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THE STORY, continued
This is the famous mowing scene, one of Tolstoy's greatest set pieces. You probably remember that a set piece is a very theatrical scene presented in minute detail. In the mowing scene you come to understand Levin's complex and rich relationship with his land and the peasants who work for him. Levin not only works with the peasants side by side, but he learns from them, admires their stamina, skill, and natural grace.
You can read the mowing scene as expressing everything Levin had wished to say to Sergey but couldn't, because to articulate his feelings would have been to intellectualize them, to rob them of "heart." Sergey has a driving need to describe, Levin to experience. Although Sergey may appear better able to share his thoughts and feelings with others, this doesn't mean his thoughts are any deeper than Levin's. Levin (and Tolstoy) would have you believe they are more shallow.
Savor the mowing scene. It has some of the most wonderfully descriptive language to be found in any of Tolstoy's work. And it's a rare sort of scene, for it's an unusual writer who really knows how to mow a field. And a rarer one still who can make his readers yearn to scythe as well.
The Oblonskys' financial picture is still bleak. To cut down on expenses and to get a rest from the city, Dolly and her children move to her family's estate, which is located near Levin's. Like many of Tolstoy's characters, Dolly regains her equilibrium in the country. Her husband's infidelities bruise her less there, and she finds increased happiness with her children.
Dolly tells Levin that Kitty will be coming for a visit. Levin says that he will not come to call, that he's tried and will continue to try to forget Kitty. But one evening he's out walking and sees a carriage coming his way. He peers inside as it passes, and his eyes meet Kitty's. He realizes that he loves her and always will.
Again Tolstoy has pulled a fast one. He uses abrupt changes for two reasons: They make the plot more exciting, and they reinforce his theme that our truest perceptions come from our feelings rather than our brain. Levin doesn't have time to intellectualize a denial of his love for Kitty; as soon as he sees her, feelings of love spontaneously wash over him.
Tolstoy "ripens" Levin for this realization. Before he sees Kitty's carriage, Tolstoy has Levin meet a young peasant couple, newly married and very much in love. They are working together in a field, and to Levin they represent the harmony he hungers for.
From a vision of harmony, Tolstoy plunges you into the tense triangle made up of Anna, Karenin, and Vronsky.
Karenin considers challenging Vronsky to a duel but finally decides against it. He then considers divorcing Anna but decides against that, too, since by Russian law he would have to present proof of her affair, which would certainly cause a scandal.
Karenin decides that the best thing is for him to insist that his and Anna's life continue outwardly as though nothing were wrong. In this way, he reasons, his honor will be saved, he won't have the headaches of a divorce, and- not least- Anna will suffer. Anna, he believes, must suffer, for in his eyes she alone is guilty.
Karenin puts his plan into action by sending Anna money, with a proper but cold note. He then buries himself in his work.
Anna, who is staying at their summer home and receiving visits from Karenin on weekends, realizes with a start that she too is horrified at the prospect of public disgrace. By staying married to Karenin maybe she can avoid a scandal and continue her affair with Vronsky. She seeks advice from Princess Betsy, who counsels her to perfect her arts of deception. Anna realizes that she feels comfortable in Princess Betsy's drawing room, that the buzz of society gossip calms her.
Take note that Anna seeks help from a character Tolstoy has let you know is a villain. This not only lets you know what Tolstoy thinks of Anna's behavior, but might be a clue as to what eventually will happen to Anna.
Vronsky has his frustrations, too. He dislikes situations that are unclear, and Anna's apparent inability to leave Karenin makes him very uncomfortable. Another unresolved aspect of his life is his career. He is by nature ambitious, and he is not progressing as quickly as he had expected. He meets an old school friend whose career is going along brilliantly. Vronsky takes special note when his friend tells him that women are the chief stumbling blocks in a man's career. Vronsky worries that he might be ruining his chances for success by hanging on to a love that is doomed.
Karenin, Anna, and Vronsky are all trying to act in their own self-interest. How different their understanding of this is than Levin's. Tolstoy is drawing a line between selfishness and self-interest. How would you differentiate between the two? Think back to Levin's discussion with Sergey on the emancipation of the serfs.
These chapters, though not especially action-packed, are nonetheless exciting, for they let you see the manner in which Levin's thoughts- on life and on his part in life- begin to crystallize with startling speed.
He goes to visit his friend, Sviazhsky, who lives a considerable distance away. En route, he stops to feed his horses at the home of a wealthy peasant family. Levin talks with the head of the family and learns that he is in the practice of renting land to other peasants and taking a percentage of their crop yield. His conversation with the old man haunts him during his trip. Can you guess why? Review what you already know about Levin's project to revolutionize farming.
Levin is nervous about seeing Sviazhsky and his wife, for he knows that they would like him to marry the wife's younger sister. At dinner, the young woman is wearing a low-cut dress, probably to capture Levin's attention. Levin is distracted, made miserable by the sight of the woman's plunging neckline. This points up his (and Tolstoy's) discomfort with sensuality unless it is in the context of marriage.
Levin excuses himself from the ladies and joins the men for a discussion on farming methods. Everyone has complaints. Sviazhsky considers Russia a doomed country. The nobility, he asserts, really favors serfdom, which he sees as a fatal flaw in the Russian social make-up. He says that every year he shows a loss because, even after emancipation, the peasants don't feel they have enough stake in the system to work hard. Another man- an old-fashioned type of landlord- believes the serfs were better off before emancipation. He says they are too ignorant to be able to fend for themselves.
Levin responds by arguing that the solution is to cure not their ignorance first but their poverty. He concludes that the only way to do this is to share all profits equally with the peasants- thereby giving them a vested interest. As a result, he says, everyone's income will increase. Levin realizes that what bothered him about the old peasant's practice of renting land to other peasants is that it is too similar to the way things were done in the past- it's still a landlord-tenant relationship. Levin wants a full partnership with the people who work for him.
He vows to start this new system on his estate that very season. He goes home and begins working feverishly.
NOTE: In the late 1840s (the emancipation happened in 1861), Tolstoy tried to make the peasants at Yasnaya Polyana his partners by selling them bits of land. Although the peasants liked Tolstoy personally, they couldn't understand why a landlord would do such a thing. Crestfallen at his failure, Tolstoy returned to Moscow and spent 1848-1850 there. But after emancipation, Tolstoy made it work.
Levin's life as an estate proprietor is based on Tolstoy's experience as a landlord.
Nicholas arrives unexpectedly, saying that his health is much improved. Clearly, though, he is worse- he is dying. Levin realizes with a jolt that his discomfort with Nicholas has stemmed from the fact that for a long time now he had associated Nicholas with death. Levin is terribly depressed. He takes comfort in the thought that maybe his work- if it's good enough to live on after him- will, in a sense, save him from death.
It will pay to read these chapters a second time. Anna Karenina is not only about the lives of the characters- it is about Tolstoy's view of, and vision for, Russia. Levin is his spokesman. You see, through Levin, Tolstoy's own development- his intellectual false starts, crash landings, and final soaring.
BOOK I, PART IV
The events in Part IV- the last part in Book I- mark a turning point in the novel. After giving birth to Vronsky's daughter, Anna becomes gravely ill. Karenin forgives her on what he believes to be her deathbed. When she recovers, however, he realizes that Anna despises him, and consents to a divorce. Anna refuses the divorce because she doesn't want to give up her son, but goes to live abroad with Vronsky.
Kitty and Levin become engaged.
Anna and Karenin live together as though nothing were wrong. Of course, Anna continues to see Vronsky, and Karenin knows it. His one condition is that Vronsky never come to their house.
One night, however, Anna begs Vronsky to come while Karenin is to be at a meeting. Karenin comes home unexpectedly, meets Vronsky on his doorstep, and bows to him politely. But beneath his polite exterior, he is boiling mad. Karenin tells Anna he plans to divorce her and to arrange for Seriozha to be raised by his aunt.
Soon after, Anna tells Vronsky she has had a dream that told her she will soon die. It is the dream in which a small peasant fumbles in a sack, muttering, near railway tracks. This dream will recur throughout the rest of the novel.
Why do you think Anna first has the dream after Karenin tells her they will divorce? What does divorce mean to Anna, and why does she- even subconsciously- connect it to her death? You might think back to the epigraph, and Tolstoy's insistence that "the bitter things come from God." Has Anna set in motion her own destruction by transgressing God's commandments? You may not be able to answer at this point in the book, but keep the question in mind as you read.
The Oblonskys' finances are as shaky as ever, but Stiva still entertains his friends at restaurants and gives parties at his home. At one of his get-togethers, Levin, who happens to be in town, unexpectedly meets Kitty. He recognizes that she loves him by the look in her eyes. He proposes to her, using secret signals that only she understands.
Kitty and Levin are able to come together not because one makes a declaration to the other, but because, as soon as they see each other, they communicate their feelings by their expressions, postures, and so forth. They relate to one another intuitively.
Contrast this harmony between Levin and Kitty with the ways in which words often bring Anna to cross purposes with Vronsky as well as with Karenin.
Also contrast Anna's indecision- her inability to create a clear situation for herself with either Vronsky or Karenin- with Levin's clarity of feeling and decisive action with Kitty.
Levin asks formally for Kitty's hand, although the young woman has already accepted him. The prince and princess are both delighted. Take note that Kitty has brought her mother around to her point of view on Levin.
Levin feels he must ask Kitty's forgiveness for the fact that he is not a virgin. He gives her his diary, which recounts certain episodes of his youth. She reads it and is horrified, but in the end forgives him.
NOTE: Tolstoy places those women who seem cut out by nature to be wives and mothers on a higher moral plane than other women, to whom such roles in life might seem burdensome. Levin's investing Kitty with the power to forgive and absolve drives home Tolstoy's point. The gesture also serves to underscore that marriage must be sanctified, that one must prepare and cleanse oneself for it.
What do you think of Levin's confession to Kitty? Is this something you would wish to do? Would you expect this of your prospective husband or wife? Do you think Kitty should have refused to read the diaries?
Smarting over Anna's betrayal, Karenin thinks about the Christian principle of forgiveness. But it's hard for him. Just as earlier in the novel Anna had advised Dolly to forgive Stiva, so now Dolly counsels Karenin to forgive Anna.
Karenin receives a telegram from Anna telling him she is dying and asking him to come to her. He doesn't believe it- she has lied to him so many times- but he can't help but think that her death would solve all his problems.
When he arrives, Anna, despite having given birth safely to a daughter, is delirious with fever. She begs Karenin to forgive her affair with Vronsky and begs him to forgive Vronsky as well. Karenin does. Now Anna feels ready to die, and wishes for death.
Vronsky, humiliated before Karenin and desperate at the thought of Anna's death, attempts to commit suicide. He shoots himself after he has gone back to his room, but before he bleeds to death his servant finds him and summons help.
Karenin is surprised at the tenderness and compassion he found within himself- he even feels affection for Anna and Vronsky's daughter and vows to raise her himself after Anna's death. He knows inward peace for the first time in his life.
To Karenin's astonishment, however, Anna begins to recover. His feelings toward her change. He realizes that Anna fears rather than loves him. He receives an unexpected jolt when he learns from Princess Betsy that Vronsky is leaving for a job in the provinces and that Anna wishes to see him before he leaves. Karenin is back in his old predicament. He wants to act so that others will have no cause to condemn him, but the thought of permitting Anna to resume her affair with Vronsky makes his blood boil.
NOTE: APPEARANCES CAN BE DECEIVING
You've seen Tolstoy do this before. Just when you think you know what will happen next, Tolstoy pulls a switch. This technique keeps you on your toes, but that's not the only reason Tolstoy uses it. He believes that appearances are often deceiving. Anna is a perfect case in point: Just before she began a torrid love affair with Vronsky, she was the picture of the proper, faithful wife of a prominent gentleman. On the basis of Anna's past actions and words, no one had any reason to suspect that she would suddenly (or ever) leave her family.
Princess Betsy, a woman who loves intrigue, takes upon herself the role of go-between. After telling Karenin about Vronsky's plans, she goes to see Stiva, telling him that Karenin will be the death of Anna. Stiva, concerned for his beloved sister, begs Karenin to give her a divorce. Deeply upset, Karenin finally agrees.
Princess Betsy goes to Vronsky to tell him the news. Vronsky immediately visits Anna, who tells him she belongs to him. They decide to go to Italy to live together.
Vronsky gives up the promising job he was offered, and Anna refuses Karenin's offer of divorce because he refused to grant her custody of Seriozha. The lovers leave, but many matters are still undecided.
Many readers believe the deathbed scene to be the most critical scene in the novel. Tolstoy is telling you that the nearness of death brings out the best in people. Anna no longer wants to be deceitful, Karenin is forgiving, Vronsky feels shame. Anna's returning health, however, complicates things. Anna goes back to Vronsky, Karenin again feels a thirst for vengeance, and Vronsky devotes himself to a desperate love rather than to a clear-cut, comparatively wholesome life.
At Anna's deathbed, they all seem to exist in a suspended moment. But this is not how life works, and perhaps our true desires can only be recognized in the crush of everyday life. Do you think we recognize what we really hope for and aspire to in times of crisis?
BOOK II, PART V
A lot happens in Part V. Kitty and Levin marry in another of Tolstoy's famous set pieces. They have a rocky adjustment to married life. Nicholas dies just before the newlyweds learn that Kitty is pregnant.
Anna and Vronsky are also adjusting to life together. (From here on, you'll want to compare and contrast the relationships between Kitty and Levin, and Anna and Vronsky. Remember that Anna Karenina is as much a novel about domestic relations as anything else.) Anna misses her son terribly and one morning, when she can't stand being apart from Seriozha another day, she sneaks into his nursery. Desperately lonely- all her former friends snub her now that she's "living in sin" with Vronsky- she goes to the opera, causing a scandal. Anna has a hard time keeping her head together in the face of so much rejection, and begins to blame Vronsky for her unhappiness. For his part, Vronsky is displeased that she would flaunt herself in society. Anna and Vronsky are discovering some difficulties between them that will ultimately prove their undoing. They go to the country to "get away from it all" and for a while are distracted from the tensions festering between them.
These chapters deal primarily with Kitty and Levin. Levin realizes that Kitty doesn't understand the particulars of his book on farming, nor does she care to. Only knowing that it's important to Levin makes it important to her. Notice that Kitty doesn't wish to share in her husband's work the way Anna would wish to share in Vronsky's. Kitty has a clear idea of what her own work is- to care for her husband and the children she will have with him.
Stiva tells Levin that in order to be married he will need a certificate of confession. It's been years since Levin made confession. He doesn't believe in the ritual of confession and communion; in fact, he doesn't really believe in God. But he goes to see the priest anyway, and confesses that his chief sin is doubt. The priest asks him how he can doubt the existence of God when he looks every day on God's creation. He asks Levin how he will answer his children's questions about death, birth, evil, goodness. Levin realizes that the priest is raising some valid points. But he knows that, at present, he still does not believe in God. Nonetheless, deep within him, he feels as though a voice were telling him to have patience, that faith will come.
It is Kitty's love that helps prepare Levin for the possibility he might find faith. Levin's spiritual search is a long and hard one, and he is still closer to its beginning than to its culmination.
Chapters II-VI are devoted to Kitty and Levin's wedding. Tolstoy describes the hours preceding the ceremony and the ritual itself in painstaking detail. He does this not only for dramatic purposes- a wedding is a highly theatrical event- but to emphasize that Kitty and Levin will live a traditionally Russian and harmonious life. Tolstoy cuts back and forth between the wedding guests and the couple, splicing- as though this were a film- gossip, criticism of Kitty's appearance, and small talk from the crowd with phrases from the marriage vows, prayers, and bits of Levin's running interior monologue. This technique underscores that weddings are seminal events for society- that a wedding is a grand occasion with importance for all who take part in it. It also emphasizes that Kitty and Levin- because they are fully conscious of marriage as a sacrament- are apart from those who participate in the wedding as if it were merely a big party. Kitty's joy- pure, radiant with appreciation for the momentousness of the event- infects everyone, bringing unity (however brief) to all who are there.
Tolstoy immediately contrasts Kitty and Levin with Anna and Vronsky. You go directly from the wedding scene to Italy, where Anna and Vronsky have been living together for three months. Anna feels "unpardonably happy" in her life with Vronsky. She feels that she should be suffering, especially since she has left her son behind and ruined her reputation, but she can't make herself feel unhappy.
But Vronsky- though loving and attentive- begins to feel bored. He gave up his career for Anna and really has nothing to do. He takes up painting, working in traditional styles, and shows considerable skill. They go to visit a Russian painter named Mikhaylov, who lives nearby. They are impressed with the old man's work and Vronsky commissions him to do a portrait of Anna. Vronsky gives up painting after admitting to himself that he hasn't anywhere near the talent of the old Russian, let alone the Old Masters. Now he becomes really frustrated and grows increasingly restless.
NOTE: THE CREATIVE PROCESS
You see the contrasting ways in which an artist and nonartist see the creative process. Anna, Vronsky, and their friend Golenishchev- intellectuals- visit the painter at his studio. They are immediately put off by his appearance: His clothes are badly out of fashion, and his manner is rough. By this detail, Tolstoy tells you that the artist is usually out of step with the fashionable world, that the making of art is not a tidy, genteel activity.
The artist and his visitors have conflicting feelings about each other. Mikhaylov feels some scorn for Golenishchev, Vronsky, and Anna because he suspects they don't know much about art but believe they do because they know which artists are in vogue and which are not. Yet he wants them to say something intelligent about his work, something that will convince him that they do understand. Why? Because as an artist, Mikhaylov desperately wants his work to communicate.
Golenishchev, Vronsky, and Anna talk about technique as though it were all-important. To Mikhaylov, technique is secondary to the making of art. For Mikhaylov, what counts most is inspiration and the artist's faithfulness to his own vision. Tolstoy is talking through Mikhaylov.
Notice that Anna is content to bury herself in a sort of never-never land of romance, while Vronsky feels an increasing discomfort at living removed from his own society. Why is romance alone not enough to override these shortcomings in Vronsky's life? If you were in Anna's place, would you be completely satisfied with your life? If not, why not?
These are important chapters. Levin must finally confront what haunts him when Nicholas dies- his horror of death.
Kitty and Levin's first several months of marriage find them quarreling a lot, much to their surprise. Their fights are productive, though, for after each one they understand each other better and feel closer than before.
Just when things are beginning to settle down between them, the two receive a telegram from Masha, saying that Nicholas is dying. Levin is astonished when Kitty insists on going with him to Moscow.
Levin is upset- to the point of inaction- by the seediness of Nicholas's hotel, by his brother's suffering and nearness to death, and by the presence of Masha, a "fallen woman." But Kitty knows instinctively what to do. She has Nicholas moved to a better room, has it cleaned, puts fresh linen on the bed, washes and changes Nicholas, and convinces him to take extreme unction. To Levin's surprise, Kitty and Masha get along well.
You see clearly the contrast between Levin and Kitty- or, as Tolstoy would have you understand it, between the intellectual and intuitive approach to life. Levin tries intellectually to come to terms with death and suffering. That is why he fails. Kitty- Tolstoy's consummate wife and mother in this novel- has an intuitive understanding that birth and death are part of the same cycle, that both have their particular significance. Levin sees that he must try to learn from Kitty. He realizes that love- not work, as he had previously thought- will keep him from despair.
Nicholas dies an agonizing death in Chapter XX, the only chapter in Anna Karenina to have a title ("Death"). Soon afterward, Levin learns that Kitty is pregnant. The timing of these two events underscores Tolstoy's theme that death and birth are united, and that a person must come to terms with both.
You remember that Karenin had decided that the best way for him to handle his life was to continue his normal routine as much as possible. But the routine doesn't make him feel any better about things. He is completely lost; his life makes no sense to him. He can't understand how he can still love Anna, feel tenderness for her and Vronsky's daughter, do his best (with his limited emotional resources) to raise his son- and still be ridiculed by many in society.
He's easy prey for Lydia Ivanovna, a society lady given to impulsive love affairs and religious faddism. She arrives at Karenin's home and announces that she will run his house and advise him on all personal matters. Though Karenin had previously had contempt for Lydia Ivanovna, he feels so desperate that he is comforted by her attention. The first thing the woman does to set Karenin's house in order is to tell Seriozha that his mother is dead. From here on, Lydia will do everything in her power to hurt Anna, and to make Karenin fall in love with herself.
Others in society are also trying to destroy Anna. Princess Betsy, pretending to offer friendly advice, tells Vronsky that he shouldn't be seen with Anna, a "fallen woman," while they are in Saint Petersburg. She talks to Vronsky in honeyed tones, appealing to his insecurities about his career and chances for success. Princess Betsy also visits Anna, under the guise of friendship. She tells Anna that she herself, of course, is very liberal and is not bothered by Anna and Vronsky's living together, but that others are not so open-minded. She does this just so she can see the effect of her painful words on Anna.
Anna's reaction is to rebel even further. She sneaks into Karenin's house in order to see Seriozha. The visit completely unnerves her, especially when she realizes the boy had been told she was dead. When she goes back home, she can no longer feel love for her daughter, and never will again. In her mind, her daughter has deprived her of Seriozha, and she resents her for it.
Hysterical beneath a relatively calm exterior, Anna starts acting in a way that Vronsky considers reckless. He has been influenced by Princess Betsy's talk and wants them to keep a low profile in Saint Petersburg. Anna, however, announces that she is going to the opera that evening; Vronsky can barely contain his horror.
Vronsky also goes to the opera, but sits apart from Anna. He feels angry that she is so beautiful- her loveliness, he can't help thinking, is what got him into this mess in the first place. Anna's presence at the opera does, in fact, cause a scandal. The people in the next box leave rather than sit next to a "sinful woman."
Anna and Vronsky fight at home after the opera. Anna blames Vronsky for leaving her alone too much. They make a tentative peace and leave the next day for the country.
Vronsky shows himself to resemble Karenin in his concern about the opinion of others. Anna again finds that she is with a man who is unable to think and act independently.
Tolstoy shows urban society at its most hypocritical. Most of the people who now scorn Anna are themselves adulterers. But they do it secretly, playing by "the rules." Who do you think is more dishonorable- Anna or those that condemn her?
Anna's mind starts to slip in these chapters. She fantasizes that Vronsky no longer loves her, and begins acting as though her fantasy were true. More and more, Anna will be unable to tell the difference between what she imagines and what really is happening. As you read, try to pinpoint the events and circumstances that drive Anna mad.
BOOK II, PART VI
In this part, Tolstoy shows in high relief the differences in the lives of his three principal female characters. The Levins' quiet life in the country is interrupted by visitors from the city. Not only does Levin's work suffer, but he finds himself jealous of the attention one of the guests shows to Kitty. Dolly goes to visit Anna and realizes that though her own life is far from perfect, she wouldn't want to be in Anna's shoes. Anna, resisting the role of wife and uncomfortable with that of mistress, is increasingly in need of Vronsky's undivided attention.
The Levins' house is filled with summer guests, among them Koznyshev and Varenka, a pretty young woman. Koznyshev you learn, had a fiancee who died before they could marry. Since then, he has remained true to her. But he's lonely and attracted to Varenka. Just as he is about to propose, though, he backs down, to the chagrin of both of them.
NOTE: INTELLECTUALS AND MARRIAGE
Notice how Tolstoy takes a seemingly unimportant, though diverting, scene involving minor characters, some of whom appear only once, and uses it to make a thematic statement. In this way, Tolstoy expresses his themes in various contexts and from several different angles (Sergey is one type of unfulfilled intellectual, Koznyshev is another). An advantage to the epic form is that it gives authors lots of room: they can explore the many ramifications of a given theme without seeming to hammer away at it. The epic also allows authors to change scenes and bring in new characters, to keep the story lively as well as to deepen the treatment of their themes.
Stiva arrives with a friend named Veslovsky. Levin is offended that Veslovsky flirts with Kitty. Later Veslovsky will visit Vronsky and Anna, and flirt with Anna. The two women respond differently to Veslovsky's attentions, and so do Levin and Vronsky. You'll want to compare and contrast the two couples and their reactions to an intrusive third party.
These chapters comprise another set piece. Levin, Stiva, and Veslovsky go hunting. Levin is annoyed by the two city gentlemen who have little appreciation for the land and the peasants. They stop for the night at a peasant's home. Stiva and Veslovsky each go to bed with a peasant girl. Levin sleeps alone, furious with his companions.
He comes around to thinking that he really has no right to judge others, as long as they don't prevent him from living as he chooses. By the end of the trip, the three are back on friendly terms.
But when they get back to Levin's estate, Veslovsky again flirts with Kitty, whereupon Levin tells him to leave. Levin's family considers his gesture extreme. But Levin doesn't care, he has what he wants- peace and quiet.
There's something else. Levin regards Kitty as exalted, as practically sacred because she is pregnant. To him Veslovsky is "the worm in the Garden of Eden," and he won't have his home contaminated. What do you think of Levin's conduct here? Remember, Levin is struggling to achieve greater clarity in his life. Levin's gesture can be seen either as heroic- in that he makes a clear statement on his moral standards- or a little paranoid. What do you think?
The main purpose of this chapter is the contrast between Anna and Dolly. Dolly goes to see Anna where she is living with Vronsky. Dolly is nervous because she looks shabby, although she's wearing her best dress. Anna, as always, looks beautiful and is glad to see Dolly, but somehow they have trouble talking. Dolly feels sad to realize that Vronsky has a lot of activities- a stud farm, a hospital he has built for his peasants, a park- that Anna doesn't share. It seems her job is always to look stunning- she changes clothes several times a day. Anna doesn't even plan menus or oversee the house servants; Vronsky does that. Anna, it seems to Dolly, is a guest in Vronsky's home rather than a full-fledged companion.
Vronsky takes Dolly aside and asks her to convince Anna to get a divorce. He would like to have more children with Anna and knows that they would legally be considered bastards unless he and Anna marry.
Veslovsky, the man Levin threw out of his house, comes for dinner. Dolly is shocked to see Anna flirting with him. Vronsky, unlike Levin, isn't the least bit upset. In fact, he seems flattered that another man would notice Anna's charms.
As they prepare for bed, Anna comes in to talk with Dolly. Dolly prevails upon Anna to get a divorce from Karenin. Anna's reply shocks her. Anna says that she does not want to have more children- that she practices birth control (highly unusual for those times). She tells Dolly that she knows if she isn't eternally alluring to Vronsky he will leave her. To become pregnant, to be burdened with the tasks of child rearing, would, she fears, take away from her sexual attractiveness. She feels insecure because she's not married to Vronsky, but she's afraid of being like Dolly. Vronsky has said that Dolly is "nice, but terre a terre," which means that she's too down to earth. Either way, Anna fears losing Vronsky, and so tries to stay between the two roles.
After Dolly leaves, you get another look at Anna and Vronsky's life together. Anna is bored. To occupy herself, she reads voraciously, trying to keep up on subjects of interest to Vronsky. Vronsky feels increasingly confined in their life. He has become active politically and spends a lot of time away from Anna at meetings. They fight frequently about this. Anna is nearly out of her mind with loneliness. Vronsky resolves he will give Anna anything she wants except his "freedom as a man."
NOTE: LOVE AND ROMANCE
You may notice that there is a lot of French in this section. This is one way in which Tolstoy lets you know that he disapproves of Anna and Vronsky's set-up. Remember, speaking French was a habit among upper-class Russians who wished to act "cultivated."
What do you think of Tolstoy's definition of love and the distinction he draws between love and romance? What do you think of Vronsky's attitude? Anna is trapped. What do you think Anna could do in order to free herself?
Dolly goes home feeling that her own life has integrity. It may be hard for readers in this day and age to accept Tolstoy's solution for Dolly. Many readers find that Dolly is too long-suffering, has borne too much humiliation, to be an admirable female character. But bear in mind that Tolstoy's point is not that women should suffer (and he makes clear that Stiva is far from an ideal husband); his point is that a woman's chief responsibility, and joy, is to have children. Dolly's life isn't perfect, but she does find happiness in it.
Anna and Vronsky and Kitty and Levin are again contrasted in these chapters. Both couples are separated- the women are at home, the men are at an election conference.
Vronsky's frequent separations from Anna have her feeling so desperate she takes morphine every night in order to sleep. Kitty is with her family in Moscow, peacefully awaiting the birth of her child.
Levin and Vronsky find themselves opposed on most of the issues raised at the conference. Vronsky represents a new breed of farmer, one who doesn't shy away from modern methods, who doesn't see any harm in industrializing farming. Though Vronsky doesn't mistreat his peasants, it doesn't occur to him to make them equal partners. Levin doesn't want to see farming become an industry. He holds more than ever to his plan to forge a partnership with the peasants.
In the midst of the meeting, Vronsky receives a note from Anna saying that their daughter is very ill. He returns home, finding that the baby was never as seriously ill as Anna tried to make him believe. Vronsky is furious that she would try to manipulate him so crudely.
Anna feels so desperately insecure that she writes to Karenin asking for a divorce on any terms. Then she and Vronsky move to Moscow and set up housekeeping like a married couple, expecting any day to receive news from Karenin that a divorce is under way.
Both couples are anticipating major changes: Kitty and Levin are preparing to become parents; Anna and Vronsky to become married. Again on a note of suspense, Tolstoy closes a Part of the novel.
BOOK II, PART VII
Many readers find this the most exciting part of Anna Karenina. Kitty gives birth. Karenin has a "religious conversion," falls under the sway of a fake clairvoyant (a friend of Lydia Ivanovna), and refuses to divorce Anna. Anna commits suicide.
By now the Levins have been in Moscow two months waiting for Kitty to give birth. Levin, although he doesn't particularly like city life and is worried that things are very expensive, is much more at ease in town than ever before. The "rough edges" in his character that earlier caused him to throw Veslovsky out of his house seem to have been smoothed. He renews acquaintances with some of his college friends, and enjoys talking with them about his ideas on agriculture.
One night while at his father-in-law's club, Levin is introduced by Stiva to Vronsky. The two men find that they rather like each other and are both glad that the unspoken feud between them is over.
Vronsky even invites Levin to his home. Kitty, too, meets Vronsky by chance while out walking with her father. Like her husband, she feels none of the hostility toward him she felt in the past. Both Kitty and Levin are learning to put their pasts behind them.
Levin goes with Stiva to Anna and Vronsky's home. Anna beguiles Levin with her charm, intelligence, and wit. But she startles him when, as he's leaving, she asks him to give her regards to Kitty, saying, "If she cannot forgive me my situation, I wish her never to forgive me. To forgive, she would have to live through what I have lived through, and may God preserve her from that!"
The scene between Anna and Levin is complex. They are drawn to each other, which underscores that Tolstoy places them on a higher plane than he does his other characters. They are both seekers; neither is satisfied to live an unexamined life dictated by society.
But Anna flirts with Levin, and her mention of Kitty is shifty. She raises the possibility that Kitty could end up where Anna has; she raises the possibility of infidelity, divorce, ruined reputations.
This not only serves to emphasize that Levin and Anna- for all they share- are essentially different, but foreshadows Anna's ruin. Levin is the hero of this book; no principal character can cross him and have a happy life.
After Levin and Anna's meeting both couples argue. Kitty notices that Levin has an uncommon gleam in his eye and is afraid that her husband has fallen in love with Anna. After talking about it all night, they fall asleep, totally reconciled. It's different with Anna and Vronsky. Vronsky's been away a lot and this makes Anna insecure. She thinks that she's more attractive to other men- she knows the effect she had on Levin- than to her lover. In order to get Vronsky to pay more attention to her, she tells him she is "near disaster and afraid of myself." Anna can't help herself; she feels that an "evil spirit of strife" exists side by side with their love, not only in her heart but in his as well. This "spirit of strife" seems bigger than both Anna and Vronsky. Do you think it is one of "the bitter things from God" to which the epigraph refers?
These chapters are devoted to the birth of Kitty and Levin's baby. To Levin, it seems that everything is happening in a dream. Kitty, although this is her first child and she is in pain, has an intuitive comprehension and feels peaceful. When he sees his newborn son at Kitty's breast, Levin is astonished at his feelings: He feels pain, because he knows that his son- being human- is destined to suffer.
NOTE: TOLSTOY ON CHILDBIRTH
Tolstoy places this scene as rebuttal to the views that Anna expressed to Dolly on pregnancy and motherhood.
Here you get a glimpse of Tolstoy's nightmare vision of the future: an industrialized and bureaucratized Russia.
You remember that the Oblonskys' finances are in bad shape. Things are worse than ever, and Stiva decides he must take drastic means to improve them. He applies for a well-paying bureaucratic post, membership on the Committee of the Joint Agency of the Mutual Credit Balance of Southern Railways and Banking Houses. Stiva starts talking to all his friends (and friends of friends) in government.
NOTE: RAILROADS AND FARMING
This would be devastating on two accounts, believed Tolstoy. Agriculture had always been the mainstay of the Russian economy, and the farming life the backbone of Russian tradition. Tolstoy believed that Russian peasants were different from the peasants in European countries, because they believed that their destiny was to inhabit the vast, sparsely populated lands in the east and south. To build railroads in those regions would not only destroy the practice of farming, but a part of the Russian psyche as well.
Karenin agrees to help Stiva get the job he wants. Why do you think this is? After all, Stiva has been asking Karenin to divorce Anna, something he doesn't want to do.
Stiva, while visiting with Karenin and other friends in Saint Petersburg, learns that Karenin has fallen under the influence of a man named Landau, a so-called clairvoyant who has taken society by storm. One of the socialites went so far as to adopt him and give him the title of Count Bezzubov. Karenin asks Stiva to meet him later that evening at Countess Lydia's; there, he says, he will give him his decision on divorcing Anna.
Lydia tells Stiva about Karenin's religious "conversion," letting him know that Karenin's decision will be dependent on Landau's advice. They enter a particularly weird scene. Landau goes into a trance listening for voices, uttering strange phrases. Suddenly, Landau says that Stiva must leave. The next morning Stiva receives a note from Karenin saying that a divorce is impossible.
Tolstoy's contempt for Karenin and Countess Lydia and her crowd couldn't be made more plain. That they could be taken in by a fake like Landau- that they could lionize him- points up that they have no genuinely religious feelings. Karenin is using "religion" to justify his desire to punish Anna; he fools himself into thinking that he has piously turned himself over to a higher power. The seance scene shows Karenin to be not only pathetic and self-deceiving, but spiteful and cruel. Think about the ways in which Tolstoy develops Karenin as an essentially weak individual. Trace his decline.
Think back to this scene later when Levin has his spiritual revelation. You'll want to contrast the two men and the ways in which they deal with religion.
This is the end of Anna. In writing Anna's final hours, Tolstoy is at the height of his dramatic and descriptive powers.
Anna is at her wit's end. She's exceedingly lonely, nervous, impatient for her divorce, distrustful of Vronsky, wildly jealous. She has convinced herself that he is in love with Princess Sorokina who is a sort of secretary to his mother.
Vronsky is also at the end of his rope. Anna is very difficult to live with. He continues to go to the theater, opera, concerts, and so forth, even though Anna cannot go with him. Do you think Vronsky is merely being cruel? Do you think he's being cowardly in not taking Anna with him when he goes out? Do you think that the only way he can keep his head above water is to get away from Anna from time to time?
After another fight, Anna and Vronsky decide to return to the country. Vronsky has one item of business he must attend to. When Anna realizes that he'll have to see Princess Sorokina in the process she creates a terrible scene.
The next day Anna says she won't be ready to go to the country. This is typical of the sudden reversals that have come to characterize her actions. The same day Stiva sends Vronsky a note saying the prospect isn't good regarding Anna's divorce. Vronsky tries to comfort Anna by saying that she and the children they will have together mean everything to him. Anna replies that his mention of children means he gives no thought to her. Anna is being impossible, yet Vronsky does his best to remain cool and polite. Anna misinterprets his reserve for icy hatred.
After he leaves, Anna makes up cruel things he might have said to her and believes them. She goes to bed with a headache, directing a servant to tell Vronsky she prefers not to be disturbed. She then tells herself, "If he comes to my room, he still loves me; if not, he doesn't." This is totally irrational. Vronsky, respecting what he believes are her wishes, goes to bed alone in his study.
That night she has her nightmare again of the man near the railroad tracks.
The next day Princess Sorokina drops by with some papers for Vronsky to sign. Anna flies into a rage and again refuses to go with Vronsky to the country. Vronsky, not knowing how to deal with Anna's unreasonable behavior, leaves the house.
Anna sends him a note begging forgiveness, but the messenger doesn't get there in time. Anna sends the servant to Vronsky's mother's home. She then goes to Dolly's house where she meets Kitty. Anna immediately thinks that Vronsky regrets not having married Kitty. She deliberately tells Kitty how much she enjoyed meeting Levin, hoping to make her jealous. But Anna is so obviously unhappy that Kitty can only feel sorry for her. Hastily, Anna leaves.
At home Anna receives a telegram from Vronsky saying that he won't be home until ten o'clock. She's furious and resolves to go to his mother's to meet him. She doesn't realize that he hadn't received her note when he wired, and that he doesn't know what she's feeling.
In the carriage on the way to the train station, Anna tells herself silly jokes, torments herself with thoughts of Vronsky's supposed infidelities, with thoughts of her husband and son. She forgets why she is going to the station. Her servant reminds her.
She boards the train thinking that she has finally learned the key to life: All people are born to suffer, life is nothing but a torment.
When she arrives at the station where she will have to change trains, she receives a note from Vronsky apologizing that her note didn't reach him earlier. No matter, Anna is burning mad.
All she can think of is her desire to punish Vronsky. She kneels down so that the train car will run over her, then tries to get up, but it's too late.
NOTE: THE DEATH OF ANNA KARENINA
You should also give some thought to the fact that Anna tried at the last moment to run from death. You know that Tolstoy believes that birth-life-death constitute one positive cycle. Anna twice tries to put herself outside this cycle- by her refusal to have children with Vronsky and by thinking of her death as a means to do harm to Vronsky. Anna has no trace of Kitty's intuitive understanding with the life cycle and none of the tough-mindedness that Levin shows as he grapples with his fear of death.
Try to look at Anna's death from all angles. To what extent do you think Anna's society is responsible for her downfall? To what extent is Vronsky responsible? How does Anna bring about her own misfortune? Her refusal of Karenin's first offer of divorce can be seen two ways: either she refuses because she wants a better deal, i.e., custody of Seriozha; or because she feels so guilty toward Karenin that she wants to punish herself.
One can't deny that Anna suffers because of the way her former friends reject her, but her greatest suffering is due to the turmoil within her. This seems to refer to the epigraph.
Notice how Tolstoy's descriptions of Anna grow increasingly detailed and lush in this section. He kills her off, but in doing so he seems to be killing a part of himself as well. Tolstoy may have intended to punish Anna, but his compassion equals his disapproval. What about you? What do you feel for Anna Karenina?
BOOK II, PART VIII
In this part, Tolstoy steps back from the lives of certain of his characters and deals with them as though they were bit players in the epic story of Russia. Because of the political content, Tolstoy's original publisher refused to print this part of the novel. He summarized it in a prose section entitled "What Happened After the Death of Anna Karenina." A crucial event in this part is Levin's religious illumination. This is important in personal terms because Levin is the hero of the book, and in larger terms because Levin represents Tolstoy's hope for the future of Russia.
Tolstoy launches right into the Slavic question- you recall that in 1875 the Slavs living in the Ottoman Empire revolted against the Turks' discrimination against them. A good number of Russians supported fighting on behalf of the Slavs.
Take careful note of which characters support the Slavic cause. Sergey, Levin's very intellectual half-brother (you remember his and Levin's arguments on the zemstvos and the peasants earlier in the novel) joined the cause after the book he'd been working on for years got terrible reviews and sold poorly. Stiva, who is doing his best to maneuver his way into government, also supports the Russian campaign. Vronsky, too, is a supporter.
Again there is a scene at a train station. Vronsky, you learn, was next to death himself after Anna's suicide. He seems to be going to war as an honorable way of committing suicide. Once the stalwart soldier, he now appears feeble, wracked by grief, and suffering monstrously from, of all things, a toothache. Tolstoy seems to be making fun of Vronsky here: It's one thing for a soldier to die heroically, quite another for him to suffer a toothache. You may recall that Tolstoy previously used Vronsky's strong jaw and even teeth to symbolize his masculinity.
All of the characters who participate in the Slavic campaign are in some way defeated individuals. Tolstoy uses them not only to express his own opposition to Russian involvement in the Slavic war, but to express his belief that men like these will be the ruin of Russia if allowed to have a strong hand in policy making.
Sergey goes to visit the Levins, and the scene shifts to their estate.
The big excitement there is that the baby has begun to recognize those close to him. Kitty, musing on this development, reflects on her husband's restlessness as well.
The more Levin studies, the more lost he feels. He can't reconcile himself to the fact that when Kitty was in labor he prayed, although he never recognized in himself anything resembling faith in God. His mind tells him not to believe in God, yet somewhere in himself is a longing for faith.
Levin's turning point comes when he has a talk with Theodore, a peasant. Theodore tells him that one must not live for one's belly, but must remember God and live for one's soul. Levin sees the light- he equates God with goodness, realizing that goodness is beyond the chain of cause and effect. It's important that a peasant helped Levin to this realization- it underscores Levin's full partnership with those who work for him.
Levin feels euphoric, thinking that he'll never again be cross with anyone, that he'll only be kind. But then he snaps at a peasant, and is made aware that just because he has found faith does not mean he'll be perfect. But in his new state of grace, Levin can live with the fact that to be human is to be flawed.
On his way back home, Levin is told that his wife and son have gone to the woods. Suddenly, there is a thunderstorm. He is terrified that they might be struck by lightning. When he reaches them, he finds them drenched but safe. The storm has symbolic value: Remember that Tolstoy has used a stormy sky to represent the storminess in Levin's soul. After the rain, the sky is clear. And water is a traditional symbol of purification; it is as though Levin is baptized by the rain.
The final incident in Anna Karenina shows Mitya recognizing his father. For the first time, Levin sees that not only is the older generation constantly thinking of the younger, but that the younger thinks also of the older. It is as if a great circle is finally complete.
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