The young Princess Kitty Shtcherbatskaya was eighteen. It was
the first winter that she had been out in the world. Her success
in society had been greater than that of either of her elder
sisters, and greater even than her mother had anticipated. To
say nothing of the young men who danced at the Moscow balls being
almost all in love with Kitty, two serious suitors had already
this first winter made their appearance: Levin, and immediately
after his departure, Count Vronsky.
Levin's appearance at the beginning of the winter, his frequent
visits, and evident love for Kitty, had led to the first serious
conversations between Kitty's parents as to her future, and to
disputes between them. The prince was on Levin's side; he said
he wished for nothing better for Kitty. The princess for her
part, going round the question in the manner peculiar to women,
maintained that Kitty was too young, that Levin had done nothing
to prove that he had serious intentions, that Kitty felt no great
attraction to him, and other side issues; but she did not state
the principal point, which was that she looked for a better match
for her daughter, and that Levin was not to her liking, and she
did not understand him. When Levin had abruptly departed, the
princess was delighted, and said to her husband triumphantly:
"You see I was right." When Vronsky appeared on the scene, she
was still more delighted, confirmed in her opinion that Kitty was
to make not simply a good, but a brilliant match.
In the mother's eyes there could be no comparison between Vronsky
and Levin. She disliked in Levin his strange and uncompromising
opinions and his shyness in society, founded, as she supposed, on
his pride and his queer sort of life, as she considered it,
absorbed in cattle and peasants. She did not very much like it
that he, who was in love with her daughter, had kept coming to
the house for six weeks, as though he were waiting for something,
inspecting, as though he were afraid he might be doing them too
great an honor by making an offer, and did not realize that a
man, who continually visits at a house where there is a young
unmarried girl, is bound to make his intentions clear. And
suddenly, without doing so, he disappeared. "It's as well he's
not attractive enough for Kitty to have fallen in love with him,"
thought the mother.
Vronsky satisfied all the mother's desires. Very wealthy,
clever, of aristocratic family, on the highroad to a brilliant
career in the army and at court, and a fascinating man. Nothing
better could be wished for.
Vronsky openly flirted with Kitty at balls, danced with her, and
came continually to the house, consequently there could be no
doubt of the seriousness of his intentions. But, in spite of
that, the mother had spent the whole of that winter in a state of
terrible anxiety and agitation.
Princess Shtcherbatskaya had herself been married thirty years
ago, her aunt arranging the match. Her husband, about whom
everything was well known before hand, had come, looked at his
future bride, and been looked at. The match-making aunt had
ascertained and communicated their mutual impression. That
impression had been favorable. Afterwards, on a day fixed
beforehand, the expected offer was made to her parents, and
accepted. All had passed very simply and easily. So it seemed,
at least, to the princess. But over her own daughters she had
felt how far from simple and easy is the business, apparently so
commonplace, of marrying off one's daughters. The panics that
had been lived through, the thoughts that had been brooded over,
the money that had been wasted, and the disputes with her husband
over marrying the two elder girls, Darya and Natalia! Now, since
the youngest had come out, she was going through the same
terrors, the same doubts, and still more violent quarrels with
her husband than she had over the elder girls. The old prince,
like all fathers indeed, was exceedingly punctilious on the score
of the honor and reputation of his daughters. He was
irrationally jealous over his daughters, especially over Kitty,
who was his favorite. At every turn he had scenes with the
princess for compromising her daughter. The princess had grown
accustomed to this already with her other daughters, but now she
felt that there was more ground for the prince's touchiness. She
saw that of late years much was changed in the manners of
society, that a mother's duties had become still more difficult.
She saw that girls of Kitty's age formed some sort of clubs, went
to some sort of lectures, mixed freely in men's society; drove
about the streets alone, many of them did not curtsey, and, what
was the most important thing, all the girls were firmly convinced
that to choose their husbands was their own affair, and not their
parents'. "Marriages aren't made nowadays as they used to be,"
was thought and said by all these young girls, and even by their
elders. But how marriages were made now, the princess could not
learn from any one. The French fashion--of the parents
arranging their children's future--was not accepted; it was
condemned. The English fashion of the complete independence of
girls was also not accepted, and not possible in Russian society.
The Russian fashion of match-making by the offices if
intermediate persons was for some reason considered unseemly; it
was ridiculed by every one, and by the princess herself. But how
girls were to be married, and how parents were to marry them, no
one knew. Everyone with whom the princess had chanced to discuss
the matter said the same thing: "Mercy on us, it's high time in
our day to cast off all that old-fashioned business. It's the
young people have to marry; and not their parents; and so we
ought to leave the young people to arrange it as they choose." It
was very easy for anyone to say that who had no daughters, but
the princess realized that in the process of getting to know each
other, her daughter might fall in love, and fall in love with
someone who did not care to marry her or who was quite unfit to
be her husband. And, however much it was instilled into the
princess that in our times young people ought to arrange their
lives for themselves, she was unable to believe it, just as she
would have been unable to believe that, at any time whatever, the
most suitable playthings for children five years old ought to be
loaded pistols. And so the princess was more uneasy over Kitty
than she had been over her elder sisters.
Now she was afraid that Vronsky might confine himself to simply
flirting with her daughter. She saw that her daughter was in
love with him, but tried to comfort herself with the thought that
he was an honorable man, and would not do this. But at the same
time she knew how easy it is, with the freedom of manners of
today, to turn a girl's head, and how lightly men generally
regard such a crime. The week before, Kitty had told her mother
of a conversation she had with Vronsky during a mazurka. This
conversation had partly reassured the princess; but perfectly at
ease she could not be. Vronsky had told Kitty that both he and
his brother were so used to obeying their mother that they never
made up their minds to any important undertaking without
consulting her. "And just now, I am impatiently awaiting my
mother's arrival from Petersburg, as peculiarly fortunate," he
Kitty had repeated this without attaching any significance to the
words. But her mother saw them in a different light. She knew
that the old lady was expected from day to day, that she would be
pleased at her son's choice, and she felt it strange that he
should not make his offer through fear of vexing his mother.
However, she was so anxious for the marriage itself, and still
more for relief from her fears, that she believed it was so.
Bitter as it was for the princess to see the unhappiness of her
eldest daughter, Dolly, on the point of leaving her husband, her
anxiety over the decision of her youngest daughter's fate
engrossed all her feelings. Today, with Levin's reappearance, a
fresh source of anxiety arose. She was afraid that her daughter,
who had at one time, as she fancied, a feeling for Levin, might,
from extreme sense of honor, refuse Vronsky, and that Levin's
arrival might generally complicate and delay the affair so near
"Why, has be been here long?" the princess asked about Levin, as
they returned home.
"He came today, mamma."
"There's one thing I want to say..." began the princess, and from
her serious and alert face, Kitty guessed what it would be.
"Mamma," she said, flushing hotly and turning quickly to her,
"please, please don't say anything about that. I know, I know
all about it."
She wished for what her mother wished for, but the motives of her
mother's wishes wounded her.
"I only want to say that to raise hopes..."
"Mamma, darling, for goodness' sake, don't talk about it. It's
so horrible to talk about it."
"I won't," said her mother, seeing the tears in her daughter's
eyes; "but one thing, my love; you promised me you would have no
secrets from me. You won't?"
"Never, mamma, none," answered Kitty, flushing a little, and
looking her mother straight in the face, "but there's no use in
my telling you anything, and I...I...if I wanted to, I don't know
what to say or how...I don't know..."
"No, she could not tell an untruth with those eyes," thought the
mother, smiling at her agitation and happiness. The princess
smiled that what was taking place just now in her soul seemed to
the poor child so immense and so important.