FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 6

Leo TolstoyAug 21, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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When Oblonsky asked Levin what had
brought him to town, Levin blushed, and was furious
with himself for blushing, because he could not answer,
“I have come to make your sister-in-law an offer,”
though that was precisely what he had come for.

The families of the Levins and the
Shtcherbatskys were old, noble Moscow families, and
had always been on intimate and friendly terms. 
This intimacy had grown still closer during Levin’s
student days.  He had both prepared for the university
with the young Prince Shtcherbatsky, the brother of
Kitty and Dolly, and had entered at the same time
with him.  In those days Levin used often to
be in the Shtcherbatskys’ house, and he was in
love with the Shtcherbatsky household.  Strange
as it may appear, it was with the household, the family,
that Konstantin Levin was in love, especially with
the feminine half of the household.  Levin did
not remember his own mother, and his only sister was
older than he was, so that it was in the Shtcherbatskys’
house that he saw for the first time that inner life
of an old, noble, cultivated, and honorable family
of which he had been deprived by the death of his
father and mother.  All the members of that family,
especially the feminine half, were pictured by him,
as it were, wrapped about with a mysterious poetical
veil, and he not only perceived no defects whatever
in them, but under the poetical veil that shrouded
them he assumed the existence of the loftiest sentiments
and every possible perfection.  Why it was the
three young ladies had one day to speak French, and
the next English; why it was that at certain hours
they played by turns on the piano, the sounds of which
were audible in their brother’s room above,
where the students used to work; why they were visited
by those professors of French literature, of music,
of drawing, of dancing; why at certain hours all the
three young ladies, with Mademoiselle Linon, drove
in the coach to the Tversky boulevard, dressed in
their satin cloaks, Dolly in a long one, Natalia in
a half-long one, and Kitty in one so short that her
shapely legs in tightly-drawn red stockings were visible
to all beholders; why it was they had to walk about
the Tversky boulevard escorted by a footman with a
gold cockade in his hat ­all this and much
more that was done in their mysterious world he did
not understand, but he was sure that everything that
was done there was very good, and he was in love precisely
with the mystery of the proceedings.

In his student days he had all but
been in love with the eldest, Dolly, but she was soon
married to Oblonsky.  Then he began being in
love with the second.  He felt, as it were, that
he had to be in love with one of the sisters, only
he could not quite make out which.  But Natalia,
too, had hardly made her appearance in the world when
she married the diplomat Lvov.  Kitty was still
a child when Levin left the university.  Young
Shtcherbatsky went into the navy, was drowned in the
Baltic, and Levin’s relations with the Shtcherbatskys,
in spite of his friendship with Oblonsky, became less
intimate.  But when early in the winter of this
year Levin came to Moscow, after a year in the country,
and saw the Shtcherbatskys, he realized which of the
three sisters he was indeed destined to love.

One would have thought that nothing
could be simpler than for him, a man of good family,
rather rich than poor, and thirty-two years old, to
make the young Princess Shtcherbatskaya an offer of
marriage; in all likelihood he would at once have been
looked upon as a good match.  But Levin was in
love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect
in every respect that she was a creature far above
everything earthly; and that he was a creature so
low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived
that other people and she herself could regard him
as worthy of her.

After spending two months in Moscow
in a state of enchantment, seeing Kitty almost every
day in society, into which he went so as to meet her,
he abruptly decided that it could not be, and went
back to the country.

Levin’s conviction that it could
not be was founded on the idea that in the eyes of
her family he was a disadvantageous and worthless
match for the charming Kitty, and that Kitty herself
could not love him.  In her family’s eyes
he had no ordinary, definite career and position in
society, while his contemporaries by this time, when
he was thirty-two, were already, one a colonel, and
another a professor, another director of a bank and
railways, or president of a board like Oblonsky. 
But he (he knew very well how he must appear to others)
was a country gentleman, occupied in breeding cattle,
shooting game, and building barns; in other words,
a fellow of no ability, who had not turned out well,
and who was doing just what, according to the ideas
of the world, is done by people fit for nothing else.

The mysterious, enchanting Kitty herself
could not love such an ugly person as he conceived
himself to be, and, above all, such an ordinary, in
no way striking person.  Moreover, his attitude
to Kitty in the past ­the attitude of a grown-up
person to a child, arising from his friendship with
her brother ­seemed to him yet another obstacle
to love.  An ugly, good-natured man, as he considered
himself, might, he supposed, be liked as a friend;
but to be loved with such a love as that with which
he loved Kitty, one would need to be a handsome and,
still more, a distinguished man.

He had heard that women often did
care for ugly and ordinary men, but he did not believe
it, for he judged by himself, and he could not himself
have loved any but beautiful, mysterious, and exceptional
women.

But after spending two months alone
in the country, he was convinced that this was not
one of those passions of which he had had experience
in his early youth; that this feeling gave him not
an instant’s rest; that he could not live without
deciding the question, would she or would she not
be his wife, and that his despair had arisen only
from his own imaginings, that he had no sort of proof
that he would be rejected.  And he had now come
to Moscow with a firm determination to make an offer,
and get married if he were accepted.  Or…he
could not conceive what would become of him if he
were rejected.

 

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