Anna karenina, p.82
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       Anna Karenina, p.82

           graf Leo Tolstoy
 

  Chapter 13

  None but those who were most intimate with Alexey Alexandrovitch knewthat, while on the surface the coldest and most reasonable of men, hehad one weakness quite opposed to the general trend of his character.Alexey Alexandrovitch could not hear or see a child or woman cryingwithout being moved. The sight of tears threw him into a state ofnervous agitation, and he utterly lost all power of reflection. Thechief secretary of his department and his private secretary were awareof this, and used to warn women who came with petitions on no account togive way to tears, if they did not want to ruin their chances. "He willget angry, and will not listen to you," they used to say. And as a fact,in such cases the emotional disturbance set up in Alexey Alexandrovitchby the sight of tears found expression in hasty anger. "I can donothing. Kindly leave the room!" he would commonly cry in such cases.

  When returning from the races Anna had informed him of her relationswith Vronsky, and immediately afterwards had burst into tears, hidingher face in her hands, Alexey Alexandrovitch, for all the fury arousedin him against her, was aware at the same time of a rush of thatemotional disturbance always produced in him by tears. Conscious of it,and conscious that any expression of his feelings at that minute wouldbe out of keeping with the position, he tried to suppress everymanifestation of life in himself, and so neither stirred nor looked ather. This was what had caused that strange expression of deathlikerigidity in his face which had so impressed Anna.

  When they reached the house he helped her to get out of the carriage,and making an effort to master himself, took leave of her with his usualurbanity, and uttered that phrase that bound him to nothing; he saidthat tomorrow he would let her know his decision.

  His wife's words, confirming his worst suspicions, had sent a cruel pangto the heart of Alexey Alexandrovitch. That pang was intensified by thestrange feeling of physical pity for her set up by her tears. But whenhe was all alone in the carriage Alexey Alexandrovitch, to his surpriseand delight, felt complete relief both from this pity and from thedoubts and agonies of jealousy.

  He experienced the sensations of a man who has had a tooth out aftersuffering long from toothache. After a fearful agony and a sense ofsomething huge, bigger than the head itself, being torn out of his jaw,the sufferer, hardly able to believe in his own good luck, feels all atonce that what has so long poisoned his existence and enchained hisattention, exists no longer, and that he can live and think again, andtake interest in other things besides his tooth. This feeling AlexeyAlexandrovitch was experiencing. The agony had been strange andterrible, but now it was over; he felt that he could live again andthink of something other than his wife.

  "No honor, no heart, no religion; a corrupt woman. I always knew it andalways saw it, though I tried to deceive myself to spare her," he saidto himself. And it actually seemed to him that he always had seen it: herecalled incidents of their past life, in which he had never seenanything wrong before--now these incidents proved clearly that she hadalways been a corrupt woman. "I made a mistake in linking my life tohers; but there was nothing wrong in my mistake, and so I cannot beunhappy. It's not I that am to blame," he told himself, "but she. But Ihave nothing to do with her. She does not exist for me..."

  Everything relating to her and her son, towards whom his sentiments wereas much changed as towards her, ceased to interest him. The only thingthat interested him now was the question of in what way he could best,with most propriety and comfort for himself, and thus with most justice,extricate himself from the mud with which she had spattered him in herfall, and then proceed along his path of active, honorable, and usefulexistence.

  "I cannot be made unhappy by the fact that a contemptible woman hascommitted a crime. I have only to find the best way out of the difficultposition in which she has placed me. And I shall find it," he said tohimself, frowning more and more. "I'm not the first nor the last." Andto say nothing of historical instances dating from the "Fair Helen" ofMenelaus, recently revived in the memory of all, a whole list ofcontemporary examples of husbands with unfaithful wives in the highestsociety rose before Alexey Alexandrovitch's imagination. "Daryalov,Poltavsky, Prince Karibanov, Count Paskudin, Dram.... Yes, even Dram,such an honest, capable fellow ... Semyonov, Tchagin, Sigonin," AlexeyAlexandrovitch remembered. "Admitting that a certain quite irrational_ridicule_ falls to the lot of these men, yet I never saw anything but amisfortune in it, and always felt sympathy for it," AlexeyAlexandrovitch said to himself, though indeed this was not the fact, andhe had never felt sympathy for misfortunes of that kind, but the morefrequently he had heard of instances of unfaithful wives betraying theirhusbands, the more highly he had thought of himself. "It is a misfortunewhich may befall anyone. And this misfortune has befallen me. The onlything to be done is to make the best of the position."

  And he began passing in review the methods of proceeding of men who hadbeen in the same position that he was in.

  "Daryalov fought a duel...."

  The duel had particularly fascinated the thoughts of AlexeyAlexandrovitch in his youth, just because he was physically a coward,and was himself well aware of the fact. Alexey Alexandrovitch could notwithout horror contemplate the idea of a pistol aimed at himself, andhad never made use of any weapon in his life. This horror had in hisyouth set him pondering on dueling, and picturing himself in a positionin which he would have to expose his life to danger. Having attainedsuccess and an established position in the world, he had long agoforgotten this feeling; but the habitual bent of feeling reasserteditself, and dread of his own cowardice proved even now so strong thatAlexey Alexandrovitch spent a long while thinking over the question ofdueling in all its aspects, and hugging the idea of a duel, though hewas fully aware beforehand that he would never under any circumstancesfight one.

  "There's no doubt our society is still so barbarous (it's not the samein England) that very many"--and among these were those whose opinionAlexey Alexandrovitch particularly valued--"look favorably on the duel;but what result is attained by it? Suppose I call him out," AlexeyAlexandrovitch went on to himself, and vividly picturing the night hewould spend after the challenge, and the pistol aimed at him, heshuddered, and knew that he never would do it--"suppose I call him out.Suppose I am taught," he went on musing, "to shoot; I press thetrigger," he said to himself, closing his eyes, "and it turns out I havekilled him," Alexey Alexandrovitch said to himself, and he shook hishead as though to dispel such silly ideas. "What sense is there inmurdering a man in order to define one's relation to a guilty wife andson? I should still just as much have to decide what I ought to do withher. But what is more probable and what would doubtless occur--I shouldbe killed or wounded. I, the innocent person, should be thevictim--killed or wounded. It's even more senseless. But apart fromthat, a challenge to fight would be an act hardly honest on my side.Don't I know perfectly well that my friends would never allow me tofight a duel--would never allow the life of a statesman, needed byRussia, to be exposed to danger? Knowing perfectly well beforehand thatthe matter would never come to real danger, it would amount to my simplytrying to gain a certain sham reputation by such a challenge. That wouldbe dishonest, that would be false, that would be deceiving myself andothers. A duel is quite irrational, and no one expects it of me. My aimis simply to safeguard my reputation, which is essential for theuninterrupted pursuit of my public duties." Official duties, which hadalways been of great consequence in Alexey Alexandrovitch's eyes, seemedof special importance to his mind at this moment. Considering andrejecting the duel, Alexey Alexandrovitch turned to divorce--anothersolution selected by several of the husbands he remembered. Passing inmental review all the instances he knew of divorces (there were plentyof them in the very highest society with which he was very familiar),Alexey Alexandrovitch could not find a single example in which theobject of divorce was that which he had in view. In all these instancesthe husband had practically ceded or sold his unfaithful wife, and thevery party which, being in fault, had not the right to contract a freshmarriage, had formed counterfeit, pseud
o-matrimonial ties with aself-styled husband. In his own case, Alexey Alexandrovitch saw that alegal divorce, that is to say, one in which only the guilty wife wouldbe repudiated, was impossible of attainment. He saw that the complexconditions of the life they led made the coarse proofs of his wife'sguilt, required by the law, out of the question; he saw that a certainrefinement in that life would not admit of such proofs being broughtforward, even if he had them, and that to bring forward such proofswould damage him in the public estimation more than it would her.

  An attempt at divorce could lead to nothing but a public scandal, whichwould be a perfect godsend to his enemies for calumny and attacks on hishigh position in society. His chief object, to define the position withthe least amount of disturbance possible, would not be attained bydivorce either. Moreover, in the event of divorce, or even of an attemptto obtain a divorce, it was obvious that the wife broke off allrelations with the husband and threw in her lot with the lover. And inspite of the complete, as he supposed, contempt and indifference he nowfelt for his wife, at the bottom of his heart Alexey Alexandrovitchstill had one feeling left in regard to her--a disinclination to see herfree to throw in her lot with Vronsky, so that her crime would be to heradvantage. The mere notion of this so exasperated Alexey Alexandrovitch,that directly it rose to his mind he groaned with inward agony, and gotup and changed his place in the carriage, and for a long while after, hesat with scowling brows, wrapping his numbed and bony legs in the fleecyrug.

  "Apart from formal divorce, One might still do like Karibanov, Paskudin,and that good fellow Dram--that is, separate from one's wife," he wenton thinking, when he had regained his composure. But this step toopresented the same drawback of public scandal as a divorce, and what wasmore, a separation, quite as much as a regular divorce, flung his wifeinto the arms of Vronsky. "No, it's out of the question, out of thequestion!" he said again, twisting his rug about him again. "I cannot beunhappy, but neither she nor he ought to be happy."

  The feeling of jealousy, which had tortured him during the period ofuncertainty, had passed away at the instant when the tooth had been withagony extracted by his wife's words. But that feeling had been replacedby another, the desire, not merely that she should not be triumphant,but that she should get due punishment for her crime. He did notacknowledge this feeling, but at the bottom of his heart he longed forher to suffer for having destroyed his peace of mind--his honor. Andgoing once again over the conditions inseparable from a duel, a divorce,a separation, and once again rejecting them, Alexey Alexandrovitch feltconvinced that there was only one solution,--to keep her with him,concealing what had happened from the world, and using every measure inhis power to break off the intrigue, and still more--though this he didnot admit to himself--to punish her. "I must inform her of myconclusion, that thinking over the terrible position in which she hasplaced her family, all other solutions will be worse for both sides thanan external _status quo_, and that such I agree to retain, on the strictcondition of obedience on her part to my wishes, that is to say,cessation of all intercourse with her lover." When this decision hadbeen finally adopted, another weighty consideration occurred to AlexeyAlexandrovitch in support of it. "By such a course only shall I beacting in accordance with the dictates of religion," he told himself."In adopting this course, I am not casting off a guilty wife, but givingher a chance of amendment; and, indeed, difficult as the task will be tome, I shall devote part of my energies to her reformation andsalvation."

  Though Alexey Alexandrovitch was perfectly aware that he could not exertany moral influence over his wife, that such an attempt at reformationcould lead to nothing but falsity; though in passing through thesedifficult moments he had not once thought of seeking guidance inreligion, yet now, when his conclusion corresponded, as it seemed tohim, with the requirements of religion, this religious sanction to hisdecision gave him complete satisfaction, and to some extent restored hispeace of mind. He was pleased to think that, even in such an importantcrisis in life, no one would be able to say that he had not acted inaccordance with the principles of that religion whose banner he hadalways held aloft amid the general coolness and indifference. As hepondered over subsequent developments, Alexey Alexandrovitch did notsee, indeed, why his relations with his wife should not remainpractically the same as before. No doubt, she could never regain hisesteem, but there was not, and there could not be, any sort of reasonthat his existence should be troubled, and that he should suffer becauseshe was a bad and faithless wife. "Yes, time will pass; time, whicharranges all things, and the old relations will be reestablished,"Alexey Alexandrovitch told himself; "so far reestablished, that is, thatI shall not be sensible of a break in the continuity of my life. She isbound to be unhappy, but I am not to blame, and so I cannot be unhappy."

 

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