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Chapter 8


Alexey Alexandrovitch had seen nothing striking or improper in
the fact that his wife was sitting with Vronsky at a table apart,
in eager conversation with him about something. But he noticed
that to the rest of the party this appeared something striking
and improper, and for that reason it seemed to him too to be
improper. He made up his mind that he must speak of it to his
wife.

On reaching home Alexey Alexandrovitch went to his study, as he
usually did, seated himself in his low chair, opened a book on
the Papacy at the place where he had laid the paper-knife in it,
and read till one o'clock, just as he usually did. But from time
to time he rubbed his high forehead and shook his head, as
though to drive away something. At his usual time he got up and
made his toilet for the night. Anna Arkadyevna had not yet come
in. With a book under his arm he went upstairs. But this
evening, instead of his usual thought and meditations upon
official details, his thoughts were absorbed by his wife and
something disagreeable connected with her. Contrary to his usual
habit, he did not get into bed, but fell to walking up and down
the rooms with his hands clasped behind his back. He could not
go to bed, feeling that it was absolutely needful for him first
to think thoroughly over the position that had just arisen.

When Alexey Alexandrovitch had made up his mind that he must talk
to his wife about it, it had seemed a very easy and simple
matter. But now, when he began to think over the question that
had just presented itself, it seemed to him very complicated and
difficult.

Alexey Alexandrovitch was not jealous. Jealousy according to
his notions was an insult to one's wife, and one ought to have
confidence in one's wife. Why one ought to have confidence--
that is to say, complete conviction that his young wife would
always love him--he did not ask himself. But he had no
experience of lack of confidence, because he had confidence in
her, and told himself that he ought to have it. Now, though his
conviction that jealousy was a shameful feeling and that one
ought to feel confidence, had not broken down, he felt that he
was standing face to face with something illogical and
irrational, and did not know what was to be done. Alexey
Alexandrovitch was standing face to face with life, with the
possibility of his wife's loving someone other than himself, and
this seemed to him very irrational and incomprehensible because
it was life itself. All his life Alexey Alexandrovitch had lived
and worked in official spheres, having to do with the reflection
of life. And every time he had stumbled against life itself he
had shrunk away from it. Now he experienced a feeling akin to
that of a man who, wile calmly crossing a precipice by a bridge,
should suddenly discover that the bridge is broken, and that
there is a chasm below. That chasm was life itself, the bridge
that artificial life in which Alexey Alexandrovitch had lived.
For the first time the question presented itself to him of the
possibility of his wife's loving someone else, and he was
horrified at it.

He did not undress, but walked up and down with his regular tread
over the resounding parquet of the dining room, where one lamp
was burning, over the carpet of the dark drawing room, in which
the light was reflected on the big new portrait of himself
handing over the sofa, and across her boudoir, where two candles
burned, lighting up the portraits of her parents and woman
friends, and the pretty knick-knacks of her writing table, that
he knew so well. He walked across her boudoir to the bedroom
door, and turned back again. At each turn in his walk,
especially at the parquet of the lighted dining room, he halted
and said to himself, "Yes, this I must decide and put a stop to;
I must express my view of it and my decision." And he turned
back again. "But express what--what decision?" he said to
himself in the drawing room, and he found no reply. "But after
all," he asked himself before turning into the boudoir, "what has
occurred? Nothing. She was talking a long while with him. But
what of that? Surely women in society can talk to whom they
please. And then, jealousy means lowering both myself and her,"
he told himself as he went into her boudoir; but this dictum,
which had always had such weight with him before, had now no
weight and no meaning at all. And from the bedroom door he
turned back again; but as he entered the dark drawing room some
inner voice told him that it was not so, and that if others
noticed it that showed that there was something. And he said to
himself again in the dining room, "Yes, I must decide and put a
stop to it, and express my view of it..." And again at the turn
in the drawing room he asked himself, "Decide how?" And again
he asked himself, "What had occurred?" and answered, "Nothing,"
and recollected that jealousy was a feeling insulting to his
wife; but again in the drawing room he was convinced that
something had happened. His thoughts, like his body, went round
a complete circle, without coming upon anything new. He noticed
this, rubbed his forehead, and sat down in her boudoir.

There, looking at her table, with the malachite blotting case
lying at the top and an unfinished letter, his thoughts suddenly
changed. He began to think of her, of what she was thinking and
feeling. For the first time he pictured vividly to himself her
personal life, her ideas, her desires, and the idea that she
could and should have a separate life of her own seemed to him so
alarming that he made haste to dispel it. It was the chasm which
he was afraid to peep into. To put himself in thought and
feeling in another person's place was a spiritual exercise not
natural to Alexey Alexandrovitch. He looked on this spiritual
exercise as a harmful and dangerous abuse of the fancy.

"And the worst of it all," thought he, "is that just now, at the
very moment when my great work is approaching completion" (he was
thinking of the project he was bringing forward at the time),
"when I stand in need of all my mental peace and all my energies,
just now this stupid worry should fall foul of me. But what's to
be done? I'm not one of those men who submit to uneasiness and
worry without having the force of character to face them."

"I must think it over, come to a decision, and put it out of my
mind," he said aloud.

"The question of her feelings, of what has passed and may be
passing in her soul, that's not my affair; that's the affair of
her conscience, and falls under the head of religion," he said to
himself, feeling consolation in the sense that he had found to
which division of regulating principles this new circumstance
could be properly referred.

"And so," Alexey Alexandrovitch said to himself, "questions as to
her feelings, and so on, are questions for her conscience, with
which I can have nothing to do. My duty is clearly defined. As
the head of the family, I am a person bound in duty to guide her,
and consequently, in part the person responsible; I am bound to
point out the danger I perceive, to warn her, even to use my
authority. I ought to speak plainly to her." And everything that
he would say tonight to his wife took clear shape in Alexey
Alexandrovitch's head. Thinking over what he would say, he
somewhat regretted that he should have to use his time and mental
powers for domestic consumption, with so little to show for it,
but, in spite of that, the form and contents of the speech before
him shaped itself as clearly and distinctly in his head as a
ministerial report.

"I must say and express fully the following points: first,
exposition of the value to be attached to public opinion and to
decorum; secondly, exposition of religious significance of
marriage; thirdly, if need be, reference to the calamity possibly
ensuing to our son; fourthly, reference to the unhappiness likely
to result to herself." And, interlacing his fingers, Alexey
Alexandrovitch stretched them, and the joints of the fingers
cracked. This trick, a bad habit, the cracking of his fingers,
always soothed him, and gave precision to his thoughts, so
needful to him at this juncture.

There was the sound of a carriage driving up to the front door.
Alexey Alexandrovitch halted in the middle of the room.

A woman's step was heard mounting the stairs. Alexey
Alexandrovitch, ready for his speech, stood compressing his
crossed fingers, waiting to see if the crack would not come
again. One joint cracked.

Already, from the sound of light steps on the stairs, he was
aware that she was close, and though he was satisfied with his
speech, he felt frightened of the explanation confronting him...



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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