Book #12 in Susan Wise Bauer's list of great fiction in Well Educated Mind is Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Although it seemed like a soap opera at times, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel as much as I did War and Peace. The story was originally published in serial form in The Russian Messenger from 1873 to 1877. Tolstoy clashed with the editor with his political leanings in the last chapter and therefore became the final installment. Anna Karenina is a complex story dealing with her adulterous affair with Count Vronsky and how it affects her life and relationships with those surrounding her.
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
so 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
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
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 quarrel.
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
"It's that idiotic smile that's to blame for it all," thought
"But what's to be done? What's to be done?" he said to himself
in despair, and found no answer.
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