FictionForest

PART ONE : Chapter 11

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

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Levin emptied his glass, and they
were silent for a while.

“There’s one other thing
I ought to tell you.  Do you know Vronsky?”
Stepan Arkadyevitch asked Levin.

“No, I don’t.  Why do you ask?”

“Give us another bottle,”
Stepan Arkadyevitch directed the Tatar, who was filling
up their glasses and fidgeting round them just when
he was not wanted.

“Why you ought to know Vronsky
is that he’s one of your rivals.”

“Who’s Vronsky?”
said Levin, and his face was suddenly transformed
from the look of childlike ecstasy which Oblonsky had
just been admiring to an angry and unpleasant expression.

“Vronsky is one of the sons
of Count Kirill Ivanovitch Vronsky, and one of the
finest specimens of the gilded youth of Petersburg. 
I made his acquaintance in Tver when I was there on
official business, and he came there for the levy of
recruits.  Fearfully rich, handsome, great connections,
an aide-de-camp, and with all that a very nice, good-natured
fellow.  But he’s more than simply a good-natured
fellow, as I’ve found out here ­he’s
a cultivated man, too, and very intelligent; he’s
a man who’ll make his mark.”

Levin scowled and was dumb.

“Well, he turned up here soon
after you’d gone, and as I can see, he’s
over head and ears in love with Kitty, and you know
that her mother…”

“Excuse me, but I know nothing,”
said Levin, frowning gloomily.  And immediately
he recollected his brother Nikolay and how hateful
he was to have been able to forget him.

“You wait a bit, wait a bit,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch, smiling and touching his
hand.  “I’ve told you what I know,
and I repeat that in this delicate and tender matter,
as far as one can conjecture, I believe the chances
are in your favor.”

Levin dropped back in his chair; his face was pale.

“But I would advise you to settle
the thing as soon as may be,” pursued Oblonsky,
filling up his glass.

“No, thanks, I can’t drink
any more,” said Levin, pushing away his glass. 
“I shall be drunk….  Come, tell me how
are you getting on?” he went on, obviously anxious
to change the conversation.

“One word more:  in any
case I advise you to settle the question soon. 
Tonight I don’t advise you to speak,”
said Stepan Arkadyevitch.  “Go round tomorrow
morning, make an offer in due form, and God bless
you…”

“Oh, do you still think of coming
to me for some shooting?  Come next spring, do,”
said Levin.

Now his whole soul was full of remorse
that he had begun this conversation with Stepan Arkadyevitch. 
A feeling such as his was profaned by talk of the
rivalry of some Petersburg officer, of the suppositions
and the counsels of Stepan Arkadyevitch.

Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. 
He knew what was passing in Levin’s soul.

“I’ll come some day,”
he said.  “But women, my boy, they’re
the pivot everything turns upon.  Things are
in a bad way with me, very bad.  And it’s
all through women.  Tell me frankly now,”
he pursued, picking up a cigar and keeping one hand
on his glass; “give me your advice.”

“Why, what is it?”

“I’ll tell you. 
Suppose you’re married, you love your wife, but
you’re fascinated by another woman…”

“Excuse me, but I’m absolutely
unable to comprehend how…just as I can’t comprehend
how I could now, after my dinner, go straight to a
baker’s shop and steal a roll.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch’s eyes sparkled more than
usual.

“Why not?  A roll will
sometimes smell so good one can’t resist it.”

    “Himmlisch ist’s,
wenn ich bezwungen
     Meine irdische Begier;
     Aber doch
wenn’s nich gelungen
     Hatt’ ich
auch recht huebsch Plaisir!”

As he said this, Stepan Arkadyevitch
smiled subtly.  Levin, too, could not help smiling.

“Yes, but joking apart,”
resumed Stepan Arkadyevitch, “you must understand
that the woman is a sweet, gentle loving creature,
poor and lonely, and has sacrificed everything. 
Now, when the thing’s done, don’t you
see, can one possibly cast her off?  Even supposing
one parts from her, so as not to break up one’s
family life, still, can one help feeling for her,
setting her on her feet, softening her lot?”

“Well, you must excuse me there. 
You know to me all women are divided into two classes…at
least no…truer to say:  there are women and
there are…I’ve never seen exquisite fallen
beings, and I never shall see them, but such creatures
as that painted Frenchwoman at the counter with the
ringlets are vermin to my mind, and all fallen women
are the same.”

“But the Magdalen?”

“Ah, drop that!  Christ
would never have said those words if He had known
how they would be abused.  Of all the Gospel those
words are the only ones remembered.  However,
I’m not saying so much what I think, as what
I feel.  I have a loathing for fallen women. 
You’re afraid of spiders, and I of these vermin. 
Most likely you’ve not made a study of spiders
and don’t know their character; and so it is
with me.”

“It’s very well for you
to talk like that; it’s very much like that
gentleman in Dickens who used to fling all difficult
questions over his right shoulder.  But to deny
the facts is no answer.  What’s to be done ­you
tell me that, what’s to be done?  Your wife
gets older, while you’re full of life. 
Before you’ve time to look round, you feel that
you can’t love your wife with love, however
much you may esteem her.  And then all at once
love turns up, and you’re done for, done for,”
Stepan Arkadyevitch said with weary despair.

Levin half smiled.

“Yes, you’re done for,”
resumed Oblonsky.  “But what’s to
be done?”

“Don’t steal rolls.”

Stepan Arkadyevitch laughed outright.

“Oh, moralist!  But you
must understand, there are two women; one insists
only on her rights, and those rights are your love,
which you can’t give her; and the other sacrifices
everything for you and asks for nothing.  What
are you to do?  How are you to act?  There’s
a fearful tragedy in it.”

“If you care for my profession
of faith as regards that, I’ll tell you that
I don’t believe there was any tragedy about it. 
And this is why.  To my mind, love…both the
sorts of love, which you remember Plato defines in
his Banquet, served as the test of men.  Some
men only understand one sort, and some only the other. 
And those who only know the non-platonic love have
no need to talk of tragedy.  In such love there
can be no sort of tragedy.  ’I’m
much obliged for the gratification, my humble respects’ ­that’s
all the tragedy.  And in platonic love there
can be no tragedy, because in that love all is clear
and pure, because…”

At that instant Levin recollected
his own sins and the inner conflict he had lived through. 
And he added unexpectedly: 

“But perhaps you are right. 
Very likely…I don’t know, I don’t know.”

“It’s this, don’t
you see,” said Stepan Arkadyevitch, “you’re
very much all of a piece.  That’s your strong
point and your failing.  You have a character
that’s all of a piece, and you want the whole
of life to be of a piece too ­but that’s
not how it is.  You despise public official work
because you want the reality to be invariably corresponding
all the while with the aim ­and that’s
not how it is.  You want a man’s work, too,
always to have a defined aim, and love and family life
always to be undivided ­and that’s
not how it is.  All the variety, all the charm,
all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”

Levin sighed and made no reply. 
He was thinking of his own affairs, and did not hear
Oblonsky.

And suddenly both of them felt that
though they were friends, though they had been dining
and drinking together, which should have drawn them
closer, yet each was thinking only of his own affairs,
and they had nothing to do with one another. 
Oblonsky had more than once experienced this extreme
sense of aloofness, instead of intimacy, coming on
after dinner, and he knew what to do in such cases.

“Bill!” he called, and
he went into the next room where he promptly came
across an aide-de-camp of his acquaintance and dropped
into conversation with him about an actress and her
protector.  And at once in the conversation with
the aide-de-camp Oblonsky had a sense of relaxation
and relief after the conversation with Levin, which
always put him to too great a mental and spiritual
strain.

When the Tatar appeared with a bill
for twenty-six roubles and odd kopecks, besides
a tip for himself, Levin, who would another time have
been horrified, like any one from the country, at his
share of fourteen roubles, did not notice it, paid,
and set off homewards to dress and go to the Shtcherbatskys’
there to decide his fate.

 

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