Anna Karenina – Section Five, by Leo Tolstoy
I mentioned Tolstoy’s contrasting his characters in the last post, and I want to treat that in more detail. But first, a bit about the storyline in this section:
The section opens anticipating Kitty and Lévin’s wedding. He’s antsy, of course, with pre-wedding jitters, and while this has become something of a cliché of American pop fiction, if not of American life in general, Tolstoy was perhaps the first to make so much of it. Lévin is worried that he’s not worthy of Kitty – we have to suppose because of her beauty and her parents’ earlier rejection of Lévin as a spouse in lieu of Vrónsky. The wedding comes off without a hitch, however, and we find the female attendees caught up in a bit of wedding gossip.
Meanwhile, Vrónsky and Anna are happy to be together at last, and making their travels something of a honeymoon. They are now free to explore Russia together, and Vrónsky, who fancies himself an artist, visits Mikhailov, a prominent artist, who all but dashes Vrónsky’s artistic dreams.
But both couples are quickly caught up in some rather grounding, real-life details. Lévin’s brother, Nikolai, is dying, and Anna is suddenly missing her son, Seryózha.
Tolstoy has, I think, captured the two couples in this way in order to show that both happiness and tragedy lurk in any relationship, the conventional or the outlawed. In this respect, he presages twentieth century literature by giving equal weight to types of relationships, and the two couples. Both their happiness and their lurking responsibilities, while similar in the general sense, are unlike in specifics.
This is a way much modern fiction depicts relationships in order to draw out their deeper contrasting natures, and Tolstoy seems to be the first to make such overt use of the technique.
My rating: 19 of 20 stars