Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” At the Oblonsky house, everything is in confusion. Three days ago the wife discovered that her husband is having an affair with their former French governess, and she told him she cannot go on living in the same house with him. Now everyone in the family is conscious of the chasm and acts like strangers. The wife has not left her room and the husband is gone; the children have taken over the house; the English governess is looking for a new job after fighting with the housekeeper; the chef left yesterday just before dinner, and two other servants have given their notice.

On the third morning out of the house, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky (“Stiva,” to the society world) wakes up at his usual 8:00 a.m. on the leather sofa in his study. He turns his “stout, well-cared-for” body over as if he will fall asleep again, but then he suddenly sits up and remembers the delightful dream he had been having. It was a dream of fine dining, opera music, and fashionable people—including women.

He puts on his slippers, the fine gold-colored Moroccan slippers his wife made him, and reaches for his dressing gown as he has for the past nine years. Then he remembers that he is not sleeping in his wife’s room. When he remembers why, the smile vanishes from his face. He recalls every detail of the argument, feels again the hopelessness of his situation, and knows it is all his fault. He moans in despair at the pain he is feeling because of this quarrel.

The most unpleasant memory for him is the moment he arrived home in such a good mood after the theater, a huge pear in his hand, to discover his wife sitting in her bedroom with the revelatory letter in her hand. He was used to seeing Darya Alexandrovna (“Dolly”) fuss with the details of the house, but then she looked at him with a expression of “horror, despair, and indignation.” She asked him about the letter, and he did what so many people do when they have been caught in a disgrace.

Instead of trying to defend himself or beg for forgiveness—or even feign indifference—Stepan Arkadyevitch simply gave her an idiotic smile. Darya Alexandrovna was infuriated at that smirk and berated him cruelly; she has refused to see him ever since. Stepan Arkadyevitch regrets that smile more than anything and blames it for his problems. Again he despairs and wonders what can be done to remedy his situation.