One person's right does not make for another's.

from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy page 290 fiction ~5 min read

In the dining room he rang and told the servant who came to send for the doctor again. He was vexed with his wife for not taking care of this lovely baby, and he did not want to go to her in this irritated mood, nor did he want to see Princess Betsy; but his wife might wonder why he did not come to her as usual, and therefore he made an effort and went to her bedroom. Going over the soft carpet to her door, he inadvertently heard a conversation he did not want to hear.

‘If he weren’t going away, I would understand your refusal and his as well. But your husband ought to be above that,’ Betsy was saying.

‘I don’t want it, not for my husband’s sake but for my own. Don’t say it!’ Anna’s agitated voice replied.

‘Yes, but you can’t not want to say goodbye to a man who shot himself on account of you ...’

‘That’s why I don’t want to.’

Alexei Alexandrovich stopped with a frightened and guilty expression and was about to go back unnoticed. But, considering that it would be unworthy of him, he turned again and, coughing, went towards the bedroom. The voices fell silent and he went in.

Anna, in a grey dressing gown, her short–cropped black hair growing again like a thick brush on her round head, was sitting on the couch. As always at the sight of her husband, the animation on her face suddenly vanished; she bowed her head and glanced round uneasily at Betsy. Betsy, dressed after the very latest fashion, in a hat that hovered somewhere over her head like a lampshade over a lamp, and in a dove–grey dress with sharp diagonal stripes going one way on the bodice and the other way on the skirt, was sitting by Anna. Holding her flat, tall figure erect and bowing her head, she met Alexei Alexandrovich with a mocking smile.

‘Ah!’ she said, as if surprised. ‘I’m very glad you’re home. You don’t show yourself anywhere, and I haven’t seen you since Anna became ill. I’ve heard all about your attentiveness. Yes, you are an amazing husband!’ she said with a meaningful and benign look, as though conferring an order of magnanimity on him for his behaviour towards his wife.

Alexei Alexandrovich bowed coldly and, after kissing his wife’s hand, asked about her health.

‘I think I’m better,’ she said, avoiding his eyes.

‘But your face seems to have a feverish colour,’ he said, emphasizing the word ‘feverish’.

‘We’ve talked too much,’ said Betsy. ‘I feel it’s been egoism on my part, and I’m leaving.’ She stood up, but Anna, suddenly blushing, quickly seized her hand.

‘No, stay a moment, please. I must tell you ... no, you,’ she turned to Alexei Alexandrovich, and the crimson spread over her neck and forehead. ‘I cannot and do not wish to keep anything concealed from you,’ she said.

Alexei Alexandrovich cracked his fingers and bowed his head.

‘Betsy was saying that Count Vronsky wished to come here and say goodbye before he leaves for Tashkent.’ She was not looking at her husband and was obviously hurrying to say everything, difficult as it was for her. ‘I said I could not receive him.’

‘You said, my friend, that it would depend on Alexei Alexandrovich,’ Betsy corrected her.

‘But no, I cannot receive him, and there’s no point in ...’ She suddenly stopped and glanced questioningly at her husband (he was not looking at her). ‘In short, I don’t want to ...’

Alexei Alexandrovich stirred and was about to take her hand.

Her first impulse was to pull her hand away from his moist hand with its big, swollen veins as it sought hers, but with an obvious effort she took it.

‘I am very grateful for your confidence, but...’ he said, feeling with embarrassment and vexation that what he could resolve easily and clearly in himself, he could not discuss in front of Princess Tverskoy, who was for him an embodiment of that crude force which was to guide his life in the eyes of the world and which prevented him from giving himself to his feeling of love and forgiveness. He stopped, looking at Princess Tverskoy.

‘Well, good–bye, my lovely,’ said Betsy, getting up. She kissed Anna and went out. Alexei Alexandrovich saw her off.

‘Alexei Alexandrovich! I know you to be a truly magnanimous man,’ said Betsy, stopping in the small drawing room and pressing his hand once more especially firmly. I am an outsider, but I love her and respect you so much that I will allow myself this advice. Receive him. Alexei Vronsky is the embodiment of honour, and he’s leaving for Tashkent.’

‘Thank you, Princess, for your concern and advice. But my wife will decide for herself the question of whether she can or cannot receive someone.’

He said this, out of habit, with a dignified raising of eyebrows, and at once reflected that, whatever his words might be, there could be no dignity in his position. And this he saw in the restrained, spiteful and mocking smile with which Betsy looked at him after his phrase.[1]


  1. Anna does the right thing for Alexei, but Alexei does not reciprocate the right thing for Anna because he thinks she's done the right thing for him, which she has —he doesn't take the jump to understand for her it would mean everything to see Vronsky and takes her at a face value.

    Dialogue, true communication, is invisible —for it would not be right for her to ask for Vronsky to come, and yet, she desires that, and he is unwilling or does not see what the right thing for him to do is —he thinks that her choice is a "logical" one, but he then misunderstands his own feelings in this regard because he'd be vexed (and has shown his vexation, therefore being quite illogical) if she asked for Vronsky. ↩︎

—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, p. 290