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Chapter 6

When Oblonsky asked Levin what had brought him to town, Levin
blushed, and was furious with himself for blushing, because he
could not answer, "I have come to make your sister-in-law an
offer," though that was precisely what he had come for.

The families of the Levins and the Shtcherbatskys were old, noble
Moscow families, and had always been on intimate and friendly
terms. This intimacy had grown still closer during Levin's
student days. He had both prepared for the university with the
young Prince Shtcherbatsky, the brother of Kitty and Dolly, and
had entered at the same time with him. In those days Levin used
often to be in the Shtcherbatskys' house, and he was in love with
the Shtcherbatsky household. Strange as it may appear, it was
with the household, the family, that Konstantin Levin was in
love, especially with the feminine half of the household. Levin
did not remember his own mother, and his only sister was older
than he was, so that it was in the Shtcherbatskys' house that he
saw for the first time that inner life of an old, noble,
cultivated, and honorable family of which he had been deprived by
the death of his father and mother. All the members of that
family, especially the feminine half, were pictured by him, as
it were, wrapped about with a mysterious poetical veil, and he
not only perceived no defects whatever in them, but under the
poetical veil that shrouded them he assumed the existence of the
loftiest sentiments and every possible perfection. Why it was
the three young ladies had one day to speak French, and the next
English; why it was that at certain hours they played by turns on
the piano, the sounds of which were audible in their brother's
room above, where the students used to work; why they were
visited by those professors of French literature, of music, of
drawing, of dancing; why at certain hours all the three young
ladies, with Mademoiselle Linon, drove in the coach to the
Tversky boulevard, dressed in their satin cloaks, Dolly in a long
one, Natalia in a half-long one, and Kitty in one so short that
her shapely legs in tightly-drawn red stockings were visible to
all beholders; why it was they had to walk about the Tversky
boulevard escorted by a footman with a gold cockade in his
hat--all this and much more that was done in their mysterious
world he did not understand, but he was sure that everything that
was done there was very good, and he was in love precisely with
the mystery of the proceedings.

In his student days he had all but been in love with the eldest,
Dolly, but she was soon married to Oblonsky. Then he began being
in love with the second. He felt, as it were, that he had to be
in love with one of the sisters, only he could not quite make out
which. But Natalia, too, had hardly made her appearance in the
world when she married the diplomat Lvov. Kitty was still a
child when Levin left the university. Young Shtcherbatsky went
into the navy, was drowned in the Baltic, and Levin's relations
with the Shtcherbatskys, in spite of his friendship with
Oblonsky, became less intimate. But when early in the winter of
this year Levin came to Moscow, after a year in the country, and
saw the Shtcherbatskys, he realized which of the three sisters he
was indeed destined to love.

One would have thought that nothing could be simpler than for
him, a man of good family, rather rich than poor, and thirty-two
years old, to make the young Princess Shtcherbatskaya an offer of
marriage; in all likelihood he would at once have been looked
upon as a good match. But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to
him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a
creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature
so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that
other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her.

After spending two months in Moscow in a state of enchantment,
seeing Kitty almost every day in society, into which he went so
as to meet her, he abruptly decided that it could not be, and
went back to the country.

Levin's conviction that it could not be was founded on the idea
that in the eyes of her family he was a disadvantageous and
worthless match for the charming Kitty, and that Kitty herself
could not love him. In her family's eyes he had no ordinary,
definite career and position in society, while his contemporaries
by this time, when he was thirty-two, were already, one a
colonel, and another a professor, another director of a bank and
railways, or president of a board like Oblonsky. But he (he knew
very well how he must appear to others) was a country gentleman,
occupied in breeding cattle, shooting game, and building barns;
in other words, a fellow of no ability, who had not turned out
well, and who was doing just what, according to the ideas of the
world, is done by people fit for nothing else.

The mysterious, enchanting Kitty herself could not love such an
ugly person as he conceived himself to be, and, above all, such
an ordinary, in no way striking person. Moreover, his attitude
to Kitty in the past--the attitude of a grown-up person to a
child, arising from his friendship with her brother--seemed to
him yet another obstacle to love. An ugly, good-natured man, as
he considered himself, might, he supposed, be liked as a friend;
but to be loved with such a love as that with which he loved
Kitty, one would need to be a handsome and, still more, a
distinguished man.

He had heard that women often did care for ugly and ordinary men,
but he did not believe it, for he judged by himself, and he could
not himself have loved any but beautiful, mysterious, and
exceptional women.

But after spending two months alone in the country, he was
convinced that this was not one of those passions of which he had
had experience in his early youth; that this feeling gave him not
an instant's rest; that he could not live without deciding the
question, would she or would she not be his wife, and that his
despair had arisen only from his own imaginings, that he had no
sort of proof that he would be rejected. And he had now come to
Moscow with a firm determination to make an offer, and get
married if he were accepted. Or...he could not conceive what
would become of him if he were rejected.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Fiction - Russian literature
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