Leo Tolstoy Archive

Family Happiness
Chapter 7

Written: 1859
Source: Original text uploaded to Gutenberg.org
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021

Leo Tolstoy

Our removal to St. Petersburg, a week in Moscow, visits to his relatives and to my own, settling ourselves in our new apartment, the journey, the new city, the new faces, all seemed to me like a dream. All was so novel, so changeful, so gay, all was so brightened for me by his presence, by his love, that the placid country life appeared to me something very far off, a sort of unreal thing. To my great surprise, instead of the arrogant pride, the coldness, I had expected to encounter, I was welcomed by all (not only by our relatives, but by strangers,) with such cordiality that it seemed as if they had no thought of anything but me, and as if one and all had been longing for my arrival to complete their own happiness. Contrary to my anticipations, in the circles of society, even in those which seemed to me most select, I discovered many friends and connections of my husband whom he had never mentioned to me, and it often struck me as strange and disagreeable to hear him utter severe strictures upon some of these persons who seemed to me so good. I could not understand why he treated them so coldly, or why he tried to avoid some acquaintances whose intimacy I thought rather flattering. I thought that the more one knew of nice people, the better it was, and all these were nice people.

“Let us see how we shall arrange things,” he had said to me before we left the country: “here, we are little Croesuses, and there we shall be far from rich; so we cannot remain in the city longer than Easter, and we cannot go much into society, or we shall find ourselves embarrassed; and I would not like you....”

“Why go into society?” I had answered; “we will only visit our relatives, go to the theater and opera, and to hear any good music, and even before Easter we can be at home again in the country.”

But scarcely were we in St. Petersburg than all these fine plans were forgotten. I had been suddenly thrown into a world so new, so happy, so many delights had surrounded me, so many objects of heretofore unknown interest were offered to me, that all in a moment, as it were, and without being conscious of it, I disavowed all my past, I upset all the plans formerly arranged. Until now there had been nothing but play; as to life itself, it had not yet begun; but here it was now, the real, the true,—and what will it be in the future? thought I. The anxieties, the fits of depression, which came upon me in the country, disappeared suddenly as if by enchantment. My love for my husband became calmer, and, on the other hand, it never occurred to me, in this new life, to think that he was loving me less than formerly. Indeed, it was not possible for me to doubt this love; each thought was instantly understood by him, each sentiment shared, each wish gratified. His unalterable serenity had vanished, here, or perhaps it had only ceased to cause me any irritation. I even felt that besides his old love for me he seemed now to find some new charm in me. Often, after a visit, after I had made some new acquaintance, or after an evening at home, when, with secret misgiving lest I should commit some blunder, I had been performing the duties of hostess, he would say to me:

“Well, my little girl! bravo! well done, indeed!”

This would fill me with delight.

A short time after our arrival he wrote to his mother, and, as he handed me the letter to let me add a few words, he said I must not read what he had written; I laughingly persisted in seeing it, and read:

“You would not recognize Katia, I hardly recognize her myself. Where could she have acquired this lovely and graceful ease of manner, this affability, this fascination, this sweet, unconscious tact? And still always so simple, so gentle, so full of kindness. Every one is delighted with her; and as for me, I am never tired of admiring her, and, if that were possible, would be more in love with her than ever.”

“This, then, is what I am?” I thought. And it gave me so much pleasure and gratification that I felt as if I loved him more than ever. My success with all our acquaintances was a thing absolutely unexpected by me. On all sides I was told: here, that I had particularly pleased my uncle, there, that an aunt was raving over me; by this one, that there was not a woman in all St. Petersburg like me; by that one, that if I chose there would not be a woman in society so sought after as myself. There was one cousin of my husband especially, Princess D., a lady of high rank and fashion, no longer young, who announced that she had fallen in love with me at first sight, and who did more than any one else to turn my head with flattering attentions. When, for the first time, this cousin proposed to me to go to a ball, and broached the subject to my husband, he turned towards me with an almost imperceptible smile, and mischievous glance, and asked if I wanted to go. I nodded, and felt my face flush.

“One would say, a little culprit, confessing a wish,” he said, laughing good-humoredly.

“You told me we must not go into company, and that you would not like it,” I responded, smiling also, and giving him an entreating glance.

“If you wish it very much, we will go.”

“Indeed, I would rather....”

“Do you wish it, wish it very much?” he repeated.

I made no answer.

“The greatest harm is not in the world, society, itself,” he went on; “it is unsatisfied worldly aspirations that are so evil, so unhealthful. Certainly we must go,—and we will go,” he concluded, unhesitatingly.

“To tell you the truth,” I replied, “there is nothing in the world I long for so much as to go to this ball!”

We went to it, and my delight was far beyond all my anticipations. At this ball, even more than before, it seemed to me that I was the center around which everything was revolving; that it was for me alone that this splendid room was in a blaze of light, that the music was sounding, that the gay throng was gathering in ecstasy before me. All, from the hair-dresser and my maid to the dancers, and even the stately old gentlemen who slowly walked about through the rooms, watching the younger people, seemed to me to be either implying or telling me in downright speech that they were wild about me. The impression which I produced at this ball, and which my cousin proudly confided to me, was summed up in the general verdict that I was not the least in the world like other women, and that there was about me some peculiar quality which recalled the simplicity and charm of the country. This success flattered me so much that I frankly owned to my husband how I longed to go to at least two or three of the balls to be given in the course of the winter, “in order,” I said, despite a sharp little whisper from my conscience, “that I may be satiated, once for all!”

My husband willingly consented to this, and at first accompanied me, with evident pride and pleasure in my success, apparently forgetting or disavowing what he had formerly decided on principle.

But after awhile I could see that he was bored, and growing tired of the life we were leading. However, this was not yet clear enough to my eyes for me to understand the full significance of the grave, watchful look he sometimes directed towards me, even if I noticed the look at all. I was so intoxicated by this love which I seemed so suddenly to have aroused in all these strangers, by this perfume of elegance, pleasure, and novelty, which I here breathed for the first time; by the apparent removal of what had hitherto, as it were, held me down, namely, the moral weight of my husband; it was so sweet to me, not only to walk through this new world on a level with him, but to find the place given me there even higher than his, and yet to love him with all the more strength and independence than before; that I could not understand that he looked on with displeasure at my utter delight in this worldly existence.

I felt a new thrill of pride and deep satisfaction, when upon entering a ball-room, all eyes would turn towards me; and when he, as if disdaining to parade before the multitude his rights of proprietorship, would quietly and at once leave my side and go off to be lost in the mass of black coats.

“Only wait!” I often thought, as my eyes sought him out at the end of the room, and rested on his face, dimly seen from the distance between us, but sometimes with a very weary look upon it; “wait! when we are at home again you shall see and know for whom I have been glad to be so beautiful and so brilliant, you shall know whom I love far, far above all around me this evening.” It seemed to me, very sincerely, that my delight in my successes was only for his sake, and also because they enabled me to sacrifice even themselves for him. “One thing alone,” I thought, “might be a danger to me in this life in the world: that is, that one of the men I meet here might conceive a passion for me, and my husband might grow jealous of him; but he had such confidence in me, he appeared to be so calm and indifferent, and all these young men seemed in my eyes so empty in comparison with him, that this peril, the only one, as I thought, with which social life could threaten me, had no terrors at all. Still, the attentions I received from so many persons in society gave me such pleasure, such a sense of satisfied self-love that I rather felt as if there was some merit in my very love for my husband, while at the same time it seemed to impress upon my relation to him greater ease and freedom.

“I noticed how very animated your manner was, while you were talking to N. N.,” I said to him, one evening, upon our return from a ball; and I shook my finger at him as I named a well-known lady of St. Petersburg with whom he had spent part of the evening. I only meant to tease him a little, for he was silent, and had a wearied look.

“Ah, why say such a thing? And for you to say it, Katia!” he exclaimed, frowning, and pressing his lips together as if in physical pain. “That is not like you,—not becoming your position, or mine. Leave such speeches to others; bad jests of that kind might entirely do away with our good understanding,—and I still hope that this good understanding may return.”

I felt confused, and was silent.

“Will it return, Katia? What do you think?” he asked.

“It is not changed,—it will never change,” I said, and then I firmly believed my assertion.

“May God grant it!” he exclaimed, “but it is time we were going back to the country.”

This was the only occasion upon which he spoke to me in this way, and the rest of the time it seemed to me that everything was going on as delightfully for him as for me,—and as for me, oh! I was so lighthearted, so joyous! If occasionally I happened to notice that he was wearied, I would console myself by reflecting how long, for his sake, I had been wearied in the country; if our relations seemed to be undergoing some little alteration, I thought how speedily they would resume their old charm when we should find ourselves again alone, in the summer, at our own Nikolski.

Thus the winter sped away without my realizing it; and Easter came, and, despite all our resolutions we were still in St. Petersburg.

The Sunday following, however, we were really ready to go, everything was packed, my husband had made his final purchases of flowers, gifts, things of all kinds which were needed for the country, and was in one of his happiest, most affectionate moods. Shortly before we were to start, we had an unexpected visit from our cousin, who came to beg us to postpone our departure one week, so that we might attend a reception given by Countess R. on Saturday. She reminded me that I had already received several invitations from Countess R., which had been declined, and told me that Prince M., then in St. Petersburg, had, at the last ball, expressed a desire to make my acquaintance, that it was with this object in view that he purposed attending this reception, and that he was saying everywhere that I was the loveliest woman in Russia. The whole city would be there,—in one word, I must go! It would be nothing without me.

My husband was at the other end of the room, talking to some one.

“So you will certainly come, Katia?” said my cousin.

“We meant to leave for the country, day after to-morrow,” I replied, doubtfully, as I glanced at my husband. Our eyes met, and he turned away abruptly.

“I will persuade him to stay,” said my cousin, “and on Saturday we will turn all heads,—won’t we?”

“Our plans would be disarranged, all our packing is done,” I objected feebly, beginning to waver.

“Perhaps she had better go to-day, at once, to pay her respects to the prince!” observed my husband from his end of the room, with some irritation, and in a dictatorial tone I had never heard from him before.

“Why, he is getting jealous; I see it for the first time!” exclaimed our cousin, ironically. “It is not for the prince alone, Sergius Mikaïlovitch, but for all of us, that I want her. That is why Countess R. is so urgent.”

“It depends upon herself,” returned my husband, coldly, as he left the room.

I had seen that he was much more agitated than usual; this troubled me, and I would not give a decided answer to my cousin. As soon as she was gone, I went to look for my husband. He was thoughtfully walking up and down his chamber, and neither saw nor heard me, as I stole softly in on tiptoe.

“He is picturing to himself his dear Nikolski,” thought I, watching him, “he is thinking about his morning coffee in that light drawing-room, his fields, his peasants, his evenings at home, and his secret little night suppers! Yes,” I decided, in my own mind, “I would give all the balls in the world, and the flatteries of every prince in the universe, to have again his bright joyousness and his loving caresses!”

I was about telling him that I was not going to the reception, that I no longer cared to go, when he suddenly glanced behind him. At the sight of me, his brow darkened, and the dreamy gentleness of his countenance changed entirely. The well-known look came to his face, the look of penetrating wisdom and patronizing calmness. He would not let me see in him simple human nature: he must remain for me the demi-god upon his pedestal!

“What is it, my love?” he inquired, turning towards me with quiet carelessness.

I did not answer. I resented his hiding himself from me, his not allowing me to see him as I best loved him.

“So you wish to go to this reception, on Saturday?” he continued.

“I did wish to go,” I replied, “but it did not suit you. And then, too, the packing is done,” I added.

Never had he looked at me so coldly, never spoken so coldly.

“I shall not leave before Tuesday, and I will order the packing to be undone,” he said; “we will not go until you choose. Do me the favor to go to this entertainment. I shall not leave the city.”

As was his habit when excited, he went on walking about the room with quick, irregular steps, and did not look at me.

“Most decidedly, I do not understand you,” I said, putting myself in his way, and following him with my eyes. “Why do you speak to me in such a singular manner? I am quite ready to sacrifice this pleasure to you, and you, with sarcasm you have never before shown, you require that I shall go!”

“Come! come! You sacrifice yourself” (he laid strong emphasis on the word), “and I, I sacrifice myself also! Combat of generosity! There, I hope, is what may be called ‘family happiness’!”

This was the first time I had ever heard from his lips words so hard and satirical. His satire did not touch, and his hardness did not frighten me, but they became contagious. Was it really he, always so opposed to any debating between us, always so simple and straightforward, who was speaking to me thus? And why? Just because I had offered to sacrifice myself to his pleasure, which was really the supreme thing in my eyes; just because, at this moment, with the thought, came the comprehension of how much I loved him. Our characters were reversed; it was he who had lost all frankness and simplicity, and I who had found them.

“You are so changed,” said I, sighing. “Of what am I guilty in your eyes? It is not this reception, but some old sin, which you are casting up against me in your heart. Why not use more sincerity? You were not afraid of it with me, once. Speak out,—what have you against me?”

“No matter what he may say,” I thought, quickly running over the events of the season in my mind, “there is not one thing that he has a right to reproach me with, this whole winter.”

I went and stood in the middle of the room, so that he would be obliged to pass near me, and I looked at him. I said to myself: “He will come close to me, he will put his arms around me and kiss me, and that will be the end of it all;” this thought darted into my head, and it even cost me something to let it end so, without my proving to him that he was in the wrong. But he stood still at the end of the room, and, looking in my face:

“You still do not understand me?” he said.


“Yet ... how can I tell you?... I am appalled, for the first time, I am appalled at what I see—what I cannot but see.” He stopped, evidently frightened at the rough tone of his voice.

“What do you mean?” I demanded, indignant tears filling my eyes.

“I am appalled that, knowing the prince’s comments on your beauty, you should, after that, be so ready and willing to run after him, forgetting your husband, yourself, your own dignity as a woman,—and then for you not to understand what your husband has to feel in your stead, since you yourself have not this sense of your own dignity!—far from it, you come and declare to your husband that you will sacrifice yourself, which is equivalent to saying, ‘To please His Highness would be my greatest happiness, but I will sacrifice it.’”

The more he said, the more the sound of his own voice excited him, and the harder, more cutting and violent, became his voice. I had never seen, and had never expected to see him thus; the blood surged to my heart; I was frightened, but yet, at the same time, a sense of unmerited disgrace and offended self-love aroused me, and I keenly longed to take some vengeance on him.

“I have long expected this outbreak,” said I, “speak, speak!”

“I do not know what you may have expected,” he went on, “but I might have anticipated still worse things, from seeing you day by day steeped in this slime, this idleness, this luxury, this senseless society; and I did anticipate.... I did anticipate this that to-day covers me with shame, and sinks me in misery such as I have never experienced; shame for myself, when your dear friend, prying and fumbling about in my heart with her unclean fingers, spoke of my jealousy,—and jealousy of whom? Of a man whom neither you nor I have ever seen! And you, as if purposely, you will not understand me, you ‘will sacrifice’ to me,—whom? Great God!... Shame on your degradation! Sacrifice!” he repeated once more.

“Ah, this then is what is meant by the husband’s authority,” I thought. “To insult and humiliate his wife, who is not guilty of the very least thing in the world! Here then are ‘marital rights;’—but I, for one, will never submit to them!”

“Well, I sacrifice nothing to you, then,” I returned, feeling my nostrils dilate, and my face grow bloodless. “I will go to the reception on Saturday. I most certainly will go!”

“And God give you pleasure in it! Only—all is ended between us!” he exclaimed, in an uncontrollable transport of rage. “At least you shall not make a martyr of me any longer. I was a fool who....”

But his lips trembled, and he made a visible effort not to finish what he had begun to say.

At this moment I was afraid of him and I hated him. I longed to say a great many more things to him, and to avenge myself for all his insults; but if I had so much as opened my lips, my tears could no longer have been restrained, and I would have felt my dignity compromised before him. I left the room, without a word. But scarcely was I beyond the sound of his footsteps when I was suddenly seized with terror at the thought of what we had done. It seemed to me horrible that, perhaps for life, this bond, which constituted all my happiness, was destroyed, and my impulse was to return at once. But would his passion have subsided sufficiently for him to comprehend me, if, without a word, I should hold out my hand to him, and look into his eyes? Would he comprehend my generosity? Suppose he should regard my sincere sorrow as dissimulation? Or should consider my voluntary right-doing as repentance, and receive me on that score? Or grant me pardon, with proud tranquility? And why, when I have loved him so much, oh, why should he have insulted me so?

I did not go back to him, but into my own room, where I sat for a long time, crying, recalling with terror every word of our conversation, mentally substituting other words for those we had used, adding different and better ones, then reminding myself again, with a mingled sense of fright and outraged feeling, of all that had taken place. When I came down to tea, in the evening, and in the presence of C., who was making us a visit, met my husband again, I was aware that from this day forward there must be an open gulf between us. C. asked me when we were going to leave the city. I could not answer her.

“On Tuesday,” replied my husband, “we are staying for Countess R’s reception. You are going, no doubt?” he continued, turning to me.

I was frightened at the sound of his voice, although it seemed quite as usual, and glanced at my husband. His eyes were fixed on me, with a hard ironical look, his tone was measured, cold.

“Yes,” I replied.

Later, when we were alone, he approached me, and holding out his hand:

“Forget, I entreat you, what I said to you.”

I took his hand, a faint smile came to my trembling lips, and the tears started to my eyes; but he quickly drew it away and, as if fearing a sentimental scene, went and sat down in an arm-chair at some distance from me. “Is it possible that he still believes himself right?” thought I; and I had on my lips a cordial explanation, and a request not to go to the reception.

“I must write to mama that we have postponed our departure,” said he, “or she will be uneasy.”

“And when do you intend to leave?” I asked.

“On the Tuesday after the reception.”

“I hope this is not on my account,” said I, looking into his eyes, but they only looked back into mine without telling me anything, as if they were held far from me by some secret force. All at once, his face appeared to me old and disagreeable.

We went to the reception, and seemingly our relations were again cordial and affectionate, but in reality they were quite unlike what they had been in the past.

At the reception I was sitting in the midst of a circle of ladies, when the prince approached me, so that I was obliged to stand up and speak to him. As I did so, my eyes involuntarily sought my husband; I saw him look at me, from the other end of the room, and then turn away. Such a rush of shame and sorrow came over me, that I felt almost ill, and I knew that my face and neck grew scarlet under the eyes of the prince. But I had to stand and listen to what he was saying to me, all the while feeling him scrutinize me keenly from head to foot. Our conversation was not long, there was not room near me for him to sit down, and he could not help seeing how ill at ease I was with him. We talked of the last ball, where I was to spend the summer, etc. Upon leaving me he expressed a wish to make my husband’s acquaintance, and in a little while I saw them meet, at the other end of the room, and begin to talk with each other. The prince must have made some remark concerning me, for I saw him smile and glance in my direction.

My husband’s face flushed darkly, he bowed, and was the first to conclude the interview. I felt my color rise, also, for I was mortified to think what opinion the prince must have formed of me, and more especially of Sergius. It seemed to me that every one must have observed my embarrassment while I was talking with the prince, and also his very singular manner; “God knows,” said I to myself, “what interpretation may be put upon it; could any one happen to know of my wrangle with my husband?” My cousin took me home, and on the way we were talking about him. I could not resist telling her all that had passed between us in regard to this unfortunate reception. She soothed me by assurances that it was only one of those frequent quarrels, which signify nothing at all and leave no result behind them; and in explaining my husband’s character from her point of view, she spoke of him as extremely reserved and proud. I agreed with her, and it seemed to me that, after this, I comprehended his character more clearly and much more calmly.

But afterwards, when we were again alone together, this judgment of mine with regard to him appeared to me a real crime, which weighed upon my conscience, and I felt that the gulf between us was widening more and more.

From this day on, our life and our mutual relations suffered a complete change. Being alone together was no longer a delight to us. There were subjects to be avoided, and it was easier for us to talk to each other in the presence of a third person. If in the course of conversation any allusion chanced to be made, either to life in the country, or to balls, dazzling wild-fire seemed to dance before our eyes and make us afraid to look at each other; I knew that his embarrassment was as great as my own; we both realized how far asunder we were thrust by that dividing gulf, and dreaded drawing nearer. I was persuaded that he was passionate and proud, and that I must be very careful not to run against his weak points. And, on his part, he was convinced that I could not exist outside of the life of the world, that a home in the country did not suit me at all, and that he must resign himself to this unhappy predilection. Therefore we both shunned any direct conversation upon such subjects, and each erroneously judged the other. We had long ceased to be respectively, in each other’s eyes, the most perfect beings in this world; on the contrary, we were beginning to compare each other with those around us, and to measure with secret appreciation our own characters.