Anna Karenina (Part 8 – Chapter 6-10)
Sergey Ivanovitch had not telegraphed to his brother to send to meet him, as he did not know when he should be able to leave Moscow. Levin was not at home when Katavasov and Sergey Ivanovitch in a fly hired at the station drove up to the steps of the Pokrovskoe house, as black as Moors from the dust of the road. Kitty, sitting on the balcony with her father
and sister, recognized her brother-in-law, and ran down to meet him.
“What a shame not to have let us know,” she said, giving her hand to Sergey Ivanovitch, and putting her forehead up for him to kiss.
“We drove here capitally, and have not put you out,” answered Sergey Ivanovitch. “I’m so dirty. I’m afraid to touch you. I’ve been so busy, I didn’t know when I should be able to tear myself away. And so you’re still as ever enjoying your peaceful, quiet happiness,” he said, smiling, “out of the reach of the current in your peaceful backwater. Here’s our friend Fyodor Vassilievitch who has succeeded in getting here at last.”
“But I’m not a negro, I shall look like a human being when I wash,” said Katavasov in his jesting fashion, and he shook hands and smiled, his teeth flashing white in his black face.
“Kostya will be delighted. He has gone to his settlement. It’s time he should be home.”
“Busy as ever with his farming. It really is a peaceful backwater,” said Katavasov; “while we in town think of nothing but the Servian war. Well, how does our friend look at it? He’s sure not to think like other people.”
“Oh, I don’t know, like everybody else,” Kitty answered, a little embarrassed, looking round at Sergey Ivanovitch. “I’ll send to fetch him. Papa’s staying with us. He’s only just come home from abroad.”
And making arrangements to send for Levin and for the guests to wash, one in his room and the other in what had been Dolly’s, and giving orders for their luncheon, Kitty ran out onto the balcony, enjoying the freedom, and rapidity of movement, of which she had been deprived during the months of her pregnancy.
“It’s Sergey Ivanovitch and Katavasov, a professor,” she said.
“Oh, that’s a bore in this heat,” said the prince.
“No, papa, he’s very nice, and Kostya’s very fond of him,” Kitty said, with a deprecating smile, noticing the irony on her father’s face.
“Oh, I didn’t say anything.”
“You go to them, darling,” said Kitty to her sister, “and entertain them. They saw Stiva at the station; he was quite well. And I must run to Mitya. As ill-luck would have it, I haven’t fed him since tea. He’s awake now, and sure to be screaming.” And feeling a rush of milk, she hurried to the nursery.
This was not a mere guess; her connection with the child was still so close, that she could gauge by the flow of her milk his need of food, and knew for certain he was hungry.
She knew he was crying before she reached the nursery. And he was indeed crying. She heard him and hastened. But the faster she went, the louder he screamed. It was a fine healthy scream, hungry and impatient.
“Has he been screaming long, nurse, very long?” said Kitty hurriedly, seating herself on a chair, and preparing to give the baby the breast. “But give me him quickly. Oh, nurse, how tiresome you are! There, tie the cap afterwards, dol”
The baby’s greedy scream was passing into sobs.
“But you can’t manage so, ma’am,” said Agafea Mihalovna, who was almost always to be found in the nursery. “He must be put straight. A-oo! a-oo!” she chanted over him, paying no attention to the mother.
The nurse brought the baby to his mother. Agafea Mihalovna followed him with a face dissolving with tenderness.
“He knows me, he knows me. In God’s faith, Katerina Alexandrovna, ma’am, he knew me!” Agafea Mihalovna cried above the baby’s screams.
But Kitty did not hear her words. Her impatience kept growing, like the baby’s.
Their impatience hindered things for a while. The baby could not get hold of the breast right, and was furious.
At last, after despairing, breathless screaming, and vain sucking, things went right, and mother and child felt simultaneously soothed, and both subsided into calm.
“But poor darling, he’s all in perspiration!” said Kitty in a whisper, touching the baby.
“What makes you think he knows you?” she added, with a sidelong glance at the baby’s eyes, that peered roguishly, as she fancied, from under his cap, at his rhythmically puffing cheeks, and the little red-palmed hand he was waving.
“Impossible! If he knew anyone, he would have known me,” said Kitty, in response to Agafea Mihalovna’s statement, and she smiled.
She smiled because, though she said he could not know her, in her heart she was sure that he knew not merely Agafea Mihalovna, but that he knew and understood everything, and knew and understood a great deal too that no one else knew, and that she, his mother, had learned and come to understand only through him. To Agafea Mihalovna, to the nurse, to his grandfather, to his father even, Mitya was a living being, requiring only materiel care, but for his mother he had long been a mortal being, with whom there had been a whole series of spiritual relations already.
“When he wakes up, please God, you shall see for yourself. Then when I do like this, he simply beams on me, the darling! Simply beams like a sunny day!” said Agafea Mihalovna.
“Well, well then we shall see,” whispered Kitty. “But now go away, he’s going to sleep.”
Agafea Mihalovna went out on tiptoe; the nurse let down the blind, chased a fly out from under the muslin canopy of the crib, and a bumblebee struggling on the window-frame, and sat down waving a faded branch of birch over the mother and the baby.
“How hot it is! if God would send a drop of rain,” she said.
“Yes, yes, sh–sh–sh–” was all Kitty answered, rocking a little, and tenderly squeezing the plump little arm, with rolls of fat at the wrist, which Mitya still waved feebly as he opened and shut his eyes. That hand worried Kitty; she longed to kiss the little hand, but was afraid to for fear of waking the baby. At last the little hand ceased waving, and the eyes closed. Only from time to time, as he went on sucking, the baby raised his long, curly eyelashes and peeped at his mother with wet eyes, that looked black in the twilight. The nurse had left off fanning, and was dozing. From above came the peals of the old prince’s voice, and the chuckle of Katavasov.
“They have got into talk without me,” thought Kitty, “but still it’s vexing that Kostya’s out. He’s sure to have gone to the bee house again. Though it’s a pity he’s there so often, still I’m glad. It distracts his mind. He’s become altogether happier and better now than in the spring. He used to be so gloomy and worried that I felt frightened for him. And how absurd he is!” she whispered, smiling.
She knew what worried her husband. It was his unbelief. Although, if she had been asked whether she supposed that in the future life, if he did not believe, he would be damned, she would have had to admit that he would be damned, his unbelief did not cause her unhappiness. And she, confessing that for an unbeliever there can be no salvation, and loving her husband’s soul more than anything in the world, thought with a smile of his unbelief, and told herself that he was absurd.
“What does he keep reading philosophy of some sort for all this year?” she wondered. “If it’s all written in those books, he can understand them. If it’s all wrong, why does he read them? He says himself that he would like to believe. Then why is it he doesn’t believe? Surely from his thinking so much? And he thinks so much from being solitary. He’s always alone, alone. He can’t talk about it all to us. I fancy he’ll be glad of these visitors, especially Katavasov. He likes discussions with them,” she thought, and passed instantly to the consideration of where it would be more convenient to put Katavasov, to sleep alone or to share Sergey Ivanovitch’s room. And then an idea suddenly struck her, which made her shudder and even disturb Mitya, who glanced severely at her. “I do believe the laundress hasn’t sent the washing yet, and all the best sheets are in use. If I don’t see to it, Agafea Mihalovna will give Sergey Ivanovitch the wrong sheets,” and at the very idea of this the blood rushed to Kitty’s face.
“Yes, I will arrange it,” she decided, and going back to her former thoughts, she remembered that some spiritual question of importance had been interrupted, and she began to recall what. “Yes, Kostya, an unbeliever,” she thought again with a smile.
“Well, an unbeliever then! Better let him always be one than like Madame Stahl, or what I tried to be in those days abroad. No, he won’t ever sham anything.”
And a recent instance of his goodness rose vividly to her mind. A fortnight ago a penitent letter had come from Stepan Arkadyevitch to Dolly. He besought her to save his honor, to sell her estate to pay his debts. Dolly was in despair, she detested her husband, despised him, pitied him, resolved on a separation, resolved to refuse, but ended by agreeing to sell part of her property. After that, with an irrepressible smile of tenderness, Kitty recalled her husband’s shamefaced embarrassment, his repeated awkward efforts to approach the subject, and how at last, having thought of the one means of helping Dolly without wounding her pride, he had suggested to Kitty–what had not occurred to her before–that she should give up her share of the property.
“He an unbeliever indeed! With his heart, his dread of offending anyone, even a child! Everything for others, nothing for himself. Sergey Ivanovitch simply considers it as Kostya’s duty to be his steward. And it’s the same with his sister. Now Dolly and her children are under his guardianship; all these peasants who come to him every day, as though he were bound to be at their service.”
“Yes, only be like your father, only like him,” she said, handing Mitya over to the nurse, and putting her lips to his cheek.
Ever since, by his beloved brother’s deathbed, Levin had first glanced into the questions of life and death in the light of these new convictions, as he called them, which had during the period from his twentieth to his thirty-fourth year imperceptibly replaced his childish and youthful beliefs–he had been stricken with horror, not so much of death, as of life, without any knowledge of whence, and why, and how, and what it was. The physical organization, its decay, the indestructibility of matter, the law of the conservation of energy, evolution, were the words which usurped the place of his old belief. These words and the ideas associated with them were very well for intellectual purposes. But for life they yielded nothing, and Levin felt suddenly like a man who has changed his warm fur cloak for a muslin garment, and going for the first time into the frost is immediately convinced, not by reason, but by his whole nature that he is as good as naked, and that he must infallibly perish miserably.
From that moment, though he did not distinctly face it, and still went on living as before, Levin had never lost this sense of terror at his lack of knowledge.
He vaguely felt, too, that what he called his new convictions were not merely lack of knowledge, but that they were part of a whole order of ideas, in which no knowledge of what he needed was possible.
At first, marriage, with the new joys and duties bound up with it, had completely crowded out these thoughts. But of late, while he was staying in Moscow after his wife’s confinement, with nothing to do, the question that clamored for solution had more and more often, more and more insistently, haunted Levin’s mind.
The question was summed up for him thus: “If I do not accept the answers Christianity gives to the problems of my life, what answers do I accept?” And in the whole arsenal of his convictions, so far from finding any satisfactory answers, he was utterly unable to find anything at all like an answer.
He was in the position of a man seeking food in toy shops and tool shops.
Istinctively, unconsciously, with every book, with every conversation, with every man he met, he was on the lookout for light on these questions and their solution.
What puzzled and distracted him above everything was that the majority of men of his age and circle had, like him, exchanged their old beliefs for the same new convictions, and yet saw nothing to lament in this, and were perfectly satisfied and serene. So that, apart from the principal question, Levin was tortured by other questions too. Were these people sincere? he asked himself, or were they playing a part? or was it that they understood the answers science gave to these problems in some different, clearer sense than he did? And he assiduously studied both these men’s opinions and the books which treated of these scientific explanations.
One fact he had found out since these questions had engrossed his mind, was that he had been quite wrong in supposing from the recollections of the circle of his young days at college, that religion had outlived its day, and that it was now practically non-existent. All the people nearest to him who were good in their lives were believers. The old prince, and Lvov, whom he liked so much, and Sergey Ivanovitch, and all the women believed, and his wife believed as simply as he had believed in his earliest childhood, and ninety-nine hundredths of the Russian people, all the working people for whose life he felt the deepest respect, believed.
Another fact of which he became convinced, after reading many scientific books, was that the men who shared his views had no other construction to put on them, and that they gave no explanation of the questions which he felt he could not live without answering, but simply ignored their existence and attempted to explain other questions of no possible interest to him, such as the evolution of organisms, the materialistic theory of consciousness, and so forth.
Moreover, during his wife’s confinement, something had happened that seemed extraordinary to him. He, an unbeliever, had fallen into praying, and at the moment he prayed, he believed. But that moment had passed, and he could not make his state of mind at that moment fit into the rest of his life.
He could not admit that at that moment he knew the truth, and that now he was wrong; for as soon as he began thinking calmly about it, it all fell to pieces. He could not admit that he was mistaken then, for his spiritual condition then was precious to him, and to admit that it was a proof of weakness would have been to desecrate those moments. He was miserably divided against himself, and strained all his spiritual forces to the utmost to escape from this condition.
These doubts fretted and harassed him, growing weaker or stronger from time to time, but never leaving him. He read and thought, and the more he read and the more he thought, the further he felt from the aim he was pursuing.
Of late in Moscow and in the country, since he had become convinced that he would find no solution in the materialists, he had read and reread thoroughly Plato, Spinoza, Kant, Schelling, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, the philosophers who gave a non-materialistic explanation of life.
Their ideas seemed to him fruitful when he was reading or was himself seeking arguments to refute other theories, especially those of the materialists; but as soon as he began to read or sought fat himself a solution of problems, the same thing always happened. As long as he followed the fixed definition of obscure words such as SPIRIT, WILL, FREEDOM, ESSENCE, purposely letting himself go into the snare of words the philosophers set for him, he seemed to comprehend something. But he had only to forget the artificial train of reasoning, and to turn from life itself to what had satisfied him while thinking in accordance with the fixed definitions, and all this artificial edifice fell to pieces at once like a house of cards, and it became clear that the edifice had been built up out of those transposed words, apart from anything in life more important than reason.
At one time, reading Schopenhauer, he put in place of his will the word love, and for a couple of days this new philosophy charmed him, till he removed a little away from it. But then, when he turned from life itself to glance at it again, it fell away too, and proved to be the same muslin garment with no warmth in it.
His brother Sergey Ivanovitch advised him to read the theological works of Homiakov. Levin read the second volume of Homiakov’s works, and in spite of the elegant, epigrammatic, argumentative style which at first repelled him, he was impressed by the doctrine of the church he found in them. He was struck at first by the idea that the apprehension of divine truths had not been vouchsafed to man, but to a corporation of men bound together by love–to the church. What delighted him was the thought how much easier it was to believe in a still existing living church, embracing all the beliefs of men, and having God at its head, and therefore holy and infallible, and from it to accept the faith in God, in the creation, the fall, the redemption, than to begin with God, a mysterious, far-away God, the creation, etc. But afterwards, on reading a Catholic writer’s history of the church, and then a Greek orthodox writer’s history of the church, and seeing that the two churches, in their very conception infallible, each deny the authority of the other, Homiakov’s doctrine of the church lost all its charm for him, and this edifice crumbled into dust like the philosophers’ edifices.
All that spring he was not himself, and went through fearful moments of horror.
“Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life’s impossible; and that I can’t know, and so I can’t live,” Levin said to himself.
“In infinite time, in infinite matter, in infinite space, is formed a bubble-organism, and that bubble lasts a while and bursts, and that bubble is Me.”
It was an agonizing error, but it was the sole logical result of ages of human thought in that direction.
This was the ultimate belief on which all the systems elaborated by human thought in almost all their ramifications rested. It was the prevalent conviction, and of all other explanations Levin had unconsciously, not knowing when or how, chosen it, as anyway the clearest, and made it his own.
But it was not merely a falsehood, it was the cruel jeer of some wicked power, some evil, hateful power, to whom one could not submit.
He must escape from this power. And the means of escape every man had in his own hands. He had but to cut short this dependence on evil. And there was one means–death.
And Levin, a happy father and husband, in perfect health, was several times so near suicide that he hid the cord that he might not be tempted to hang himself, and was afraid to go out with his gun for fear of shooting himself.
But Levin did not shoot himself, and did not hang himself; he went on living.
When Levin thought what he was and what he was living for, he could find no answer to the questions and was reduced to despair, but he left off questioning himself about it. It seemed as though he knew both what he was and for what he was living, for he acted and lived resolutely and without hesitation. Indeed, in these latter days he was far more decided and unhesitating in life than he had ever been.
When he went back to the country at the beginning of June, he went back also to his usual pursuits. The management of the estate, his relations with the peasants and the neighbors, the care of his household, the management of his sister’s and brother’s property, of which he had the direction, his relations with his wife and kindred, the care of his child, and the new bee-keeping hobby he had taken up that spring, filled all his time.
These things occupied him now, not because he justified them to himself by any sort of general principles, as he had done in former days; on the contrary, disappointed by the failure of his former efforts for the general welfare, and too much occupied with his own thought and the mass of business with which he was burdened from all sides, he had completely given up thinking of the general good, and he busied himself with all this work simply because it seemed to him that he must do what he was doing–that he could not do otherwise. In former days–almost from childhood, and increasingly up to full manhood–when he had tried to do anything that would be good for all, for humanity, for Russia, for the whole village, he had noticed that the idea of it had been pleasant, but the work itself had always been incoherent, that then he had never had a full conviction of its absolute necessity, and that the work that had begun by seeming so great, had grown less and less, till it vanished into nothing. But now, since his marriage, when he had begun to confine himself more and more to living for himself, though he experienced no delight at all at the thought of the work he was doing, he felt a complete conviction of its necessity, saw that it succeeded far better than in old days, and that it kept on growing more and more.
Now, involuntarily it seemed, he cut more and more deeply into the soil like a plough, so that he could not be drawn out without turning aside the furrow.
To live the same family life as his father and forefathers–that is, in the same condition of culture–and to bring up his children in the same, was incontestably necessary. It was as necessary as dining when one was hungry. And to do this, just as it was necessary to cook dinner, it was necessary to keep the mechanism of agriculture at Pokrovskoe going so as to yield an income. Just as incontestably as it was necessary to repay a debt was it necessary to keep the property in such a condition that his son, when he received it as a heritage, would say “thank you” to his father as Levin had said “thank you” to his grandfather for all he built and planted. And to do this it was necessary to look after the land himself, not to let it, and to breed cattle, manure the fields, and plant timber.
It was impossible not to look after the affairs of Sergey Ivanovitch, of his sister, of the peasants who came to him for advice and were accustomed to do so–as impossible as to fling down a child one is carrying in one’s arms. It was necessary to look after the comfort of his sister-in-law and her children, and of his wife and baby, and it was impossible not to spend with them at least a short time each day.
And all this, together with shooting and his new bee-keeping, filled up the whole of Levin’s life, which had no meaning at all for him, when he began to think.
But besides knowing thoroughly what he had to do, Levin knew in just the same way HOW he had to do it all, and what was more important than the rest.
He knew he must hire laborers as cheaply as possible; but to hire men under bond, paying them in advance at less than the current rate of wages, was what he must not do, even though it was very profitable. Selling straw to the peasants in times of scarcity of provender was what he might do, even though he felt sorry for them; but the tavern and the pothouse must be put down, though they were a source of income. Felling timber must be punished as severely as possible, but he could not exact forfeits for cattle being driven onto his fields; and though it annoyed the keeper and made the peasants not afraid to graze their cattle on his land, he could not keep their cattle as a punishment.
To Pyotr, who was paying a money-lender 10 per cent a month, he must lend a sum of money to set him free. But he could not let off peasants who did not pay their rent, nor let them fall into arrears. It was impossible to overlook the bailiff’s not having mown the meadows and letting the hay spoil; and it was equally impossible to mow those acres where a young copse had been planted. It was impossible to excuse a laborer who had gone home in the busy season because his father was dying, however sorry he might feel for him, and he must subtract from his pay those costly months of idleness. But it was impossible not to allow monthly rations to the old servants who were of no use for anything.
Levin knew that when he got home he must first of all go to his wife, who was unwell, and that the peasants who had been waiting for three hours to see him could wait a little longer. He knew too that, regardless of all the pleasure he felt in taking a swarm, he must forego that pleasure, and leave the old man to see to the bees alone, while he talked to the peasants who had come after him to the bee-house.
Whether he were acting rightly or wrongly he did not know, and far from trying to prove that he was, nowadays he avoided all thought or talk about it.
Reasoning had brought him to doubt, and prevented him from seeing what he ought to do and what he ought not. When he did not think, but simply lived, he was continually aware of the presence of an infallible judge in his soul, determining which of two possible courses of action was the better and which was the worse, and as soon as he did not act rightly, he was at once aware of it.
So he lived, not knowing and not seeing any chance of knowing what he was and what he was living for, and harassed at this lack of knowledge to such a point that he was afraid of suicide, and yet firmly laying down his own individual definite path in life.