In 1860 in Moscow an indigent Russian youth begins his ambitious ascent to social esteem. He progresses by wit, guile and rhetoric. Pitting one stupid person against another, he soon gains his ends. But he is tripped up by his uncle's wife, to whom he has made passionate love on his way to success, for she discovers the scoundrel's diary. In the showdown, the youth is still more than a match for these stupid people and they determine it would be more prudent to retain him in their circle than to turn him loose.