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Chapter 26


Sviazhsky was the marshal of his district. He was five years
older than Levin, and had long been married. His sister-in-law,
a young girl Levin liked very much, lived in his house; and Levin
knew that Sviazhsky and his wife would have greatly liked to
marry the girl to him. He knew this with certainty, as so-called
eligible young men always know it, though he could never have
brought himself to speak of it to anyone; and he knew too that,
although he wanted to get married, and although by every token
this very attractive girl would make an excellent wife, he could
no more have married her, even if he had not been in love with
Kitty Shtcherbatskaya, than he could have flown up to the sky.
And this knowledge poisoned the pleasure he had hoped to find in
the visit to Sviazhsky.

On getting Sviazhsky's letter with the invitation for shooting,
Levin had immediately thought of this; but in spite of it he had
made up his mind that Sviazhsky's having such views for him was
simply his own groundless supposition, and so he would go, all
the same. Besides, at the bottom of his heart he had a desire to
try himself, put himself to the test in regard to this girl. The
Sviazhskys' home-life was exceedingly pleasant, and Sviazhsky
himself, the best type of man taking part in local affairs that
Levin knew, was very interesting to him.

Sviazhsky was one of those people, always a source of wonder to
Levin, whose convictions, very logical though never original, go
one way by themselves, while their life, exceedingly definite and
firm in its direction, goes its way quite apart and almost always
in direct contradiction to their convictions. Sviazhsky was an
extremely advanced man. He despised the nobility, and believed
the mass of the nobility to be secretly in favor of serfdom, and
only concealing their views from cowardice. He regarded Russia
as a ruined country, rather after the style of Turkey, and the
government of Russia as so bad that he never permitted himself to
criticize its doings seriously, and yet he was a functionary of
that government and a model marshal of nobility, and when he
drove about he always wore the cockade of office and the cap with
the red band. He considered human life only tolerable abroad,
and went abroad to stay at every opportunity, and at the same
time he carried on a complex and improved system of agriculture
in Russia, and with extreme interest followed everything and knew
everything that was being done in Russia. He considered the
Russian peasant as occupying a stage of development intermediate
between the ape and the man, and at the same time in the local
assemblies no one was readier to shake hands with the peasants
and listen to their opinion. He believed neither in God nor the
devil, but was much concerned about the question of the
improvement of the clergy and the maintenance of their revenues,
and took special trouble to keep up the church in his village.

On the woman question he was on the side of the extreme advocates
of complete liberty for women, and especially their right to
labor. But he lived with his wife on such terms that their
affectionate childless home life was the admiration of everyone,
and arranged his wife's life so that she did nothing and could do
nothing but share her husband's efforts that her time should pass
as happily and as agreeably as possible.

If it had not been a characteristic of Levin's to put the most
favorable interpretation on people, Sviazhsky's character would
have presented no doubt or difficulty to him: he would have said
to himself, "a fool or a knave," and everything would have seemed
clear. But he could not say "a fool," because Sviazhsky was
unmistakably clever, and moreover, a highly cultivated man, who
was exceptionally modest over his culture. There was not a
subject he knew nothing of. But he did not display his knowledge
except when he was compelled to do so. Still less could Levin
say that he was a knave, as Sviazhsky was unmistakably an honest,
good-hearted, sensible man, who worked good-humoredly, keenly,
and perseveringly at his work; he was held in high honor by
everyone about him, and certainly he had never consciously done,
and was indeed incapable of doing, anything base.

Levin tried to understand him, and could not understand him, and
looked at him and his life as at a living enigma.

Levin and he were very friendly, and so Levin used to venture to
sound Sviazhsky, to try to get at the very foundation of his view
of life; but it was always in vain. Every time Levin tried to
penetrate beyond the outer chambers of Sviazhsky's mind, which
were hospitably open to all, he noticed that Sviazhsky was
slightly disconcerted; faint signs of alarm were visible in his
eyes, as though he were afraid Levin would understand him, and he
would give him a kindly, good-humored repulse.

Just now, since his disenchantment with farming, Levin was
particularly glad to stay with Sviazhsky. Apart from the fact
that the sight of this happy and affectionate couple, so pleased
with themselves and everyone else, and their well-ordered home
had always a cheering effect on Levin, he felt a longing, now
that he was so dissatisfied with his own life, to get at that
secret in Sviazhsky that gave him such clearness, definiteness,
and good courage in life. Moreover, Levin knew that at
Sviazhsky's he should meet the landowners of the neighborhood,
and it was particularly interesting for him just now to hear and
take part in those rural conversations concerning crops,
laborers' wages, and so on, which, he was aware, are
conventionally regarded as something very low, but which seemed
to him just now to constitute the one subject of importance. "It
was not, perhaps, of importance in the days of serfdom, and it
may not be of importance in England. In both cases the
conditions of agriculture are firmly established; but among us
now, when everything has been turned upside down and is only just
taking shape, the question what form these conditions will take
is the one question of importance in Russia," thought Levin.

The shooting turned out to be worse than Levin had expected. The
marsh was dry and there were no grouse at all. He walked about
the whole day and only brought back three birds, but to make up
for that--he brought back, as he always did from shooting, an
excellent appetite, excellent spirits, and that keen,
intellectual mood which with him always accompanied violent
physical exertion. And while out shooting, when he seemed to be
thinking of nothing at all, suddenly the old man and his family
kept coming back to his mind, and the impression of them seemed
to claim not merely his attention, but the solution of some
question connected with them.

In the evening at tea, two landowners who had come about some
business connected with a wardship were of the party, and the
interesting conversation Levin had been looking forward to sprang
up.

Levin was sitting beside his hostess at the tea table, and was
obliged to keep up a conversation with her and her sister, who
was sitting opposite him. Madame Sviazhskaya was a round-faced,
fair-haired, rather short woman, all smiles and dimples. Levin
tried through her to get a solution of the weighty enigma her
husband presented to his mind; but he had not complete freedom of
ideas, because he was in an agony of embarrassment. This agony
of embarrassment was due to the fact that the sister-in-law was
sitting opposite to him, in a dress, specially put on, as he
fancied, for his benefit, cut particularly open, in the shape of
a trapeze, on her white bosom. This quadrangular opening, in
spite of the bosom's being very white, or just because it was
very white, deprived Levin of the full use of his faculties. He
imagined, probably mistakenly, that this low-necked bodice had
been made on his account, and felt that he had no right to look
at it, and tried not to look at it; but he felt that he was to
blame for the very fact of the low-necked bodice having been
made. It seemed to Levin that he had deceived someone, that he
ought to explain something, but that to explain it was
impossible, and for that reason he was continually blushing, was
ill at ease and awkward. His awkwardness infected the pretty
sister-in-law too. But their hostess appeared not to observe
this, and kept purposely drawing her into the conversation.

"You say," she said, pursuing the subject that had been started,
"that my husband cannot be interested in what's Russian. It's
quite the contrary; he is always in cheerful spirits abroad, but
not as he is here. Here, he feels in his proper place. He has
so much to do, and he has the faculty of interesting himself in
everything. Oh, you've not been to see our school, have you?"

"I've seen it.... The little house covered with ivy, isn't it?"

"Yes; that's Nastia's work," she said, indicating her sister.

"You teach in it yourself?" asked Levin, trying to look above the
open neck, but feeling that wherever he looked in that direction
he should see it.

"Yes; I used to teach in it myself, and do teach still, but we
have a first-rate schoolmistress now. And we've started
gymnastic exercises."

"No, thank you, I won't have any more tea," said Levin, and
conscious of doing a rude thing, but incapable of continuing the
conversation, he got up, blushing. "I hear a very interesting
conversation," he added, and walked to the other end of the
table, where Sviazhsky was sitting with the two gentlemen of the
neighborhood. Sviazhsky was sitting sideways, with one elbow on
the table, and a cup in one hand, while with the other hand he
gathered up his beard, held it to his nose and let it drop again,
as though he were smelling it. His brilliant black eyes were
looking straight at the excited country gentleman with gray
whiskers, and apparently he derived amusement from his remarks.
The gentleman was complaining of the peasants. It was evident to
Levin that Sviazhsky knew an answer to this gentleman's
complaints, which would at once demolish his whole contention,
but that in his position he could not give utterance to this
answer, and listened, not without pleasure, to the landowner's
comic speeches.

The gentleman with the gray whiskers was obviously an inveterate
adherent of serfdom and a devoted agriculturist, who had lived
all his life in the country. Levin saw proofs of this in his
dress, in the old-fashioned threadbare coat, obviously not his
everyday attire, in his shrewd deep-set eyes, in his idiomatic,
fluent Russian, in the imperious tone that had become habitual
from long use, and in the resolute gestures of his large, red,
sunburnt hands, with an old betrothal ring on the little finger.



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Category:
Fiction - Russian literature
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