All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
All was confusion in the Oblonskys' house. The wife had found out that the husband was having an affair with their former French governess, and had announced to the husband that she could not live in the same house with him. This situation had continued for three days now, and was painfully felt by the couple themselves, as well as by all the members of the family and household. They felt that there was no sense in their living together and that people who meet accidentally at any inn have more connection with each other than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys. The wife would not leave her rooms, the husband was away for the third day. The children were running all over the house as if lost; the English governess quarrelled with the housekeeper and wrote a note to a friend, asking her to find her a new place; the cook had already left the premises the day before, at dinner-time; the kitchen-maid and coachman had given notice.
On the third day after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky Stiva, as he was called in society woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o'clock in the morning, not in his wife's bedroom but in his study, on a morocco sofa. He rolled his full, well-tended body over on the springs of the sofa, as if wishing to fall asleep again for a long time, tightly hugged the pillow from the other side and pressed his cheek to it; but suddenly he gave a start, sat up on the sofa and opened his eyes.
`Yes, yes, how did it go?' he thought, recalling his dream. `How did it go? Yes! Alabin was giving a dinner in Darmstadt no, not in Darmstadt but something American. Yes, but this Darmstadt was in America. Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner on glass tables, yes and the tables were singing Il mio tesoro, only it wasn't Il mio tesoro but something better, and there were some little carafes, which were also women,' he recalled.
Stepan Arkadyich's eyes glittered merrily, and he fell to thinking with a smile. `Yes, it was nice, very nice. There were many other excellent things there, but one can't say it in words, or even put it into waking thoughts.' And, noticing a strip of light that had broken through the side of one of the heavy blinds, he cheerfully dropped his feet from the sofa, felt for the slippers trimmed with gold morocco that his wife had embroidered for him (a present for last year's birthday), and, following a nine-year-old habit, without getting up, reached his hand out to the place where his dressing gown hung in the bedroom. And here he suddenly remembered how and why he was sleeping not in his wife's bedroom but in his study: the smile vanished from his face, and he knitted his brows.
`Oh, oh, oh! Ohh! ...' he moaned, remembering all that had taken place. And in his imagination he again pictured all the details of his quarrel with his wife, all the hopelessness of his position and, most painful of all, his own guilt.
`No, she won't forgive me and can't forgive me! And the most terrible thing is that I'm the guilty one in it all guilty, and yet not guilty. That's the whole drama,' he thought. `Oh, oh, oh!' he murmured with despair, recalling what were for him the most painful impressions of this quarrel.
Worst of all had been that first moment when, coming back from the theatre, cheerful and content, holding a huge pear for his wife, he had not found her in the drawing room; to his surprise, he had not found her in the study either, and had finally seen her in the bedroom with the unfortunate, all-revealing note in her hand.
She this eternally preoccupied and bustling and, as he thought, none-too-bright Dolly was sitting motionless, the note in her hand, looking at him with an expression of horror, despair and wrath.
`What is this? this?' she asked, pointing to the note.
And, in recalling it, as often happens, Stepan Arkadyich was tormented not so much by the event itself as by the way he had responded to these words from his wife.
What had happened to him at that moment was what happens to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very shameful. He had not managed to prepare his face for the position he found himself in with regard to his wife now that his guilt had been revealed. Instead of being offended, of denying, justifying, asking forgiveness, even remaining indifferent any of which would have been better than what he did! his face quite involuntarily (`reflexes of the brain', thought Stepan Arkadyich, who liked physiology) smiled all at once its habitual, kind and therefore stupid smile.
That stupid smile he could not forgive himself. Seeing that smile, Dolly had winced as if from physical pain, burst with her typical vehemence into a torrent of cruel words, and rushed from the room. Since then she had refused to see her husband.
`That stupid smile is to blame for it all,' thought Stepan Arkadyich.
`But what to do, then? What to do?' he kept saying despairingly to himself, and could find no answer.
Stepan Arkadyich was a truthful man concerning his own self. He could not deceive himself into believing that he repented of his behaviour. He could not now be repentant that he, a thirty-four-year-old, handsome, amorous man, did not feel amorous with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, who was only a year younger than he. He repented only that he had not managed to conceal things better from her. But he felt all the gravity of his situation, and pitied his wife, his children and himself. Perhaps he would have managed to hide his sins better from his wife had he anticipated that the news would have such an effect on her. He had never thought the question over clearly, but vaguely imagined that his wife had long suspected him of being unfaithful to her and was looking the other way. It even seemed to him that she, a worn-out, aged, no longer beautiful woman, not remarkable for anything, simple, merely a kind mother of a family, ought in all fairness to be indulgent. It turned out to be quite the opposite.
`Ah, terrible! Ay, ay, ay! terrible!' Stepan Arkadyich repeated to himself and could come up with nothing. `And how nice it all was before that, what a nice life we had! She was content, happy with the children, I didn't hinder her in anything, left her to fuss over them and the household however she liked. True, it's not nice that she used to be a governess in our house. Not nice! There's something trivial, banal, in courting one's own governess. But what a governess!' (He vividly recalled Mlle Roland's dark, roguish eyes and her smile.) `But while she was in our house, I never allowed myself anything. And the worst of it is that she's already ... It all had to happen at once! Ay, ay, ay! But what to do, what to do?'
There was no answer, except the general answer life gives to all the most complex and insoluble questions. That answer is: one must live for the needs of the day, in other words, become oblivious. To become oblivious in dreams was impossible now, at least till night-time; it was impossible to return to that music sung by carafe-women; and so one had to become oblivious in the dream of life.
`We'll see later on,' Stepan Arkadyich said to himself and, getting up, he put on his grey dressing gown with the light-blue silk lining, threw the tasselled cord into a knot, and, drawing a goodly amount of air into the broad box of his chest, went up to the window with the customary brisk step of his splayed feet, which so easily carried his full body, raised the blind and rang loudly. In response to the bell his old friend, the valet Matvei, came at once, bringing clothes, boots, and a telegram. Behind Matvei came the barber with the shaving things.
`Any papers from the office?' Stepan Arkadyich asked, taking the telegram and sitting down in front of the mirror.
`On the table,' Matvei replied, glancing inquiringly, with sympathy, at his master, and, after waiting a little, he added with a sly smile: `Someone came from the owner of the livery stable.'
Stepan Arkadyich said nothing in reply and only glanced at Matvei in the mirror; from their eyes, which met in the mirror, one could see how well they understood each other. Stepan Arkadyich's eyes seemed to ask: `Why are you saying that? as if you didn't know?'
Matvei put his hands in his jacket pockets, thrust one foot out and looked at his master silently, good-naturedly, with a slight smile.
`I told them to come next Sunday and till then not to trouble you or themselves needlessly.' He uttered an obviously prepared phrase.
Stepan Arkadyich understood that Matvei wanted to joke and attract attention to himself. Tearing open the telegram, he read it, guessing at the right sense of the words, which were garbled as usual, and his face brightened.
`Matvei, my sister Anna Arkadyevna is coming tomorrow,' he said, stopping for a moment the glossy, plump little hand of the barber, who was clearing a pink path between his long, curly side-whiskers.
`Thank God,' said Matvei, showing by this answer that he understood the significance of this arrival in the same way as his master, that is, that Anna Arkadyevna, Stepan Arkadyich's beloved sister, might contribute to the reconciliation of husband and wife.
`Alone or with her spouse?' asked Matvei.
Stepan Arkadyich, unable to speak because the barber was occupied with his upper lip, raised one finger. Matvei nodded in the mirror.
`Alone. Shall I prepare the rooms upstairs?'
`Tell Darya Alexandrovna, wherever she decides.'
`Darya Alexandrovna?' Matvei repeated, as if in doubt.
`Yes, tell her. And here, take the telegram, let me know what she says.'
`Testing her out,' Matvei understood, but he said only: `Very well, sir.'
Stepan Arkadyich was already washed and combed and was about to start dressing, when Matvei, stepping slowly over the soft rug in his creaking boots, telegram in hand, came back into the room. The barber was no longer there.
`Darya Alexandrovna told me to inform you that she is leaving. Let him do as he that is, you pleases,' he said, laughing with his eyes only, and, putting his hands in his pockets and cocking his head to one side, he looked fixedly at his master.
Stepan Arkadyich said nothing. Then a kind and somewhat pathetic smile appeared on his handsome face.
`Eh? Matvei?' he said, shaking his head.
`Never mind, sir, it'll shape up,' said Matvei.
`That's right, sir.'
`You think so? Who's there?' Stepan Arkadyich asked, hearing the rustle of a woman's dress outside the door.
`It's me, sir,' said a firm and pleasant female voice, and through the door peeked the stern, pock-marked face of Matryona Filimonovna, the nanny.
`What is it, Matryosha?' Stepan Arkadyich asked, going out of the door to her.
Although Stepan Arkadyich was roundly guilty before his wife and felt it himself, almost everyone in the house, even the nanny, Darya Alexandrovna's chief friend, was on his side.
`Well, what is it?' he said dejectedly.
`You should go to her, sir, apologize again. Maybe God will help. She's suffering very much, it's a pity to see, and everything in the house has gone topsy-turvy. The children should be pitied. Apologize, sir. No help for it! After the dance, you must pay the ...'
`But she won't receive me ...'
`Still, you do your part. God is merciful, pray to God, sir, pray to God.'
`Well, all right, go now,' said Stepan Arkadyich, suddenly blushing. `Let's get me dressed.' He turned to Matvei and resolutely threw off his dressing gown.
Matvei was already holding the shirt like a horse collar, blowing away something invisible, and with obvious pleasure he clothed the pampered body of his master in it.
After dressing, Stepan Arkadyich sprayed himself with scent, adjusted the cuffs of his shirt, put cigarettes, wallet, matches, a watch with a double chain and seals into his pockets with an accustomed gesture, and, having shaken out his handkerchief, feeling himself clean, fragrant, healthy, and physically cheerful despite his misfortune, went out, springing lightly at each step, to the dining room, where coffee was already waiting for him, and, next to the coffee, letters and papers from the office.
He sat down and read the letters. One was very unpleasant from a merchant who was buying a wood on his wife's estate. This wood had to be sold; but now, before his reconciliation with his wife, it was out of the question. The most unpleasant thing here was that it mixed financial interests into the impending matter of their reconciliation. And the thought that he might be guided by those interests, that he might seek a reconciliation with his wife in order to sell the wood, was offensive to him.
Having finished the letters, Stepan Arkadyich drew the office papers to him, quickly leafed through two files, made a few marks with a big pencil, then pushed the files away and started on his coffee. Over coffee he unfolded the still damp morning newspaper and began to read it.
Stepan Arkadyich subscribed to and read a liberal newspaper, not an extreme one, but one with the tendency to which the majority held. And though neither science, nor art, nor politics itself interested him, he firmly held the same views on all these subjects as the majority and his newspaper did, and changed them only when the majority did, or, rather, he did not change them, but they themselves changed imperceptibly in him.
Stepan Arkadyich chose neither his tendency nor his views, but these tendencies and views came to him themselves, just as he did not choose the shape of a hat or a frock coat, but bought those that were in fashion. And for him, who lived in a certain circle, and who required some mental activity such as usually develops with maturity, having views was as necessary as having a hat. If there was a reason why he preferred the liberal tendency to the conservative one (also held to by many in his circle), it was not because he found the liberal tendency more sensible, but because it more closely suited his manner of life. The liberal party said that everything was bad in Russia, and indeed Stepan Arkadyich had many debts and decidedly too little money. The liberal party said that marriage was an obsolete institution and was in need of reform, and indeed family life gave Stepan Arkadyich little pleasure and forced him to lie and pretend, which was so contrary to his nature. The liberal party said, or, rather, implied, that religion was just a bridle for the barbarous part of the population, and indeed Stepan Arkadyich could not even stand through a short prayer service without aching feet and could not grasp the point of all these fearsome and high-flown words about the other world, when life in this one could be so merry. At the same time, Stepan Arkadyich, who liked a merry joke, sometimes took pleasure in startling some simple soul by saying that if you want to pride yourself on your lineage, why stop at Rurik and renounce your first progenitor the ape? And so the liberal tendency became a habit with Stepan Arkadyich, and he liked his newspaper, as he liked a cigar after dinner, for the slight haze it produced in his head. He read the leading article, which explained that in our time it was quite needless to raise the cry that radicalism was threatening to swallow up all the conservative elements, and that it was the government's duty to take measures to crush the hydra of revolution; that, on the contrary, `in our opinion, the danger lies not in the imaginary hydra of revolution, but in a stubborn traditionalism that impedes progress', and so on. He also read yet another article, a financial one, in which mention was made of Bentham and Mill and fine barbs were shot at the ministry. With his peculiar quickness of perception he understood the meaning of each barb: by whom, and against whom, and on what occasion it had been aimed, and this, as always, gave him a certain pleasure. But today this pleasure was poisoned by the recollection of Matryona Filimonovna's advice, and of the unhappy situation at home. He also read about Count Beust, who was rumoured to have gone to Wiesbaden, and about the end of grey hair, and about the sale of a light carriage, and a young person's offer of her services; but this information did not, as formerly, give him a quiet, ironic pleasure.
Having finished the newspaper, a second cup of coffee, and a kalatch with butter, he got up, brushed the crumbs from his waistcoat and, expanding his broad chest, smiled joyfully, not because there was anything especially pleasant in his heart the smile was evoked by good digestion.
But this joyful smile at once reminded him of everything, and he turned pensive.
Two children's voices (Stepan Arkadyich recognized the voices of Grisha, the youngest boy, and Tanya, the eldest girl) were heard outside the door. They were pulling something and tipped it over.
`I told you not to put passengers on the roof,' the girl shouted in English. `Now pick it up!'
`All is confusion,' thought Stepan Arkadyich. `Now the children are running around on their own.' And, going to the door, he called them. They abandoned the box that stood for a train and came to their father.
The girl, her father's favourite, ran in boldly, embraced him, and hung laughing on his neck, delighting, as always, in the familiar smell of scent coming from his side-whiskers. Kissing him finally on the face, which was red from bending down and radiant with tenderness, the girl unclasped her hands and was going to run out again, but her father held her back.
`How's mama?' he asked, his hand stroking his daughter's smooth, tender neck. `Good morning,' he said, smiling to the boy who greeted him.
He was aware that he loved the boy less, and always tried to be fair; but the boy felt it and did not respond with a smile to the cold smile of his father.
`Mama? Mama's up,' the girl replied.
Stepan Arkadyich sighed. `That means again she didn't sleep all night,' he thought.
`And is she cheerful?'
The girl knew that there had been a quarrel between her father and mother, and that her mother could not be cheerful, and that her father ought to know it, and that he was shamming when he asked about it so lightly. And she blushed for him. He understood it at once and also blushed.
`I don't know,' she said. `She told us not to study, but to go for a walk to grandma's with Miss Hull.'
`Well, go then, my Tanchurochka. Ah, yes, wait,' he said, still holding her back and stroking her tender little hand.
He took a box of sweets from the mantelpiece, where he had put it yesterday, and gave her two, picking her favourites, a chocolate and a cream.
`For Grisha?' the girl said, pointing to the chocolate.
`Yes, yes.' And stroking her little shoulder once more, he kissed her on the nape of the neck and let her go.
`The carriage is ready,' said Matvei. `And there's a woman with a petition to see you,' he added.
`Has she been here long?' asked Stepan Arkadyich.
`Half an hour or so.'
`How often must I tell you to let me know at once!'
`I had to give you time for your coffee at least,' Matvei said in that friendly-rude tone at which it was impossible to be angry.
`Well, quickly send her in,' said Oblonsky, wincing with vexation.
The woman, Mrs Kalinin, a staff captain's wife, was petitioning for something impossible and senseless; but Stepan Arkadyich, as was his custom, sat her down, heard her out attentively without interrupting, and gave her detailed advice on whom to address and how, and even wrote, briskly and fluently, in his large, sprawling, handsome and clear handwriting, a little note to the person who could be of help to her. Having dismissed the captain's wife, Stepan Arkadyich picked up his hat and paused, wondering whether he had forgotten anything. It turned out that he had forgotten nothing, except what he had wanted to forget his wife.
`Ah, yes!' He hung his head, and his handsome face assumed a wistful expression. `Shall I go or not?' he said to himself. And his inner voice told him that he should not go, that there could be nothing here but falseness, that to rectify, to repair, their relations was impossible, because it was impossible to make her attractive and arousing of love again or to make him an old man incapable of love. Nothing could come of it now but falseness and deceit, and falseness and deceit were contrary to his nature.
`But at some point I'll have to; it can't remain like this,' he said, trying to pluck up his courage. He squared his shoulders, took out a cigarette, lit it, took two puffs, threw it into the mother-of-pearl ashtray, walked with quick steps across the gloomy drawing room and opened the other door, to his wife's bedroom.
Copyright © - Public Domain.
Translation copyright © 2000 Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. All rights reserved.