FictionForest

PART THREE : Chapter 32

Leo TolstoyAug 23, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Levin had long before made the observation
that when one is uncomfortable with people from their
being excessively amenable and meek, one is apt very
soon after to find things intolerable from their touchiness
and irritability.  He felt that this was how
it would be with his brother.  And his brother
Nikolay’s gentleness did in fact not last out
for long.  The very next morning he began to
be irritable, and seemed doing his best to find fault
with his brother, attacking him on his tenderest points.

Levin felt himself to blame, and could
not set things right.  He felt that if they had
both not kept up appearances, but had spoken, as it
is called, from the heart ­that is to say,
had said only just what they were thinking and feeling ­they
would simply have looked into each other’s faces,
and Konstantin could only have said, “You’re
dying, you’re dying!” and Nikolay could
only have answered, “I know I’m dying,
but I’m afraid, I’m afraid, I’m
afraid!” And they could have said nothing more,
if they had said only what was in their hearts. 
But life like that was impossible, and so Konstantin
tried to do what he had been trying to do all his
life, and never could learn to do, though, as far
as he could observe, many people knew so well how to
do it, and without it there was no living at all. 
He tried to say what he was not thinking, but he
felt continually that it had a ring of falsehood,
that his brother detected him in it, and was exasperated
at it.

The third day Nikolay induced his
brother to explain his plan to him again, and began
not merely attacking it, but intentionally confounding
it with communism.

“You’ve simply borrowed
an idea that’s not your own, but you’ve
distorted it, and are trying to apply it where it’s
not applicable.”

“But I tell you it’s nothing
to do with it.  They deny the justice of property,
of capital, of inheritance, while I do not deny this
chief stimulus.” (Levin felt disgusted himself
at using such expressions, but ever since he had been
engrossed by his work, he had unconsciously come more
and more frequently to use words not Russian.) “All
I want is to regulate labor.”

“Which means, you’ve borrowed
an idea, stripped it of all that gave it its force,
and want to make believe that it’s something
new,” said Nikolay, angrily tugging at his necktie.

“But my idea has nothing in common…”

“That, anyway,” said Nikolay
Levin, with an ironical smile, his eyes flashing malignantly,
“has the charm of ­what’s one
to call it? ­geometrical symmetry, of clearness,
of definiteness.  It may be a Utopia.  But
if once one allows the possibility of making of all
the past a tabula rasa ­no property,
no family ­ then labor would organize itself. 
But you gain nothing…”

“Why do you mix things up? 
I’ve never been a communist.”

“But I have, and I consider
it’s premature, but rational, and it has a future,
just like Christianity in its first ages.”

“All that I maintain is that
the labor force ought to be investigated from the
point of view of natural science; that is to say,
it ought to be studied, its qualities ascertained…”

“But that’s utter waste
of time.  That force finds a certain form of
activity of itself, according to the stage of its development. 
There have been slaves first everywhere, then metayers;
and we have the half-crop system, rent, and day laborers. 
What are you trying to find?”

Levin suddenly lost his temper at
these words, because at the bottom of his heart he
was afraid that it was true ­true that he
was trying to hold the balance even between communism
and the familiar forms, and that this was hardly possible.

“I am trying to find means of
working productively for myself and for the laborers. 
I want to organize…” he answered hotly.

“You don’t want to organize
anything; it’s simply just as you’ve been
all your life, that you want to be original to pose
as not exploiting the peasants simply, but with some
idea in view.”

“Oh, all right, that’s
what you think ­and let me alone!”
answered Levin, feeling the muscles of his left cheek
twitching uncontrollably.

“You’ve never had, and
never have, convictions; all you want is to please
your vanity.”

“Oh, very well; then let me alone!”

“And I will let you alone! and
it’s high time I did, and go to the devil with
you! and I’m very sorry I ever came!”

In spite of all Levin’s efforts
to soothe his brother afterwards, Nikolay would listen
to nothing he said, declaring that it was better to
part, and Konstantin saw that it simply was that life
was unbearable to him.

Nikolay was just getting ready to
go, when Konstantin went in to him again and begged
him, rather unnaturally, to forgive him if he had
hurt his feelings in any way.

“Ah, generosity!” said
Nikolay, and he smiled.  “If you want to
be right, I can give you that satisfaction.  You’re
in the right; but I’m going all the same.”

It was only just at parting that Nikolay
kissed him, and said, looking with sudden strangeness
and seriousness at his brother: 

“Anyway, don’t remember
evil against me, Kostya!” and his voice quivered. 
These were the only words that had been spoken sincerely
between them.  Levin knew that those words meant,
“You see, and you know, that I’m in a
bad way, and maybe we shall not see each other again.” 
Levin knew this, and the tears gushed from his eyes. 
He kissed his brother once more, but he could not
speak, and knew not what to say.

Three days after his brother’s
departure, Levin too set off for his foreign tour. 
Happening to meet Shtcherbatsky, Kitty’s cousin,
in the railway train, Levin greatly astonished him
by his depression.

“What’s the matter with
you?” Shtcherbatsky asked him.

“Oh, nothing; there’s not much happiness
in life.”

“Not much?  You come with
me to Paris instead of to Mulhausen.  You shall
see how to be happy.”

“No, I’ve done with it all.  It’s
time I was dead.”

“Well, that’s a good one!”
said Shtcherbatsky, laughing; “why, I’m
only just getting ready to begin.”

“Yes, I thought the same not
long ago, but now I know I shall soon be dead.”

Levin said what he had genuinely been
thinking of late.  He saw nothing but death or
the advance towards death in everything.  But
his cherished scheme only engrossed him the more. 
Life had to be got through somehow till death did
come.  Darkness had fallen upon everything for
him; but just because of this darkness he felt that
the one guiding clue in the darkness was his work,
and he clutched it and clung to it with all his strength.

 

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