The Devil, by Leo Tolstoy


The first year of his marriage was a hard one for Eugene. It was hard because affairs he had managed to put off during the time of his courtship now, after his marriage, all came upon him at once.

To escape from debts was impossible. An outlying part of the estate was sold and the most pressing obligations met, but others remained, and he had no money. The estate yielded a good revenue, but he had had to send payments to his brother and to spend on his own marriage, so that there was no ready money and the factory could not carry on and would have to be closed down. The only way of escape was to use his wife’s money; and Liza, having realized her husband’s position, insisted on this herself. Eugene agreed, but only on condition that he should give her a mortgage on half his estate, which he did. Of course this was done not for his wife’s sake, who felt offended at it, but to appease his mother- in-law.

These affairs with various fluctuations of success and failure helped to poison Eugene’s life that first year. Another thing was his wife’s ill-health. That same first year, seven months after their marriage, a misfortune befell Liza. She was driving out to meet her husband on his return from town, and the quiet horse became rather playful and she was frightened and jumped out. Her jump was comparatively fortunate — she might have been caught by the wheel — but she was pregnant, and that same night the pains began and she had a miscarriage from which she was long in recovering. The loss of the expected child and his wife’s illness, together with the disorder in his affairs, and above all the presence of his mother-in-law, who arrived as soon as Liza fell ill — all this together made the year still harder for Eugene.

But notwithstanding these difficult circumstances, towards the end of the first year Eugene felt very well. First of all his cherished hope of restoring his fallen fortune and renewing his grandfather’s way of life in a new form, was approaching accomplishment, though slowly and with difficulty. There was no longer any question of having to sell the whole estate to meet the debts. The chief estate, thought transferred to his wife’s name, was saved, and if only the beet crop succeeded and the price kept up, by next year his position of want and stress might be replaced by one of complete prosperity. That was one thing.

Another was that however much he had expected from his wife, he had never expected to find in her what he actually found. He found not what he had expected, but something much better. Raptures of love — though he tried to produce them — did not take place or were very slight, but he discovered something quite different, namely that he was not merely more cheerful and happier but that it had become easier to live. He did not know why this should be so, but it was.

And it was so because immediately after marriage his wife decided that Eugene Irtenev was superior to anyone else in the world: wiser, purer, and nobler than they, and that therefore it was right for everyone to serve him and please him; but that as it was impossible to make everyone do this, she must do it herself to the limit of her strength. And she did; directing all her strength of mind towards learning and guessing what he liked, and then doing just that thing, whatever it was and however difficult it might be.

She had the gift which furnishes the chief delight of intercourse with a loving woman: thanks to her love of her husband she penetrated into his soul. She knew his every state and his every shade of feeling — better it seemed to him than he himself - and she behaved correspondingly and therefore never hurt his feelings, but always lessened his distresses and strengthened his joys. And she understood not only his feelings but also his joys. Things quite foreign to her — concerning the farming, the factory, or the appraisement of others — she immediately understood so that she could not merely converse with him, but could often, as he himself said, be a useful and irreplaceable counselor. She regarded affairs and people and everything in the world only though his eyes. She loved her mother, but having seen that Eugene disliked his mother-in-law’s interference in their life she immediately took her husband’s side, and did so with such decision that he had to restrain her.

Besides all this she had very good taste, much tact, and above all she had repose. All that she did, she did unnoticed; only the results of what she did were observable, namely, that always and in everything there was cleanliness, order, and elegance. Liza had at once understood in what her husband’s ideal of life consisted, and she tried to attain, and in the arrangement and order of the house did attain, what he wanted. Children it is true were lacking, but there was hope of that also. In winter she went to Petersburg to see a specialist and he assured them that she was quite well and could have children.

And this desire was accomplished. By the end of the year she was again pregnant.

The one thing that threatened, not to say poisoned, their happiness was her jealousy — a jealousy she restrained and did not exhibit, but from which she often suffered. Not only might Eugene not love any other woman — because there was not a woman on earth worthy of him (as to whether she herself was worthy or not she never asked herself), — but not a single woman might therefore dare to love him.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01