Lvov, the husband of Natalia, Kitty’s sister, had spent all his life in foreign capitals, where he had been educated, and had been in the diplomatic service.
During the previous year he had left the diplomatic service, not owing to any “unpleasantness” (he never had any “unpleasantness” with anyone), and was transferred to the department of the court of the palace in Moscow, in order to give his two boys the best education possible.
In spite of the striking contrast in their habits and views and the fact that Lvov was older than Levin, they had seen a great deal of one another that winter, and had taken a great liking to each other.
Lvov was at home, and Levin went in to him unannounced.
Lvov, in a house coat with a belt and in chamois leather shoes, was sitting in an armchair, and with a pince-nez with blue glasses he was reading a book that stood on a reading desk, while in his beautiful hand he held a half-burned cigarette daintily away from him.
His handsome, delicate, and still youthful-looking face, to which his curly, glistening silvery hair gave a still more aristocratic air, lighted up with a smile when he saw Levin.
“Capital! I was meaning to send to you. How’s Kitty? Sit here, it’s more comfortable.” He got up and pushed up a rocking chair. “Have you read the last circular in the Journal de St. Pétersbourg? I think it’s excellent,” he said, with a slight French accent.
Levin told him what he had heard from Katavasov was being said in Petersburg, and after talking a little about politics, he told him of his interview with Metrov, and the learned society’s meeting. To Lvov it was very interesting.
“That’s what I envy you, that you are able to mix in these interesting scientific circles,” he said. And as he talked, he passed as usual into French, which was easier to him. “It’s true I haven’t the time for it. My official work and the children leave me no time; and then I’m not ashamed to own that my education has been too defective.”
“That I don’t believe,” said Levin with a smile, feeling, as he always did, touched at Lvov’s low opinion of himself, which was not in the least put on from a desire to seem or to be modest, but was absolutely sincere.
“Oh, yes, indeed! I feel now how badly educated I am. To educate my children I positively have to look up a great deal, and in fact simply to study myself. For it’s not enough to have teachers, there must be someone to look after them, just as on your land you want laborers and an overseer. See what I’m reading”—he pointed to Buslaev’s Grammar on the desk—“it’s expected of Misha, and it’s so difficult…. Come, explain to me…. Here he says….”
Levin tried to explain to him that it couldn’t be understood, but that it had to be taught; but Lvov would not agree with him.
“Oh, you’re laughing at it!”
“On the contrary, you can’t imagine how, when I look at you, I’m always learning the task that lies before me, that is the education of one’s children.”
“Well, there’s nothing for you to learn,” said Lvov.
“All I know,” said Levin, “is that I have never seen better brought-up children than yours, and I wouldn’t wish for children better than yours.”
Lvov visibly tried to restrain the expression of his delight, but he was positively radiant with smiles.
“If only they’re better than I! That’s all I desire. You don’t know yet all the work,” he said, “with boys who’ve been left like mine to run wild abroad.”
“You’ll catch all that up. They’re such clever children. The great thing is the education of character. That’s what I learn when I look at your children.”
“You talk of the education of character. You can’t imagine how difficult that is! You have hardly succeeded in combating one tendency when others crop up, and the struggle begins again. If one had not a support in religion—you remember we talked about that—no father could bring children up relying on his own strength alone without that help.”
This subject, which always interested Levin, was cut short by the entrance of the beauty Natalia Alexandrovna, dressed to go out.
“I didn’t know you were here,” she said, unmistakably feeling no regret, but a positive pleasure, in interrupting this conversation on a topic she had heard so much of that she was by now weary of it. “Well, how is Kitty? I am dining with you today. I tell you what, Arseny,” she turned to her husband, “you take the carriage.”
And the husband and wife began to discuss their arrangements for the day. As the husband had to drive to meet someone on official business, while the wife had to go to the concert and some public meeting of a committee on the Eastern Question, there was a great deal to consider and settle. Levin had to take part in their plans as one of themselves. It was settled that Levin should go with Natalia to the concert and the meeting, and that from there they should send the carriage to the office for Arseny, and he should call for her and take her to Kitty’s; or that, if he had not finished his work, he should send the carriage back and Levin would go with her.
“He’s spoiling me,” Lvov said to his wife; “he assures me that our children are splendid, when I know how much that’s bad there is in them.”
“Arseny goes to extremes, I always say,” said his wife. “If you look for perfection, you will never be satisfied. And it’s true, as papa says,—that when we were brought up there was one extreme—we were kept in the basement, while our parents lived in the best rooms; now it’s just the other way—the parents are in the wash house, while the children are in the best rooms. Parents now are not expected to live at all, but to exist altogether for their children.”
“Well, what if they like it better?” Lvov said, with his beautiful smile, touching her hand. “Anyone who didn’t know you would think you were a stepmother, not a true mother.”
“No, extremes are not good in anything,” Natalia said serenely, putting his paper-knife straight in its proper place on the table.
“Well, come here, you perfect children,” Lvov said to the two handsome boys who came in, and after bowing to Levin, went up to their father, obviously wishing to ask him about something.
Levin would have liked to talk to them, to hear what they would say to their father, but Natalia began talking to him, and then Lvov’s colleague in the service, Mahotin, walked in, wearing his court uniform, to go with him to meet someone, and a conversation was kept up without a break upon Herzegovina, Princess Korzinskaya, the town council, and the sudden death of Madame Apraksina.
Levin even forgot the commission intrusted to him. He recollected it as he was going into the hall.
“Oh, Kitty told me to talk to you about Oblonsky,” he said, as Lvov was standing on the stairs, seeing his wife and Levin off.
“Yes, yes, maman wants us, les beaux-frères, to attack him,” he said, blushing. “But why should I?”
“Well, then, I will attack him,” said Madame Lvova, with a smile, standing in her white sheepskin cape, waiting till they had finished speaking. “Come, let us go.”