Etext prepared by David Brannan
by Leo Tolstoy
Translated by Constance Garnett
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in
its own way.
Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys' house. The wife
had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with
a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she
had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in
the same house with him. This position of affairs had now lasted
three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all
the members of their family and household, were painfully
conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was
no sense in their living together, and that the stray people
brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one
another than they, the members of the family and household of the
Oblonskys. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had
not been at home for three days. The children ran wild all over
the house; the English governess quarreled with the housekeeper,
and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation
for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before just at
dinner time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman had given
Three days after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch
Oblonsky - Stiva, as he was called in the fashionable world -
woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o'clock in the
morning, not in his wife's bedroom, but on the leather-covered
sofa in his study. He turned over his stout, well-cared-for
person on the springy sofa, as though he would sink into a long
sleep again; he vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side
and buried his face in it; but all at once he jumped up, sat up
on the sofa, and opened his eyes.
"Yes, yes, how was it now?" he thought, going over his dream.
"Now, how was it? To be sure! Alabin was giving a dinner at
Darmstadt; no, not Darmstadt, but something American. Yes, but
then, Darmstadt was in America. Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner
on glass tables, and the tables sang, _Il mio tesoro_ - not _Il mio
tesoro_ though, but something better, and there were some sort of
little decanters on the table, and they were women, too," he
Stepan Arkadyevitch's eyes twinkled gaily, and he pondered with a
smile. "Yes, it was nice, very nice. There was a great deal
more that was delightful, only there's no putting it into words,
or even expressing it in one's thoughts awake." And noticing a
gleam of light peeping in beside one of the serge curtains, he
cheerfully dropped his feet over the edge of the sofa, and felt
about with them for his slippers, a present on his last birthday,
worked for him by his wife on gold-colored morocco. And, as he
had done every day for the last nine years, he stretched out his
hand, without getting up, towards the place where his
dressing-gown always hung in his bedroom. And thereupon he
suddenly remembered that he was not sleeping in his wife's room,
but in his study, and why: the smile vanished from his face, he
knitted his brows.
"Ah, ah, ah! Oo!..." he muttered, recalling everything that had
happened. And again every detail of his quarrel with his wife
was present to his imagination, all the hopelessness of his
position, and worst of all, his own fault.
"Yes, she won't forgive me, and she can't forgive me. And the
most awful thing about it is that it's all my fault - all my
fault, though I'm not to blame. That's the point of the whole
situation," he reflected. "Oh, oh, oh!" he kept repeating in
despair, as he remembered the acutely painful sensations caused
him by this quarrel.
Most unpleasant of all was the first minute when, on coming,
happy and good-humored, from the theater, with a huge pear in his
hand for his wife, he had not found his wife in the drawing-room,
to his surprise had not found her in the study either, and saw
her at last in her bedroom with the unlucky letter that revealed
everything in her hand.
She, his Dolly, forever fussing and worrying over household
details, and limited in her ideas, as he considered, was sitting
perfectly still with the letter in her hand, looking at him with
an expression of horror, despair, and indignation.
"What's this? this?" she asked, pointing to the letter.
And at this recollection, Stepan Arkadyevitch, as is so often the
case, was not so much annoyed at the fact itself as at the way in
which he had met his wife's words.
There happened to him at that instant what does happen to people
when they are unexpectedly caught in something very disgraceful.
He did not succeed in adapting his face to the position in which
he was placed towards his wife by the discovery of his fault.
Instead of being hurt, denying, defending himself, begging
forgiveness, instead of remaining indifferent even - anything
would have been better than what he did do - his face utterly
involuntarily (reflex spinal action, reflected Stepan
Arkadyevitch, who was fond of physiology) - utterly involuntarily
assumed its habitual, good-humored, and therefore idiotic smile.
This idiotic smile he could not forgive himself. Catching sight
of that smile, Dolly shuddered as though at physical pain, broke
out with her characteristic heat into a flood of cruel words, and
rushed out of the room. Since then she had refused to see her
"It's that idiotic smile that's to blame for it all," thought
"But what's to be done? What's to be done?" he said to himself
in despair, and found no answer.
Stepan Arkadyevitch was a truthful man in his relations with
himself. He was incapable of deceiving himself and persuading
himself that he repented of his conduct. He could not at this
date repent of the fact that he, a handsome, susceptible man of
thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five
living and two dead children, and only a year younger than
himself. All he repented of was that he had not succeeded better
in hiding it from his wife. But he felt all the difficulty of
his position and was sorry for his wife, his children, and
himself. Possibly he might have managed to conceal his sins
better from his wife if he had anticipated that the knowledge of
them would have had such an effect on her. He had never clearly
thought out the subject, but he had vaguely conceived that his
wife must long ago have suspected him of being unfaithful to her,
and shut her eyes to the fact. He had even supposed that she, a
worn-out woman no longer young or good-looking, and in no way
remarkable or interesting, merely a good mother, ought from a
sense of fairness to take an indulgent view. It had turned out
quite the other way.
"Oh, it's awful! oh dear, oh dear! awful!" Stepan Arkadyevitch
kept repeating to himself, and he could think of nothing to be
done. "And how well things were going up till now! how well we
got on! She was contented and happy in her children; I never
interfered with her in anything; I let her manage the children
and the house just as she liked. It's true it's bad _her_ having
been a governess in our house. That's bad! There's something
common, vulgar, in flirting with one's governess. But what a
governess!" (He vividly recalled the roguish black eyes of Mlle.
Roland and her smile.) "But after all, while she was in the
house, I kept myself in hand. And the worst of it all is that
she's already...it seems as if ill-luck would have it so! Oh,
oh! But what, what is to be done?"
There was no solution, but that universal solution which life
gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble.
That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day - that is,
forget oneself. To forget himself in sleep was impossible now,
at least till nighttime; he could not go back now to the music
sung by the decanter-women; so he must forget himself in the
dream of daily life.
"Then we shall see," Stepan Arkadyevitch said to himself, and
getting up he put on a gray dressing-gown lined with blue silk,
tied the tassels in a knot, and, drawing a deep breath of air
into his broad, bare chest, he walked to the window with his
usual confident step, turning out his feet that carried his full
frame so easily. He pulled up the blind and rang the bell
loudly. It was at once answered by the appearance of an old
friend, his valet, Matvey, carrying his clothes, his boots, and a
telegram. Matvey was followed by the barber with all the
necessaries for shaving.
"Are there any papers from the office?" asked Stepan
Arkadyevitch, taking the telegram and seating himself at the
"On the table," replied Matvey, glancing with inquiring sympathy
at his master; and, after a short pause, he added with a sly
smile, "They've sent from the carriage-jobbers."
Stepan Arkadyevitch made no reply, he merely glanced at Matvey in
the looking-glass. In the glance, in which their eyes met in the
looking-glass, it was clear that they understood one another.
Stepan Arkadyevitch's eyes asked: "Why do you tell me that?
don't you know?"
Matvey put his hands in his jacket pockets, thrust out one leg,
and gazed silently, good-humoredly, with a faint smile, at his
"I told them to come on Sunday, and till then not to trouble you
or themselves for nothing," he said. He had obviously prepared
the sentence beforehand.
Stepan Arkadyevitch saw Matvey wanted to make a joke and attract
attention to himself. Tearing open the telegram, he read it
through, guessing at the words, misspelt as they always are in
telegrams, and his face brightened.
"Matvey, my sister Anna Arkadyevna will be here tomorrow," he
said, checking for a minute the sleek, plump hand of the barber,
cutting a pink path through his long, curly whiskers.
"Thank God!" said Matvey, showing by this response that he, like
his master, realized the significance of this arrival - that is,
that Anna Arkadyevna, the sister he was so fond of, might bring
about a reconciliation between husband and wife.
"Alone, or with her husband?" inquired Matvey.
Stepan Arkadyevitch could not answer, as the barber was at work
on his upper lip, and he raised one finger. Matvey nodded at the
"Alone. Is the room to be got ready upstairs?"
"Inform Darya Alexandrovna: where she orders."
"Darya Alexandrovna?" Matvey repeated, as though in doubt.
"Yes, inform her. Here, take the telegram; give it to her, and
then do what she tells you."
"You want to try it on," Matvey understood, but he only said,
Stepan Arkadyevitch was already washed and combed and ready to be
dressed, when Matvey, stepping deliberately in his creaky boots,
came back into the room with the telegram in his hand. The
"Darya Alexandrovna told me to inform you that she is going away.
Let him do - that is you - do as he likes," he said, laughing only
with his eyes, and putting his hands in his pockets, he watched
his master with his head on one side. Stepan Arkadyevitch was
silent a minute. Then a good-humored and rather pitiful smile
showed itself on his handsome face.
"Eh, Matvey?" he said, shaking his head.
"It's all right, sir; she will come round," said Matvey.
"Do you think so? Who's there?" asked Stepan Arkadyevitch,
hearing the rustle of a woman's dress at the door.
"It's I," said a firm, pleasant, woman's voice, and the stern,
pockmarked face of Matrona Philimonovna, the nurse, was thrust
in at the doorway.
"Well, what is it, Matrona?" queried Stepan Arkadyevitch, going
up to her at the door.
Although Stepan Arkadyevitch was completely in the wrong as
regards his wife, and was conscious of this himself, almost every
one in the house (even the nurse, Darya Alexandrovna's chief
ally) was on his side.
"Well, what now?" he asked disconsolately.
"Go to her, sir; own your fault again. Maybe God will aid you.
She is suffering so, it's sad to hee her; and besides, everything
in the house is topsy-turvy. You must have pity, sir, on the
children. Beg her forgiveness, sir. There's no help for it! One
must take the consequences..."
"But she won't see me."
"You do your part. God is merciful; pray to God, sir, pray to
"Come, that'll do, you can go," said Stepan Arkadyevitch,
blushing suddenly. "Well now, do dress me." He turned to Matvey
and threw off his dressing-gown decisively.
Matvey was already holding up the shirt like a horse's collar,
and, blowing off some invisible speck, he slipped it with obvious
pleasure over the well-groomed body of his master.
When he was dressed, Stepan Arkadyevitch sprinkled some scent on
himself, pulled down his shirt-cuffs, distributed into his
pockets his cigarettes, pocketbook, matches, and watch with its
double chain and seals, and shaking out his handkerchief, feeling
himself clean, fragrant, healthy, and physically at ease, in
spite of his unhappiness, he walked with a slight swing on each
leg into the dining-room, where coffee was already waiting for
him, and beside the coffee, letters and papers from the office.
He read the letters. One was very unpleasant, from a merchant
who was buying a forest on his wife's property. To sell this
forest was absolutely essential; but at present, until he was
reconciled with his wife, the subject could not be discussed.
The most unpleasant thing of all was that his pecuniary interests
should in this way enter into the question of his reconciliation
with his wife. And the idea that he might be led on by his
interests, that he might seek a reconciliation with his wife on
account of the sale of the forest - that idea hurt him.
When he had finished his letters, Stepan Arkadyevitch moved the
office-papers close to him, rapidly looked through two pieces of
business, made a few notes with a big pencil, and pushing away
the papers, turned to his coffee. As he sipped his coffee, he
opened a still damp morning paper, and began reading it.
Stepan Arkadyevitch took in and read a liberal paper, not an
extreme one, but one advocating the views held by the majority.
And in spite of the fact that science, art, and politics had no
special interest for him, he firmly held those views on all these
subjects which were held by the majority and by his paper, and he
only changed them when the majority changed them - or, more
strictly speaking, he did not change them, but they imperceptibly
changed of themselves within him.
Stepan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political opinions or his
views; these political opinions and views had come to him of
themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hat and
coat, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him,
living in a certain society - owing to the need, ordinarily
developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental
activity - to have views was just as indispensable as to have a
hat. If there was a reason for his preferring liberal to
conservative views, which were held also by many of his circle,
it arose not from his considering liberalism more rational, but
from its being in closer accordance with his manner of life. The
liberal party said that in Russia everything is wrong, and
certainly Stepan Arkadyevitch had many debts and was decidedly
short of money. The liberal party said that marriage is an
institution quite out of date, and that it needs reconstruction;
and family life certainly afforded Stepan Arkadyevitch little
gratification, and forced him into lying and hypocrisy, which was
so repulsive to his nature. The liberal party said, or rather
allowed it to be understood, that religion is only a curb to keep
in check the barbarous classes of the people; and Stepan
Arkadyevitch could not get through even a short service without
his legs aching from standing up, and could never make out what
was the object of all the terrible and high-flown language about
another world when life might be so very amusing in this world.
And with all this, Stepan Arkadyevitch, who liked a joke, was
fond of puzzling a plain man by saying that if he prided himself
on his origin, he ought not to stop at Rurik and disown the first
founder of his family - the monkey. And so Liberalism had become
a habit of Stepan Arkadyevitch's, and he liked his newspaper, as
he did his cigar after dinner, for the slight fog it diffused in
his brain. He read the leading article, in which it was
maintained that it was quite senseless in our day to raise an
outcry that radicalism was threatening to swallow up all
conservative elements, and that the government ought to take
measures to crush the revolutionary hydra; that, on the contrary,
"in our opinion the danger lies not in that fantastic
revolutionary hydra, but in the obstinacy of traditionalism
clogging progress," etc., etc. He read another article, too, a
financial one, which alluded to Bentham and Mill, and dropped
some innuendoes reflecting on the ministry. With his
characteristic quickwittedness he caught the drift of each
innuendo, divined whence it came, at whom and on what ground it
was aimed, and that afforded him, as it always did, a certain
satisfaction. But today that satisfaction was embittered by
Matrona Philimonovna's advice and the unsatisfactory state of the
household. He read, too, that Count Beist was rumored to have
left for Wiesbaden, and that one need have no more gray hair, and
of the sale of a light carriage, and of a young person seeking a
situation; but these items of information did not give him, as
usual, a quiet, ironical gratification. Having finished the
paper, a second cup of coffee and a roll and butter, he got up,
shaking the crumbs of the roll off his waistcoat; and, squaring
his broad chest, he smiled joyously: not because there was
anything particularly agreeable in his mind - the joyous smile
was evoked by a good digestion.
But this joyous smile at once recalled everything to
him, and he grew thoughtful.
Two childish voices (Stepan Arkadyevitch recognized the voices of
Grisha, his youngest boy, and Tanya, his eldest girl) were heard
outside the door. They were carrying something, and dropped it.
"I told you not to sit passengers on the roof," said the little
girl in English; "there, pick them up!"
"Everything's in confusion," thought Stepan Arkadyevitch; "there
are the children running about by themselves." And going to the
door, he called them. They threw down the box, that represented
a train, and came in to their father.
The little girl, her father's favorite, ran up boldly, embraced
him, and hung laughingly on his neck, enjoying as she always did
the smell of scent that came from his whiskers. At last the
little girl kissed his face, which was flushed from his stooping
posture and beaming with tenderness, loosed her hands, and was
about to run away again; but her father held her back.
"How is mamma?" he asked, passing his hand over his daughter's
smooth, soft little neck. "Good morning," he said, smiling to
the boy, who had come up to greet him. He was conscious that he
loved the boy less, and always tried to be fair; but the boy felt
it, and did not respond with a smile to his father's chilly
"Mamma? She is up," answered the girl.
Stepan Arkadyevitch sighed. "That means that she's not slept
again all night," he thought.
"Well, is she cheerful?"
The little girl knew that there was a quarrel between her father
and mother, and that her mother could not be cheerful, and that
her father must be aware of this, and that he was pretending when
he asked about it so lightly. And she blushed for her father.
He at once perceived it, and blushed too.
"I don't know," she said. "She did not say we must do our
lessons, but she said we were to go for a walk with Miss Hoole to
"Well, go, Tanya, my darling. Oh, wait a minute, though," he
said, still holding her and stroking her soft little hand.
He took off the mantelpiece, where he had put it yesterday, a
little box of sweets, and gave her two, picking out her
favorites, a chocolate and a fondant.
"For Grisha?" said the little girl, pointing to the chocolate.
"Yes, yes." And still stroking her little shoulder, he kissed
her on the roots of her hair and neck, and let her go.
"The carriage is ready," said Matvey; "but there's some one to
see you with a petition."
"Been here long?" asked Stepan Arkadyevitch.
"Half an hour."
"How many times have I told you to tell me at once?"
"One must let you drink your coffee in peace, at least," said
Matvey, in the affectionately gruff tone with which it was
impossible to be angry.
"Well, show the person up at once," said Oblonsky, frowning with
The petitioner, the widow of a staff captain Kalinin, came with a
request impossible and unreasonable; but Stepan Arkadyevitch, as
he generally did, made her sit down, heard her to the end
attentively without interrupting her, and gave her detailed
advice as to how and to whom to apply, and even wrote her, in his
large, sprawling, good and legible hand, a confident and fluent
little note to a personage who might be of use to her. Having
got rid of the staff captain's widow, Stepan Arkadyevitch took
his hat and stopped to recollect whether he had forgotten
anything. It appeared that he had forgotten nothing except what
he wanted to forget - his wife.
"Ah, yes!" He bowed his head, and his handsome face assumed a
harassed expression. "To go, or not to go!" he said to himself;
and an inner voice told him he must not go, that nothing could
come of it but falsity; that to amend, to set right their
relations was impossible, because it was impossible to make her
attractive again and able to inspire love, or to make him an old
man, not susceptible to love. Except deceit and lying nothing
could come of it now; and deceit and lying were opposed to his
"It must be some time, though: it can't go on like this," he
said, trying to give himself courage. He squared his chest, took
out a cigarette, took two whiffs at it, flung it into a
mother-of-pearl ashtray, and with rapid steps walked through the
drawing room, and opened the other door into his wife's bedroom.
Darya Alexandrovna, in a dressing jacket, and with her now
scanty, once luxuriant and beautiful hair fastened up with
hairpins on the nape of her neck, with a sunken, thin face and
large, startled eyes, which looked prominent from the thinness of
her face, was standing among a litter of all sorts of things
scattered all over the room, before an open bureau, from which
she was taking something. Hearing her husband's steps, she
stopped, looking towards the door, and trying assiduously to give
her features a severe and contemptuous expression. She felt she
was afraid of him, and afraid of the coming interview. She was
just attempting to do what she had attempted to do ten times
already in these last three days - to sort out the children's
things and her own, so as to take them to her mother's - and
again she could not bring herself to do this; but now again, as
each time before, she kept saying to herself, "that things cannot
go on like this, that she must take some step" to punish him, put
him to shame, avenge on him some little part at least of the
suffering he had caused her. She still continued to tell
herself that she should leave him, but she was conscious that
this was impossible; it was impossible because she could not get
out of the habit of regarding him as her husband and loving him.
Besides this, she realized that if even here in her own house she
could hardly manage to look after her five children properly,
they would be still worse off where she was going with them all.
As it was, even in the course of these three days, the youngest
was unwell from being given unwholesome soup, and the others had
almost gone without their dinner the day before. She was
conscious that it was impossible to go away; but, cheating
herself, she went on all the same sorting out her things and
pretending she was going.
Seeing her husband, she dropped her hands into the drawer of the
bureau as though looking for something, and only looked round at
him when he had come quite up to her. But her face, to which she
tried to give a severe and resolute expression, betrayed
bewilderment and suffering.
"Dolly!" he said in a subdued and timid voice. He bent his head
towards his shoulder and tried to look pitiful and humble, but
for all that he was radiant with freshness and health. In a