Happy families are all alike; every
unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Everything was in confusion in the
Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered
that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with
a French girl, who had been a governess in their family,
and she had announced to her husband that she could
not go on living in the same house with him.
This position of affairs had now lasted three days,
and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all
the members of their family and household, were painfully
conscious of it. Every person in the house felt
that there was no sense in their living together,
and that the stray people brought together by chance
in any inn had more in common with one another than
they, the members of the family and household of the
Oblonskys. The wife did not leave her own room,
the husband had not been at home for three days.
The children ran wild all over the house; the English
governess quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote
to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation
for her; the man-cook had walked off the day before
just at dinner time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman
had given warning.
Three days after the quarrel, Prince
Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky Stiva, as
he was called in the fashionable world
woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o’clock
in the morning, not in his wife’s bedroom, but
on the leather-covered sofa in his study. He
turned over his stout, well-cared-for person on the
springy sofa, as though he would sink into a long
sleep again; he vigorously embraced the pillow on the
other side and buried his face in it; but all at once
he jumped up, sat up on the sofa, and opened his eyes.
“Yes, yes, how was it now?”
he thought, going over his dream. “Now,
how was it? To be sure! Alabin was giving
a dinner at Darmstadt; no, not Darmstadt, but something
American. Yes, but then, Darmstadt was in America.
Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner on glass tables,
and the tables sang, Il mio tesoro not
Il mio tesoro though, but something better,
and there were some sort of little decanters on the
table, and they were women, too,” he remembered.
Stepan Arkadyevitch’s eyes twinkled
gaily, and he pondered with a smile. “Yes,
it was nice, very nice. There was a great deal
more that was delightful, only there’s no putting
it into words, or even expressing it in one’s
thoughts awake.” And noticing a gleam of
light peeping in beside one of the serge curtains,
he cheerfully dropped his feet over the edge of the
sofa, and felt about with them for his slippers, a
present on his last birthday, worked for him by his
wife on gold-colored morocco. And, as he had
done every day for the last nine years, he stretched
out his hand, without getting up, towards the place
where his dressing-gown always hung in his bedroom.
And thereupon he suddenly remembered that he was
not sleeping in his wife’s room, but in his
study, and why: the smile vanished from his face,
he knitted his brows.
“Ah, ah, ah! Oo!…”
he muttered, recalling everything that had happened.
And again every detail of his quarrel with his wife
was present to his imagination, all the hopelessness
of his position, and worst of all, his own fault.
“Yes, she won’t forgive
me, and she can’t forgive me. And the
most awful thing about it is that it’s all my
fault all my fault, though I’m not
to blame. That’s the point of the whole
situation,” he reflected. “Oh, oh,
oh!” he kept repeating in despair, as he remembered
the acutely painful sensations caused him by this
Most unpleasant of all was the first
minute when, on coming, happy and good-humored, from
the theater, with a huge pear in his hand for his
wife, he had not found his wife in the drawing-room,
to his surprise had not found her in the study either,
and saw her at last in her bedroom with the unlucky
letter that revealed everything in her hand.
She, his Dolly, forever fussing and
worrying over household details, and limited in her
ideas, as he considered, was sitting perfectly still
with the letter in her hand, looking at him with an
expression of horror, despair, and indignation.
“What’s this? this?”
she asked, pointing to the letter.
And at this recollection, Stepan Arkadyevitch,
as is so often the case, was not so much annoyed at
the fact itself as at the way in which he had met
his wife’s words.
There happened to him at that instant
what does happen to people when they are unexpectedly
caught in something very disgraceful. He did
not succeed in adapting his face to the position in
which he was placed towards his wife by the discovery
of his fault. Instead of being hurt, denying,
defending himself, begging forgiveness, instead of
remaining indifferent even anything would
have been better than what he did do his
face utterly involuntarily (reflex spinal action,
reflected Stepan Arkadyevitch, who was fond of physiology) utterly
involuntarily assumed its habitual, good-humored,
and therefore idiotic smile.
This idiotic smile he could not forgive
himself. Catching sight of that smile, Dolly
shuddered as though at physical pain, broke out with
her characteristic heat into a flood of cruel words,
and rushed out of the room. Since then she had
refused to see her husband.
“It’s that idiotic smile
that’s to blame for it all,” thought Stepan
“But what’s to be done?
What’s to be done?” he said to himself
in despair, and found no answer.