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Chapter 21

From the moment when Alexey Alexandrovitch understood from his
interviews with Betsy and with Stepan Arkadyevitch that all that
was expected of him was to leave his wife in peace, without
burdening her with his presence, and that his wife herself
desired this, he felt so distraught that he could come to no
decision of himself; he did not know himself what he wanted now,
and putting himself in the hands of those who were so pleased to
interest themselves in his affairs, he met everything with
unqualified assent. It was only when Anna had left his house,
and the English governess sent to ask him whether she should dine
with him or separately, that for the first time he clearly
comprehended his position, and was appalled by it. Most
difficult of all in this position was the fact that he could not
in any way connect and reconcile his past with what was now. It
was not the past when he had lived happily with his wife that
troubled him. The transition from that past to a knowledge of
his wife's unfaithfulness he had lived through miserably already;
that state was painful, but he could understand it. If his wife
had then, on declaring to him her unfaithfulness, left him, he
would have been wounded, unhappy, but he would not have been in
the hopeless position--incomprehensible to himself--in which he
felt himself now. He could not now reconcile his immediate past,
his tenderness, his love for his sick wife, and for the other
man's child with what was now the case, that is with the fact
that, as it were, in return for all this he now found himself
alone, put to shame, a laughing-stock, needed by no one, and
despised by everyone.

For the first two days after his wife's departure Alexey
Alexandrovitch received applicants for assistance and his chief
secretary, drove to the committee, and went down to dinner in the
dining room as usual. Without giving himself a reason for what
he was doing, he strained every nerve of his being for those two
days, simply to preserve an appearance of composure, and even of
indifference. Answering inquiries about the disposition of Anna
Arkadyevna's rooms and belongings, he had exercised immense
self-control to appear like a man in whose eyes what had occurred
was not unforeseen nor out of the ordinary course of events, and
he attained his aim: no one could have detected in him signs of
despair. But on the second day after her departure, when Korney
gave him a bill from a fashionable draper's shop, which Anna had
forgotten to pay, and announced that the clerk from the shop was
waiting, Alexey Alexandrovitch told him to show the clerk up.

"Excuse me, your excellency, for venturing to trouble you. But
if you direct us to apply to her excellency, would you graciously
oblige us with her address?"

Alexey Alexandrovitch pondered, as it seemed to the clerk, and
all at once, turning round, he sat down at the table. Letting
his head sink into his hands, he sat for a long while in that
position, several times attempted to speak and stopped short.
Korney, perceiving his master's emotion, asked the clerk to call
another time. Left alone, Alexey Alexandrovitch recognized that
he had not the strength to keep up the line of firmness and
composure any longer. He gave orders for the carriage that was
awaiting him to be taken back, and for no one to be admitted, and
he did not go down to dinner.

He felt that he could not endure the weight of universal contempt
and exasperation, which he had distinctly seen in the face of the
clerk and of Korney, and of everyone, without exception, whom he
had met during those two days. He felt that he could not turn
aside from himself the hatred of men, because that hatred did not
come from his being bad (in that case he could have tried to be
better), but from his being shamefully and repulsively unhappy.
He knew that for this, for the very fact that his heart was torn
with grief, they would be merciless to him. He felt that men
would crush him as dogs strangle a torn dog yelping with pain.
He knew that his sole means of security against people was to
hide his wounds from them, and instinctively he tried to do this
for two days, but now he felt incapable of keeping up the unequal

His despair was even intensified by the consciousness that he was
utterly alone in his sorrow. In all Petersburg there was not a
human being to whom he could express what he was feeling, who
would feel for him, not as a high official, not as a member of
society, but simply as a suffering man; indeed he had not such a
one in the whole world.

Alexey Alexandrovitch grew up an orphan. There were two
brothers. They did not remember their father, and their mother
died when Alexey Alexandrovitch was ten years old. The property
was a small one. Their uncle, Karenin, a government official of
high standing, at one time a favorite of the late Tsar, had
brought them up.

On completing his high school and university courses with medals,
Alexey Alexandrovitch had, with his uncle's aid, immediately
started in a prominent position in the service, and from that
time forward he had devoted himself exclusively to political
ambition. In the high school and the university, and afterwards
in the service, Alexey Alexandrovitch had never formed a close
friendship with anyone. His brother had been the person nearest
to his heart, but he had a post in the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs, and was always abroad, where he had died shortly after
Alexey Alexandrovitch's marriage.

While he was governor of a province, Anna's aunt, a wealthy
provincial lady, had thrown him--middle-aged as he was, though
young for a governor--with her niece, and had succeeded in
putting him in such a position that he had either to declare
himself or to leave the town. Alexey Alexandrovitch was not long
in hesitation. There were at the time as many reasons for the
step as against it, and there was no overbalancing consideration
to outweigh his invariable rule of abstaining when in doubt. But
Anna's aunt had through a common acquaintance insinuated that he
had already compromised the girl, and that he was in honor bound
to make her an offer. He made the offer, and concentrated on his
betrothed and his wife all the feeling of which he was capable.

The attachment he felt to Anna precluded in his heart every need
of intimate relations with others. And now among all his
acquaintances he had not one friend. He had plenty of so-called
connections, but no friendships. Alexey Alexandrovitch had
plenty of people whom he could invite to dinner, to whose
sympathy he could appeal in any public affair he was concerned
about, whose interest he could reckon upon for anyone he wished
to help, with whom he could candidly discuss other people's
business and affairs of state. But his relations with these
people were confined to one clearly defined channel, and had a
certain routine from which it was impossible to depart. There
was one man, a comrade of his at the university, with whom he had
made friends later, and with whom he could have spoken of a
personal sorrow; but this friend had a post in the Department of
Education in a remote part of Russia. Of the people in
Petersburg the most intimate and most possible were his chief
secretary and his doctor.

Mihail Vassilievitch Sludin, the chief secretary, was a
straightforward, intelligent, good-hearted, and conscientious
man, and Alexey Alexandrovitch was aware of his personal
goodwill. But their five years of official work together seemed
to have put a barrier between them that cut off warmer relations.

After signing the papers brought him, Alexey Alexandrovitch had
sat for a long while in silence, glancing at Mihail
Vassilievitch, and several times he attempted to speak, but could
not. He had already prepared the phrase: "You have heard of my
trouble?" But he ended by saying, as usual: "So you'll get this
ready for me?" and with that dismissed him.

The other person was the doctor, who had also a kindly feeling
for him; but there had long existed a taciturn understanding
between them that both were weighed down by work, and always in a

Of his women friends, foremost amongst them Countess Lidia
Ivanovna, Alexey Alexandrovitch never thought. All women, simply
as women, were terrible and distasteful to him.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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