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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Vronsky's Torment

Mors Janua Vitae (1866) by Joseph Paton
He listened--and heard, repeated in a strange, mad whisper, the words:  'Unable to value, unable to enjoy; unable to value, unable to enjoy' (Part 4, Ch. 18).

Anna gives birth to a girl but nearly dies in the process.  Vronsky is with her while she is dying of what doctors characterize as puerperal fever, but Anna summons Alexei to her bedside to beg for his forgiveness.  Anna seems ready to renounce her liaison with Vronsky on her deathbed when her husband shows up.  He pities her and forgives her, a forgiveness made easier by the fact that he expects her soon to die.  Nevertheless, the ordeal casts Alexei as magnanimous while Vronsky questions himself and his love for Anna.  He is tormented by his thoughts, unable to sleep, and haunted by the quote above:  "Unable to value, unable to enjoy."

Vronsky comes to realize that his passion for Anna is subject to fading and reappearing.  At best, he is inconsistent in his feelings toward her.  He also fails to understand Anna's position, which will become evident as the story progresses.  This failure is the cause of the conflict that arises in their relationship.  He does not realize the sacrifice Anna has been willing to make in being with him, i.e. forsaking her son.  Though Anna still holds out hope that she will eventually enjoy custody of Seryozha, but she realizes that the odds are not in favor of that happening.  Vronsky, for his part, has not had to endure the public shame or make the sacrifices that Anna faces.  In an earlier scene, Pestsov comments that the public as well as legal judgment is not the same on both sexes in cases of infidelity:

Connected with the conversation that had sprung up on the rights of women there were certain questions as to the inequality of rights in marriage improper to discuss before the ladies. Pestsov had several times during dinner touched upon these questions, but Sergei Ivanovitch and Stepan Arkadyevitch carefully drew him off them.

When they rose from the table and the ladies had gone out, Pestsov did not follow them, but addressing Alexei Alexandrovitch, began to expound the chief ground of inequality. The inequality in marriage, in his opinion, lay in the fact that the infidelity of the wife and the infidelity of the husband are punished unequally, both by the law and by public opinion. Stepan Arkadyevitch went hurriedly up to Alexei Alexandrovitch and offered him a cigar (Part 4, Ch. 12).

Vronsky cannot understand the struggle to which Anna must submit herself which causes a rift between the two.

Vronsky is "unable to enjoy" Anna because he knows that he prevents her from being with her son.  Despite Anna's love for Vronsky, the latter knows that Anna's love for her son is irreplaceable.

Furthermore, Vronsky sees that though he is with Anna at her bedside, she desperately desires Alexei to visit her.  Vronsky may feel that though Anna loves him, she will never be able to separate herself completely from Alexei.

Lastly, Vronsky covers his eyes while standing at her bedside with Alexei, refusing to look at either of them.  He does not want to face the possibility that 1) Anna could die or that 2) She could end up back with Alexei if she lives.  As mentioned earlier, he sees himself as the "victor" and does not want to relinquish his victory.  For the first time, he may be forced to make a sacrifice for Anna's sake.

The above quote could also refer to Vronsky himself.  Finding himself "unable to value, unable to enjoy" life, Vronsky unsuccessfully attempts suicide.  Death plays a prominent as well as recurring role in the novel.  All three characters in this scene see death as an escape but all must face their situation instead.  There is no easy escape.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Alexei Caught

Alexei finally decides to consult a Petersburg attorney about a possible divorce from Anna.  In the scene between Karenin and the lawyer, Tolstoy uses a moth to show the position in which Alexei finds himself.  Four times in this one scene a moth interrupts the discussion between the two about the process of obtaining a divorce.  It is enlightening to look at what is happening just before each interruption:

*The lawyer catches the first moth (never actually kills any of them) just before Alexei begins to speak.  The lawyer already has Alexei within his grasp before the former knows what Alexei has to say, though the appearance of the second moth suggests that he may already know what Alexei has to say.

*"I know you and the good"—again he caught a moth—"work you are doing, like every Russian," said the lawyer, bowing (Part 4, Ch. 5).  After Alexei requests that his privacy be respected, the lawyer acknowledges that he knows who Alexei is through his work.  In the middle of his statement, the lawyer catches another moth, suggesting that he has no plans to respect Alexei's privacy.

*Alexei reveals that he is contemplating a divorce, which causes the lawyer to get visibly giddy.  The lawyer sees a third moth "but did not catch it from regard for Alexei Alexandrovitch's position." Thee lawyer attempts to hide his giddiness.  He already has Alexei within his grasp and avoids flaunting over such.

*The final moth appears after Alexei agrees to allow the lawyer choose the proper course of action.  The lawyer catches it "inconspicuously," trying to avoid detection.  In the same way he has slyly caught Alexei within his grasp.  The lawyer, who remains unnamed, stops catching moths after Alexei leaves his office, "finally deciding that next winter he must have the furniture covered with velvet, like Sigonin's."  He makes a future plan that he may or may not carry out, rather than dealing with the problem now.  It is hard to imagine that he will make a change considering the enjoyment he displayed in catching the moths.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Tolstoy uses the following epigraph at the beginning of the novel:  "Vengeance is mine; I will repay," taken from Dueteronomy 32:35.   Tolstoy signifies that he will explore not only man's actions but also man's motives behind those actions.  Alexei has refused to grant Anna a divorce, despite her declaration that she loves another man.  One issue is pride; Alexei has a reputation he wants to uphold.  He does not want his name scandalized by a divorce.  His pride plays such a significant role that Alexei does not actually care if Anna has an affair with another man, as long as the affair remains hidden from public view.  Alexei values his pride more than his love for his wife.  The passion that Anna seeks is lacking, as he refuses to fight a duel with Vronsky.  Anna at one point even wishes he would kill her and show a little passion, so that she could at least respect him.  Unfortunately, Alexei is passionate about, not his love for his wife, but his image. 

Nevertheless, Alexei does show passion in his desire for revenge.  He wants Anna to return to him but not without consequences.

The feeling of jealousy, which had tortured him during the period of uncertainty, had passed away at the instant when the tooth had been with agony extracted by his wife's words. But that feeling had been replaced by another, the desire, not merely that she should not be triumphant, but that she should get due punishment for her crime. He did not acknowledge this feeling, but at the bottom of his heart he longed for her to suffer for having destroyed his peace of mind—his honor. And going once again over the conditions inseparable from a duel, a divorce, a separation, and once again rejecting them, Alexei Alexandrovitch felt convinced that there was only one solution,—to keep her with him, concealing what had happened from the world, and using every measure in his power to break off the intrigue, and still more—though this he did not admit to himself—to punish her (Part 3, Ch. 13).

Not longer jealous, Alexei has progressed to vengeful.  A restoration of the family unit is not enough for him.  Anna needs to understand the enormity of her actions.  His lust for revenge is comparable to her lust for passion, though her lust is forgivable in that she tried to fulfill it in the context of marriage before pursuing the affair with Vronsky.  Alexei wants to see Anna suffer, showing he has no understanding of the internal struggle that led to the affair.  Alexei is an exterior person, and as long as the exterior appears good, the interior is unimportant.  Alexei is unable to see his own motive in wanting to see her suffer because his vision only allows him to view the surface actions, without penetrating further.

Nevertheless, Tolstoy establishes early on that revenge is not for the human scope but God's.  Though human nature craves suffering for wrongs inflicted, man does not decide another's punishment.  So what is man's responsibility?  Forgiveness.  Alexei's desire for revenge and his inability to forgive Anna ultimately plays a significant role in her downfall.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pursuit of Happiness

"I don't understand what philosopy has got to do with it," said Sergei Ivanovich, in such a tone, it seemed to Levin, as if he did not recognize his brother's right to discuss philosophy.  And that vexed Levin.

"It's got this to do with it!" he began hotly.  "I think that the motive force of all our actions is, after all, personal happiness" (Pt. 3, Ch. 3).

Ultimately the driving force of all the characters in Anna Karenina is the personal happiness, or self-interest according to another translation, of each.  In some cases, there is a difference between the happiness of what one wants and what one pursues.  Below is a description of what the major characters seeks to obtain personal happiness:

*Anna--a passionate love life.  She rejects the passionless love of her husband in favor of an affair that embraces her passionate nature.

*Alexei--work and pride.  This is what drives Alexei.  Even after Anna tells Alexei that she is Vronsky's mistress, the foremost subject in his mind is the settlement of racial minorities in unoccupied lands (Pt. 3, Ch. 14).

Vronsky--victory.  Tolstoy describes Vronsky as the "victor" in his pursuit of Kitty and he feels the same about his pursuit of Anna.  The desire for victory is enhanced by his military background.  He loves her beauty but does he love her?

Levin--Kitty.  No matter how many times Levin tries to give up his pursuit of Kitty, he always returns to it.  Even when he returns to the country and feels the rewarding experience of working in nature, one chance glimpse of Kitty reminds him that she is what he truly desires.

Stepan--women.  Stepan likes the stability of a home life that involves a wife and children, but he no longer finds his wife attractive.  One personall benefit of women to Stepan is that he feels youthful again.

Dolly--children.  She knows she cannot depends on the love of Stepan, so Dolly invests all her time into her children.  This is where she finds her happiness.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


While at a foreign spa seeking recovery from the devastation of her abandonment by Vronsky, Kitty meets Varenka, a young girl who nursed the gravely ill.  She is the adoptive daughter of Mme. Stahl, whom Kitty's father calls a Pietist, as one who is selfishly charitable.  While Mme. Stahl enjoys seeing suffering people, Varenka robotically helps them.  She lacks "the restrained fire of life" while having a "sickly complexion" (Pt. 2, Ch. 30).  Kitty notices this lack of fire when she shakes hands with Varenka:

Kitty blushed with pleasure, and slowly, without speaking, pressed her new friend's hand, which did not respond to her pressure, but lay motionless in her hand. The hand did not respond to her pressure, but the face of Mademoiselle Varenka glowed with a soft, glad, though rather mournful smile, that showed large but handsome teeth (Pt. 2, Ch. 31).

Varenka hardly responds to the human touch.  She is inexperienced in dealing with people full of life, though she does express some gratitude.  She is too busy for life.  Kitty comments on how Varenka is always engaged in some eleemosynary activity show that her hands respond instead to work.  Varenka cannot give love because she has not known love.  Tolstoy uses this episode to relate back to his theme of families.  Both Mme. Stahl and Varenka come from broken families.  After a divorce from her unfaithful husband, Mme. Stahl gave birth to a child that died.  Her family replaced that child with Varenka, born the same night to a court cook.  Mme. Stahl raised Varenka as her own but it was a loveless relationship.  Mme. Stahl had been drained of love after the loss of her husband and her child.  Instead of love, Mme. Stahl instilled Varenka with responsibility to work.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Similar Tragedies

Pandemionium (1825) by John Martin
In each of the first two sections of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy describes a tragic episode.  The first involves an unnamed watchman being killed by a train while the other involves the death of a horse being ridden by Vronsky.  Though the events are dissimilar, there are unifying elements.  The following is a list that describes the similarities and the contrasts.

*Three characters appear in both scenes:  Vronsky, Anna and Vronsky's mother.  It may be that Tolstoy uses the two events to describe the changes in the relationship between Vronsky and Anna.

*Both scenes are preceded by declarations of love.  Levin proposes to Kitty and is rejected while Vronsky declares, upon learning that Anna is pregnant, that the time has come for Anna to forsake everything and go away with him.  Looking ahead in the novel, both attempts are successful to a point.

*Both scenes make a big deal of eye contact.  Vronsky and Anna briefly make eye contact at the train station, Anna innocently flashing a slight smile.  At the race, Vronsky deliberately avoids eye contact with Anna, as a show of guilt in a publicly known though not publicly accepted affair.

*"He felt himself the victor" (Part 1, Ch. 17):  The quote comes just after Vronsky learns that Kitty has rejected Levin, though Vronsky never had any intentions to marry Kitty.  Vronsky has a similar feeling after Anna consents to leave her husband.

*In both cases, Vronsky hurts the thing he (supposedly in the case of Kitty) loves.

*Both scenes feature a premonition of bad things to come.  Anna calls the death of the watchman "a bad omen" while Vronsky's horse trembles before the race.

*Both scenes detail mothers preoccupied with thoughts of their son.  Vronsky's mother and Anna discuss their sons on the train ride from Petersburg to Moscow.  At the race, Vronsky's mother expresses concern about the relationship in a letter before the race while Anna expresses sorrow at the possibility of leaving her son.

*Letters dealing with impropriety preceded both tragedies.  Anna goes to Moscow in response to a letter from her brother Stepan asking for her help in healing his relationship with his wife Dolly after Dolly discovers Stepan had been having an affair.  Before the race, Vronsky receives letters from his mother and brother expressing their disapproval of the relationship.

*Anna cries at the scene of both tragedies.  The first time, her emotions are stirred at the unfortunate loss of human life, but on the second occasion, Anna mistakenly believes that Vronsky, not the horse, has been injured and cries with relief that Vronsky is unhurt.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Spring of Life

Spring Time by RJ Hammond
Earlier the novel Tolstoy depicted Levin uneasiness in a city atmosphere.  But in Part Two, Tolstoy shows Levin in the country, where he lives and is more comfortable, after the rejection of Kitty.  This section (chapters 12-17) is in stark contrast to the previous one which is fast moving and has dark, contentious undertones.  Levin's chapters are slower paced and full of life and joy, taking place in springtime.  Though devastated by Kitty's rejection, Levin finds solace in the invigorating atmosphere of the country.  This new vitality provides the impetus to begin a book on farming while making sure the workers on his farm prepare the land for a new harvest.  Instead of being dejected, Levin seeks refuge in work and is full of life.

These chapters take place just after Easter "on the eve of Krasnaya Gorka," a Russian holiday commemorating the dead.  Before this time, the land had been covered with ice and the temperature was still freezing.  Nevertheless, a change began to occur immediately following the Christian holiday of resurrection:

Then all of a sudden, on Easter Monday, a warm wind sprang up, storm clouds swooped down, and for three days and three nights the warm, driving rain fell in streams. On Thursday the wind dropped, and a thick gray fog brooded over the land as though hiding the mysteries of the transformations that were being wrought in nature. Behind the fog there was the flowing of water, the cracking and floating of ice, the swift rush of turbid, foaming torrents; and on the following Monday, in the evening, the fog parted, the storm clouds split up into little curling crests of cloud, the sky cleared, and the real spring had come. In the morning the sun rose brilliant and quickly wore away the thin layer of ice that covered the water, and all the warm air was quivering with the steam that rose up from the quickened earth. The old grass looked greener, and the young grass thrust up its tiny blades; the buds of the guelder-rose and of the currant and the sticky birch-buds were swollen with sap, and an exploring bee was humming about the golden blossoms that studded the willow. Larks trilled unseen above the velvety green fields and the ice-covered stubble-land; peewits wailed over the low lands and marshes flooded by the pools; cranes and wild geese flew high across the sky uttering their spring calls. The cattle, bald in patches where the new hair had not grown yet, lowed in the pastures; the bowlegged lambs frisked round their bleating mothers. Nimble children ran about the drying paths, covered with the prints of bare feet. There was a merry chatter of peasant women over their linen at the pond, and the ring of axes in the yard, where the peasants were repairing ploughs and harrows. The real spring had come (Pt 2, Ch 12).

The land, which had been dead, suddenly began to come to life.  The ice melted, water flowed, the skies cleared, grass grew, flowers blossomed, and the birds renewed their melodic tunes.  Similarly, Levin's revitalization that took place during the season of new life shows he is not one to dwell with regret on his failures.  He uses other outlets to find meaning in life.  Tolstoy describes him as "a tree in spring," illustrating that Levin will not remain fixated on the past but will focus on new ways of living.

Consequently, the first thing Levin does when he recognizes the coming of Spring is to visit his cows, which symbolize life and reproduction.  Levin first spends time among those that represent life in order to gain a renewed purpose in life.  The rejection by Kitty was a death of sorts for Levin but coming of Spring and a renewed sense of purpose represent his new life.  When Stepan comes to visit, he recognizes that Levin is leading a new life and avoids bringing up the painful parts of the past.  And the joy that surrounds Levin is contagious, as Stepan experiences it as well.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Anna's Dream

The Toilet (1860) by John Phillip
She dreamed that both were her husbands at once, that both were lavishing caresses on her. Alexei Alexandrovitch was weeping, kissing her hands, and saying, "How happy we are now!" And Alexei Vronsky was there too, and he too was her husband. And she was marveling that it had once seemed impossible to her, was explaining to them, laughing, that this was ever so much simpler, and that now both of them were happy and contented. But this dream weighed on her like a nightmare, and she awoke from it in terror (Pt. 2, Ch. 11).

Though Anna seems to have completely separated herself from her husband emotionally, she remains attached to him.  A recurring dream presents her as the wife of both Vronsky and Karenin.  The prospect of such an arrangement gladdens Karenin.  The main reason Karenin would like such an arrangement is that he would still be acknowledged by society as her husband.  He would not have a problem with Anna having a lover as long as society does not disapprove and the couple maintains their social standing.  Vronsky would satiate his passionate nature in obtaining the passionate woman he met in Moscow.  Tolstoy mentions that society looks favorably on a single man that carries on an affair with a married woman, so that Vronsky, similarly to Karenin, seeks the approval of society, though in a different fashion.  Interesting enough, both men share the first name Alexei, which signifies not only that they share certain character traits, such as ambition, but also that Anna extracts different needs from both men.  Karenin provides stability within society as well as a son on whom to bestow her maternal talents while Vronsky provides an outlet for her passion.

Nevertheless, Tolstoy, while describing both men as content with such an arrangement, never comments on Anna's satisfaction, except to say that the dream is a nightmare from which she awakens in terror.  Though through such a reality Anna could gratify all her desires and live outside of the judgment of others, she rejects it because her greatest desire is for truth.  She does not want to live falsely and hide her true feelings.  Scorned or not, Anna wants to live in the open and be true to herself.  She, unlike her lovers, places little value on the opinions of others.  She would be ostracized for the truth than accepted for a lie.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fiery Passion

The Lover's Walk by Walter Dendy Sadler
"Yes, but how often the happiness of an arranged marriage scatters like dust, precisely because of the appearance of that very passion which was not acknowledged," said Vronsky (Pt. 2, Ch. 7).

One question that comes to mind is, why is Anna willing to risk everything for Vronsky?  What is it about him that she is drawn to?  Vronsky, unlike her husband Alexei, ignites her passion and awakens her to life.  When Anna first met Vronsky at the train station, she felt an inward glow caused by his observance of her.  Later at the ball, when Vronsky forsakes Kitty to dance with Anna, Kitty notices an animated side of Anna not visible earlier:

She saw in her (Anna) the signs of that excitement of success she knew so well in herself; she saw that she was intoxicated with the delighted admiration she was exciting. She knew that feeling and knew its signs, and saw them in Anna; saw the tremulous, flashing light in her eyes, and the smile of happiness and excitement unconsciously playing on her lips, and the deliberate grace, precision, and lightness of her movements (Pt 1, Ch. 23).

Anna is displaying a lightness of being, feeling tremulous because she is delving into unfamiliar terrain.  In her normal life with her husband Alexei, her life consists of boring political talk and local gossip.  But Vronsky creates a burning sensation that exudes an excitement for life, which Anna describes as "warm, very warm, hot" (Pt. 1, Ch 29).  The episode on the train ride back to St. Petersburg in which Anna feels very hot and steps out side in the middle of a blizzard is indicative of a her predicament.  Anna enjoys the fiery passion to which she was subjected in Moscow but feels obligated to cool that passion for the sake of her marriage.  Vronsky will not allow the passion to cool when he follows her to St. Petersburg.  With him, she feels a passion that is "joyful, burning, and exciting" but when Alexei expresses that he is "burning with desire to see you" (Pt.1, Ch. 30), his statement comes across as a mockery of the true feelings that Anna feels for Vronsky.  Unfortunately for Anna, one day with Alexei extinguishes the fire that was apparent in Moscow, a fire that only Vronsky can light.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Eye Opening Experience

Woman in Yellow (1863)  by Dante Gabriel Rosetti
'At Petersburg, as soon as the train stopped and she got out, the first person that attracted her attention was her husband. "Oh, mercy! why do his ears look like that?" she thought, looking at his frigid and imposing figure, and especially the ears that struck her at the moment as propping up the brim of his round hat' (Part 1, Ch. 30).

The above passage is telling in describing the relationship of Anna and her husband Alexei.  They have been married for nine years and have an eight year old son.  Despite that, this is the first time Anna has noticed Alexei's ears.  Her exclamation conveys the lack of intimacy between the couple.  She is unfamiliar with his physique and shocked by his protruding ears.  Although the scene at the ball with Vronsky seems to be a spontaneous act, the passage above proves that the break with her husband has been long in developing.  Though she has much disgust for her husband, Anna's only true concern is for her son.

She was especially struck by the feeling of dissatisfaction with herself that she experienced on meeting him. That feeling was an intimate, familiar feeling, like a consciousness of hypocrisy, which she experienced in her relations with her husband. But hitherto she had not taken note of the feeling, now she was clearly and painfully aware of it.

"Yes, as you see, your tender spouse, as devoted as the first year after marriage, burned with impatience to see you," he said in his deliberate, high-pitched voice, and in that tone which he almost always took with her, a tone of jeering at anyone who should say in earnest what he said.

"Is Seryozha quite well?" she asked.

"And is this all the reward," said he, "for my ardor? He's quite well..."

The encounter with Vronsky helped Anna have an epiphanic moment that allowed her to see her hypocritical relationship with her husband.  Alexei seems comfortable in playing his role but Anna can no longer pretend.  She  only cares for the well-being of her son and does not hide her feelings.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Two Suitors

Love's Interruptions by Frederick Morgan

Kitty has two suitors from which to choose and her choice is clear:  She picks Count Vronsky over Levin.  So why does she choose Vronsky?  Kitty is heavily influence by her mother's preference for Vronsky.  He is an aristocratic military man from St. Petersburg with an engaging personality.  As such he would be an excellent match.  Levin, on the other hand, is a shy but opinionated farmer from rural Russia.  While Vronsky is a newly arrived on the scene, Levin has known the Shcherbatsky family for years, though he abruptly left Moscow two months previous after pursuing Kitty persistently for several months.  His reason for leaving was his realization that Kitty's family, particularly her mother, would not like the match, though her father, The Prince, favors Levin.  Consequently, Kitty's attentions have been focused on Vronsky for the past two months. 

However, their conversation about spiritualism reveals a lot about their character and why Kitty makes the choice she does.

The conversation fell upon table-turning and spirits, and Countess Nordston, who believed in spiritualism, began to describe the marvels she had seen.

"Ah, countess, you really must take me, for pity's sake do take me to see them! I have never seen anything extraordinary, though I am always on the lookout for it everywhere," said Vronsky, smiling.

"Very well, next Saturday," answered Countess Nordston. "But you, Konstantin Dmitrievitch, do you believe in it?" she asked Levin.

"Why do you ask me? You know what I shall say."

"But I want to hear your opinion."

"My opinion," answered Levin, "is only that this table-turning simply proves that educated society—so called—is no higher than the peasants. They believe in the evil eye, and in witchcraft and omens, while we…"

"Oh, then you don't believe in it?"

"I can't believe in it, countess."

"But if I've seen it myself?"
"The peasant women too tell us they have seen goblins."
"Then you think I tell a lie?"

And she laughed a mirthless laugh.

"Oh, no, Masha, Konstantin Dmitrievitch said he could not believe in it," said Kitty, blushing for Levin, and Levin saw this, and, still more exasperated, would have answered, but Vronsky with his bright frank smile rushed to the support of the conversation, which was threatening to become disagreeable.

"You do not admit the conceivability at all?" he queried. "But why not? We admit the existence of electricity, of which we know nothing. Why should there not be some new force, still unknown to us, which…"

"When electricity was discovered," Levin interrupted hurriedly, "it was only the phenomenon that was discovered, and it was unknown from what it proceeded and what were its effects, and ages passed before its applications were conceived. But the spiritualists have begun with tables writing for them, and spirits appearing to them, and have only later started saying that it is an unknown force" (Part 1, Ch. 14).

Vronsky is of a theoretical mindset.  He is excited by the unknown and willing to try new things.  He does not seem to have any firm beliefs and is easily influenced.  His unconstrained personality comes across as friendly while Levin seems hostile to untraditional methods.  As a prudent man, Levin is firmly set in his beliefs and would need concrete proof to change these beliefs.  He wants nothing to do with the unexplainable.  In essence, Levin is more stable though he exudes boredom.  To the contrary, Levin is unwavering and place emphasis on established methods.  To a city girl of 18 like Kitty, such a personality would be less attractive than one that seeks to establish new norms.  Kitty likes Levin but Vronsky presents a more exciting prospect.  Unfortunately for Kitty, Vronsky has no plans of marriage.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Stepan vs. Levin

Tolstoy sets up an interesting contrast through the characters Stepan and Levin.  Though friends, they live by opposing philosophies.  Stepan is a city man who works in an office and loves to be surrounded by people.  Levin, on the other hand, is a landowner of 8,000 acres in rural Russia who feels constrained by a city life of office buildings and close quarters.  When Levin visits Stepan at work, he shows contempt for Stepan's way of life because he sees no work being done.  Levin believes that true work involves physical labor that engages the hands.  He wants nothing to do with idleness.  Though very wealthy, Levin has had to work for everything that he has, unlike Stepan, whose wife comes from a wealthy and well-connected family and who is described as "lazy and mischievous" (Part 1, Ch. 5). 

Ultimately, these characterizations comment on Russian society.  Levin is conservative and a traditionalist that reacts negatively to the modern conventions in Russia.  He comes across as awkward, though well-intentioned, in his interaction with Kitty, who also embraces modern conventions.  He would prefer the traditional approach in lovemaking, addressing his proposal to the father, who favors Levin over Vronsky.  Nevertheless, Kitty makes her own choice, showing a preference for the latter.  By Vronsky's abandonment of Kitty, despite her choice, Tolstoy shows his own preference for the traditional methods. 


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