were twelve years old.
The eldest son, Ostap, it was difficult to study.
He ran away from the academy four times, but fearing that his father would punish him, he began to study. Ostap participated in the shenanigans of the bursa students, endured punishments steadfastly, and never betrayed his own.
The younger son, Andriy, studied more easily and willingly.
He was often the leader in student mischief and deftly avoided punishment. Andrius took an early interest in women and managed to fall in love with the daughter of a Polish voivode, a panna, but soon her father was transferred elsewhere and the lad lost track of her.
Having finished their studies, the brothers returned home. They had been away for a long time and missed their home and parents. Taras, delighted at his sons' return, joked good-naturedly about their clothes, but Ostap took offense and threatened to beat him. Taras decided to try his son in a fist fight and was pleased with him. Andrii did not interfere, for which Taras jokingly called him a "gentleman.
Taras decided: to become mature in fights with enemies, his sons must go to Zaporizhian Sich tomorrow. All night long the poor old mother wept at her sons' bedside, feeling that she was seeing them for the last time. Saying good-bye to their mother made the brothers sad: they could hardly hold back their tears, remembering their childhood and realizing that it was over.
On the way Taras remembered his old comrades-in-arms and wondered which of them were still alive. Ostap was pityingly thinking of his mother, and Andriy was remembering his wife. When Taras saw that his sons were dejected, he ordered them to spur their horses so that a quick gallop across the steppe would cheer them up.
Chapters 3-4. Zaporizhian Sich. Beginning of the war with Poland
Zaporizhian Sich - the main fortification of Zaporizhian Cossacks - was located on an island in the middle of the Dnieper River and was almost unguarded. The Sich was surrounded by homes of traders, mostly Jews, who had their drinking establishments. The Cossacks despised the Jews, but tolerated them.
Cossacks practiced almost no military exercises - the youths learned to fight during the battle. Some Cossacks were engaged in crafts, but for the most part they were partying wildly, drinking away all their possessions.
Anyone could join the Sech, as long as he was Orthodox. The Cossack army was divided into kurens, which were commanded by kurennye atamans. The head of the entire Sich was Koshevoy ataman.
Few laws of the Sich were strict. The thief was chained to a pillar of shame, and anyone could hit him with a stick. A debtor was chained to a cannon until someone paid his debt. The murderer was thrown alive into the pit, a coffin with the murdered man was placed on top and covered with earth.
Taras did not like that Ostap and Andrii were immersed in dissolute life. He wanted them to show themselves in battles, but the Koshevoy concluded a truce with the Turkish Sultan. Then Taras persuaded the Cossacks to change the Koshevoy.
The new Koshevoy invented how to bypass the peace treaty with the Turks: not to march on them with the entire Sich, but quietly, without an order, to let the young men go. Young Cossacks were already getting ready for the campaign, when Cossacks from the western Ukraine, formerly under the Polish rule, came to the Sich. They reported that the Polish panes had leased Orthodox churches to Jews and that Catholic priests were in command of Orthodox Christians. Because of this, the local Cossacks revolted, it was brutally suppressed, and the remnants of the rebels barely made it to the Sech.
Enraged Cossacks began to slaughter local Jews. Taras rescued Yankel, who had once helped his brother to be ransomed from Turkish captivity.
Chapters 5-6. Siege of Dubno. Andriy goes over to the side of the Poles
The army of the Zaporizhian Sich moved into Poland and ravaged the entire southwest of the country, committing incredible atrocities. Ostap became a cold-blooded warrior, able to find a means to overcome any danger. Andrius rushed into battle headlong. Taras was glad that his sons had matured. He thought that Ostap would become a "good colonel", and he called Andrii a "good soldier", slightly worse than his elder brother.
Finally, the Cossack army approached the town of Dubno and besieged it. Soon the young Cossacks began to grow bored with forced inactivity, which particularly depressed Andriy.
One night Andriy was awakened by a very emaciated woman. At first the boy was frightened, but after a closer look he recognized her as a Tatar woman - a servant girl of a panorama. The Tartar woman got out of the city by the underground passage. She told him that there was a terrible famine in Dubno. The governor's family had not eaten for two days already and the woman, seeing Andriy from the wall, sent her maid to ask for help.
Andrius did not hesitate for a moment and took plenty of food with him and followed the Tartar woman into the besieged city. As he passed his father, he woke up, noticed the woman beside his son, and said: "Women won't do you any good!" Andriy was frightened, but Taras fell asleep again.
When Andriy saw the woman who had changed from a careless girl to a beautiful woman, he fell even more in love. Enraptured with passion, he decided to adopt the Catholic faith and stay with his beloved.
What about my father, comrades and fatherland! <...> Fatherland is what our soul seeks, what is dearest for it. You are my fatherland... And I'll sell, give and destroy anything for such a fatherland!
At first Pannochka could not believe that Andrii could give up everything for her sake, for he is a knight. She tells him that she loves Andrii despite the fact that he is her bitter enemy. The lovers kissed, and at that moment the Polish army entered Dubno.
Chapters 7-8. Taras learns of his son's betrayal. The Cossack army is divided. Taras becomes commander
When the Polish army approaches Dubno, the dead drunken Cossacks of the Pereyaslav kuren, who guarded the gates, were sleeping without sentries. The Poles captured the entire kuren together with the ataman. Koshevoy reasoned that the supplies the Poles had brought with them would not last long, so the battle would soon begin, and ordered to get ready.
Taras was looking for Andriy, fearing that he had been taken prisoner. Yankel, who had been to Dubno, came to him, saw Andriy there dressed as a Polish knight, and found out that the lad was renouncing his fatherland, was going to marry the voivode's daughter and would fight on the side of the Poles. At first Taras did not want to believe Yankel, but then he remembered how easily Andriy succumbs to women's charms.
Soon the battle began. Ostap quickly distinguished himself, and he was chosen kurian ataman instead of the murdered one: although he was the youngest in the kuren, but the Cossacks decided that "his mind is like an old man." Ostap immediately led the kuren into battle. The battle lasted until the evening.
In the morning came the news that the Tatars had robbed the Sech and kidnapped the Cossacks who remained there. Koshevoy believed that it was necessary to catch up with the Tatars and rescue their comrades. Taras objected: in Dubno, too, Cossacks were languishing in captivity and waiting for help. As a result, the army of the Cossacks was divided into two parts: some went in pursuit of the Tatars, while others remained near Dubno.
Taras was chosen as the commander of the army that remained near Dubno. When Taras saw that the Cossacks were sad after bidding farewell to their comrades, he ordered to unload the barrels of old wine and offered to drink to their Orthodox faith, to the Sech and to their own glory that they would leave to posterity. When the ladles were empty, Cossacks thought, anticipating their doom.
Chapter 9. Speech of Comradeship. Taras kills Andriy. Ostap is taken prisoner
In Dubno they quickly learned that the Cossack army had been halved. Taras prepared for battle and made a speech about how their comradeship, the Zaporizhian Sich, had arisen in a difficult hour for the country.
...There is no bond more sacred than comradeship! Father loves his child, the child loves father and mother; but it is not so, brothers: even a beast loves its child. But kinship by soul, not by blood, can only one man ...
Taras believed that such camaraderie could arise only "in the Russian land," because only the Russian soul can love like that. Even the last traitor has "a grain of Russian feeling," and he is able to "atone for the shameful deed with his anguish." Taras' speech stirred the best in the souls of the Cossacks, and tears came to their eyes.
The battle began, and this time it was not easy for the Cossacks. Taras hid Ostap's kuren in an ambush, and these fresh forces almost helped the Cossacks to win, but then the cavalry regiment came out of the city gates. Andrii rushed ahead. He rushed into battle, seeing in front of him not his former comrades, but the black curls and swan neck of a beautiful pannea. Taras ordered to lure him to the woods and there shot his son with the words, "I begat you, I will kill you!" The boy did not dare raise his hand against his father. Before he died, he thought of the beautiful panna.
The Poles began to advance. The Cossacks were surrounded, Ostap was taken prisoner, and Taras was seriously wounded.
Chapters 10-11. Taras goes to rescue Ostap. Ostap's execution
A Cossack friend pulled Taras out of the battle. He recovered only two weeks later on his way to the Sech. Poles put a large reward for Taras' head.
Taras recovered, but he was no longer interested in the trips to Turkey, he longed for Ostap. Taras found Yankel, reminded him that he had saved his life, and in return he demanded to take him to Warsaw, where Ostap was kept. Yankel agreed for a huge sum of money.
The Jew took Taras to Warsaw, hiding him under a pile of bricks. Yankel tried to bribe a guard at the prison so that Taras could meet his son, and maybe even get him out. The plan failed: the bribed guard did not show up for his shift. Taras, disguised as a Polish count, presented himself to the prison, and during an argument with the sentinel he betrayed himself, and he was almost captured - he had to pay them off. He never saw his son.
Then Taras went to the square, where all the captured Cossacks were publicly executed. The square was full of people: for the townspeople the execution was an entertainment. Ostap endured all the torture without a single moan, only during the last, mortal, torture he could not endure and called his father.
He would not like to hear the sobs and lamentations of his weak mother or the mad cries of his wife... he would now like to see a steadfast husband, who would refresh him with an intelligent word, and comfort him at his death.
And Taras responded from the crowd. They rushed to look for him, but did not find him.
Chapter 12. Taras takes revenge for his son. Taras' execution
This execution angered the Cossacks, and an army of many thousands moved on Poland. Taras, who was especially cruel to his enemies, was there too.
When the Poles made peace with the Cossacks, Taras did not believe the promises of the Polish authorities. Together with his regiment, he broke away from the Cossack army and marched through Poland, robbing and killing. Taras especially hated Poles and killed them even at the altars of churches.
The Polish hetman was charged with catching Taras. After six days of pursuit he overtook the Cossacks on the bank of the Dniester. After a four-day battle the Cossacks' forces ran out, Taras decided it was time to leave.
He almost succeeded, but, unfortunately, he dropped his favorite pipe and bent down to find it in the grass. Then thirteen men jumped on him at once, and "force overcame force". The Hetman ordered Taras to be chained to a tree and burned alive.
Taras thought not of death, but of his Cossacks. He noticed boats near the shore and shouted for the Cossacks to go down to the river and capture them. The Cossacks heard, got to the boats and sailed down the Dniester. Before his death Taras managed to rejoice in the good fortune of his comrades.
And already the fire was going up over the fire, seized his feet and spread its flames over the wood... And will there be in the world such fires, anguish and such power, which would overpower the Russian power!
The retelling is based on edition of the story, prepared by E. I. Prokhorov (M.: Publishing House of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, 1963).