Forgiveness saves everyone.

from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy page 271 fiction ~6 min read

Dolly’s agitation affected Alexei Alexandrovich. He got up and obediently followed her to the schoolroom. They sat down at a table covered with oilcloth cut all over by penknives.

‘I don’t believe it, I just don’t believe it!’ said Dolly, trying to catch his eyes, which avoided hers.

‘It’s impossible not to believe facts, Darya Alexandrovna,’ he said, stressing the word facts.

‘But what has she done?’ said Darya Alexandrovna. ‘What precisely has she done?’

‘She has scorned her obligations and betrayed her husband. That is what she has done,’ he said.

‘No, no, it can’t be! No, for God’s sake, you’re mistaken!’ said Dolly, touching her temples with her hands and closing her eyes.

Alexei Alexandrovich smiled coldly with his lips only, wishing to show her and himself the firmness of his conviction; but this ardent defence, though it did not shake him, rubbed salt into his wound. He spoke with increased animation.

‘It is rather difficult to be mistaken, when the wife herself announces it to her husband. Announces that eight years of life and a son – that it was all a mistake and that she wants to live over again,’ he said, sniffing angrily.

‘Anna and vice – I can’t put the two together, I can’t believe it.’

‘Darya Alexandrovna!’ he said, now looking straight into Dolly’s kind, agitated face and feeling that his tongue was involuntarily loosening. ‘I would have paid dearly for doubt to be still possible. When I doubted, it was hard for me, but easier than now. When I doubted, there was hope; but now there is no hope and even so I doubt everything. I doubt everything so much that I hate my own son and sometimes do not believe that he is my son. I am very unhappy.’

He had no need to say it. Darya Alexandrovna understood it as soon as he looked into her face. She felt sorry for him, and her belief in her friend’s innocence was shaken.

‘Ah, it’s terrible, terrible! But is it really true that you’ve decided on divorce?’

‘I’ve decided on the final measure. There’s nothing else for me to do.’

‘Nothing to do, nothing to do ...’ she said with tears in her eyes. ‘No, that’s not so!’ she said.

‘The terrible thing in this sort of grief is that, unlike anything else – a loss, a death – one cannot simply bear one’s cross. Here one must act,’

he said, as if guessing her thought. ‘One must get out of the humiliating position one has been put in: it is impossible to live as three.’

‘I understand, I understand that very well,’ said Dolly, and she bowed her head. She paused, thinking of herself, of her own family grief, and suddenly raised her head energetically and clasped her hands in a pleading gesture. ‘But wait! You’re a Christian. Think of her! What will become of her if you leave her?’

‘I have been thinking, Darya Alexandrovna, and thinking a great deal,’ Alexei Alexandrovich said. His face flushed in spots, his dull eyes looked straight at her. Darya Alexandrovna pitied him now with all her heart. ‘That is what I did after she herself announced my disgrace to me. I left everything as it had been. I gave her the chance to reform. I tried to save her. And what? She did not fulfil the easiest of requirements –the observance of propriety,’ he said heatedly. ‘It is possible to save a person who does not want to perish. But if the whole nature is so corrupt, so perverted, that perdition itself looks like salvation, what can be done?’

‘Anything, only not divorce!’ Darya Alexandrovna replied.

‘But what is this "anything"?’

‘No, it’s terrible! She’ll be no one’s wife, she’ll be ruined!’

‘What can I do?’ said Alexei Alexandrovich, raising his shoulders and his eyebrows. The memory of his wife’s last trespass vexed him so much that he again became cold, as at the beginning of their conversation. T thank you very much for your concern, but I must go,’ he said, getting up.

‘No, wait! You mustn’t ruin her. Wait, I’ll tell you about myself. I was married, and my husband deceived me. Angry, jealous, I wanted to abandon everything, I myself wanted ... But I came to my senses – and who saved me? Anna saved me. And so I live. My children are growing up, my husband comes back to the family, he feels he wasn’t right, becomes purer, better, and I live ... I forgave, and you must forgive!’

Alexei Alexandrovich listened, but her words no longer affected him. In his soul there arose again all the anger of the day when he had decided on divorce. He shook himself and spoke in a shrill, loud voice:

‘I cannot forgive, I do not want to, and I consider it unjust. I did everything for that woman, and she trampled everything in the mud that is so suitable to her. I am not a wicked man, I have never hated anyone, but her I hate with all the strength of my soul, and I cannot even forgive her, because I hate her so much for all the evil she has done me!’ he said with tears of anger in his voice.

‘Love those who hate you ...’ Darya Alexandrovna whispered shamefacedly.

Alexei Alexandrovich smiled contemptuously. He had long known that, but it could not be applied in his case.

‘Love those who hate you, but to love those you hate is impossible. Forgive me for having upset you. Everyone has enough grief of his own!’ And, having regained control of himself, Alexei Alexandrovich calmly said goodbye and left.[1]


  1. Later in the story... pg 296: "What would happen to his son in case of divorce? To leave him with his mother was impossible. The divorced mother would have her own illegitimate family, in which his position and upbringing as a stepson would in all likelihood be bad. To keep him with himself? He knew that this would be vengeance on his part, and he did not want that. But, apart from that, divorce seemed impossible to Alexei Alexandrovich, above all, because in consenting to a divorce he would be ruining Anna. What Darya Alexandrovna had said in Moscow – that in deciding on a divorce he was thinking only about himself and not thinking that by it he would be ruining her irretrievably – had sunk deeply into his soul. And, combining that with his forgiveness and his attachment to the children, he now understood it in his own way. To his mind, agreeing to a divorce, giving her freedom, meant depriving himself of his last tie to the life of the children he loved, and depriving her of her last support on the path to the good and casting her into perdition. If she were a divorced wife, he knew, she would join with Vronsky, and that liaison would be illegitimate and criminal, because according to Church law a woman may not remarry while her husband is alive. ‘She’ll join with him, and in a year or two either he will abandon her or she will enter a new liaison,’ thought Alexei Alexandrovich. ‘And, by agreeing to an illegitimate divorce, I would be to blame for her ruin.’ He had thought it all over thousands of times and was convinced that the matter of a divorce was not only not very simple, as his brother–in–law said, but was completely impossible. He did not believe a single word Stepan Arkadyich said, he had a thousand refutations for every word of it, yet he listened to him, feeling that his words expressed that powerful, crude force which guided his life and to which he had to submit. ↩︎

—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, p. 271