Part 5, Chapter 17 Summary
The hotel was constructed as a modern building with the best intentions of cleanliness and even elegance; however, it has been diminished to a filthy, dusty, disorderly place. Levin feels a physical pain when he enters, and when he is told there is only one filthy room available, he feels anger. What he feared has happened; instead of immediately going to his brother’s bedside, Levin must worry about the conditions to which Kitty is being exposed.
Levin takes her to their room, and she tells him with guilty eyes to go to Nikolay. He leaves without a word and nearly trips over Marya Nikolaevna who heard he arrived and came to him immediately. She looks as common as she did when he last saw her, and she hesitantly asks Levin if he brought his wife. Levin does not understand her question at first, but Marya enlightens him by saying she will go down to the kitchen so he can take Kitty to see Nikolay, who will be delighted to see her.
Levin expected to see the same consumptive figure in the same state of denial and was prepared to feel the same flood of distress he had felt before at the thought of losing his brother. What he finds is not what he expected. There is a body lying on the bed in the filthy, noisy room, but the figure is so emaciated that at first Levin cannot reconcile it with what he remembers of his brother. When he gets closer and sees the faint smile and eager eyes, though, he knows this is Nikolay.
Nikolay’s eyes reproach Levin, and immediately there is established a “living relationship between living men.” The reproach causes Levin to feel remorse at his own happiness. Talking is an effort for the dying man, but he says Levin undoubtedly did not expect to find him looking this way. Levin asks why Nikolay did not tell him of his condition when he tried to reach him before the wedding.
Nikolay is silent, but Levin feels the need to speak so there will not be silence. When Levin tells his brother that Kitty has come with him, Nikolay’s eyes light with pleasure but he says he is afraid his appearance will frighten her. Nikolay orders Marya to tidy the room and try to rid it of its stink before Kitty comes, and then he tells her she must go away before the visit. Levin decides to convince Kitty not to visit Nikolay but she insists, saying she might be a help to both men. Kitty immediately goes to Nikolay and takes his hand, talking with him as if all things were normal. Soon, though, Nikolay’s expression turns again to reproach, a dying man’s envy of the living. Kitty announces that they must find Nikolay a different room so they will be closer to him.