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 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. [Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy]
Comprehension questions ..
Q1. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What does this opening line signify?
Q2. Why was Oblonsky’s house in disarray?
Q3. What were the fall-outs of the discord?
Q4. Why do you think Oblonsky was dreaming moments before he got up from his sleep in the morning?
Q5. What thoughts crossed Oblonksky’s mind when he was fully awake and remembered the events of the previous three days?
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Q1. All happy families present a picture of love, sympathy, cohesion, and bonhomie. They look alike, because they exude the same type of positive feelings. Unhappy families suffer due to many reasons. It may be mutual discord, poverty, disease, or indulgence in sinful pleasures. They emit negative vibes.
Q2. Oblonsky had incurred the wrath of his wife for having illicit relations with a maid. Such conduct was reprehensible and disgusting for his wife. She was hurt and humiliated, and had decided not to be a part of the household any more. With the mistress of the house cutting herself off, the house descended to chaos and neglect.
Q3. Oblonsky’s house was falling apart. The children just played around the place with no one to care for them. The maids and other assistants had served notice to leave. Oblonsky himself was sleeping on a sofa, instead being in the same bed as Anna Karenina.
Q4. He was incoherent in his thought. Darmstadt is in Germany, not Russia. And the party he was imagining could only be fictional. Alabin and Stepan Arkadyevitch’s were figures that didn’t exist. One can safely conclude that Oblonsky was dreaming.
Q5. Oblonsky felt sorry for his feckless conduct, and clearly understood his wife’s extreme indignation at the way he had broken the trust. He was repentant, but not enough. He lacked moral strength to talk to his wife and beg forgiveness.He conveniently believed that the blame for the mishap should not be put on him alone. He was an immoral and timid man.