by Leo Tolstoy
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude
ALL happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Everything was upset in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered an intrigue between her husband and their former French governess, and declared that she would not continue to live under the same roof with him. This state of things had now lasted for three days, and not only the husband and wife but the rest of the family and the whole household suffered from it. They all felt that there was no sense in their living together, and that any group of people who had met together by chance at an inn would have had more in common than they. The wife kept to her own rooms; the husband stopped away from home all day; the children ran about all over the house uneasily; the English governess quarrelled with the housekeeper and wrote to a friend asking if she could find her another situation; the cook had gone out just at dinnertime the day before and had not returned; and the kitchen-maid and coachman had given notice.
On the third day after his quarrel with his wife, Prince Stephen Arkadyevich Oblonsky — Stiva, as he was called in his set in Society — woke up at his usual time, eight o’clock, not in his wife’s bedroom but on the morocco leather-covered sofa in his study. He turned his plump, well-kept body over on the springy sofa as if he wished to have another long sleep, and tightly embracing one of the pillows leant his cheek against it; but then suddenly opened his eyes and sat up.
‘Let me see — what was it?’ he thought, trying to recall his dream. ‘What was it? O yes — Alabin was giving a dinner-party in Darmstadt — no, not in Darmstadt but somewhere in America. Oh yes, Darmstadt was in America, — and Alabin was giving the party. The dinner was served on glass tables — yes, and the tables sang “Il mio tesoro” [“My darling”] . . . no, not exactly “Il mio tesoro” but something better than that; and then there were some kind of little decanters that were really women.’ His eyes sparkled merrily and he smiled as he sat thinking. ‘Yes, it was very nice. There were many other delightful things which I can’t just get hold of — can’t catch now I’m awake.’ Then, noticing a streak of light that had made its way in at the side of the blind, he gaily let down his legs and felt about with his feet for his slippers finished with bronze kid (last year’s birthday present, embroidered by his wife); and from nine years’ habit he stretched out his arm, without rising, towards where his dressing-gown usually hung in their bedroom. And then he suddenly remembered that, and why, he was not sleeping there but in his study. The smile vanished from his face and he frowned.
‘Oh dear, dear, dear!’ he groaned recalling what had happened. And the details of his quarrel with his wife, his inextricable position, and, worst of all, his guilt, rose up in his imagination.
‘No, she will never forgive me; she can’t forgive me! And the worst thing about it is, that it’s all my own fault — my own fault; and yet I’m not guilty! That’s the tragedy of it!’ he thought. ‘Oh dear, oh dear!’ he muttered despairingly, as he recalled the most painful details of the quarrel. The worst moment had been when, returning home from the theatre merry and satisfied, with an enormous pear in his hand for his wife, he did not find her in the drawing-room nor, to his great surprise, in the study, but at last saw her in her bedroom with the unlucky note which had betrayed him in her hand.
She sat there: the careworn, ever-bustling, and (as he thought) rather simple Dolly — with the note in her hand and a look of terror, despair, and anger on her face.
‘What is this? This?’ she asked, pointing to the note. And, as often happens, it was not so much the memory of the event that tormented him, as of the way he had replied to her.
At that moment there had happened to him what happens to most people when unexpectedly caught in some shameful act: he had not had time to assume an expression suitable to the position in which he stood toward his wife now that his guilt was discovered. Instead of taking offence, denying, making excuses, asking forgiveness, or even remaining indifferent (anything would have been better than what he did), he involuntarily (‘reflex action of the brain,’ thought Oblonsky, who was fond of physiology) smiled his usual kindly and therefore silly smile.
He could not forgive himself for that silly smile. Dolly, seeing it, shuddered as if with physical pain, and with her usual vehemence burst into a torrent of cruel words and rushed from the room. Since then she had refused to see him.
‘It’s all the fault of that stupid smile,’ thought Oblonsky. ‘But what am I to do? What can I do?’ he asked himself in despair, and could find no answer.
OBLONSKY was truthful with himself. He was incapable of self-deception and could not persuade himself that he repented of his conduct. He could not feel repentant that he, a handsome amorous man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children and only a year younger than himself. He repented only of not having managed to conceal his conduct from her. Nevertheless he felt his unhappy position and pitied his wife, his children, and himself. He might perhaps have been able to hide things from her had he known that the knowledge would so distress her. He had never clearly considered the matter, but had a vague notion that his wife had long suspected him of being unfaithful and winked at it. He even thought that she, who was nothing but an excellent mother of a family, worn-out, already growing elderly, no longer pretty, and in no way remarkable — in fact, quite an ordinary woman — ought to be lenient to him, if only from a sense of justice. It turned out that the very opposite was the case.
‘How awful! Oh dear, oh dear, how awful!’ Oblonsky kept repeating to himself and could arrive at no conclusion. ‘And how well everything was going on till now — how happily we lived! She was contented, happy in her children; I never interfered with her but left her to fuss over them and the household as she pleased. . . . Of course it’s not quite nice that she had been a governess in our house. That’s bad! There’s something banal, a want of taste, in carrying on with one’s governess — but then, what a governess!’ (He vividly pictured to himself Mlle Roland’s roguish black eyes, and her smile.) ‘Besides as long as she was in the house I never took any liberties. The worst of the matter is, that she is already . . . . Why need it all happen at once? Oh dear, dear, dear! What am I to do?’
He could find no answer, except life’s usual answer to the most complex and insoluble questions. That answer is: live in the needs of the day, that is, find forgetfulness. He could no longer find forgetfulness in sleep, at any rate not before night, could not go back to the music and the songs of the little decanter-women, consequently he must seek forgetfulness in the dream of life.
‘We’ll see when the time comes,’ thought Oblonsky, and got up, put on his grey dressing-gown lined with blue silk, tied the cords and drawing a full breath of air into his broad chest went with his usual firm tread toward the window, turning out his feet that carried his stout body so lightly, drew up the blind and rang loudly. The bell was answered immediately by his old friend and valet, Matthew, who brought in his clothes, boots, and a telegram. He was followed by the barber with shaving tackle.
‘Any papers from the Office?’ asked Oblonsky, as he took the telegram and sat down before the looking-glass.
‘They’re on your table,’ answered Matthew with a questioning and sympathizing glance at his master — adding after a pause with a sly smile: ‘Some one has called from the jobmaster’s.’
Oblonsky did not answer, but glanced at Matthew’s face in the looking-glass. From their looks, as they met in the glass, it was evident that they understood one another. Oblonsky’s look seemed to say: ‘Why do you tell me that? As if you don’t know!’
Matthew put his hands into the pocket of his jacket, put out his foot, and looked at his master with a slight, good-humoured smile.
‘I ordered him to come the Sunday after next, and not to trouble you or himself needlessly till then,’ said he, evidently repeating a sentence he had prepared.
Oblonsky understood that Matthew meant to have a joke and draw attention to himself. He tore open the telegram and read it, guessing at the words, which (as so often happens in telegrams) were misspelt, and his face brightened.
‘Matthew, my sister Anna Arkadyevna is coming to-morrow,’ he said, motioning away for a moment the shiny plump hand of the barber, which was shaving a rosy path between his long curly whiskers.
‘The Lord be thanked!’ said Matthew, proving by his answer that he knew just as well as his master the importance of this visit: namely, that Anna Arkadyevna, Stephen Arkadyevich’s favourite sister, might help to reconcile the husband and wife.
‘Is she coming alone, or with Mr. Karenin?’
Oblonsky could not answer as the barber was busy with his upper lip; but he raised one finger, and Matthew nodded to him in the glass.
‘Alone. Would you like one of the upstairs rooms got ready?’
‘Ask Darya Alexandrovna.’
‘Darya Alexandrovna?’ Matthew repeated, as if in doubt.
‘Yes, tell her. Give her the telegram, and see what she says.’
‘You want to have a try at her?’ was what Matthew meant, but he only said: ‘Yes, sir.’
Oblonsky was washed, his hair brushed, and he was about to dress, when Matthew, stepping slowly in his creaking boots, re-entered the room with the telegram in his hand. The barber was no longer there.
‘Darya Alexandrovna told me to say that she is going away. “He may do as he pleases” — that is, as you please, sir,’ he said, laughing with his eyes only; and, putting his hands in his pockets, with his head on one side, he gazed at his master. Oblonsky remained silent, then a kind and rather pathetic smile appeared on his handsome face.
‘Ah, Matthew!’ he said, shaking his head.
‘Never mind, sir — things will shape themselves.’
‘Shape themselves, eh?’
‘Just so, sir.’
‘Do you think so? — Who’s that?’ asked Oblonsky, hearing the rustle of a woman’s dress outside the door.
‘It’s me, sir,’ answered a firm and pleasant woman’s voice, and Matrena Filimonovna, the children’s nurse, thrust her stern pockmarked face in at the door.
‘What is it, Matrena?’ asked Oblonsky, stepping out to her.
Although he was entirely guilty and was conscious of it, almost every one in the house — even the nurse, Darya Alexandrovna’s best friend — sided with him.
‘What is it?’ said he mournfully.
‘Won’t you go and try again sir? By God’s grace you might make it up! She suffers dreadfully; it’s pitiful to see her, and everything in the house is topsy-turvy. You should consider the children! Own up, sir — it can’t be helped! There’s no joy without . . .’
‘But she won’t admit me!’
‘Do your part — God is merciful. Pray to Him, sir, pray to Him!’
‘All right — now go,’ said Oblonsky, suddenly blushing.
‘I must get dressed,’ said he, turning to Matthew, and he resolutely threw off his dressing-gown.
Matthew blew some invisible speck off the shirt which he held ready gathered up like a horse’s collar, and with evident pleasure invested with it his master’s carefully tended body.
WHEN he was quite dressed Oblonsky sprinkled some scent on himself, pulled down his cuffs, and as usual distributing in different pockets his cigarette-case, matches, pocket-book, and the watch with its double chain and bunch of charms, he shook out his handkerchief, and feeling clean, sweet, healthy, and physically bright in spite of his misfortune, went with a slight spring in each step into the dining-room where his coffee stood ready. Beside the coffee lay letters and papers from the Office.
He read the letters, one of which impressed him unpleasantly. It concerned the sale of a forest on his wife’s estate, and came from a dealer who wanted to buy that forest. This forest had to be sold; but until he was reconciled with his wife the sale was quite out of the question. What was most unpleasant was that a financial consideration would now be mixed up with the impending reconciliation. The idea that he might be biased by that consideration, might seek a reconciliation in order to sell the forest, offended him. Having looked through his letters, Oblonsky drew the Departmental papers toward him, and turning over the pages of two files made a few notes on them with a big pencil; then pushing them aside, began to drink his coffee.
At the same time he unfolded the still damp morning paper, and began reading. Oblonsky subscribed to and read a Liberal paper — not an extreme Liberal paper but one that expressed the opinions of the majority. And although neither science, art, nor politics specially interested him, he firmly held to the opinions of the majority and of his paper on those subjects, changing his views when the majority changed theirs, — or rather, not changing them — they changed imperceptibly of their own accord.
Oblonsky’s tendency and opinions were not his by deliberate choice: they came of themselves, just as he did not choose the fashion of his hats or coats but wore those of the current style. Living in a certain social set, and having a desire, such as generally develops with maturity, for some kind of mental activity, he was obliged to hold views, just as he was obliged to have a hat. If he had a reason for preferring Liberalism to the Conservatism of many in his set, it was not that he considered Liberalism more reasonable, but because it suited his manner of life better. The Liberal Party maintained that everything in Russia was bad, and it was a fact that Oblonsky had many debts and decidedly too little money. The Liberal Party said that marriage was an obsolete institution which ought to be reformed; and family life really gave Oblonsky very little pleasure, forcing him to tell lies and dissemble, which was quite contrary to his nature. The Liberal Party said, or rather hinted, that religion was only good as a check on the more barbarous portion of the population; and Oblonsky really could not stand through even a short church service without pain in his feet, nor understand why one should use all that dreadful high-flown language about another world while one can live so merrily in this one. Besides, Oblonsky was fond of a pleasant joke, and sometimes liked to perplex a simple-minded man by observing that if you’re going to be proud of your ancestry, why stop short at Prince Rurik and repudiate your oldest ancestor — the ape?
Thus Liberalism became habitual to Oblonsky, and he loved his paper as he loved his after-dinner cigar, for the slight mistiness it produced in his brain. He read the leading article, which explained that in our time it is needless to raise the cry that Radicalism is threatening to swallow up all Conservative elements and to maintain that the Government should take measures to crush the hydra of revolution; for, on the contrary, ‘in our opinion the danger lies not in an imaginary hydra of revolution, but in an obstinate clinging to tradition which hampers progress,’ etc. He also read the finance article in which Bentham and Mill were mentioned and hits were made at the Ministry. With his natural quickness of perception he understood the meaning of each hit, whence it came, for whom it was meant and what had provoked it, and this as usual gave him a certain satisfaction. But to-day the satisfaction was marred by the memory of Matrena Filimonovna’s advice, and of the fact that there was all this trouble in the house. He went on to read that there was a rumour of Count Beust’s journey to Wiesbaden; that there would be no more grey hairs; that a light brougham was for sale, and a young person offered her services; but all this information did not give him the quiet, ironical pleasure it usually did.
Having finished the paper, his second cup of coffee, and a buttered roll, he got up, flicked some crumbs off his waistcoat, and, expanding his broad chest, smiled joyfully, not because there was anything specially pleasant in his mind — no, the smile was but the result of a healthy digestion. But that joyful smile at once brought everything back to his mind, and he grew thoughtful.
Then he heard the sound of two childish voices outside the door, and recognized them as the voices of his eldest daughter, Tanya, and of his little boy Grisha. They were dragging something along, and had upset it.
‘I told you not to put passengers on the roof,’ the girl shouted in English. ‘Now pick them up!’
‘Everything is disorganized,’ thought Oblonsky; ‘here are the children running wild — ’ and going to the door he called them in. They left the box, which represented a train, and came to their father.
The girl, her father’s pet, ran boldly in, embraced him, and hung laughing on his neck, pleased, as she always was, to smell the familiar scent of his whiskers. Having kissed his face, flushed by stooping and lit up by tenderness, the girl unclasped her hands and was going to run away, but he held her back.
‘How’s Mama?’ he asked, passing his hand over his daughter’s smooth delicate little neck, as he smilingly said ‘Good morning’ in answer to the little boy’s greeting.
He was conscious of not caring as much for the boy as for the girl but did his best to treat them both alike. The boy felt this and did not respond to his father’s cold smile.
‘Mama? She’s up,’ said the girl.
‘That means that she has again not slept all night,’ he thought.
‘Yes, but is she cheerful?’ he added.
The girl knew that her father and mother had quarrelled, and that her mother could not be cheerful, and also that her father must know this, so that his putting the question to her so lightly was all pretence, and she blushed for him. He noticed this and blushed too.
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘She said we were not to have any lessons, but must walk with Miss Hull to Grandmamma’s.’
‘Well, you may go, my little Tanyakin. . . . Oh, wait!’ he said, still holding her and stroking her delicate little hand.
Taking a box of sweets from the mantelpiece where he had put it the day before, he chose two sweets which he knew she liked best, a chocolate and a coloured cream.
‘For Grisha?’ she asked, holding out the chocolate.
‘Yes, yes,’ and stroking her shoulder he kissed her hair at the roots and her neck, and let her go.
‘The carriage is ready,’ said Matthew, ‘and there is a woman on business waiting for you.’
‘Been here long?’
‘About half an hour.’
‘How often must I tell you to let me know at once when anyone is here?’
‘But I must give you time to finish your coffee,’ answered Matthew in his friendly rude tone, with which it was impossible to be angry.
‘Well ask her in at once,’ said Oblonsky, his face wrinkling with vexation.
The woman, widow of a petty official named Kalinin, was petitioning for something impossible and absurd, but nevertheless Oblonsky with his usual politeness asked her to sit down and heard her attentively to the end, gave her full instructions how and to whom to apply and even wrote briskly and fluently in his large, graceful and legible hand a little note to a personage who might be of use to her. Having dismissed her, he took his hat and paused to consider whether he had forgotten anything. He found he had forgotten nothing but what he wanted to forget: his wife.
‘Oh yes!’ His head dropped, and his handsome face became worried.
‘To go, or not to go?’ he asked himself; and his inner consciousness answered that he ought not to go: that it could only result in hypocrisy; that it was impossible to restore their relations because it was impossible to render her attractive and capable of exciting love, or to turn him into an old man incapable of love. Nothing except hypocrisy and falsehood could now result — and these were repugnant to his nature.
‘Nevertheless it will have to be done sooner or later. After all, things can’t remain as they are,’ he said, trying to brace himself. He expanded his chest, took out a cigarette, lit it, took two whiffs, then threw it into a pearl-shell ash-tray, and crossing the drawing-room with rapid steps, he opened the door which led into his wife’s bedroom.