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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.

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