For the Love of Love
Sexual relations have different social implications depending on the society in which they take place. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a 19th century novel and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s Envy is a 20th century novel. Both novels portray the imperfect realities of coupling, yet in very different fashions. Anna Karenina focuses more in depth on the third person relations between characters, while We narrates D-503’s perspective. Both give the reader the understanding that society impacts the value of the relations between man and woman. The consequences of those actions are also depicted.
In order to have imperfect relations, there must be an ideal. Both novels inexplicitly explain an unidentifiable perfect couple. In Anna Karenina, this consists of a married man and woman, who peacefully interact socially and in the bedroom. We’s flawless couple includes a male Number and a female Number who have no emotional connection and “have the right of access to any other’s Number as sexual product” simply to satisfy human need for sex (Zamyatin p. 22). These are very drastically different social implications: one insists on an emotional bond, and the other frowns upon it. Yet in both, social perfection is desirable.
In order to maintain the image of perfection, characters from both books endure discomfort. “The Karenins, husband and wife, went on living in the same house, met everyday, but were completely estranged from each other,” because it upholds their image of an ideal couple (Tolstoy p. 353). Tolstoy writes, “The Karenin, husband and wife,” emphasizing their role to each other and that both are partaking in the establishment of the image. They must endure this because Anna decides she loves a different man. This is not socially acceptable, so rather than either of them facing the embarrassment, they pretend like everything is normal.
In Anna Karenina the ideal couple is a happy and married. In We, there is not the image of perfect unity, rather there is the ideal estrangement. D-503 and O try to maintain this, with their regulating the Sex Day rules, and not calling each other “my.” D-503, however, become infatuated with another Number, I-330. Because in their society, in theory, “there’s no longer the slightest cause for envy,” so when D-503 hurts O with his affections towards another Number, he must recognize the faults with both himself and the system (Zamyatin p.23). O loves D-503, and when she admits this, D thinks to himself, “What savage terminology – “mine.” I was never… But I suddenly caught myself: It occurred to me that I wasn’t before, true, but now…” (Zamyatin p. 76). Here he understands the difference in society’s ideal and the reality. He was not socially hers, but emotionally he was. Now he loves I-330, which should not happen. He calls the word “mine” “savage” because it is from “the Ancient Days,” and has been socially discarded; the feeling has not subsided.
The feeling of ‘mine-ness’ and deviating from the social norm is depicted in a drastic manor in each novel. In Anna Karenina, when Anna and Vronsky consummate their relationship, rather than the ideal perfect union, their coupling is compared to a dead body. Tolstoy emphasizing the unnatural reality of their relationship writes, “And as the murderer falls upon this body with animosity, as if with passion, drags it off and cuts it up, so he covered her face and shoulders with kisses” (Tolstoy pp. 149-150). This is a very horrific scene. Besides the word “murderer,” other words like “animosity,” “drags,” and “cuts,” give the reader the understanding that Anna has killed her potential for the ideal relationship. She has allowed herself to enter a dark place.
D-503 does not enter a dark place, but a place of freedom. Previously, he was only allowed to sleep with someone when other prescribed it, and only allowed as much emotional attachment as society deems appropriate. When D-503 and I-330 consummate their relationship, D-503 later describes the experience “… I tasted the swallow of burning poison, and another and another, and I broke free of the earth, a free planet, whirling furiously, down, down, along some orbit yet to be calculated” (Zamyatin p.56). This “free planet” depicts the freedom that D feels, the magnitude of it all. But it is mixed with the “poison.” This toxin is arguably the alcohol, which D tastes for the first time, but is also possibly the forbidden love. He knows that estrangement is the ideal, yet he cannot help his feelings for I-330, making them toxic. His romantic interest in I-330 is poison for his relationship with O and his relationship with OneState. He feels free, despite all the issues, because he has a more humane kind of love.
With humane love, there is hurt. In Anna Karenina, Vronsky, learning the consequences of his actions, discovers Anna is pregnant. His experience is described, “At this news he felt with tenfold force an attack of that strange feeling of loathing for someone that has been over him” (Tolstoy p.188). This feeling of attack is the discomfort in love. Society perceives that a man and woman should be married to have sexual relations. Vronsky and Anna are not, and through Anna’s pregnancy, they will have to face the humiliation of breaking the ideal. This is uncomfortable.
D-503 experiences a similar discomfort in his new relationship with O. Since impregnating her, he has a more humane, and less robotic, relationship with her. With this, however, comes hurt. While he gives her what she wants, he does not love her. At this point, he recognizes his role in hurting her. O rubs his arm, as if to say, it’ll be ok. D thinks, “This was some kind of ancient caress that I’d never heard of… I felt such hurt and shame that I jerked my hand back (probably a little too roughly)” (Zamyatin p. 164). He reacts so sharply because he is unfamiliar with affection, and is aware that he has enabled this kind of affection. He feels guilty.
If one followed the social standards, he or she would not feel guilty. Both in Anna Karenina and in We, the couples are imperfect because they do not follow the expectations of that society. Anna decides she does not wish to follow the expectation of marriage, and D-503 decides not to act in estrangement. Tolstoy and Zamyatin depict very different societies, but both suffer from human love. The similarities in the character’s trails highlight the inevitable struggle for perfect love, but the consequences of this inability.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
Facial expressions and body language communicate one’s intentions and emotions far better than words. Leo Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina, describes a plethora of physical descriptions, enabling the reader to more completely understand the characters’ emotional state of mind. Other characters and the narrator frequently describe Anna’s shoulders. When Vrosnky and Levin look at them, they have a surge of excitement. Dolly and Kitty notice them and are impressed. The narrator depicts her shoulders in times of discontentment or pain. In all three cases, Anna’s shoulders signify the mood at the time of the interaction. Anna’s shoulders are a tangible manifestation of her mental and emotional state, and what kind of energy she expresses.
When Anna’s shoulders are described for the first time, Anna also acts promiscuously for the first time, by dancing with Vronsky, whom is expected to propose to Kitty. Kitty admires Anna’s dress, which exposed her shoulders and chest. She emphasized that “the black dress with luxurious lace was not seen on her; it was just a frame, and only she was seen – simple, natural, graceful, and at the same time gay and animated” (p.79). Anna’s dress choice is evidence of her mood; she wanted to fit within the “frame” of society’s expectations for her, yet still expose her exuberant nature.
While still conforming to society’s expectations, she sympathizes with social outcasts, foreshadows her future affair. At the ball when Anna is exposing her shoulders, Kitty walks over to Anna, and interrupts a conversation, where Anna is saying, “No, I don’t throw stones” (p.79). This is a reference in the bible when a woman is caught in the act of adultery. The woman is dragged into public, completely naked. The crime for adultery at the time was stoning. Jesus says, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her” (John 8:7). When Anna says, I don’t cast stones, she is saying that she is not without sin, but also that she may sympathize with a woman who commits adultery. The circumstances – her flirtatious mood, exposed shoulders, and the conversation — foreshadow her leaving her husband in favor of Vronsky, her future lover.
Once Anna becomes more comfortable with her expressive mannerism, Vronsky follows the opportunity until they consummate their relationship. The narrator compares this interaction; “as the murderer falls upon this body with animosity, as if with passion, drags it off and cuts it up, so [Vronsky] covered [Anna’s] face and shoulders with kisses” (pp.149-150). In this graphic description, the reader becomes aware of the toxic physical relationship the characters have created. Anna’s shoulders — the tangible revealing of her previous mental restraint– inform the reader of the characters’ actions. By comparing their physical relationship to a murder, Anna — and the reader — is forced to recognize that Vronsky killed her previously admired social standing because of “these kisses” on her shoulder, (p.150). Yet, she holds Vronsky’s love closely. He killed her mental resistance, and in doing so, encouraged her promiscuous behavior to grow.
After an extensive stretch of time, Anna is dying from puerperal fever, and she reconsiders the growth of her scandal. She no longer holds her defiance as a dear characteristic, which is apparent in how she now carries her shoulders. As she lay in bed, “The doctor took her arms away, carefully laid her back on the pillow and covered her shoulders” (p.413). She is no longer in a position of physical power, which is represented by the doctor covering her shoulders, as if to say, you need to stop exposing yourself and return to your previous way of life. The physical recovering instigates verbal control, which she used to easily possess. She demands that Alexi Alexandrovich uncover Vronsky’s face and forgive him, which he does. Once this is complete, she prepares to die.
Contrary to her plan, Anna miraculously lives, and resorts back to her previous risqué relationship with Vronsky, much to society’s gossiping pleasure. Suppressed by the lies and exclusion, Anna decides to go to the opera to prove she does not care about society’s expectations for her. Vronsky describes Anna as she sits in a box at the show; “The setting of her head on her handsome, broad shoulders, and the restrained excitement and brilliance of her eyes and her whole face reminded him of her just as he had seen her at the ball in Moscow” (p. 546). Her shoulders are described as broad, which could mean they were drawing more attention than usual. It is interesting that the singer’s shoulders are the only other shoulders described in this scene. Obviously, being the main performer, the singer is seeking attention. By also wearing a revealing dress, Anna is competing for attention with the performer. She succeeds. Vronsky, not looking for Anna knows where she is sitting “from the direction of all eyes” (p.545). Anna is the center of attention. She ends up in a cyclical process: Anna is excited to prove she can act however she wants, so she dresses in a revealing manor exposing her shoulders, then when people stare and gossip she becomes even more excited. By showing her shoulders, she is physically displaying her emotional state of excited defiance toward social expectations.
In Anna’s final moments of life, she looses her mental vigor. When she is at the train station looking for Vrosnky in a completely agitated state, she suddenly thinks of the train as a way to end her misery. “Exactly at the moment when the space between the wheels came opposite her, she dropped the red bag, and drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands under the carriage, and lightly, as though she would rise again at once, dropped on to her knees” (p. 768). Tolstoy describes Anna as “drawing her head back into her shoulders,” which could be a metaphor for her physical and emotional trial. During her entire relationship with Vronsky, there has been a struggle between what she verbally says and what her body reveals. When she meets Vronsky for the first time, “she deliberately extinguished the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will,” (p.61). At a party she encourages him to leave her alone, and when he refuses says, “That only shows you have no heart,”… But her eyes said that she knew he had a heart, and that was why she was afraid of him.” (p.139). This is a reoccurring struggle, so when Anna finally has no more mental strength to fight the oppression of her situation, she acts purely how her body has wanted to the entire time. In her dying moments, her head, which represents her mental strength, falls onto her shoulders, which represents her physical desire. Her final moments are her mental ending her externally expressed internal struggle.
This struggle can be related to Vronsky’s attention and Anna’s resistance. It is not accidental that both Anna’s shoulders and promiscuousness appear at the same time; when her shoulders are described, and when they are not, are based on her intentions. At the train station, when she first arrives in Petersburg and meets Vronsky, “she deliberately extinguished the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will”(p. 61). Upon their meeting, her shoulders are not depicted. Every other feature is described: her figure, expression, head, eyes, eyelashes, and lips. She tries to distinguish the light, which shows she is committed to maintaining her social expectations, despite her attraction to Vronsky. Similarly, at a party she encourages him to leave her alone, and again, her shoulders are not described. By dressing to expose her shoulders, she no longer attempts to restrain the defiant energy within her.
Tolstoy is aware of the relationship between mental thought and physical action; he expresses his understanding of body language as a form of communication through his descriptions of Anna’s shoulders. While Anna’s mental strength is what was extinguished by her inner struggle, other characters are aware of her trials because of her expression of her body, particularly her shoulders. When she allowed Vronsky to kill her social standing, she introduced the beginning to her tragic end. Had she never exposed her shoulders, she would have maintained her moderate existence and extensive prestige.
Russia in Transition: Anna Karenina and the Ever-Changing Russian Landscape
Though a majority of the characters in Leo Tolstoy’s momentous novel Anna Karenina are members of the nobility, the reforms Czar Alexander II put in place for the lower classes had profound effects on them. The time of his rule was an era of change for the Russian people because so many of his reforms had direct impacts on society. Some of these reforms included changes to the organization of Russian social classes, educational and farming reforms, and an enormous increase in urbanization (Riasanovsky 24-27).
Alexander II profoundly affected the everyday lives of his subjects and the lives of Russians in the generations after he fell from power. Perhaps his most important reform of Russian society was freeing the serfs in 1861. Serfdom was a form of slavery instituted in the early days of feudal Russian farming. Serfs would be bound to the land and owned by the land owner. This was a longstanding practice in Russia but the revolts of serfs were imminent when Alexander II took the throne. He worked for their freedom as soon as he came to power and after six years of hard work his emancipation law was signed. When they were finally freed, some stayed and worked the farms as they had done but with an increased freedom of mobility while others moved to cities (Eklof 19-28).
This abolition of serfdom had many effects on the nobility of Russia. In Anna Karenina, Levin and his friend Sviyazhsky get into a heated argument over the authority they should have as landowners over the muzhiks, the new workforce that formed after the serfs were emancipated (Bradley 143). Their arguments focus mainly on the topics of education for the newly freed people and how much control they should be subjected to, considering these workers were no longer legally theirs to control.
The education debate was indeed grounded in a reality dear to Tolstoy’s heart. He was personally responsible for opening schools for peasants and trying to increase literacy through the lower class as best he could (Souder). This idea of educating peasants is argued between Levin and Sviyazhsky with Sviyazhsky advocating their education and Levin supporting the status quo. “In Europe rational farming works because the peasantry are educated; which means that with us the peasantry have to be educated-that’s all… To educate the peasantry, three things are needed: schools, schools, and schools” (336). Levin objects to these arguments and offers a different point of view. “How will schools help the peasantry to improve their material well-being?” Levin asks Sviyazhsky. “You say that schools, education, will give them new needs. So much the worse, because they won’t be able to satisfy them” (337).
Throughout the novel, Tolstoy makes it evident to the reader that this was a time of farming reform. There was a decreased workforce for farming, seeing as many freed serfs went away to the cities, so the policies that had been in place during the feudal days had to be completely reimagined (Lewis 776). Europe was reforming their systems and straying from the feudal idea to a more modern system that made way for broader industrialization. The Russian people weren’t totally on board with changing their traditional farming practices, especially making them more European, but they knew something had to be done. With this mindset, the system of farming was revamped and restablished itself in a way that would leave room for industrialization and continue on without serfs (Geyer 128).
We look again to Levin for how Tolstoy incorporates these societal changes into the novel. Levin, a farm owner, is passionate about his views on how farming should be structured and how the muzhiks should be controlled. After his day with Sviyazhsky, he goes over their conversations in his head and has some interesting insights. He thinks to himself:
You say our farming doesn’t work because the muzhiks hate all improvements and that they must be introduced by authority. Now, if farming didn’t work at all without these improvements, you’d be right; but it does work, and it works only here… Let’s try to look at the work force not as an ideal workforce but as the Russian muzhik with his instincts, and organize our farming accordingly. (338)
Levin’s insights show us that he favors a more personal approach to farming. He wants a united Russian workforce, though not necessarily a return to serfdom. He feels that men should care about their work, just as the old man he and Sviyazhsky encountered together. Levin makes these ideas more apparent when he decides to actually go out and do work with his peasants in the fields. Just as the old man is an active landlord, Levin is a very active farm owner. Levin goes into detail about his work with his peasants and at one point describes the personal aspect of joining in their labor:
…He [Levin] had taken a scythe from a muzhik and begun mowing. He had liked the work so much that he had taken to mowing several more times; he had mowed the whole meadow in front of the house, and since the spring of that year he had made a plan for himself – to spend whole days mowing with the muzhiks. (247-248)
This passage truly shows how much not only the country life means to Levin, but how much the life he leads honors his truest intentions. He respects the muzhiks and works alongside them, fulfilling his belief that farming should be a personal experience and that farm owners like himself should have a larger role other than just being an authority figure to the muzhiks.
The final changing aspect of Russian society was the great rates at which people were moving from the country to the city. Urbanization was seen at rates unparalleled at the time; an unsettling statement considering life in the city was considerably more expensive than in the country and the lower and middle classes were extremely poor (Lewis 776). The serfs, who were newly freed, had no gap in which they established themselves in the countryside, they made no money, just simply ran away to a better life in the city as soon as their emancipation was decreed. This led to a vast overcrowding of the Russian cities, St. Petersburg and Moscow. The cities, which had been inhabited primarily by nobles, were flooded with crowds of peasants and members of the emerging middle class, which caused a culture shock and led to many new ways of thinking for the new city-dwelling Russian. Many were turned off by the idea of cities being taken over by commoners, but there were some who had completely new ideas of how to solve the problem. New ways of thinking and new philosophies were being developed during this time, due greatly in part to the quick rate of urbanization (Walicki 86).
Tolstoy once again uses Levin as his tool to share his personal beliefs on urbanization and the focus on city versus country. Levin is, of course, a landowning countryman who does well for himself outside of the society of city life. Levin has no regrets about the way he lives his life, but he does realize that others, including the family of his beloved Kitty Shcherbatsky, object to his simple country lifestyle. The Scherbatsky’s views are illustrated here:
In their eyes, though he was now thirty-two, he did not have any regular, defined activity or position in society, whereas among his comrades one was already a colonel and imperial aide-de-camp, one a professor, one the director of a bank an d a railway or the chief of an office like Oblonsky, while he (he knew very well what he must seem like to others) was a landowner, occupied with breeding cows, shooting snipe, and building things, that is, a giftless fellow who amounted to nothing and was doing, in society’s view, the very thing that good-for-nothing people do. (22-23)
These thoughts he has prove to be true as we learn more about the philosophies city-dwellers hold on country life. The Scherbatskys know only high society and the royal life so it is a bit of a shock to them when they learn their youngest daughter is to marry a simple countryman.
Though it could be argued that Anna Karenina was written to tell more personal and intimate stories, it is evident that Tolstoy used it as a means to illustrate the vast array of social change that was so important to Russian society in his lifetime. After Czar Alexander II sparked social reform by emancipating the serfs in 1861, educational and farming reforms were soon to follow, as was the migration to cities. Tolstoy principally uses Levin as a vessel for his own beliefs on many topics while using other characters and the vast array of situations to pose contradictory arguments and many examples of social reform of the late nineteenth century.
Parallels to Destruction and Conflict in Anna and Vronsky’s Love Story as Evinced From Their First Meeting
Anna Karenina is a story of split, conflict, schism and divide. Anna’s battle for love, her struggle between what she needs and what she desires, her hatred of lies and her usage of them, her vacillation between libre penseur – liberal values- and old patriarchal and moral values – all reinforce the theme of internal conflict that leads to inevitable destruction. Leo Tolstoy, however, in a brilliant stroke of genius, uses the seemingly insignificant remark made by a passerby on the death of a guard in the first section of the book to elicit the overarching theme of brutal divide in Anna’s struggle for love. By using a death to gain insight into a love affair, Tolstoy reveals his ability to weave apparently isolated and disconnected instances into the cloth of the overall work in a style so unique that it makes Matthew Arnold’s tribute for the novel ring true: “We are not to take Anna Karenina as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life.” Indeed, Tolstoy creates life in a book, transforming it into a place full of vitality and strength. The fascinating nature of the work lies in the way Tolstoy binds the novel together through an intrinsic and subtle thread of organization, where apparently delineated ideas are brought together in a functional coherence, a concept Tolstoy terms as the “labyrinth of linkages”. This idea is ingeniously expressed by Richard F. Gustafson in “Leo Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger”, where he writes that “Tolstoy organizes his work by a principle of inner spirit which unites not by logical connection but by a unity inherent within the variety.” (Gustafson 281). Establishing the “inner spirit” in the novel is what gives life to Anna Karenina. Just like the current binds the voluminous velocity of the youthful river, it is this “unity inherent within the variety” that binds the novel together. The code to decrypting the work, therefore, lies in the understanding of how, as Tolstoy puts it, “images, actions and situations” (Gustafson 281) work in collaboration with the overall plot. The entirely isolated and unrelated incident of a guard’s death then becomes an important key in understanding the conflict that overrides the novel as a predominant theme. This paper contends that although the death of a guard during the first meeting between Anna and Vronsky at the railway station in St. Petersburg (I, xviii) is an apparently disparate and isolated incident, however, through close analysis of the “images, actions and situations” employed in the scene, one finds the key to understanding the dark, destructive and divisive nature of Anna’s battle for a love that is displaced in the society in which Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is set.The setting of the death of the guard is an important link in understanding the nature of Anna’s adulterous love for Vronsky. Set in a crowded railway station of Saint Petersburg, the incident is the first death of the novel, and coincides with the first meeting of Anna and Vronsky. A physical death thus becomes the harbinger of the spiritual death of Anna Karenina. Not only is the railway and the city of St. Petersburg one of the repetitive symbols in Anna Karenina, it is of special significance in the symbolism of the guard’s death. St. Petersburg is the city of modern, liberal values and one that is home to the followers of comme il faut – where everyone does what everyone else is doing, and individuality and spirituality are not central to the lives of its inhabitants. Furthermore, the station is the stark opposite of nature – the dark, imposing forms of metal and industry flourish here instead of the scenic beauty of nature. It is here in a city marked by hypocrisy and physicality, and in a station marred by ugliness that a guard is crushed to death, and Anna and Vronsky’s ill-fated love story begins. The station is described in the following words in Chapter xvii, Part I;“The approach of the train was more and more evident by the preparatory bustle in the station, the rush of porters, the movement of policemen and attendants, and people meeting the train….The hiss of the boiler could be heard on the distant rails, and the rumble of something heavy.”In the next chapter, Tolstoy describes the scene in which the guard is crushed under the train, this way: “Just as they were getting out of the carriage, several men ran suddenly by with panic-stricken faces. The stationmaster too ran by in his extraordinary coloured cap. Obviously something unusual had happened. The crowd who had left the train were running back again.” The words “bustle”, “rush” and “movement” used in chapter xvii all elicit the frenetic activity on the station, where important looking men in uniforms – porters, policemen and attendants – all are in a busy commotion. The “heavy” train, the reason of the entire fuss, is ominously approaching the station – it is threatening in its “rumble”, while the “distant” boiler gives off an evil “hiss”. Furthermore, in the same chapter, the words “quivering”, “hanging low”, “frost”, “stooping figure”, “whining”, “swaying” and “oscillating” have been effectively used to create a miserable image of an unwelcoming station, where happiness is nonexistent and gloom prevails. There is a “bitter frost”, and a man has been “crushed” by the moving train. The “mutilated corpse” and the talk of the “horrible death” augment the dreary tone. The dark language not only foreshadows the death of the guard, but the fatally destructive meeting of Anna and Vronsky. Tolstoy uses anaphoric device in which similar words are repeated consecutively to emphasize the importance of a particular theme. In this case, the station is linked with Anna’s struggle for love, by binding it together with the theme of destructive despair. It is this element of dark, destructive gloom that is the “inner spirit” which binds the isolated station in St. Petersburg with Anna’s experience of love. Indeed, the fulfillment of her physical desire with Vronsky in chapter xi, part II is described in equally dark, destructive and gloomy words: “She dropped her once proud and gay, now shame-stricken, head, and she bowed down and sank from the sofa where she was sitting, down on the floor, at his feet.” In addition, the repeated use of the words “guilty”, “sinful”, “humiliation”, “horror”, “awful”, “revolting”, “fearful”, “shame”, “pitiful”, “loathing” and “despair”, all closely packed together within one short chapter, reinforces the disgust and shame that Anna feels. What was meant to be the reward of her passion for Vronsky is described in terms of punishment and despair, and the language serves to reinforce this sense of loss. David H. Stewart in his article “Anna Karenina: The Dialectic of Prophecy” elaborates on how an individual incident is connected to the overarching theme in the Anna Karenina: “The (individual) episode’s power derives not only from the way in which Tolstoy conceived it but from the stylistic presentation in which poetic and rhetorical techniques assist in activating many areas of the reader’s mind and in this way distribute his response over a broader, more generalized area of experience” (Stewart 268). In this case, through the use of language, specifically anaphora, two isolated situations have been intertwined in the patchwork of the overall theme of Anna’s despair with a subtle thread.In addition to the gloom of the setting, the atmosphere at the station is one of utter confusion, a feverish rush akin to doomsday. This chaos is the immediate response of the crowd once they realize “something unusual”, in this case, the guard’s death, has happened. The terrified people running aimlessly around the station, not yet knowing what has happened, create a situation where intimate contact appears absurd and out of place. Anna and Vronsky, however, experience love at first sight in this very setting, which marks out the beginning of their love affair as an absurd happening that is out of place of the social milieu in which they exist, highlighting the socially unacceptable nature of their love. The public humiliation that follows the Anna-Vronsky love affair is also foreshadowed in this scene. “People coming in were still talking of what had happened.” (I, xviii) Again, the particular has been used to explain the general theme. The element of a buzz among the crowd over the death has been magnified manifold, and transformed into scandalous gossip as it is projected forth in Anna’s relationship with Vronsky. The public eye, its scrutiny of the characters’ actions and the systematic outlawing of the society’s “criminal” is a dominating feature of Anna’s destruction. She resents her being ostracized from the Russian society she was once an endearing part of, especially when she speaks of her public humiliation at the opera, “Unpleasant…hideous! As long as I live I shall never forget it. She said it was a disgrace to sit beside me.” (V, xxxiii) The public dishonor that mortifies Anna is in a sharp parallel to the “talking” at the station. However, while the dead guard is oblivious to his being the talk of the town, Anna, being alive and sensitive to the gossip around her, finds it torturous to cope with it.Tolstoy once wrote in response to a critic that Anna Karenina is a piece of architecture in which the “vaults are joined in such a way that you cannot notice where the keystone is”. Apart from the creation of specific situations that draw links to the overall themes of the novel, Tolstoy has employed recurrent images throughout the course of the text that belie the presence of a centrally wedged and binding keystone within the structural design of Anna Karenina. Indeed, images are dispersed throughout the novel at crucial points in the plot, and when the strands of these images are pulled together, a magnificent fresco is created. The images in the station scene of part I, chapter xviii are crucial strokes in the painting that is Anna’s love affair with Vronsky. Symbols of the train, the “muffled up” guard and the “mutilated corpse” are effectively used in describing the death of the guard, while simultaneously drawing links to elicit an understanding of Anna’s conflict for love. The train is a symbol of brutal destruction and irreconcilable divide. The train is “heavy” and ominous; it is the harbinger of industrialization and modernity that introduced liberal values to Russia, corrupting its spiritual soul. The train is a recurrent image of destruction whose main function is to divide – metaphorically and literally. While the watchman was quite literally “cut in two pieces”, the train symbolizes the advent of modernity and European ideas of physicality, which served to divide Anna. Like Russia, Anna was split physically and spiritually. The guard’s end was violent, drawing parallels with the violent nature of Anna’s adulterous affair with Vronsky – she rips herself out of the comfortable social position she enjoys, and flings herself in the dangerous path of adultery. In physical and spiritual terms, she was “cut in two” as a result of this. She is torn between the need to have a fulfilling family, and the desire to have a passionate love life. The violently divisive nature of her love clearly stands out as a dominating feature, and is heavily reflected in the death of the crushed guard. The image of the “muffled up” watchman is another example of a linkage that connects the specific to the general. Tolstoy describes the death of the guard in one simple yet striking sentence: “A guard, either drunk or too much muffled up in the bitter frost, had not heard the train moving back, and had been crushed.” This one sentence is packed with strands of the overall themes of Anna Karenina. The train, the brutal destruction, the “muffled up” insensitivity of Anna and the unfavourable conditions of the “bitter frost” surroundings all resonate within this one intelligent sentence. The guard is oblivious to his surroundings, and parallels can be drawn to Anna’s oblivion to her husband’s feelings and the society’s condemnation while she is pursuing the affair. She, like the “drunk” guard, is too caught up in the passionate physicality of Vronsky’s love that she fails to take into account how deeply grave her situation is. For instance, in chapter xxiii, part II, Anna is “terrified at what she had done” when she thinks of “her son, and his future attitude towards his mother”. However, she tries to “reassure herself with false arguments” and forces herself to imagine that “everything would remain as before”. Anthony Thorlby writes that Anna’s thoughts to herself belie a sense of “the pressure of unspoken considerations, of evasions and pretences” (Thorlby 60). Her inability to think of her situation in practical terms, and remain “muffled up” in her own world is one of the main reasons of the conflict her conscience is subject to. As Gustafson puts it, “Anna is not punished by Tolstoy for her sexual fulfillment. In a fuller sense, Anna’s story is a moral tragedy of self-enclosure…in her pursuit of love, she hides from her own truth.” (Gustafson 132). Her terror of experiencing the worst scenario possible causes her to underestimate the gravity of her situation. Anna is not honest to her own self, and in failing to confront her reality, she is crushed like the guard who does not realize the train is “moving back”. Anna’s love for Vronsky was, indeed, surrounded by the cold and unwelcome snare of the Russian society, and was fuelled by Anna’s blind ignorance of the consequences of her illicit passions. In the end, just like the watchman, Anna is “crushed”, both physically and spiritually. The image of the “mutilated corpse” is disturbing, not only for the characters present at the station, but also because the image comes back to haunt at a time when Anna has consummated her relationship with Vronsky. At the station, Oblonsky is distressed over the sight of the body; he not only becomes “evidently distressed”, but frowns and is “ready to cry”. His repeatedly laments “How awful!”, and “Anna, if you had seen it!”, implying the horrendous nature of the deformed corpse. The body, as we learn later, is “cut in two pieces”, and is distorted beyond repair. In chapter xi of part II, we see fulfillment of Anna’s physical desire demarcated by the image of a lifeless body falling at the feet of its murderer. Vronsky has fulfilled the “one absorbing desire of his life”, yet he feels “what a murderer must feel, when he sees the body he has robbed of life”. Instead of ecstatic elation, there is a deep sense of shame. In Anna he sees the proof of his crime – and “in spite of all the murderer’s horror before the body of his victim, he must hack it to pieces”. The murderous brutality of the guard’s death resonates in this scene, where Anna, the object of Vronsky’s love, is likened to a dead, lifeless corpse who must be cut up mercilessly. Anna has died before her death. She has become the “mutilated corpse” that invokes pity and horror in its onlookers. Just like Oblonsky is moved on how “awful” the guard’s corpse was, Anna too, invokes pity at her shameful condition. The image of the guard’s corpse thus, is powerful in its ability to connect with the fate of Anna’s love. Tolstoy, with his keen observation of the minutest details, describes his characters’ actions and expressions in such a way that they serve to reveal significant truths about the individual character, or the society that particular character represents. Tolstoy is a master of depicting the minutest details and changes in his characters and, with his penchant for forming a subtle network of links throughout his plot, skillfully connects the particular to the general. In closely looking at how the characters behave at the station in chapter xviii, part I, important links can be drawn to understanding the nature of Anna-Vronsky love affair. Through Vronsky’s eyes, Tolstoy gives us a detailed view of the exquisitely charming facial expressions of Anna Karenina, as we, along with Vronsky, see her for the first time. Apart from the loveliness of her features, what enthralls Vronsky is the liveliness in her expressions, the “suppressed eagerness which played over face, and flirted between the brilliant eyes and the faint smile that curved her red lips.” Her eyes and smile are enchanting to behold. However, alongside her beauty of her charm, the “suppressed” nature of it is also revealed throughout the chapter. “It was as though her nature were so brimming over with something that against her will it showed itself now in the flash of her eyes, and now in her smile. Deliberately she shrouded the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in the faintly perceptible smile.” Yet again, Tolstoy employs anaphora to convey a sense of the restraints and limitations Anna’s life has. The life in her nature is revealed “against her will”, “brimming” out from underneath her inner depths, struggling to express itself. She “shrouded” this life, pushing it back within her “deliberately”, but it resisted her efforts and once again “shone against her will” in her “faintly perceptible smile”. The repetition of words and phrases that elicit Anna’s struggle to contain the life within her give us a glimpse of the restraint she has accustomed herself to in her years of marriage to Alexey Karenin. It seems as if, after years of suppressing herself, she is allowing herself to live for the first time: “As she spoke she let the eagerness that would insist on coming out show itself in her smile.” A part of her has been locked away for years, and it is at this moment that we see glimpses of it. Interestingly, at this point of the story, Vronsky, just like the reader, knows nothing about Anna and how cold and unappealing her husband is. He is unaware of the lack of love she feels towards her husband, or how her womanhood has been reduced to the role of a dutiful wife and mother. He has not been introduced to the Anna that yearns for a passionate love, yet in this first glimpse of Anna, Tolstoy gives a peek into her restrained life. Indeed, Anna’s battle for love revolves around this very suppression she feels within her marriage and her lack of fulfillment in her married life. The failure of the marriage is the cause of the destructive love affair – a link that has been effectively established in the very first meeting between the ill-fated lovers.Countess Vronsky is another conspicuous character in the scene, whose actions and gesture reveal the menacing nature of Russian society. Tolstoy uses strikingly effective word choice to introduce this lady in the novel: “His mother, a dried-up old lady with black eyes and ringlets, screwed up her eyes, scanning her son, and smiled slightly with her thin lips.” The image this one sentence conjures is dark, unpleasant and threatening. Vronsky’s mother, we have been told before, is a woman of a colourful past, having multiple affairs during her youth. Here, the “black” soulless eyes, the scrutiny with which she looks at her son and the mean smile that spreads on her lips serve to enhance the image of Countess Vronsky as a dishonest and insincere figure. There is a cruelty in the way she scrunches up her eyes to look at her son. This is not the look of love a mother would give to her son. In a small gesture, the crude nature of her character is revealed. Emile Melchior writes in her criticism of Anna Karenina, that Tolstoy “observes, listens, takes in whatever he sees and hears, and for all time, with an exactness which we cannot but admire.” (Melchior). It is this acute observation that pours out forth from the pen of Count Leo Tolstoy, and breathes life into his words. Indeed, in the depiction of the Countess, and her “wrinkled hand”, Tolstoy gives a sense of the wretchedness of the lady who says clichéd phrases that make one cautious of her sincerity towards the other. The Countess, in her character, is an image of the wretched high class Russian society. The society, just like the Countess, is a victim of comme il faut – it is kind towards the ones who put up appearances, and spiteful of those who don’t. Such a society disregards Levin and esteems Oblonsky and Vronsky despite Levin’s moral superiority over both men. It is the same Countess, and indeed the same Russian society, that ostracizes and disgraces Anna for her love affair with Vronsky and pushes her into the destructive despair that leads to her death. Thus, through the pitiful depiction of Countess Vronsky, Tolstoy has in effect depicted the Russian society that is equally pathetic. Anna Karenina is a story of destructive divide that has been told in a powerful style that is unique to Tolstoy. The “inner spirit” Gustafson speaks of, that resides in the novel, is one that is forcefully alive within the station scene in chapter xviii, part I. The scene begins with an unusual meeting between Anna and Vronsky, while the station, the setting of their meeting, is frenzied at the oncoming of a train. The end is demarcated by the violent and brutal death of the “muffled up” guard, which Anna sees as an “ill omen”. The death, indeed, lays out the sequence of events for Anna’s ill-fated love affair with Vronsky: it is bizarre, chaotic and in the end, brutal.
Levin and Mowing
Constantine Levin, a hero of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, longs to discover some harmonious part of himself through experiencing the peasant way of life. He believes there to be something profoundly rewarding in the simple act of working as one’s needs dictate. By working with and alongside the peasants for a whole day of mowing in his own fields Levin seeks to gain some of the uncomplicated peace-of-mind that he feels the lower farming classes enjoy. However, Levin’s motives for mowing are distinctly different from those of the hired workers. Levin feels he must mow as a kind of remedy for the type of aristocratic life he has been leading. His first experience with the activity came when he had “lost his temper and to calm himself had used a remedy of his own — he took a scythe from one of the peasants and himself began mowing.” Levin mows to relieve himself of the pressures brought on by the work of his own class (giving orders to his steward, running his farm indirectly through middle-men). Not only does he mow to soothe his stresses, but also to give himself a greater feeling of connection to his land and farming process. Levin cannot understand why the Russian peasants do not commit themselves entirely to the well-being of the farm — why some men could be so careless as to handle equipment so that it breaks, or why they would defy orders and harvest a field easier to finish than the one they were directed to harvest. The peasants work for their direct benefit: spend a day working in the field, earn a set amount of money. It does not matter to them exactly how much work is accomplished. But for Levin, the work translates more ambiguously into gain. It matters how well the fields are mown, and how much is done by each man. Levin stands to either gain or lose wealth based on the quality and quantity of his hired help. This is a great stress to him, and he longs to be more connected to the land and its rewards the way the peasants are. Thus Levin’s mowing is soothing to his own work-related stresses, and it builds a positive connection between him and the land. Through mowing, he can work and see a direct result result.The Russian peasants need to mow so that they can provide for themselves and their families. For Levin, mowing is almost as necessary. He does not need to work to be able to eat, but he needs to in order to feel at peace with himself and his own role. However, to the outside eye, a day spent mowing appears to be a sort of aristocratic game. Levin is aware of this fact, and is even intimidated enough so that he is “in doubt whether to go mowing or not” upon Koznyshev’s arrival. He “fears his brother might laugh at him.” Levin is embarrassed by his deviance from his upper-class role while he is embarrassed by the high status itself. He experiences a distinct confusion caused by his innate role as “boss” in conflict with his desire to lose himself as a cog in a wheel. This confusion is perhaps the root of his abnormal relationship to his peasants. He places his property in their control and even decides for a time that he must become one of them.Koznyshev embodies the unconfused aristocratic opinion. He and Levin talk freely about how enjoyable the work can be until he understands that Levin intends to mow “all day, just like the peasants,” as opposed to sort of playing at it until one gets tired. He reprimands Levin that “it is splendid physical exercise,” but that he will “hardly be able to hold out.” Looking at mowing as the benefit of exercise instead of as the necessity of work shows where the aristocratic and peasant classes distinctly veer away from one another. Levin exists as a medium between the two ways of thinking. Levin desires to mow hard the entire day and is driven by the desire to “keep up” with the peasants and exist as their equal. Levin seeks not only emotional gain, but also the actual profits of the crop. Levin does posses somewhat of an aristocratic view upon entering into his commitment; he comments: “I need physical exercise; without it my character gets quite spoilt.” Here, instead of focusing on the value and direct reward of the work, Levin seeks to remedy the physical frustrations of an upper-class, indoor life spent primarily in celibacy. Levin experiences some moments where he looks to mowing as a sort of prescription for his stifled and frustrating life as an aging and wifeless man in a drawing room. Not only does this way of thinking undermine the real work of mowing and the healing properties it can offer, but it shows a temporary misunderstanding between Levin and nature. Mowing can not ultimately cure his frustrations with his present life. Mowing one time, or even several times, can only provide temporary relief from emotional ailments. To be entirely cured by mowing, Levin would have to actually give himself to it completely and become a peasant himself. And while Levin fantasizes about doing just this, he can never commit himself entirely. Even if Levin’s wet nurse were a peasant, his blood still would run blue. Everything Levin wants in life is still wrapped up in the duplication of the aristocratic family life he enjoyed with his mother and father. While he can use mowing to escape what is lacking in his regular life, Koznyshev and the other peasants are ultimately right: mowing can not save an aristocrat. It can only turn him into a peasant. Before he actually begins to mow, Levin is quite clearly confused between the aristocratic and peasant modes of reasoning and necessity.Although the decision to mow causes some anxiety and confusion in Levin, the longer he works at it and the deeper he falls into the rhythm of the scythe, the more he feels at peace. As Levin approaches the field where the men have already been at work and each man has already completed “his second swath,” Levin views the peasants “following each other in a long straggling line, some with coats on, some in their shirts, each swinging his scythe in his own manner.” Levin sees each mower as a distinct individual. He notices specific men he has had working on his farm before. He notices each man’s various clothing, and each man’s distinct mowing technique. He sees each of the peasant mowers, and undoubtedly himself, as distinct and individual men, which in this case has as a connotation of inefficiency, insofar as “straggling” men cannot mow a field; only a group can. It is only in the midst of the entire day of mowing that Levin is able to leave this view behind, and take on the feeling of a group of men toiling as one and losing themselves in their work.Although there is variance in each peasant’s mowing technique — some are younger and newer and therefore mow more stiffly, while some are older and more seasoned and can mow so well it appears as though they are “at play” — one comes to realize that it is not the individual that carries importance in the act of mowing. A “tall old man with a shriveled, beardless face” advises Levin to “Mind Master! Having put your hand to the plough, don’t turn back!,” suggesting a rejection of the idea of mowing for one’s health or for a game. Levin promises to “try not to lag behind,” meaning that for the next few hours he will leave his status as “master” behind, and will instead respect the wisdom and authority that the oldest and most experienced mowers possess. He begins to mow badly at first, because he feels he is being scrutinized as different from the other mowers. He is conscious of the desire to prove himself, and therefore mows too “vigorously” and with too much thought. His desperate desire to perform well is what keeps him from accomplishing his aim. An experienced mower knows that the best way is to let the scythe “mow of itself”. As the day progresses, Levin realizes that he “must swing the scythe less with [his] arms and more with the whole of [his] body.” This is his first major step toward releasing his unnecessary pretensions of proving himself and his own level of skill. The change from working with a specialized (and fairly weak) selection of limbs to mowing with the whole of one’s body implies the end of acting out of the strained section of the mind and body and the beginning of using one’s entire being.Soon after Levin’s realization, he begins to give himself entirely over to his task. As Titus, the man Levin has placed in charge, mows faster and longer, seemingly as a challenge, Levin begins to think “of nothing and [desire] nothing, except not to lag behind and do his work as well as possible.” Nothing exists at all but the task of mowing in front of and all around him. All of Levin’s senses become dominated by mowing, and he hears “only the swishing of the scythes and [sees] only the convex half-circle of the mown piece before him, and the grasses and heads of flowers falling in waves about the blade of his scythe.” Mowing becomes all of nature. The sounds and shapes in the field are made by the scythe, and the grass and flowers exist only when the scythe strikes them. They move in “waves,” a term that alludes to another great part of nature: the ocean, whose movements can be imitated by the swinging of the scythe. In a sense, the mowing field begins to embody the entire world.With mowing as the world and Levin working in it, the entire experience becomes bathed in innocence and purity. Nothing matters but the work. At one point Levin is “suddenly conscious of a pleasant coolness on his hot perspiring shoulders, without knowing what it was or whence it came.” Such description bears some resemblance to biblical content, and finally to Eden. Levin “look[s] to the sky” to find its origin. Everything is beautiful and merciful to Levin. He works hard, and eventually there comes rest at the end of the swath. The work, the rest, and the swinging of the scythe itself take on a certain rhythm that runs through to Levin’s core. In this state of peacefulness, the scythe begins to “mow by itself,” and the work is really more like “play.” Submerging oneself in this mowing world is no longer a chore. The work becomes its own reward when one can become so close with it. Even the kvas (“lukewarm water with green stuff floating in it and a flavor of the rusty tin box”) tastes better to Levin than anything ever has, because of the work he has done to earn it. The rhythm involved in the actual swing of the scythe, the steps across the fallen grass in Titus’ footprints, and the rests at the end of each row create a harmonious experience. Another part of the rhythm of mowing is the respect given to the aged and experienced. Where a younger and stronger man might normally be valued as optimal for physical labor in another field, in the art of mowing, a man who is aged, experienced and therefore skilled is appreciated as the most valuable. The emphasis on experience goes to show that mowing is indeed an art where skill may be valued over brute force. The rhythm of the planting season and the harvesting season, the syncopated work and rest of each meal break and the mowing of each swath: each year that comes makes a man wiser and more valuable in the field. Where a young man might mow with a “strained kind of movement” as if in “feverish labor” and not be able to “change the motion of his body and at the same time observe what lay before him,” an old man might “go along, holding himself erect” and cut the juicy grass with “a precise and even motion that seems to cost him no more effort than swinging his arms when walking.” To these peasants of age and experience, mowing has become something unlike toil. For these men the “scythe seem[s] to mow of itself.” It is this kind of working nirvana that Levin strives for and is able to achieve in fleeting moments. Levin is able to leave his identity as the “master” behind, and is taken under the wing of the old peasant in front of him. Levin trusts him to decide the correct rhythm of the proceedings, (deciding when it is dinner time, or what pace to mow at) and does not struggle to be in control as he does with his steward and in other aspects of farming. Levin even makes the decision not to go home for dinner and highlight the difference between him and the other mowers. Instead he elects to stay with the old man and share his rye bread mash, and then nap with him in the grass “regardless of the flies” and “of the crawling insects that ticked his perspiring face and body.” Levin gives even his body over to nature. By dining with the old man and the other peasants, especially by actually eating the old man’s food, Levin obliterates the uncomfortable distance of class or status between himself and the others. He seems to establish himself as a young mower in need of guidance, not as a master who is playing at laboring. Although the act of mowing can not cure Levin’s aristocratic self, by submerging himself in the natural order and rhythm of the peasants’ work, Levin, in effect, temporarily becomes a peasant himself.
Mixed Messages; Judgment in Anna Karenina
The question of judgment and sympathies in Anna Karenina is one that, every time I have read the novel, seems to become more complicated and slung with obfuscation. The basic problem with locating the voice of judgment is that throughout the novel, there are places where we feel less than comfortable with the seemingly straightforward, at times even didactic presentation of Anna and Vronsky’s fall into sin alongside Levin’s constant moral struggle. As Anna’s story unfolds in its episodic manner within the context of the rest of the novel, Tolstoy seems to be trying to make the fact of her guilt more and more clear to us; at the same time though, we have more and more difficulty in tracing out the specific locus of that guilt. In a novel as consummately constructed as this one is, we are tempted to look for places where the undercurrents of the text, the places where the text takes on its own life and force, run against, or at least complicate, the discernment of authorial judgment. By closely examining Tolstoy’s treatment of Anna’s moral crisis as compared with his handling of Levin, we might attempt to unravel the book’s rather layered and complex system of condemnation. The novel’s epigraph sets a certain tone for us before we even begin reading; the biblically inflected “Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” plants in our heads the idea that wrong will be done and punishment exacted. Indeed, we come across a wrong in the very first lines of the opening chapter, in Stepan Arkadyich’s dalliance with the French governess, which has thrown the Oblonsky house into “confusion.”(1) Tolstoy’s descriptions of Stepan Arkadyich as a pleasant, honest, well-liked bon vivant seem at times to drip with contempt. He is “lazy and mischievous”(14), his life “dissipated”(14), and “the distributors of earthly blessings, in the form of positions, leases, concessions and the like, were all friends of his and could not pass over one of their own; …Oblonsky did not have to try especially hard to obtain a profitable post; all he had to do was not refuse, not envy, not quarrel, not get offended, which, owing to his natural kindness, he never did anyway.”(14) Stiva is basically a totally harmless, even likable character, but at the same time we are made very aware that he is one of the novel’s moral weaklings. There is something very resonant about the “stupid smile”(3) Stiva gives Dolly as she confronts him with the evidence of his philanderinghe is made to seem constitutionally incapable of an appropriate response. In an irony almost too glaring to call irony, Anna enters on to this scene in the role of restorer of her brother’s familial harmony. Before she is off the train from Moscow though, before her name even appears in the text, the seduction has begun. From the moment Vronsky sets eyes on her, the narrator makes it abundantly clear that the attraction and flirtation are, on Anna’s part anyway, genuine and involuntary. When she looks back at Vronsky as he has stood aside to let her leave the carriage, Tolstoy, through Vronsky, notes “the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile. She deliberately extinguished the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in a barely noticeable smile.”(61) It is significant that our introduction to Anna is through Vronsky. Vronsky’s response to her is instantaneous, and the reader shares in his gaze as he “follow[s] her with his eyes until her graceful figure disappear[s];”(63) as we recognize what has passed between them, we are also made to instinctively feel Anna’s force of attraction. If Anna can be said to cast a spell, Tolstoy makes sure the reader falls under it as well as Vronsky. She continues to exude an almost magical charm through her impressions on the members of the Oblonsky family. In her first conversation with Dolly she is presented as all filled with genuine empathy and compassion for her sister-in-law. Kitty is soon “in love with her, as young girls are capable of being in love with older married ladies.”(71) Admiration comes from every cornerthe very narration itself seems to be in love with her. Peace is restored to the troubled household, (“God is merciful,”(71) Anna significantly writes to her brother inviting him home for dinner), in time for the great ball, during which Anna’s charm, at its stunning peak, becomes almost sinister. Our view of her during this scene is from Kitty, who is of course very threatened by Anna as soon as men, particularly Vronsky, enter the scene. Though her enchantment is still presented as natural and ingenuous, now “there [is] something terrible and cruel”(83) in it. Nevertheless, the moments between Anna and Vronsky as they are falling in love, at the ball and then later on the station platform, are some of the most electrifying in the novel. There are certainly overtones of judgment on Anna’s narcissism; Kitty describes her as “demonic”(83), and when Anna sees Vronsky unexpectedly through the snow on the platform, though she has apparently told herself that she would “never allow herself even to think of him”(102), she is “overcome by a feeling of joyful pride,”(102) when she sees the admiration in his face. But the exhilaration and sexual excitement that comes through in the writing about these two is unmistakable, and utterly engaging. Their affair becomes desirable to the reader, because the passages when they are together, in the beginning of their relationship, are so charged. We can safely assume that there was no such intensity or narcissism in Stepan Arkadyich’s affair with the French governess, as we can sense that the quality of Levin’s feelings for Kitty are presented very differently. Far from seeming fated or inevitable, Levin’s love for Kitty is a hand-me-down, has passed over her older sisters, and has now devolved upon her. Nor is it an impetuous love. Vronsky follows Anna the day after the ball on a whim, simply to be where she is; Levin spends a good deal of the novel alone, rejected by Kitty, but thinking of her. When he sees her again, his love therefore appears steady, measured and true, in contrast to the uncertainty that plagues Anna and Vronsky’s love for one another.All the book’s overt signs, (we might even say there is a protest-too-much’ over-abundance of them), point to Levin as the book’s moral center. He is too ingenuous to be a hit’ in society. He is a worker of the land’, an occupation upon which Tolstoy clearly places a kind of edenic, (though perhaps slightly patronizing), value. He places great value on family. He is not seeking love of the kind Vronsky and Anna have ; almost as an extension of his feeling for land and the ground, Levin is looking not for a grand passion, but for a family life. Perhaps most significantly, he is always working on himself, questioning himself, sounding himself, earnestly collecting information from the world and measuring it against himself, constantly struggling to attain to the truth of himself and the world around him.2In terms, though, of the pleasure of the text’, Levin is something of a reader’s disappointment. The sections that deal with him are no where near as engaging or infectious as the sections dealing with Anna and Vronsky, (with the possible qualification that toward the end of the book the scenes between Anna and Vronsky become more and more tawdry and unpleasant), and while the morality imposed on the book may be clear, so is the fact that good morality does not necessarily make for good reading. In the relative tedium and lack of engagement in Levin’s sections of the book, I can’t help but feel at times that Tolstoy himself was bored with him, even though he represents all that the text professes to value. If we return to the famous opening line of the novel, it is the unhappy family that generates a narrative. Levin’s happy family’ closes out the text; being just like every other happy family, it does not produce a narrative. Any great writer must also be a great reader, and from the way he writes about Anna, the reader feels Tolstoy’s love for his own creation; in spite of her sin, in spite of her narcissism, (which eventually develops into a kind of hysteria), perhaps even in spite of the fact that he had set out to write a novel about “eternal justice,”3 we sense, in a fairly visceral way, that Tolstoy feels a deep and abiding love for his heroine. We feel this allegiance perhaps most strongly in his treatment of Anna’s suicide. Her last thoughts and movements as she throws herself under the train seem to echo her life since Vronsky entered it: “…with a light movement, as if preparing to get up again at once, [she] sank to her knees. And in that same instant she was horrified at what she was doing. Where am I? What am I doing? Why?’ She wanted to rise, to throw herself back, but something huge and implacable pushed at her head and dragged over her.”(768) Even when you know it’s coming, it is an almost unbearably brutal read; the text itself seems to register the horror of her death by immediately withdrawing to talk of Sergei Ivanovich and his book sales, or lack thereof.In trying to clarify the authorial judgment in this great novel, we run up against the central rift that Isaiah Berlin called attention to with his dual formulation of Tolstoy as the foxy hedgehog, a conflict between what the messianic moralist knew he should put in his novel, and what the writer loved to write about. In the end, perhaps because Tolstoy was a better writer than he was true moralist, I’m not sure that Tolstoy ever reconciled the novel’s judgment of Anna with his own sympathy and love for her. The result is a novel divided, uneasy with the vengefulness’ of its own condemnation, perhaps proud of its over-riding message of living for truth and “the good”(817) in life, but ultimately unable to fully convince us that it gravitates toward its own confused and forced moral center.
Clash of Movements
Two clashing movements existed within Russia in the 19th century. In the rural areas existed a movement that could hardly be called a movement. It was, in fact, more of a planted fixture. The indigenous foundation that had existed for time immemorial kept alive the spirit of the land and the system of a subjugated underclass. Many of the elements that were most representative of this fixture actually existed in the underclass (the pre-emancipation serfs and post-emancipation peasants). This movement rarely had a visible voice because it was uneducated, and unexposed to the means of amplification. Other writers of the time presented idealized conceptions of the fundamental aspects of these indigenous people. Ivan Turgenev in his serialized Sketches from a Hunter’s Album attempted to capture the plight of this group. In this work can also be seen the fundamental human characteristics of these people. Two particular pieces, “Living Relic” and “Kasyan from the Beautiful Lands” ignored the hardships of the peasants, and focused on the description of two quintessential examples of the eastern conception of man. In “Living Relic” the subject is Lukeria, a completely disabled peasant who lives alone in a shed on the narrator’s estate. Kasyan, the focus of the other story, is a quiet wandering peasant. The ideas of the west came sweeping in through the cities. The proponents of the western movement often looked to rationally tear away the mystical covering that Russia had unconsciously used to cover its unprogressive ways. This group had a loud voice, and knew how to use it. Because of the plethora of proponents the westernizers moral or historical teachings cannot be reduced to a single voice. However, Nicholas Cherneshevsky represented many of the most important characteristics of the westernizers, most fundamentally in his pure faith in rationality. Cherneshevsky, of course, had specific lessons of utility that sprung from his own rationality. He believed that rationality could only lead one to the pursuit of maximum pleasure, and therefore utility in life. This idea was also en vogue among the rationalists in Russia at the time of all the works being discussed.Out of these two poles came Konstantin Dimtrievich Levin in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. On the question of utility, and matters of everyday living Levin seems to agree with Cherneshevsky. He is very different from the completely a-practical eastern image in this respect. Yet, while this difference is not insignificant, he is inescapably closer to the eastern conception of man than to the conception represented by Cherneshevsky, and his own brother, Koznyshev. Levin’s thought process, and essential demeanor – his soul as Tolstoy might want to call it – mark him as fundamentally similar to these characters. Levin supports Cherneshevsky’s primary statement on the correct activity of man. Both agree that utility is the object of everyday life. Cherneshevsky says that, “He [man] is guided by self-interest, which causes him to abstain from a smaller gain or a lesser pleasure in order to obtain a larger gain or a greater pleasure” (52). This pleasure can be reached through action, and work. In his words, “Idleness is the absence of action; obviously it cannot produce the phenomenon that is called pleasant sensation” (47). Utility is Cherneshevsky’s name for the good achieved when all strive for greater personal pleasure. Levin finds great joy in his own work, so much so that at one point, while considering his ideas to improve the efficiency of his estate, “The idea threw Levin into a great excitement. He did not sleep half the night, thinking over in detail the putting of his idea into practice” (388). Levin discover Cherneshevsky’s lesson on idleness. Each time he returns home from the city where idleness is the way of life, he feels satisfied as he returns to work. After his last trip to the city Tolstoy says of Levin in hindsight, “living so long in Moscow, a life of nothing but conversation, eating, and drinking, he was degenerating” (796). Their similar views of specific utility can be seen on their reflections on physical beauty. Cherneshevsky remarks that, “Flowers, those enchanting sources of fragrance, those exquisite but fleeting fountains of delight to our eyes, are pleasure or enjoyment. The plant on which they grow is utility” (57). As Levin sits eating with Oblonsky, Levin similarly talks of the carefully manicured nails of one of Oblonsky’s friend, and goes on to say, “We in the country try to have our hands in such condition as will be most convenient for working with” (43). Levin’s sense of utility, and singular concern for the unglorified life as well as his desire to spread these ideas through his writing, seems to be the end good of Cherneshevsky’s scheme of utility. Unlike the Sketches, and Levin at the end of Anna Karenina, Cherneshevsky believes that utility is the source of meaning in life. Cherneshevsky boldly states that, “As in human life as a whole, all the diverse phenomena in the sphere of human motives and conduct spring from one nature, are governed by one law” (49). This one law is that of maximum utility.Cherneshevsky offers the connection between utility and rationality. Not all rationalists in Russia ended with the conclusion that utility is the final aim of all lives, yet Cherneshevsky believes it could not be otherwise. “Only good actions are prudent; only he who is good is rational; and he is rational only to the degree that he is good” (57). While Levin agrees with the fruit of Cherneshevsky’s rationality he does not feel as akin to Cherneshevsky in the mode of thought that helped reach this conclusion. In this difference the easterner in Levin can be seen.Kasyan and Lukeria do not possess any apparent practical utility. Kasyan opens up for a brief conversation to tell the narrator that, “I don’t have an occupation of any kind. ‘Tis a poor mentality I have, right from when I was small. I work so long as I can, but it’s a poor worker I’m being” (133). It is said that Kasyan has the ability to ‘heal’ people, but he uses this skill at his discretion, and often not when another asks for it. Kasyan is a defined nomad, and makes no pretensions at being useful to anyone else. The ability to be in any way practically useful has been taken from Lukeria. Luckily her condition does not require another persons care or time, but she is clearly not able to do anything for anyone else. She can do no more than reach her water mug. Turgenev makes it clear that their lives do have meaning, but this meaning does not come from utility. The mode of thought that Cherneshevsky used to reach his conclusion on utility, rationality, involves one important tool: words. He feels each and every question in life can be simplified to a simple syllogism or metaphor. With a couple of cleverly placed words Cherneshevsky believes that he can dispense with even the worlds most lasting questions. At one point he asks, “Is man a good or an evil being?” He quickly goes on to say, “At the very first application of scientific analysis the whole thing turns out to be as clear as can be” (38). After demonstrating the ease with which this problem is solved by throwing around such catchwords as “predicate” and “deductions” he concludes, “Thus from the theoretical side the problem of the good and bad qualities of human nature is solved so easily that it cannot even be called a problem” (39). In the first paragraph of the essay he does away with any idea of a God. “The sciences prove that no dualism is evident in man… since everything that takes place and manifests itself in man originates solely from his real nature, he cannot have another nature” (29). This quote is important because it demonstrates Cherneshevky’s faith in words. But it is also important because here, at the outset of his work, we see Cherneshevky’s rejection of anything higher than words and rationality, anything more than a singular nature. While he moves through these supposedly big questions in a few paragraphs Cherneshevsky could never be called concise. The most astounding aspect of Cherneshevsky’s work is that at 120 pages its essential ideas can easily, and probably for the better, be compressed down to 15 pages (as we learned the hard way). Even at 15 pages there is plenty of room for Cherneshevky’s almost comical, logical wandering. As was mentioned; while Levin finds agreement with Cherneshevsky on utility he has a more fundamental difference that cannot easily be reconciled. This problem begins with words, the tool of the rationalist. It is with words, and what they represent that Levin parts with Cherneshevsky and joins the eastern characters in Sketches.When Lukeria introduces herself, she immediately volunteers, “See how talkative I’ve become”. As the story develops the sentiment described in this statement becomes the great irony of the story. She is described by the farm overseer as, “a quiet one, if ever there was a quiet one” (p367). There is an obvious physical reason that forces Lukeria into silence in that Lukeria lives in a shed where no one visits her. Yet it is more than this physical eventuality that defines Lukeria as quiet. While Lukeria is glad to have a conversation with the narrator it is clearly no great loss for her when he leaves her to quiet and loneliness again. “Now that you’ll be going I’ll be quiet as long as I wish” (366). When the narrator proposes that Lukeria could be taken to a hospital she tells him that she does not want that, “I’m not frightened of being by myself. Truly it’s better, truly it is!” (361). Lukeria is not only able to do without words and people, she consciously rejects these things.Kasyan is a ‘roaming sheep’ and clearly does not look for either people or conversation. Even once he is with the narrator Kasyan, “maintained a stubborn silence and answered all my questions peremptorily and unwillingly” (128). After the pair goes out into the forest to hunt the narrator is “Bored by his [Kasyan] silence” (131). This causes the narrator to sit down to unwittingly partake in the beauty of a silence existence. The narrator says of the experience, “You lie still and you go on watching: words cannot express the delight and quiet, and how sweet is the feeling that creeps over your heart” (131).In this short passage some inkling of the meaning that these figures lives possess. These eastern characters gain no meaning through Cherneshevsky’s utilitarian conception of life. They are not practical to other humans themselves, and, in addition, reject the tool of rationality (i.e. words) that redeems utility. The meaning of life seems to be based in a beauty intrinsic in life that is completely removed from anything valued or determined by rationality, anything that could possibly be placed within Cherneshevsky’s single nature.Turgenev illustrates this principle most effectively by stripping anything of conventional value from Lukeria’s life, and examining the pure act of living through her. Nothing more than the barest existence is given to Lukeria, “I sense that I’m alive, I breathe – and that’s all there is of me” (359), and yet, her life seems to be filled with nothing but beauty. As she describes her time alone, “Sometimes I lie by myself like I am now – and it’s just as if there was no one else on the whole earth except me. And I’m the only living person! And a wondrous feeling comes over me, as if I’d been visited by some thought that seizes hold of me – something wonderful it is” (361)Since Kasyan does not share his solitary experiences with the narrator we are left with the small glimpse of his private life given during the hunting trip. The tone there is reminiscent of the mystical and wonderful tone of Lukeria’s time alone. Kasyan’s and Lukeria’s existence are imbued with such beauty that, in the end, they seem to transcend mortality in a way that Cherneshevsky could only categorically reject in reference to his unified nature of man. The titles of ‘healer’ and ‘holy man’ have been bestowed upon Kasyan. While Lukeria is given no such titles her physical description mark her as practically an idol herself. This physical description is not of her appearance, but rather of an aura that accompanies her existence. She glows bronze; it seems with the light of life. This light surely comes from no earthly source, as she takes in no ordinary vitals. Lukeria is able to live and glow without any earthly subsistence. She eats nothing, and survives on nothing but water. This harks to an intrinsically suprahuman composition. While Kasyan magically keeps others alive, Lukeria magically maintains her own earthly existence. This must be strongly qualified for eventually the eastern image culminates in a strong sense of an omniscient God. The holiness of the characters intrinsically comes with a complete faith in a higher God. Because of the static glance at these characters it is unclear whether their holiness is directly attributable to their faith in God. What we do know is the beauty and sustenance that these characters find in existence unfettered with the routine of normal existence. From Levin’s first appearance his hesitancy towards conversation is noticeable. When we meet Levin he is reservedly approaching his good friend Oblonsky with little to say. In the first visible meeting with his deeply rationalist brother, Koznyshev, Levin walks in to find him debating furiously with a ‘professor’. Levin seemingly cannot decipher the cryptic talk of the rationalists, and categorizes the talk as, “a sea if subtle distinctions, reservations, quotations, allusions, and appeals to authorities, and it was with difficulty that he understood what they were talking about” (30). Yet the moments when he ultimately realizes the uselessness of words is in those fleeting moments when his life finds pure, unreserved joy. The first of these grand events occurs when Levin becomes swept away by mowing the fields with the peasants. In a small segment of the sweeping panoramic look that Tolstoy offers this scene, Tolstoy says, “The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed that the scythe was mowing by itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and precise by itself. These were the most blissful moments” (289).Levin had found a phenomena completely unexplainable by rational methods, but it seems boundlessly filled with happiness. This moment gives a glimpse at a phenomena reminiscent of the unexplainable force driving Lukeria. After the timeless day in the field, Levin goes back to his brother, with whom he had had an irritating argument the night before. Koznyshev immediately pounces upon Levin to talk about everything, but specifically their conversation of the night before. Tolstoy says of their encounter, “Levin listened to his brother and did not understand a single word, and did not want to understand” (295). The more immediately apparent moment of glistening but wordless beauty comes when Levin and Kitty are at last united in their love. Levin and Kitty first meet in the drawing room of the Oblonskys’. From the first sight Kitty is, “delighted, and so confused at her own delight that there was a moment . . . [she] thought she would break down and would begin to cry” (437). At the same time, Levin is, “feeling as if he would sob with the rapture that was flooding his heart” (437). They reach this point without more than a few meaningless words passed between them. When they sit down to dinner for Levin, feelings reminiscent of the night after the mowing return. “Everyone took part in the conversation except Kitty and Levin . . . But these ideas, once of such importance in his eyes, seemed to come into his brains as in a dream, and had now not the slightest interest for him. It struck him as strange that they should be so eager to talk of what was of no use to anyone” (445).It is after dinner when the true worthlessness of words is affirmed in the face of true meaning. As Levin begins to speak to Kitty he finds that all that he can get out is a “badly expressed idea”, however they soon move completely to a realm of speechless communication. Each writes the first letter of the words he or she is thinking of, and the answer is invariably similar to Kitty’s mumbled, “I understand”. At the outset Levin realizes the difference between the rational discussion at the table, and that one between Kitty and himself. “He was struck by this transition from the confused, verbose [my emphasis] discussion with Pestsov and his brother to this laconic, clear, almost wordless communication of the most complex ideas” (453). In the end, not a word is spoken but a few meaningless mumbles, and yet, “In their conversation everything had been said” (455). When Koznyshev initially arrives on Levin’s estate the two men tour the estate by horseback. Koznyshev makes an attempt to describe the aesthetic allure of the country that brought him from the city. Koznyshev’s visit is before either of the intense moments discussed above, yet, even here Levin, it is said, “did not like talking and hearing about the beauty of nature. Words for him diminished the beauty of what he saw” (p275). This is the same sentiment that the reader and Levin alike leave the fields of Mashkin Upland, and the dining room of the Oblonskys’. One other revelatory time in the novel comes when Levin thinks that he has found the meaning to life in striving to achieve ultimate utility. This is the moment mentioned above when he stays up all night in excitement. It appears that this excitement comes from “the vague hope of finding a remedy for all this [the inefficiency of his farm] – all was blended in a sense of inner turmoil, and anticipation of some solution near at hand” (387). At the time Levin thinks that this answer, which will apparently provide him lasting happiness, will come through the improved efficiency of his farm and the peasants. Levin believes that he can find happiness through utility, as Cherneshevsky proposed. But there is a clear sense of uncertainty. All of his excitement is based on the hope that happiness can be achieved through his work. In the moments before his final epiphany Levin astonishedly asks himself, “Why is it all being done? Why am I standing here, making them work?” (896). In finding God, supposedly the last epiphany (when the final truth is reached) Levin realizes that the happiness that he had hoped to find through utility could not exist. Because this last epiphany can be so easily explained it falls outside the realm of true beauty. In the end this scene of joy is qualified as the other scenes of beauty are not.All of the discontent and random run-ins with beauty culminate in Levin converting from atheism to an apparently strong religious faith. The moment of conversion is a moment of beauty similar to the two earlier scenes. This is reflected in his words. “My heart has been revealed a knowledge beyond all doubt, and unattainable by reason, and here I am obstinately trying to express that knowledge in reason and words” (p921). At this point he does not reject utility. Levin finds utility still worthy, but this ‘one nature’ alone is not enough to make life worthwhile. After Levin’s religious epiphany, Tolstoy remarks that, “He [Levin] had been living rightly but thinking wrongly” (p900). There had been nothing wrong with the utility that Levin strove for in life, yet it is not what could provide true meaning. All meaningful events for Lukeria, Kasyan, and Levin occur supraverbally and therefore suprarationally. Beauty in life comes from no definable quantity such as utility, but rather from something outside of this aspect of man, the ‘one nature’ of Cherneshevsky. This other nature is found in God, an idea that is an anathema to Cherneshevsky. This final epiphany alone does not mark Levin as an eastern character. As Tolstoy remarked, “All of the people near to him, who lived good lives, were believers. The old prince, and Lvov, whom he liked so much, and Sergey Ivanovich [Koznyshev], and all the women believed” (889). These peoples had faith but they did not find fraternity with the peasants. Tolstoy’s mention of Koznyshev as a believer provides evidence that a fundamentally rational person can still share the faith of Levin and the peasants. From a purely secular perspective (mine) it seems reasonable to say that this last intense moment is of equal importance as the other two moments in defining the fundamental aspects of Levin. Tolstoy would surely not agree with this interpretation, yet after the conversion Levin shows no immediate change. Only a few minutes after his epiphany he becomes angry with his coachmen and disappointedly remarks, “He felt sorrowfully at once how mistaken had been his supposition that his spiritual condition could immediately change him in contact with reality” (905). A little while later he asks himself, “Can it have been only a momentary mood, and will it pass and leave no trace?” (908). While Levin determines that it will not be momentary he only reaches this conclusion after consciously reconsidering the epiphany. This epiphany has not become anymore enmeshed in his soul than the other two. It was the way that Levin found truth, not the truth that he found that set him apart from the other believers. This revelation allows the clarification of the excitement over work, but its true essence is that it allows the reader to see once more the deeper similarity between him and Lukeria and Kasyan. In Anna Karenina Levin is battling towards the east. This becomes immediately apparent when he is juxtaposed to his brother. Koznyshev is a firm representative of the Cherneshevsky type, against which we can consider Levin. There is no such representative for the eastern image but the shortly considered peasants who Levin mows with. In a poignant moment during the relatively short mowing scene Levin’s kinship with the east rather than the west (his brother) is illuminated in only a few words. Levin is sitting with the older peasant with whom he has shared much of the day, and Tolstoy quietly remarks that after the transcendental experience Levin had in the fields, “He [Levin] felt much closer to him [the older peasant] than to his brother” (290).Works CitedCherneshevsky, Nikolai. “The Anthropological Principle in Philosophy” in Edie, Scanlan and Zeldin, eds., Russian Philosophy (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965).Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina, trans. Constance Garnett (New York: The Modern Library, 1993).Turgenev, Ivan. Sketches From a Hunter’s Album, trans. Richard Freeborn (London: Penguin Books, 1990).
Privileged Motherhood in Anna Karenina and The Awakening
In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the concept of privileged motherhood is introduced fairly early in the narrative: ““She stood watching the fair woman walk down the long line of galleries with the grace and majesty which queens are sometimes supposed to possess. Her little ones ran to meet her. Two of them clung about her white skirts, the third she took from its nurse and with a thousand endearments bore it along in her own fond, encircling arms. Though, as everybody well knew, the doctor had forbidden her to lift so much as a pin” (27). Emphasis mine. In the nineteenth century, the essentialist perspective in gender relations was prevalent. The best evidence for the dominance of the essentialist perspective can be seen in the fact that the first wave of feminism led by luminaries like Elizabeth Cady Stanton used the view that women were naturally more spiritual, generous and maternal as their main argument. This perspective idealized motherhood as the quintessential role for women. The “privileged mother”, the maternal figure in the most romanticized form, occupied a special place in nineteenth century literature.
The concept of the privileged motherhood required two factors – children and wealth. In the absence of both factors, women became the subjects of pity. The barren women has roots in Biblical accounts but took a particularly heartrending tone in nineteenth century literature as the tragic spinster. The situation for poor mothers had not changed much since Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal” to draw attention to the societal neglect for the impoverished family. Mothers in lower income households were overworked, underappreciated slaves to biology, struggling to keep their children alive in an era when starvation, poor hygiene and typhus created high infant mortality rates. Many mothers died in labor as the medical establishment refused to fully accept the hygiene program of Ignaz Semmelweis, who first established hygiene regimens for his doctors yet died in 1865 with only a few adherents and many critics. Seemingly immune from the ravages of barrenness and poverty, the women who managed to obtain “privileged motherhood” seemed to have everything including material determinism, leisure, healthy children and moral spiritual dignity.
By contrast to the ideal of privileged motherhood, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1877) and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) depict the beneficiary of “privileged motherhood” as a social parasite that creates a precedent for modernism. These depictions challenge the maternal idealism through dynamic tensions and ultimate self-destruction. Anna Karenina and Edna Pontellier embody the roles of “privileged motherhood” by their ability to be mothers without needing to fulfill the primary caregiver roles. Maternity still has the symbolic significance of conveying religious and spiritual authority; however the nannies and maids fulfill most of the maternal roles. The “privileged mother” has an undisputed centrality in the family while forgoing most of the labor that role entails. “Privileged motherhood” represents a unique opportunity to forge an identity independent of familial bonds without the emotional cost of spinsterhood and thus supports Tolstoy’s assertion that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (1)
Due to the release from the mundane duties of maternal care, the privileged mother experiences freedom deemed excessive by nineteenth century standards. This creates a guilt that forces the mother to extend special efforts in the discharge of her family duties (True 25). From a modern perspective, the concept of “privileged motherhood” as a source of guilt may seem strange from a modern perspective in which feminist sensibilities have combined with modern technology in order to foster an expectation for “privileged motherhood.” However, in the absence of such dynamics, one has to note that in the nineteenth century that “privileged motherhood” was a relatively rare and new institution.
Anna Karenina and Edna Pontellier both have potential to be viewed as feminist prototypes; however, their narratives more clearly depict a diminution of “privileged mothers” in the eyes of nineteenth century society. The personal autonomy enjoyed by Karenina and Pontellier becomes the basis of social condemnation and scandal. The privileged mothers ultimately destabilize their positions due to a desire for greater autonomy which is manifested by attempts to fulfill their sexual desires and ultimately their suicides.
The salient elements of the narratives established in Anna Karenina and The Awakening are identified and placed in the context of the thesis established above. The key passages necessary to advance the methodology proposed in Part 2 are highlighted. The elements will be set against a backdrop comprised of a brief overview of each work. This chapter is intended to provide the foundation for the exploration of the nineteenth century literary representation of female sexual desires that is undertaken in succeeding chapters. It is here that the ironies discussed in Chapter 4 and 5 are established. As an example, the description of Leonce Pontellier’s social status, where ” …all declared Mr. Pontellier was the best husband in the world” (Chopin, 17) allows the profound social impact of the “fall” of Edna Pontellier to be clearly understood.
How Anna’s near-death experience in labor eventually results in her untimely demise
The idea of seeing a widely loved, magnificent woman go from the envy of St. Petersburg to the deranged, self-obsessed person that made the rash decision to jump underneath a train to get revenge on her husband sounds like a crazy thought. Knowing this, it is important to note that Anna’s suicide in Anna Karenina was no spur of the moment idea. Throughout the later parts of the novel, there is a noticeable decline in Anna’s mental health, leading her to her untimely death. This gives way to the question of just how a woman who had it all developed such angry, vengeful thoughts, and later actions. While these thoughts were not all directed at herself, they were the final straw in her decision to end her life. Although the exact origin of these thoughts and feelings of hers is unknown, it is fairly easy to make an educated guess. In Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, the scene in which Anna nearly dies in labor acts as a turning point for her mental health, eventually leading to her untimely demise.
The decline in Anna’s mental health after the delivery of her second child, Annie, can be seen in people’s first impressions of her before her near-death experience, as opposed to after. Prior to this event, Anna was a kind, loving woman who was highly regarded by everyone who met her. In fact, in Part I, when Countess Vronsky first meets Anna, she states, “As an old woman all I can do is tell you straight out that I’ve fallen in love with you” (Tolstoy 75). This shows how easily people can fall for the charming personality Anna possessed before her near-death experience. While people who meet Anna for the first time after she has Annie still feel the same feelings of adoration for her, they also get an idea of the emotionally drained, tortured soul that lies within. In Part VII, just after meeting Anna for the first time, Levin thinks, “What a wonderful, sweet, pathetic woman….” (Tolstoy 839). This clearly shows that Anna has developed feelings within herself that have become so overpowering that they now overflow into her everyday life, making it so that people can feel her pain. Anna’s inner turmoil developed after the birth of Annie can be seen in the change in people’s initial opinions of her both before and after the event.
Another situation that shows Anna’s mental health decline after the birth of her daughter is the change in the nature of her relationship with Vronsky. Before she became pregnant with Annie, Anna and Vronsky were more concerned with the relationship at hand. They were completely in love, and did not keep it a secret from anyone. In Part II, when Anna and Karenin are on their way back from the horse races, Anna admits, “I’m listening to you and thinking about him. I love him, I’m his mistress, I can’t bear it, I’m afraid- I hate you… You can do whatever you like with me” (Tolstoy 254). This shows Anna’s extreme commitment to Vronsky after they have sex for the first time. While it seems as though their relationship will last a lifetime, as it was based purely on love, that is far from true. Once Anna gives birth to Annie, and nearly dies in the process, her way of thinking about her relationship begins to change, as does his. In Part VI, shortly after Anna has recovered from her near-death experience, Vronsky realizes, “She was completely different now from what she had been when he saw her first. Both morally and physically she had changed for the worst” (Tolstoy 431). This reveals that Vronsky has noticed the new changes in Anna. She is mean, spiteful, and jealous, and he does not like what she has turned into. Also in Part IV, Chapter III, Vronsky thinks, “These attacks of jealousy that had recently been coming over her more and more often horrified him; no matter how he tried to hide this they made him feel colder toward her, in spite of his knowing that the reason for her jealousy was her love for him” (Tolstoy 431). This explicitly shows that Vronsky’s feelings towards Anna have changed now that her mental health is taking a turn for the worst. Because of the birth of Annie, Anna and Vronsky’s relationship is no longer centered around their love for each other, but around their underlying problems with each other that will continue to get worse and worse until Anna decides that she is going to commit suicide as the ultimate form of revenge against Vronsky. The change in the nature of Anna and Vronsky’s relationship after the birth of Annie reflects the decline in Anna’s mental health after her near-death experience.
In Anna Karenina, the topic of Anna’s suicide is one that weighs heavier on the heart. It can be argued that the emotional break that caused her to jump underneath the train on that fateful day could be foreshadowed by her witnessing the peasant dying by getting run over by the train in Part I. While this event may have had a profound effect on her emotionally, it seems as though this idea had been formulated much earlier than right when she saw the freight train arrive at the station in Part VII. The decline in her mental health after the near-death experience she has after the birth of her daughter reveals the fact that her suicide was not a rash decision. Her decision to jump underneath the train was one of anger and revenge, an action produced by the thoughts she begins to have after looking death in the face. In Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, the scene where Anna nearly dies in labor causes a sharp decline in her mental health, eventually leading to her untimely death.
Understanding Birth & Comprehending Death: Levin’s Shifts in Self-Knowledge
Constantine Levin’s pair of pivotal experiences contribute significantly to Anna Karenina’s psychological tapestry because these moments of crisis draw out and highlight the subjectivity of the protagonist’s life experience. The novel’s overarching theme of emergent moral consciousness is thus foregrounded in these scenes that feature prominent shifts in self-awareness. The reader is instructed to compare these scenes first by their differences in symbolic content, then on the narrative grounds of subjectivity. Levin’s changing patterns of assumption, projection, and understanding convey to the reader the foundations for the character arc that will result in his religious conversion.
Throughout the novel, Levin and other characters are frequently described as having “unconscious” attitudes and “involuntary” actions, so the presence of language drawing specific attention to missing self-awareness is not a very conspicuous or specific link between the death and birth scenes. But because there are other, more obvious similarities and contrasts in the descriptive elements of these scenes, the reader is already taught to relate the text in these parallel scenes, and may thus examine deviations between narratological elements when they arise.
The settings of the two scenes provide the most immediate distinctions in symbolism. The “dust and slovenliness” of the Levins’ hotel is also noticed in “the dirty little room” in which Nicholas wastes away, whereas little focus is given to the material environmental of the Levins’ home where Kitty gives birth, apart from references to the rooms’ lighting. When Levin wakes up, he first sees that “a light was moving behind the partition,” and Kitty emerges holding a “candle in hand” (639). On his way out, he notices a footman “cleaning lamp-glasses” (642). These details are made metaphorically significant by Tolstoy’s reference to the baby as a new life that flickered “like the flame of a lamp” (648). It is a peculiarly telling detail that the first reference made to the child’s successfully delivery is not a realistic view of its body, but an abstract representation of its living light. At least from Constantine Levin’s perspective, birth is not tied directly to physical existence, it is an event that transcends its immediate environment.
The intangibility of the setting is further designated by Levin’s lost sense of time, again spatially represented by candles: “He was surprised when Mary Vlasevna asked him to light a candle behind the partition, and he learnt that it was already five o’clock in the evening” and “he did not know whether it was late or early. The candles were all burning low” (645, 646). Tolstoy’s focus on light gives the birth scene a symbolic identity connoted by the non-physical, in contrast to the way death is presented in corporeal detail.
The gloomy setting of the pre-death scene is introduced by concrete background imagery, such as “a dirty uniform,” “a dirty dress coat,” “a dusty bouquet,” and a “dado filthy with spittle” (445, 446). This material focus is made especially significant by Kitty’s transformation of this filthy atmosphere with “beds made, combs, brushes and looking glasses laid out, and covers spread” (452). The physical reality of “folded linen” and other atmospheric improvements is enough to give the dying man who “lay between clean sheets in a clean shirt” a “new look of hope” (450). Through either misery or joy, the moral outlook of the dying man is bound irreversibly to his physical condition. This is shown most distinctly at the moment of his passing, when the last indicator of Nicholas’ diminished will to exist is found in his mannerism of “catching at himself as if wishing to pull something off” (458). While this chapter centers most of its narrative and dialogic commentary and on the metaphysics of death, the descriptive action of the scene concludes with Nicholas literally coming to grips with “the reality of his sufferings” (454). Just as the abstract depiction of the child at his moment of birth epitomizes the birth scene’s non-physicality, the physical climax of the death exemplifies the symbolic significance of the whole fatal episode.
The dichotomy of physical versus non-physical symbolism is just one of the many links that polarize the meanings of these scenes, letting us know that they are directly comparable. The shared language of consciousness, however, is a more subtle connection between scenes than binary symbolism. As in much of the novel, the focalized narration explicitly states what the characters do and do not know, what they can and cannot comprehend, and how they interpret one another. Levin, particularly, expresses a great deal of self-consciousness toward his understanding of others’ thoughts and intentions. The death scene introduces many of these neuroses, and the birth scene resolves one, but leaves others to torment him until the end of the novel.
The most frequent and torturous attitudes to afflict Levin’s self-consciousness are those that are overtly “incomprehensible” or come on “involuntarily.” In both scenes, Levin encounters an insurmountable inability to understand his fellow humans, and in both scenes the recognition of this fundamental disconnect arises against his will. While gazing at his dying brother, Levin is said to have “involuntarily meditated upon what was taking place within his brother at that moment, but, in spite of all the efforts of his mind to follow, he saw . . . that something was becoming clear to the dying man which for Levin remained dark as ever” (455). If we are to believe the narrator, Levin’s unintended contemplation of others’ mental processes enables him to detect when one is having an epiphanic moment, but it does not extend far enough for him to see what that profound insight entails.
The frustration produced by this innate mental divide between self-knowledge and understanding of the other applies to any gap in understanding, but Tolstoy demonstrates it most dramatically with Levin’s “envy of that knowledge which the dying man now possessed and which he might not share” (456). Of all the human experiences which are agonizingly incommunicable, none is as impossible to share as the feelings brought on by death. Levin gains a painful consciousness of his general inability to fully understand his fellow man when he is unconsciously confronted by his specific inability to share his dying brother’s epiphany.
The same consciousness is produced, also by an unconscious shift in empathy, when he considers the sufferings of his pregnant wife. While “involuntarily seeking a culprit to punish for these sufferings,” and realizing there is none, Levin sees “that something beautiful was taking place in her soul, but . . . it was above his comprehension” (641). In this scene, Levin again realizes that he can recognize, but not feel another’s joy that is borne out of pain. Again, Tolstoy makes a more universal point by illustrating an extraordinary case: Levin seeks to understand an experience he cannot possibly know in his lifetime, for childbirth is even more inaccessible to him than death. But, as they fit into the novel’s refrain of “involuntary” thoughts and “incomprehensible” feelings, these extraordinary experiences are made to represent the most extreme cases of the human condition’s general barrier to empathetic experience.
Levin is ultimately thwarted in his attempts to relate others’ perspectives to his own. He only comes to peace with his consciousness of that impossible dream on the last page of the novel, when he learns to express it religiously: “there will still be a wall between my soul’s holy of holies and other people . . . but I shall still pray” (740) . He does, however, learn from the death and the birth to better relate his own perspective to others. In the death scene, Levin worries greatly about the misery his brother’s condition might bring to Kitty. He assumes that she would unnecessarily suffer from his presence, reflecting, “Why should she too be tortured as I am?” (447). It turns out, however, that she approaches the dying man’s suffering with greater ease. Kitty is more worried about Levin’s own reaction to death than her own, and she has faith in her ability not only to persevere but also to comfort Nicholas, proving Levin’s assumption wrong. She expresses this in dialogue: “Try and realize that for me to see you and not to see him is much more painful. There I can perhaps be of use to him and you” (447). Here, Levin has inaccurately projected his own fear of death onto his wife, assumed she knows what he feels, and further demonstrated his inability to grasp another human perspective.
By the time of his son’s birth, however, Levin’s consciousness has grown to include an understanding of that essential failing. He avoids projecting further by coming to the conclusion that “no one knew or was bound to know his feelings” if he did not express them carefully (642). It’s important to note that this realization is “immediately” reached, without a voluntary attempt to come by it, in accordance with Tolstoy’s insistence that consciousness is generally expanded in an unconscious fashion (642). And, because this is one of the few lessons Levin learns – he gains some faith in God, but otherwise holds onto his incomprehension of the situation – we also see Tolstoy’s suggestion that even in the most advanced cases of self-conscious behavior, moral realizations are generally incomplete.
Levin’s journey to greater self-knowledge is essentially the ‘successful’ result to the novel’s experiment, with Anna’s journey to the absolute depths of delusion standing as the negative control. The birth and death scenes are pivotal not just in terms of plot progression, but also because they provoke expansions to the protagonist’s mind. Once they have been established as thematically linked, the scenes yield a profusion of evidence for Tolstoy’s subtext on the fragmentary nature of human consciousness.