A Wife Defines Her Role
In their home in the country, Kitty and Levin experience the growing pains many newlyweds feel. Levin blames Kitty's presence and fussing over the house for his inability to work, but he fails to realize that Kitty is nesting—preparing for the time when she will be his wife, mistress of the house and mother to their children. Kitty is rapidly maturing and asserts her authority when she takes over the run of the household from Levin's old nurse and housekeeper Agafya. As Kitty learns to temper her fancies with practicalities, she feels scrutinized and mocked by the servants at every turn. Eventually, she wins Agafya over by simple, respectful acts—like asking Agafya to sit down for tea.
We begin to see the depth of Kitty's character when Levin's brother Nikolai becomes deathly ill. Kitty again asserts her position when Levin says she can't accompany him to see Nikolai because Nikolai's companion, former prostitute Marya, will be there. Kitty argues, "I do not wish to know anything about who or what is there. I know that my husband's brother is dying, and that my husband is going to him...I feel it's my duty to be with my husband when my husband is in distress." (p. 488) Kitty gets her wish and does not disappoint. She swings into action, calling the doctor and pharmacy, and making over the dingy room. Divorcing herself from social rules, she even walks the halls unescorted and talks to the taboo Marya.
While Levin wrestles intellectually with death and how to be around his dying brother, Kitty draws on the lessons she learned at the spa to bring real comfort to Nikolai in his final days. Levin marvels at Kitty and Agafya's grasp of life and death. "The proof that they knew firmly what death was lay in their knowing, without a moment's doubt, how to act with dying people and not being afraid of them." (p. 496) As life and death are intertwined, so are Nikolai's final days and the beginning of a new life. We've seen Kitty's instinct and ease when faced with her brother-in-law's passing...now we will discover how she will welcome her first baby into the world. From all her nurturing in Part Five, it's hard to imagine that she won't rise to the challenge of motherhood.
Dolly, one of the first Desperate Housewives