Home  »  Anna Karenin  »  Chapter XXV

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

Part I

Chapter XXV

SO you see,’ pursued Nikolay Levin, painfully wrinkling his forehead and twitching. It was obviously difficult for him to think of what to say and do.

‘Here, do you see?’ … He pointed to some sort of iron bars, fastened together with strings, lying in a corner of the room. ‘Do you see that? That’s the beginning of a new thing we’re going into. It’s a productive association.…’

Konstantin scarcely heard him. He looked into his sickly, consumptive face, and he was more and more sorry for him, and he could not force himself to listen to what his brother was telling him about the association. He saw that this association was a mere anchor to save him from self-contempt. Nikolay Levin went on talking—

‘You know that capital oppresses the labourer. The labourers with us, the peasants, bear all the burden of labour, and are so placed that however much they work they can’t escape from their position of beasts of burden. All the profits of labour, on which they might improve their position, and gain leisure for themselves, and after that education, all the surplus values are taken from them by the capitalists. And society’s so constituted that the harder they work, the greater the profit of the merchants and landowners, while they stay beasts of burden to the end. And that state of things must be changed,’ he finished up, and he looked questioningly at his brother.

‘Yes, of course,’ said Konstantin, looking at the patch of red that had come out on his brother’s projecting cheekbones.

‘And so we’re founding a locksmith’s association, where all the production and profit and the chief instruments of production will be in common.’

‘Where is the association to be?’ asked Konstantin Levin.

‘In the village of Vozdrem, Kazan government.’

‘But why in a village? In the villages, I think, there is plenty of work as it is. Why a locksmiths’ association in a village?’ ‘Why? Because the peasants are just as much slaves as they ever were, and that’s why you and Sergey Ivanovitch don’t like people to try and get them out of their slavery,’ said Nikolay Levin, exasperated by the objection.

Konstantin Levin sighed, looking meanwhile about the cheerless and dirty room. This sigh seemed to exasperate Nikolay still more.

‘I know your and Sergey Ivanovitch’s aristocratic views. I know that he applies all the power of his intellect to justify existing evils.’

‘No; and what do you talk of Sergey Ivanovitch for?’ said Levin, smiling.

‘Sergey Ivanovitch? I’ll tell you what for!’ Nikolay Levin shrieked suddenly at the name of Sergey Ivanovitch. ‘I’ll tell you what for.… But what’s the use of talking? There’s only one thing.… What did you come to me for? You look down on this, and you’re welcome to,—and go away, in God’s name go away!’ he shrieked, getting up from his chair. ‘And go away, and go away!’

‘I don’t look down on it at all,’ said Konstantin Levin timidly. ‘I don’t even dispute it.’

At that instant Marya Nikolaevna came back. Nikolay Levin looked round angrily at her. She went quickly to him, and whispered something.

‘I’m not well; I’ve grown irritable,’ said Nikolay Levin, getting calmer and breathing painfully; ‘and then you talk to me of Sergey Ivanovitch and his article. It’s such rubbish, such lying, such self-deception. What can a man write of justice who knows nothing of it? Have you read his article?’ he asked Kritsky, sitting down again at the table, and moving back off half of it the scattered cigarettes, so as to clear a space.

‘I’ve not read it,’ Kritsky responded gloomily, obviously not desiring to enter into the conversation.

‘Why not?’ said Nikolay Levin, now turning with exasperation upon Kritsky.

‘Because I didn’t see the use of wasting my time over it.’

‘Oh, but excuse me, how did you know it would be wasting your time? That article’s too deep for many people—that’s to say it’s over their heads. But with me, it’s another thing; I see through his ideas, and I know where its weakness lies.’

Every one was mute. Kritsky got up deliberately and reached his cap.

‘Won’t you have supper? All right, good-bye! Come round to-morrow with the locksmith.’

Kritsky had hardly gone out when Nikolay Levin smiled and winked.

‘He’s no good either,’ he said. ‘I see, of course…’

But at that instant Kritsky, at the door, called him.

‘What do you want now?’ he said, and went out to him in the passage. Left alone with Marya Nikolaevna, Levin turned to her.

‘Have you been long with my brother?’ he said to her.

‘Yes, more than a year. Nikolay Dmitritch’s health has become very poor. Nikolay Dmitritch drinks a great deal,’ she said.

‘That is … how does he drink?’

‘Drinks vodka, and it’s bad for him.’

‘And a great deal?’ whispered Levin.

‘Yes,’ she said, looking timidly towards the doorway, where Nikolay Levin had reappeared.

‘What were you talking about?’ he said, knitting his brows, and turning his scared eyes from one to the other. ‘What was it?’

‘Oh, nothing,’ Konstantin answered in confusion.

‘Oh, if you don’t want to say, don’t. Only it’s no good your talking to her. She’s a wench, and you’re a gentleman,’ he said with a jerk of the neck. ‘You understand everything, I see, and have taken stock of everything, and look with commiseration on my shortcomings,’ he began again, raising his voice.

‘Nikolay Dmitritch, Nikolay Dmitritch,’ whispered Marya Nikolaevna, again going up to him.

‘Oh, very well, very well!… But where’s the supper? Ah, here it is,’ he said, seeing a waiter with a tray. ‘Here, set it here,’ he added angrily and promptly seizing the vodka, he poured out a glassful and drank it greedily. ‘Like a drink?’ he turned to his brother, and at once became better humoured.

‘Well, enough of Sergey Ivanovitch. I’m glad to see you, anyway. After all’s said and done, we’re not strangers. Come, have a drink. Tell me what you’re doing,’ he went on, greedily munching a piece of bread, and pouring out another glassful. ‘How are you living?’

‘I live alone in the country, as I used to. I’m busy looking after the land,’ answered Konstantin, watching with horror the greediness with which his brother ate and drank, and trying to conceal that he noticed it.

‘Why don’t you get married?’

‘It hasn’t happened so,’ Konstantin answered, reddening a little.

‘Why not? For me now … everything’s at an end! I’ve made a mess of my life. But this I’ve said, and I say still, that if my share had been given me when I needed it, my whole life would have been different.’

Konstantin made haste to change the conversation.

‘Do you know your little Vanya’s with me, a clerk in the counting-house at Pokrovsky.’

Nikolay jerked his neck, and sank into thought.

‘Yes, tell me what’s going on at Pokrovsky. Is the house standing still, and the birch-trees, and our schoolroom? And Philip the gardener, is he living? How I remember the arbour and the seat! Now mind and don’t alter anything in the house, but make haste and get married, and make everything as it used to be again. Then I’ll come and see you, if your wife is nice.’

‘But come to me now,’ said Levin. ‘How nicely we would arrange it!’

‘I’d come and see you if I were sure I should not find Sergey Ivanovitch.’

‘You wouldn’t find him there. I live quite independently of him.’

‘Yes, but say what you like, you will have to choose between me and him,’ he said, looking timidly into his brother’s face.

This timidity touched Konstantin.

‘If you want to hear my confession of faith on the subject, I tell you that in your quarrel with Sergey Ivanovitch I take neither side. You’re both wrong. You’re more wrong externally, and he inwardly.’

‘Ah, ah! You see that, you see that!’ Nikolay shouted joyfully.

‘But I, personally, value friendly relations with you more because…’

‘Why, why?’

Konstantin could not say that he valued it more because Nikolay was unhappy, and needed affection. But Nikolay knew that this was just what he meant to say, and scowling he took up the vodka again.

‘Enough, Nikolay Dmitritch!’ said Marya Nikolaevna, stretching out her plump, bare arm toward the decanter.

‘Let it be! Don’t insist! I’ll beat you!’ he shouted.

Marya Nikolaevna smiled a sweet and good-humoured smile, which was at once reflected on Nikolay’s face, and she took the bottle.

‘And do you suppose she understands nothing?’ said Nikolay. ‘She understands it all better than any of us. Isn’t it true there’s something good and sweet in her?’

‘Were you never before in Moscow?’ Konstantin said to her, for the sake of saying something.

‘Only you mustn’t be polite and stiff with her. It frightens her. No one ever spoke to her so but the justices of the peace who tried her for trying to get out of a house of ill-fame. Mercy on us, the senselessness in the world!’ he cried suddenly. ‘These new institutions, these justices of the peace, rural councils, what hideousness it all is!’

And he began to enlarge on his encounters with the new institutions.

Konstantin Levin heard him, and the disbelief in the sense of all public institutions, which he shared with him, and often expressed, was distasteful to him now from his brother’s lips.

‘In another world we shall understand it all,’ he said lightly.

‘In another world! Ah, I don’t like that other world! I don’t like it,’ he said, letting his scared eyes rest on his brother’s eyes. ‘Here one would think that to get out of all the baseness and the mess, one’s own and other people’s, would be a good thing, and yet I’m afraid of death, awfully afraid of death.’ He shuddered. ‘But do drink something. Would you like some champagne? Or shall we go somewhere? Let’s go to the Gypsies! Do you know I have got so fond of the Gypsies and Russian songs.’

His speech had begun to falter, and he passed abruptly from one subject to another. Konstantin with the help of Masha persuaded him not to go out anywhere, and got him to bed hopelessly drunk.

Masha promised to write to Konstantin in case of need, and to persuade Nikolay Levin to go and stay with his brother.