From Part 8, the final section, near the end of the book…
From that moment when, at the sight of his beloved brother dying, Levin had looked at the questions of life and death for the first time through those new convictions, as he called them, which imperceptibly, during the period from twenty to thirty-four years of age, had come to replace his childhood and adolescent beliefs, he had been horrified, not so much at death as at life without the slightest knowledge of whence it came, wherefore, why, and what it was. The organism, its decay, the indestructibility of matter, the law of the conservation of energy, development, were the word that had replaced his former faith. These words and the concepts connected with them were very well suited to intellectual purposes, but they gave nothing for life, and Levin suddenly felt himself in the position of a person who has traded his warm fur coat for muslin clothing and, caught in the cold for the first time, is convinced beyond question, not by reasoning but with his whole being, that he is as good as naked and must inevitably die a painful death.
From that moment on, though not accounting for it to himself and continuing to live as before, Levin never ceased to feel that fear at his ignorance.
Moreover, he felt vaguely that what he called his convictions were not only ignorance but were a way of thinking that made the knowledge he needed impossible.
At first his marriage, the new joys and responsibilities he came to know, completely stifled these thoughts; but lately, after his wife gave birth, while he was living idly in Moscow, Levin began to be faced more and more often, more and more urgently, by this question that demanded an answer.
The question for him consisted in the following:’If I do not accept the answers that Christianity gives to the questions of my life, then which answers do I accept?’ And nowhere in the whole arsenal of his convictions was he able to find, not only any answers, but anything resembling an answer.
He was in the position of a man looking for food in a toymaker’s or a gunsmith’s shop.
Involuntarily, unconsciously, he now sought in every book, in every conversation, in every person, a connection with these questions and their resolutions.
What amazed and upset him most of all was that the majority of people of his age and circle, who had replaced their former beliefs, as he had, with the same new beliefs as he had, did not see anything wrong with it and were perfectly calm and content. So that, besides the main question, Levin was tormented by other questions: Are these people sincere? Are they not pretending? Or do they not understand somehow differently, more clearly, than he the answers science gives to the questions that concerned him? And he diligently studied both the opinions of these people and the books that expressed these answers.
One thing he had discovered since he began to concern himself with these questions was that he had been mistaken in supposing, from memories of his youthful university circle, that religion had outlived its day and no longer existed. All the good people close to him were believers. The old prince, and Lvov, whom he had come close to love so much, believed as he had believed early in his childhood, and ninety-nine hundredths of all the Russian people, that people whose life inspired the greatest respect in him, were believers.
Another thing was that, after reading many books, he became convinced that those who shared the same views with him saw nothing else implied in them and, without explaining anything, simply dismissed the questions which he felt he could not live without answering, and tried to resolve completely different questions, which could not be of interest to him – for instance, about the development of the organism, about the mechanical explanation of the soul, and so on.
Besides that, while his wife was giving birth an extraordinary thing had happened to him. He, the unbeliever, had begun to pray, and in the moment of praying he had believed. But that moment had passed, and he was unable to give any place in his life to the state of mind he had been in then.
He could not admit that he had known the truth then and was now mistaken, because as soon as he began to think calmly about it, the whole thing fell to pieces; nor could he admit that he had been mistaken then, because he cherished his state of soul of that time, and by admitting that it had been due to weakness he would have profaned those moments. He was in painful discord with himself and strained all the forces of his soul to get out of it.
These thoughts wearied and tormented him now less. now more strongly, but they never left him. He read and pondered, and the more he read and pondered, the further he felt himself from the goal he was pursuing.
Recently in Moscow and in the country , convinced that he would not find an answer in the materialists, he reread or read for the first time, Plato, and Spinoza, Kant, Schelling, Hegel and Schopenhauer – the philosophers who gave a non-materialistic explanation of life.
Their thoughts seemed fruitful to him when he was either reading or devising refutations of other teachings, especially that of the materialists; but as soon as he read or himself devised answers to the questions, one and the same thing always repeated itself. Following the given definitions of vague words such as spirit, will, freedom, substance, deliberately falling into the verbal trap set for him by the philosophers or by himself, he seemed to begin to understand something. But he had only to forget the artificial train of thought and refer back from life itself to what hd satisfied him while he thought along a given line – and suddenly the whole artificial edifice would collapse like a house of cards, and it would be clear that the edifice had been made of the same words rearranged, independent of something more important in life than reason.
Once, reading Schopenhauer, he substituted love for his will, and this new philosophy comforted him for a couple of days, until he stepped back from it; but it collapsed in the same way when he later looked at it from life, and turned out to be warmthless muslin clothing.
His brother advised him to read the theological works of Khomiakov. Levin read the second volume of Khomiakov’s writings and, despite the elegant and witty polemical tone, which put him off at first, was struck by their teachings about the Church. He was struck first by the thought that it was not given to man to comprehend divine truths, but it is given to an aggregate of men united by love – the Church. He rejoiced at the thought of how much easier it was to believe in the presently existing, living Church, which constitutes the entire faith of men, which has God at its head and is therefore hly and infallible, and from it to receive one’s beliefs about God, creation, the fall, redemption, than to begin with God, the distant, mysterious God, creation and so on. But later, having read a history of the Church by a Catholic writer and a history of the Church by an Orthodox writer, and seeing that the two Churches, infallible in their essence, rejected each other, he became disappointed in Khomakov’s teaching about the Church as well, and this edifice fell to dust just as the philosophical edifices had done.
All that spring he was not himself and lived through terrible moments.
‘Without knowing what I am and why I’m here, it is impossible for me to live. And I cannot know that, therefore I cannot live,’ Levin would say to himself.
‘In infinite time, in the infinity of matter, in infinite space, a bubble-organism separates itself, an that bubble holds out for a while and then bursts, and that bubble is me.’
This was a tormenting untruth, but it was the sole, the latest result of age-long labors of human thought in that direction.
This was the latest belief on which all researches of the human mind in almost all fields were built. This was the reigning conviction, and out of all other explanations it was precisely this one that Levin, himself not knowing when or how, had involuntarily adopted as being at any rate the most clear.
But it was not only untrue, it was the cruel mockery of some evil power, evil and offensive, which it was impossible to submit to.
It was necessary to be delivered from this power. And deliverance was within everyone’s reach. It was necessary to to stop this dependence on evil. And there was one means – death.
And, happy in his family life, a healthy man, Levin was several times so close to suicide that he hid a rope lest he hang himself with it, and was afraid to go about with a rifle lest he shoot himself.
But Levin did not shoot himself or hang himself and went on living.
When Levin thought about what he was and what he lived for, he found no answer and fell into despair; but when he stopped asking himself about it, he seemed to know what he was and what he lived for, because he acted and lived firmly and definitely; recently he had even lived much more firmly and definitely than before.
Returning to the country in the middle of June, he also returned to his usual occupations. Farming, relations with the muzhiks and his neighbors, running the household, his sister’s and brother’s affairs, which were in his hands, relations with his wife and family, cares about the baby, the new interest in bees he had acquired that last spring, took up all his time.
These things occupied him, not because he justified them to himself by some general views as he had done formerly; on the contrary, now, disappointed by the failure of his earlier undertakings for the general good, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, too occupied with his thoughts and the very quantity of things that piled upon him from all sides, he completely abandoned all considerations of the common good, and these things occupied him only because it seemed to him that he had to do what he was doing – that he could not do otherwise.
Formerly (it had begun almost from childhood and kept growing till full maturity), whenever he had tried to do something that would be good for everyone, for mankind, for Russia, for the district, for the whole village, he had noticed that thinking about it was pleasant, but the doing itself was always awkward, there was no full assurance that the thing was absolutely necessary, and the doing itself, which at the start had seemed so big, kept diminishing and diminishing, dwindling to nothing; while now, after his marriage, when he began to limit himself more and more to living for himself, though he no longer experienced any joy at the thought of what he was doing, he felt certain that his work was necessary, saw that it turned out much better than before and that it was expanding more and more.
Now, as if against his will, he cut deeper and deeper into the soil, like a plough, so that he could no longer get out without turning over the furrow.
For the family to live as their fathers and grandfathers had been accustomed to live – that is, in the same cultural conditions and with the same upbringing of children – was undoubtedly necessary. It was as necessary as dinner when one was hungry; and just as for that it was necessary to prepare dinner, so it was necessary to run the farming mechanism of Pokrovskoe in such a way as to produce income. As undoubtedly as it was to pay debts, it was also necessary to to maintain the family land in such condition that when his son inherited it he would thank his father, as Levin had thanked his grandfather for everything he had built and planted. And for that it was necessary not to lease the land, but to do the farming personally, to keep cattle, to manure the fields, to plant trees.
It was as impossible not to take care of Sergei Ivanovich’s affairs, the affairs of his sister and of all the muzhiks who came for advice and were accustomed to do so, as it was impossible to drop a baby one is already holding in one’s arms.
But besides the fact that Levin firmly knew what he had to do, he knew just as well how he had to do it all and which matter was more important than another.
He knew that he had to hire workers as cheaply as possible, but that he should not put them in bondage by paying them in advance at a cheaper rate than they were worth, thought it was very profitable. He could sell the muzhiks straw when there was a shortage, though he felt sorry for them; but the inn and the pot-house, even though they brought income, had to be eliminated. For felling timber he had to punish them as severely as possible, but he could not fine them for cattle that strayed into his pastures, and though it upset the watchmen and eliminated fear, it was impossible not to return the stray cattle.
Reasoning had led him into doubt and kept him from seeing what he should and should not do. Yet when he did not think, but lived, he constantly felt in his soul the presence of an infallible judge who decided which of two possible actions was better and which was worse; and whenever he did not act as he should, he felt it at once.
So he lived, not knowing and not seeing any possibility of knowing what he was and why he was living in the world, tormented by this ignorance to such a degree that he feared suicide, and at the same time, firmly laying down his own particular, definite path in life.