Anna Karenina – Section Eight, by Leo Tolstoy
Vronsky has received a note from Anna, written prior to her following him to the train station – begging him to return to her. With this in hand, and as he learns of Anna’s death, he’s devastated. Since he’s a soldier, he determines to fight with the Serbs against the Ottoman Turks, believing that with Anna gone, he should dies, too, and this is the way it should happen.
But then Tolstoy shift gears; he takes Levin and Kitty and the baby back to the farm and their life there. Still plagued by his religious crisis, a chance aside by one of the serfs crystallizes the moment and Levin’s crisis is resolved.
As both Levin and Anna ask, "Who am I? What is this life to me?” we see Anna’s inability to answer such intimate questions lead to her death, while Levin’s struggles with the same questions lead to a tentative contentment.
I won’t detail Levin’s epiphany here – it’s worth reading the book to arrive, with him, at this moment – but suffice that this is the reason for this final eighth section – to contrast Anna’s and Levin’s metaphysical experience. But Tolstoy is too grounded in Russian life – and his fiction – to make such an abstraction the meat of his long book. I believe his project here, along with depicting Russian life of mid-nineteenth century, complete with its hypocrisy, its wars, its social and governmental dramas, is to contrast rural life in Russia at that time with that of urban society. In his view, urban life is inherently flawed and living it flies in the face of both nature and the divine, while rural life restores and supports the human soul. And he does this through the lives of his two couples – Anna and Vronsky, and Levin and Kitty.
This has been a recurring them in modern human psychology – that there’s something somehow evil in the urban contrivances of humanity, and Tolstoy is, in this book, its most eloquent proponent.
My rating: 18 of 20 stars