Home  »  Anna Karenin  »  Chapter XXIV

Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910). Anna Karenin.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. 1917.

Part I

Chapter XXIV

‘YES, there is something in me hateful, repulsive,’ thought Levin, as he came away from the Shtcherbatskys’, and walked in the direction of his brother’s lodgings. ‘And I don’t get on with other people. Pride, they say. No, I have no pride. If I had any pride, I should not have put myself in such a position.’ And he pictured to himself Vronsky, happy, good-natured, clever, and self-possessed certainly never placed in the awful position in which he had been that evening. ‘Yes, she was bound to choose him. So it had to be, and I cannot complain of any one or anything. I am myself to blame. What right had I to imagine she would care to join her life to mine? Who am I and what am I? A nobody, not wanted by any one, nor of use to anybody.’ And he recalled his brother Nikolay, and dwelt with pleasure on the thought of him. ‘Isn’t he right that everything in the world is base and loathsome? And are we fair in our judgment of brother Nikolay? Of course, from the point of Prokofy, seeing him in a torn cloak and tipsy, he’s a despicable person. But I know him differently. I know his soul, and know that we are like him. And I, instead of going to seek him out, went out to dinner, and came here.’ Levin walked up to a lamp-post, read his brother’s address, which was in his pocket-book, and called a sledge. All the long way to his brother’s, Levin vividly recalled all the facts familiar to him of his brother Nikolay’s life. He remembered how his brother, while at the university, and for a year afterwards, had, in spite of the jeers of his companions, lived like a monk, strictly observing all religious rites, services, and fasts, and avoiding every sort of pleasure, especially women. And afterwards, how he had all at once broken out: he had associated with most horrible people, and rushed into the most senseless debauchery. He remembered later the scandal over a boy, whom he had taken from the country to bring up, and, in a fit of rage, had so violently beaten that proceedings were brought against him for unlawfully wounding. Then he recalled the scandal with a sharper, to whom he had lost money, and given a promissory note, and against whom he had himself lodged a complaint, asserting that he had cheated him. (This was the money Sergey Ivanovitch had paid.) Then he remembered how he had spent a night in the lock-up for disorderly conduct in the street. He remembered the shameful proceedings he had tried to get up against his brother Sergey Ivanovitch, accusing him of not having paid him his share of his mother’s fortune, and the last scandal, when he had gone to a western province in an official capacity, and there had got into trouble for assaulting a village elder.… It was all horribly disgusting, yet to Levin it appeared not at all in the same disgusting light as it inevitably would to those who did not know Nikolay, did not know all his story, did not know his heart.

Levin remembered that when Nikolay had been in the devout stage, the period of fasts and monks and church services, when he was seeking in religion a support and a curb for his passionate temperament, every one, far from encouraging him, had jeered at him, and he, too, with the Others. They had teased him, called him Noah, and monk, and, when he had broken out, no one had helped him, but every one had turned away from him with horror and disgust.

Levin felt that, in spite of all the ugliness of his life, his brother Nikolay, in his soul, in the very depths of his soul, was no more in the wrong than the people who despised him. He was not to blame for having been born with his unbridled temperament and his somehow limited intelligence. But he had always wanted to be good. ‘I will tell him everything, without reserve, and I will make him speak without reserve too, and I’ll show him that I love him, and so understand him,’ Levin resolved to himself, as, towards eleven o’clock, he reached the hotel of which he had the address.

‘At the top, 12 and 13,’ the porter answered Levin’s inquiry.

‘At home?’

‘Sure to be at home.’

The door of No. 12 was half open, and there came out into the streak of light thick fumes of cheap, poor tobacco, and the sound of a voice, unknown to Levin; but he knew at once that his brother was there; he heard his cough.

As he went in at the door, the unknown voice was saying—‘It all depends with how much judgment and knowledge the thing’s done.’

Konstantin Levin looked in at the door, and saw that the speaker was a young man with an immense shock of hair, wearing a Russian jerkin, and that a pock-marked woman in a woollen gown, without collar or cuffs, was sitting on the sofa. His brother was not to be seen. Konstantin felt a sharp pang at his heart at the thought of the strange company in which his brother spent his life. No one had heard him, and Konstantin, taking off his goloshes, listened to what the gentleman in the jerkin was saying. He was speaking of some enterprise.

‘Well, the devil flay them, the privileged classes,’ his brother’s voice responded, with a cough. ‘Masha! get us some supper and some wine if there’s any left; or else go and get some.’

The woman rose, and came out from behind the screen, and saw Konstantin.

‘There’s some gentleman, Nikolay Dmitritch,’ she said.

‘Whom do you want?’ said the voice of Nikolay Levin, angrily.

‘It’s I, answered Konstantin Levin, coming forward into the light.

‘Who’s I?’ Nikolay’s voice said again, still more angrily. He could be heard getting up hurriedly, stumbling against something, and Levin saw, facing him in the doorway, the big scared eyes, and the huge, thin, stooping figure of his brother, so familiar, and yet astonishing in its weirdness and sickliness.

He was even thinner than three years before, when Konstantin Levin had seen him last. He was wearing a short coat, and his hands and big bones seemed huger than ever. His hair had grown thinner, the same straight moustaches hid his lips, the same eyes gazed strangely and naively at his visitor.

‘Ah, Kostya!’ he exclaimed suddenly, recognising his brother, and his eyes lighted up with joy. But the same second he looked round at the young man, and gave the nervous jerk of his head and neck that Konstantin knew so well, as if his neckband hurt him; and a quite different expression, wild, suffering, and cruel, rested on his emaciated face.

‘I wrote to you and Sergey Ivanovitch both that I don’t know you and don’t want to know you. What is it you want?’

He was not at all the same as Konstantin had been fancying him. The worst and most tiresome part of his character, what made all relations with him so difficult, had been forgotten by Konstantin Levin when he thought of him, and now, when he saw his face, and especially that nervous twitching of his head, he remembered it all.

‘I didn’t want to see you for anything,’ he answered timidly.

‘I’ve simply come to see you.’

His brother’s timidity obviously softened Nikolay. His lips twitched.

‘Oh, so that’s it?’ he said. ‘Well, come in; sit down. Like some supper? Masha, bring supper for three. No, stop a minute. Do you know who this is?’ he said addressing his brother, and indicating the gentleman in the jerkin: ‘This is Mr. Kritsky, my friend from Kiev, a very remarkable man. He’s persecuted by the police, of course, because he’s not a scoundrel.’

And he looked round in the way he always did at every one in the room. Seeing that the woman standing in the doorway was moving to go, he shouted to her, ‘Wait a minute, I said.’ And with the inability to express himself, the incoherence that Konstantin knew so well, he began, with another look round at every one, to tell his brother Kritsky’s story: how he had been expelled the university for starting a benefit society for the poor students and Sunday-schools; and how he had afterwards been a teacher in a peasant school, and how he had been driven out of that too, and had afterwards been condemned for something.

‘You’re of the Kiev university?’ said Konstantin Levin to Kritsky, to break the awkward silence that followed.

‘Yes, I was of Kiev,’ Kritsky replied angrily, his face darkening.

‘And this woman,’ Nikolay Levin interrupted him, pointing to her, ‘is the partner of my life, Marya Nikolaevna. I took her out of a bad house,’ and he jerked his neck saying this; ‘but I love her and respect her, and any one who wants to know me,’ he added, raising his voice and knitting his brows, ‘I beg to love her and respect her. She’s just the same as my wife, just the same. So now you know whom you’ve got to do with. And if you think you’re lowering yourself, well, here’s the floor, there’s the door.’

And again his eyes travelled inquiringly over all of them.

‘Why I should be lowering myself, I don’t understand.’

‘Then, Masha, tell them to bring supper; three portions, spirits and wine.… No, wait a minute.… No, it doesn’t matter.… Go along.’