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

Part III

Chapter XXXII

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 labour.’

‘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 labour would organise 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 labour 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-labourers. 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 organise…’ he answered hotly.

‘You don’t want to organise 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 may be 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.