Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

[This is in 8 sections, corresponding to the eight parts of the book. I didn’t start reading a new section until I’d finished writing about the one before, so I didn’t know how any of it would turn out until I got to the end.]

5 December 2014
Part 1
Where to start – aside from the fact that it’s a Tolstoy novel and you feel you’re in completely safe hands? There are two or three main narrative threads, all interlocking, and other things going on whose significance isn’t clear yet. The thread that opens the novel, the one that provides one of the most famous opening lines in literature, is the trouble in the Oblonsky household. Oblonsky has sent for his sister, Anna… and within a few hours of her arrival she’s brought about a reconciliation. So the Oblonskys and their problems – i.e. his extra-marital affairs – aren’t going to be a main thread after all. We hear little more about them after this, and they become a kind of backdrop to the main stories. Oblonsky is a typical upper-class Russian, having reached a high-status position through his network of friends and relatives, and he takes it all utterly for granted. He is always affable, everybody smiles whenever they meet him, and ‘he only wanted what the men of his own age and standing did get, and he was no worse qualified for performing duties of the kind than any other man.’ This, of course, is his own view, not the narrator’s.

Their marriage, one of two we are shown in some detail in Part 1, is also typical. Marriage is constantly in the minds of two of the main characters, Vronsky and Levin, and neither of them wants what they see in the typical set-up. The Oblonskys married for love in their early twenties, and he is now looking for someone younger. Tolstoy takes us inside his head for a lot of these early chapters (I’ll come back to points of view in this novel), and he is perfectly straightforward about his needs. Dolly, his wife, is long past 30, ‘old’ and worn out by the five children she’s borne him. He can’t help it, but her discovery of a letter to his mistress has made him feel bad. He’s an amiable chap and doesn’t want Dolly to be upset. He wants things to carry on as they were – he has no intention of ending the marriage – which is why he sends for Anna. Ok.

The other marriage is typical in a different way. We see inside it at the end of Part 1 when Anna returns to Petersburg. Her husband is a hardworking, highly respected official, so busy he seems to divide even his evenings into hour- or half-hour blocks, and she’s bored. Does she love him? She notices how ridiculous his ears look when she sees him on the station platform, and we can gauge the tone of the marriage from the way he greets her. He refers to himself as the ‘“tender husband”… in mockery of someone who might actually mean what he said.’ It doesn’t matter that these are characters living in a society that would be quite alien to us. This kind of banter is so recognisable I find their meeting one of my favourite things in the novel so far.

The other main threads concern a conventional enough love triangle that quickly turns into something different. Levin, serious-minded but likeable for reasons that have nothing to do with Oblonsky’s superficial charm, has returned to Moscow to propose to the youngest of three sisters. She is Kitty, sister of Dolly and Natalia, and his self-doubt and embarrassment are almost the stuff of social comedy. Almost, but not quite. He is so persuaded of Kitty’s perfections – Oblonsky, his friend since childhood, is right to mock the naivety of his idealisation of this girl in her late teens – that he firmly believes he is worthless as a possible suitor. He is not worldly-wise like the other men we meet, and takes her first rejection of his proposal at face value.

Tolstoy, in that way he has, has shown the reader exactly why we should be wary of Kitty’s response. In one of those easy switches of the point of view, we have seen the ambivalence of her feelings. She currently believes she is in love with Vronsky, who appeared on the scene shortly after Levin’s departure some months previously following his first abandoned attempt to propose. Now, knowing what Levin is about to say to her, she is torn: ‘“My God! shall I myself really have to say it to him?” she thought. “Can I tell him I don’t love him? That will be a lie. What am I to say to him? That I love someone else? No, that’s impossible.”’ When he proposes, she answers ‘hastily’: ‘That cannot be… forgive me.’ Not long after this, he leaves – to the relief of Kitty’s mother, who likes the look of Vronsky, and the chagrin of her father, who doesn’t.

In his dealings with Kitty, Vronsky appears to be a recognisable type. He has no intentions of marrying Kitty, but is so flattered and charmed by her infatuation with him that he treats her as if he is about to propose. Kitty and her mother are expecting this very soon – an idea which, Tolstoy tells us, would fill Vronsky with amazement. He isn’t an evil seducer like Anatole Kuragin in War and Peace, he’s thoughtless and careless like Willoughby in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. This is an important aspect of his personality. He was born with everything – looks, money, charm – and he has been around. If he doesn’t know what expectations he is setting up it’s because he doesn’t want to think about it. Tolstoy has let us know that to Vronsky, marriage is absurd: ‘a husband was, in accordance with the views general in the bachelor world in which he lived, conceived as something alien, repellent, and, above all, ridiculous.’ So now we know.

Tolstoy, like so many other 19th Century novelists, is offering characters whose behaviour we are invited to judge. Oblonsky is easy. Vronsky, in this early part of the novel – and, perhaps, even more so after we’ve seen his behaviour towards Anna and Kitty at the ball – also seems to be easy. But, even as Tolstoy presents Vronsky’s mesmerised focus on Anna at the ball, he’s moving things on. Kitty is so mortified by his behaviour precisely because she can see that he’s treating Anna in a way she’s never seen before. It goes far beyond his usual charm and casual gallantry: he can’t take his eyes off this new arrival in his life. And as for Anna… I’ll come back to Anna.

Levin presents another flawed model of behaviour. He’s 32, is very good at managing the big farm he and his brother inherited, is full of ideas about how Russia should be governed – and he’s as impulsive as a child. He was a great advocate of the new local councils, but now he’s made a big show of resigning. He has his own strict views on women and marriage, and Tolstoy has already let us know how lacking in insight these are. Kitty is an ideal: women can be divided into two kinds, Kitty and all the women in the world who do not match her. Except he had originally planned to marry Dolly. Then Natalia. And when Kitty refuses him he immediately thinks all hope for him is gone: ‘from that day he would give up hoping for any extraordinary happiness, such as marriage must have given him, and … he would never again let himself give way to low passion.’ Yeh, sure.

And then there’s Anna. How much of a model of right behaviour does she represent? Up to the beginning of the fateful ball, she seems more or less perfect. She charms Vronsky’s mother, who happens to share a carriage with her on the train from Petersburg. She says just the right things – carefully calculated for effect, Tolstoy reveals to us – to make Dolly come round to the idea of a reconciliation with her husband. And she’s beautiful, full of energy, and so devoted to her eight-year-old son that she can hardly stop thinking about him at first. But there has already been an ominous little warning of things to come in her first encounter with Vronsky, at the station. She somehow knows, although she doesn’t let the thought form in her mind, that when he presents a generous gift for the widow of the workman who has just been killed on the track, it’s for her benefit. There’s something troubling about this…. And then comes the ball.

It seems a master-stroke on Tolstoy’s part to have the events of the ball recounted from Kitty’s point of view. She had been expecting a proposal – she’s just refused Levin – and Vronsky practically ignores her. Everything about Anna, from the extraordinary black dress that shows off the ivory of her skin to the smile she offers Vronsky in response to his attentions seem to prove to Kitty that she was a fool ever to consider herself worthy of a proposal. She, not much over half Levin’s age, is crushed as easily as he is, but with far more reason. Tolstoy, as we know, likes to shift the point of view, but not this time. He sticks with what Kitty sees: ‘Every time he spoke to Anna the joyous light flashed into her eyes.’ Strong word, joyous, and mortifying for Kitty as she watches.

Fast forward to the next day. Anna decides to leave Moscow immediately, although Tolstoy never spells out why and Anna herself lets her thoughts glide away from the idea that she is running away from temptation. By the time she’s on the train she is congratulating herself on how easily she has been able to put herself out of danger. ‘Come, it’s all over, and thank God!’ she thinks. In all her memories of her visit to Moscow ‘there was nothing shameful.’ Hah. Moments later she is troubled by an undeniable sense of shame – ‘Warm, very warm, hot’ – that she decides to hold up for scrutiny. ‘Am I afraid to look it straight in the face? Why, what is it? Can it be that between me and this officer boy there exist, or can exist, any other relations than such as are common with every acquaintance?’ Readers who know how these things work are just waiting for the slip. It almost feels like flattery, that Tolstoy allows us to know the truth of this woman’s state of mind better than she knows it herself. She might refer to him as ‘this officer boy’, but she’s spending an awfully long time thinking about him – and from now on she is completely unable to concentrate on the trashy novel she’s reading.

The slip soon comes. She gets off the train at the next station to breathe some cool air, and who should happen to have got off at the same time? And ‘at the first instant of meeting him, she was seized by a feeling of joyful pride. She had no need to ask why he had come. She knew as certainly as if he had told her that he was here to be where she was.’ She asks him, and his reply is so precise an echo of what she had predicted that Tolstoy is able to send a clear message about how well she already knows him: ‘You know that I have come to be where you are, I can’t help it.’ Oh dear.

At home, she can hardly believe how boring her Petersburg life and acquaintances seem – although she does her best to rally herself by playing with her son as long as she can instead of going out. Vronsky, meanwhile, slips effortlessly back into the same bachelor existence we have already guessed at. His so-called best friend, Petritsky, is deeply in debt and going to the dogs – and Vronsky makes no efforts to put him back on track. Instead he makes arrangements to spend a pleasant evening at Betsy’s, clearly not a respectable place, and then to put himself about in the sort of places where he might accidentally meet Anna. She needs to watch out.

One last thing, for now. What Levin does in Moscow following the disastrous proposal is in stark contrast to Vronsky in Petersburg. He is full of guilt that he has not been to visit the brother he knows is also in town. Nikolai Levin has told his brother and their half-brother Sergei that he wants no more to do with them. Now Levin finds him in a run-down place where he lives as man and wife with a poor-looking woman he isn’t actually married to, and makes plans with communists on the run from the authorities for half-baked schemes to bring manufacturing to rural villages. He’s a mess, clearly ill and killing himself with alcohol – and Levin does his best to stay friendly with him. But it’s hard to see a happy ending for Nikolai….

After this, Levin goes home, where he buries himself in the farming life. He dreams of a wife, and… and what? The wife is an ideal, based on his memories of his mother, and his thoughts show Levin to be a long way from imagining the realities of marriage. ‘To go out with my wife and visitors to meet the herd…. My wife says, “Kostya and I looked after that calf like a child.” “How can it interest you so much?” says a visitor. “Everything that interests him, interests me.” But who will she be?’ Good question. Kitty? It seems doubtful, as he remembers ‘what had happened in Moscow.’

It’s a good job there are still 700 pages left to go. Maybe he’ll sort his ideas out a bit.

13 December
Part 2
He doesn’t. Levin. Sort his ideas out. It’s as though Tolstoy’s thoughts are mainly elsewhere in Part 2, so that although Levin gets a long section in the middle of it, all he really does is try to convince himself that he was right to hide away in the country. I’ll come back to him later. The main interest of Part 2, by far, is the Anna/Vronsky affair, and the increasingly devastating effect this has on Anna. At the end of Part 2 she has found herself telling poor Karenin exactly what she thinks of him – although, of course, it’s not as simple as that – and she is trying not to think about what will come next. Particularly oppressive are her thoughts about Seryozha, her son – she can’t even bring herself to mention him to Vronsky, although she never stops worrying about what will happen to him – and there’s the small matter of her pregnancy, which she has mentioned. I’ll come back to Anna and Vronsky later as well.

Chapters dealing with them, sometimes together but usually separately, are placed either side of those featuring Levin. And placed around them, forming a frame to the whole of Part 2, are sections in which we get to find out far more about Kitty than we did in Part 1. At first there are constant reminders of how young and unformed she is, having made herself ill in the two months following Vronsky’s apparent indifference to her at the ball. At the German spa where she spends the spring and early summer with her mother, she is still behaving in ways that seem childish to the older and more sophisticated characters. But, in incremental stages, we can see Tolstoy moving her on. She still has a very long way to go when she returns to Moscow in June, but she doesn’t seem such a baby.

Part 2 opens with the Shcherbatsky household in uproar. (When is it not, with a mother very like Mrs Bennet in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?) Doctors have finally been called in to find out why Kitty seems to be fading away, and Tolstoy’s satirical take on them tells us about the gullibility of people like the Princess. Nothing useful is said or done, and Kitty has been so mortified by the famous medic’s insistence on a highly intimate examination that she becomes angry when he begins to ask yet more questions. To him, of course, this is a symptom of her ‘morbid irritation.’ He doesn’t recommend recuperation at a spa but (if I’ve got the right doctor) takes credit when she appears to have benefited some months later.

The education of Kitty. After the doctor has gone we see how far she still has to go. Dolly arrives, full of her own woes (the children are going down with scarlet fever), but Kitty’s continuing mortification over the Vronsky affair makes her irritated by what she sees as Dolly’s unfeeling reference to it. Like a schoolgirl, Kitty makes a tactless remark about Dolly’s own unhappiness… and feels dreadful about it. But this is what she’s like. She makes it up with Dolly, but her habit of making comments in the heat of the moment is something that Tolstoy wants us to keep in mind.

In the chapters that end Part 2, we get to see another unsatisfactory aspect of her impulsiveness. Varenka, a young woman who turns out to be the ward of an old lady, becomes a combination of heroine, role model and crush. Kitty tries to be like her, buys into the apparently selfless Christian generosity the old woman has encouraged in Varenka. But at the end of the stay, her father comes back from a different spa and is quietly satirical about the whole set-up. It’s a fashion for ‘Pietism’, he tells her, and Kitty is suddenly convinced that the hypochondriac old woman has remained lying down for ten years because of what the Prince calls her ‘stubby legs.’ And she notices how harshly she complains to Varenka about a blanket tucked in badly…. There’s also a troubling episode that makes Kitty realise how attractive a show of selflessness can be. One wife suddenly becomes jealous of the time her invalid husband likes to spend with the newly solicitous Kitty. Hmm. Maybe Kitty has been able to move away from her own self-centredness, but she’s very ready to be convinced by her father’s suspicion of what suddenly looks phoney. Is she as impetuous as ever?

The character that Kitty is most like is Levin. They are both impulsive, both throw themselves into projects, and both make very definite pronouncements on love – an aspect of life they don’t actually know very much about. I remember in Part 1 when Levin, speaking to Oblonsky, declares that love for one woman utterly precludes the possibility of unfaithfulness. Oblonsky has started the conversation, for obvious reasons: ‘Suppose you’re married, you love your wife, but you’re fascinated by another woman…’ Levin will have none of it: ‘Excuse me, but I’m absolutely unable to comprehend how…’. Later, he brings the big guns in support: ‘both the sorts of love, which you remember Plato defines in his Banquet, served as the test of men. Some men only understand one sort, and some only the other.’ End of story. In what he calls ‘non-platonic’ love there can be no tragedy, just as there can’t be in platonic love. But, the reader knows, he knows nothing of Dolly’s pain. And this conversation comes before Kitty’s peremptory rejection of his own proposal. Which leaves him… where, exactly?

Stuck in the country, that’s where. Don’t get me wrong, he’s loving it. He was loving it from the moment he arrived at the farm at the end of Part 1, with its familiar smells, sights and rural hierarchies. You know where you are on a Russian farm in the second half of the 19th Century. And that’s the point. Moscow made Levin feel very uncomfortable, and he’s scurried back to his comfort zone. (What did we call it before the phrase became ubiquitous in the 1980s?) Tolstoy clearly knows about this world, and he describes the first signs of spring (followed some weeks later by the ‘real spring’) with affectionate familiarity. Levin, clearly a wry self-portrait in many respects, feels exactly this affection for it, and for the way he can throw himself into improvements and projects. He’s even writing a book, ‘the basis of which really was, though he was unaware of it himself, a criticism of all the old books on agriculture.’

If Levin is a self-portrait, it doesn’t stop Tolstoy revealing all his vanities and inconsistencies. His criticisms of his steward’s poor management, his irritation that all the tasks he wanted to be done through the winter have not been done, his constant telling of the labourers how to do jobs they’ve been doing all their lives…. It makes you wonder where he was while all his orders were being ignored. He might be hands-on when it suits him, but that doesn’t make him an effective manager. And when Oblonsky visits, all his worst qualities come out. He is so critical of the price his friend has got for a wood he is selling that Oblonsky has to rely on all his easy good nature not to become irritated himself. And we see the almost ingrained conservatism of the landowner. Agricultural change is good, and he has projects for plot rotation that sound spot-on… but he loves the old hierarchies, and the well-tried pleasures of riding and hunting. In this, he reminds me of Nikolai Rostov in War and Peace, who had even more to learn about the realities of Russian life than Levin.

Next. Next, of course, are Vronsky and Anna. And Karenin. In fact we’ve already had a long section focusing on these three before Tolstoy takes us to Levin’s farm. Anna’s vain attempts to deny the truth from herself at the end of Part 1 have quickly been replaced by a dreadful certainty. The only man in her life who means anything to her is Vronsky, and it all seems to happen terrifyingly fast. At first, Anna still thinks she can extricate herself, and when she has a proper chance to speak she says it: ‘I have come to tell you that this must end.’ But it clearly isn’t going to work. Even before she says this, he has spoken of love, and she has been stern with him: ‘Remember that I have forbidden you to utter that word, that hateful word.’ But it’s complicated: ‘she felt that by that very word “forbidden” she had shown that she acknowledged certain rights over him, and by that very fact was encouraging him to speak of love.’

The slipperiness of language, and the gaps between what she means to say and actually says, make these encounters between Anna and Vronsky terrifying. No matter what she intends to say, it doesn’t happen: ‘She strained every effort of her mind to say what ought to be said. But instead of that she let her eyes rest on him.’ And what her eyes tell Vronsky is exactly what she is really thinking. He doesn’t want to listen to anything that doesn’t confirm them as full-on lovers, and uses every opportunity to confront her with her own desires. She says she wants them to be just friends, but ‘her eyes spoke quite differently’ and Vronsky nails the idea: ‘Friends we shall never be, you know that yourself.’

All this is going on at a soiree given by Betsy, one of her free-minded friends (as opposed to the more sober ones she has just come from). Karenin arrives later, notices Anna and Vronsky speaking, and thinks nothing of it. But everyone else has noticed, and Karenin realises ‘that to the rest of the party this appeared something striking and improper, and for that reason it seemed to him too to be improper.’ He decides that he will have it out with Anna at whatever time she comes in. He is completely at sea in such a situation, and prepares an absurd little speech, shaped ‘as clearly and distinctly in his head as a ministerial report.’ But language is as slippery for him as it had been for Anna, and the conversation achieves nothing. She, flustered by the frankness of her talk with Vronsky, meets his accusations with a kind of blankness. She finds herself saying whatever comes into her head: ‘“But what is it all about?” she said, with genuine and droll wonder.’ Karenin is so wrong-footed he resorts to a sort of formal warning. It has no effect. ‘I don’t understand a word. And, oh dear! how sleepy I am, unluckily.’

But it’s all changed between them. They keep up appearances, but now there is ‘a barrier which he could not penetrate.’ And he has no resources. We know all about his mocking tone from the first time we meet him, on the station platform in Part 1. It is useless now. ‘Involuntarily he talked to her in his habitual tone of mocking anyone who should say what he was saying. And in that tone it was impossible to say what needed to be said to her.’ This ends Chapter 10, less than half a page long and marked by a double line of dots. Chapter 11 opens with the moment following the consummation of Anna’s affair with Vronsky. Whatever has taken her to this point, she is shame-stricken and he, seeing her shame, feels like a murderer. Soon she begins to dream of having two husbands. ‘But this dream weighed on her like a nightmare, and she awoke from it in horror.’ Ok.

Fast-forward, through Levin’s spring and early summer on the farm. Now Anna and Vronsky are the subject of all the gossip, and women who had been waiting for her to be pulled from her high horse can gloat all they like because she’s just like all the others. But it’s Vronsky that we follow now, as he makes bad career decisions based on his need to stay near her. The set piece of this next section is a horse-race, and everything about the way this is threaded into the story of the affair is extraordinary. On the day of the race Vronsky goes to see the horse then, knowing that Anna is back from a visit, decides to go and see her. As ever, he wants to move things on. He wants her to leave Karenin, and puts as much pressure as he can on her. But she isn’t buying it, forces him to agree that they will carry on as they are. Fine. Except… she has told him of the pregnancy, which confirms for him that they should run away. One translation has this as ‘eloping’, but she knows it’s no such thing. She is bitter about the idea of being merely his mistress. And she understands what he doesn’t: If she leaves, she will lose custody of her beloved son.

The horse-race is extraordinary. Tolstoy uses what I’m sure is an intimate knowledge of horses and riding to present the most vivid and detailed account possible, of the almost mystical connection between Vronsky the experienced rider and the highly-strung thoroughbred filly which is capable of winning a race by instinct alone. Tolstoy never makes a direct connection between the race and Vronsky’s affair with Anna, because he doesn’t need to. Vronsky is winning, of course, and there is no rival to overtake him now. Suddenly ‘Vronsky, to his horror, felt that he had failed to keep up with the mare’s pace, that he had, he did not know how, made a fearful, unpardonable mistake.’ The horse’s back is broken, and it must be shot.

The point of view switches, not to Anna – we have had none of her reaction to all this – but to Karenin a day or so before. He is putting all his energies into his work now – what else would he do? – and it is making him ill. But he soldiers on, and decides to visit Anna and go to see the race. (The Emperor and court are there, so it is the correct thing for him to go.) At her dacha, Anna is still perturbed by Vronsky’s visit and says things to her husband that are the opposite of what she means. She invites him to stay over for the night, something he no longer does. This habit she has of putting herself on autopilot at times of stress is not good. He accepts her invitation.

She attends the race with Betsy, and Karenin watches her during Vronsky’s race. She is shocked by his fall – but, he tries to tell himself, so is everybody. But soon she is sobbing so violently that Karenin takes her home and, between the two of them, they bring things a crisis at last. He confronts her – ‘You have behaved improperly, and I would wish it not to occur again’ – hoping even as he does so that she will tell him he is mistaken as she did last time. But no. ‘No, you were not mistaken.… I love him, I am his mistress; I can’t bear you; I’m afraid of you, and I hate you…. You can do what you like to me.’ Ah. He leaves, threatening further action. She is merely relieved: she hears that Vronsky is to visit her, and Karenin is now safely out of the way: ‘thank God it’s all over with him.’

That’s all right, then.

23 December
Part 3
What does Tolstoy think he’s doing? 20 of the 32 chapters in Part 3 focus entirely on Levin on his farm, or visiting the farms owned by the Oblonskys and another friend of his. The hugely more interesting Anna/Vronsky/Karenin section occupying the middle of Part 3 gets just 11 chapters. Tolstoy is taking Levin on a journey to nowhere – taking the reader with him. The fantasy of sharing a common purpose with the peasants, the endless arguments he has with other farmers, the projects that we know are doomed to failure, and those occasional bursts of realisation that the only meaningful thing in his life is his love for Kitty…. it’s no surprise that life feels empty. From winter right through to the autumn, Levin has thrown himself into projects for farm improvements… and then an unexpected visit from his brother Nikolai completely demoralises him. The visit is a failure, cut short by their shared inability to talk about what is obvious to both of them, Nikolai’s impending death. On the train out, when a cousin of Kitty asks him how he is, Levin is direct: ‘I’ve done with it all. It’s time I was dead.’ Levin has spent almost a year denying the possibility of a future with Kitty, and Tolstoy wants to show, in forensic detail, the psychological processes that lead this good and capable man to keep getting it wrong. But did he really need 20 chapters on it?

Those projects aren’t only to do with Levin’s improvements on the farm. He is attempting to rewrite the book, literally, of how farming in Russia can be dragged into the 19th Century – and, at the same time, he is also seeking to rewrite himself. In the first twelve-chapter section of Part 3, while his older half-brother Sergei is staying in order to get some rest from the treadmill of his rigorous intellectual life in Moscow, Levin throws in his lot with the peasants. There is a long and lovingly-described day of mowing, in which he takes his place with something like 40 of the peasants. Later, as spring turns to summer, Tolstoy gives Levin what seems to be one of those moments of epiphany.

As the hay on the Oblonskys’ farm is gathered in, we watch as Levin is charmed by peasant life. A young man has recently married, and a full life of ordered simplicity is before him, accompanied by the harvest song of ‘half a hundred strong healthy voices, of all sorts, coarse and fine, singing in unison.’ Who could resist being seduced by it? Not Levin, as he spends the summer night out on a haystack like one of the workers. When dawn comes, following a series of questions to himself about his own life, he ‘could not find an answer. “I haven’t slept all night, though, and I can’t think it out clearly. I’ll work it out later. One thing’s certain, this night has decided my fate. All my old dreams of home life were absurd, not the real thing. It’s all ever so much simpler and better…”’ Accompanying the epiphany is a beautiful image, created from – wait for it – a cloud that has formed itself into an overarching shell.

The spell is broken almost within minutes. There have already been clues, as Tolstoy has recounted the negotiations, full of mutual mistrust, that Levin has to make with the peasants in order to get a fair price for Dolly’s hay. Now a carriage passes by and, along with Levin, we catch our only glimpse of Kitty in Part 3 as she travels to spend the rest of the summer with Dolly. ‘He could not be mistaken. There were no other eyes like those in the world. There was only one creature in the world that could concentrate for him all the brightness and meaning of life. It was she.’ When he looks for the cloud-shell again, it has vanished. And so have all his plans. “‘No,” he said to himself, “however good that life of simplicity and toil may be, I cannot go back to it. I love her.”’

If this sounds decisive, it isn’t. This moment of realisation ends the section dealing with Levin, and we have to wait a long time before we’re back with him. He’s had an open-ended invitation from Dolly to visit during Kitty’s stay, so we expect that when Tolstoy resumes the thread it will be in order to move the relationship on. As if. In the final nine-chapter section he does visit a farm, but it’s one belonging to a friend, Sviyavzhky. There, he has one discussion after another about how Russian farm practices can be modernised not by copying a European model but by building on the centuries-old practices of the muzhiks. Levin is constantly exasperated either by the weaknesses of other farmers’ schemes – Tolstoy presents him with a range of different set-ups to find fault with – and by Sviyavzhky’s unwillingness to engage in what Levin considers a serious discussion. He can never get beyond the ‘ante-room’ of his friend’s thought-processes.

Back on his farm, Levin begins to put his own schemes into operation. They are based on an uneasy hybrid of communal and capitalist practices, and the peasants are sceptical. They either suspect Levin of trying to cheat them, or they see his projects as the self-indulgent fantasies that they might be able to profit from. Three new projects are put in place, none of which the peasants take seriously at all. By the autumn, following heavy rain, things seem to be going very badly indeed. But Levin is determined. He has long planned to go to Europe to find out what he can in order to write his book, is about to set off in September…

…and Nikolai arrives. It’s another of those moments, like the glimpse of Kitty, that confounds Levin. Within a day of Nikolai’s arrival like a living memento mori, Levin has lost faith in everything. But what has he left to live for? He has just spoken his doom-laden words to Kitty’s cousin when he comes to the resolution that ends Part 3: ‘he felt that the one guiding clue in the darkness was his work, and he clutched it and clung to it with all his strength.’ ‘The one guiding clue in the darkness’? Not Kitty, then? Nope. Whenever he thinks of her after tat glimpse in the carriage – three times – he concludes that ‘he could not go over to the Oblonskys’, knowing she was there. The fact that he had made her an offer, and she had refused him, had placed an insuperable barrier between her and him.’ He’s an idiot, obviously.

Enough of him. Midway through the turning of the seasons on Levin’s farm,Tolstoy gives us a section describing a few days in the life of Anna, Vronsky and – no doubt with authorial glee – Karenin. He gets two chapters to himself, immediately following Anna’s terrible confession of hatred after the race in Part 2. Karenin is vicious, but Tolstoy presents his thoughts as though he is fair and rational because, of course, that’s how Karenin sees himself. That’s how the satire works: perfectly rational-seeming positions, the reader sees, are self-serving and downright nasty. ‘“No honour, no heart, no religion; a corrupt woman. I always knew it and always saw it, though I tried to deceive myself to spare her,” he said to himself…. “I made a mistake in linking my life to hers; but there was nothing wrong in my mistake, and so I cannot be unhappy. It’s not I that am to blame, but she. I have nothing to do with her. She does not exist for me…”’

Karenin divides his thoughts into numbered paragraphs with sub-sections. He does this when he is putting together an argument against his political ‘enemies’ in Chapter 14, insisting on looking at an issue from the ‘(1) political, (2) administrative, (3) economic, (4) ethnographical, (5) material, and (6) religious points of view.’ It’s like that moment when, in Chapter 8 of Part 2, he first decides to confront Anna over her too intimate conversation, in public, with Vronsky: ‘the form and contents of the speech before him shaped itself as clearly and distinctly in his head as a ministerial report,’ and he counts off four numbered points. Now, he ‘did not see, indeed, why his relations with his wife should not remain practically the same as before… there could not be any sort of reason that his existence should be troubled, and that he should suffer because she was a bad and faithless wife.’ He writes to tell her that everything must be as it was between them. His public position demands that, as far as the world is concerned, the affair (which must be terminated) never happened.

You’ve got to love Karenin.

Cut to Anna, convinced that he will throw her out and packing her bags to flee to Moscow. Then she gets the letter and… realises that this was always going to be Karenin’s response. She changes her plans and goes to see Betsy instead. It’s Vronsky she wants to see, to let him know about what she told Karenin after the races the day before, and what he has written to her. But she’s there and has been announced by the time she sees Vronsky’s lackey bringing a message, and remembers she told him she wouldn’t be going. Damn. She’s in a strange state of mind: she is absolutely certain that she knows she loves Vronsky, but Karenin’s introduction of religion undermines the rightness of what she feels: ‘she began to feel alarm at the new spiritual condition… in which she found herself. She felt as though everything were beginning to be double in her soul, just as objects sometimes appear double to over-tired eyes. She hardly knew at times what it was she feared, and what she hoped for.’ It’s like that confusing dream she has in Part 2, ‘that both were her husbands at once, that both were lavishing caresses on her…. And she was marvelling that it had once seemed impossible to her, was explaining to them, laughing, that this was ever so much simpler, and that now both of them were happy and contented.’ If only.

The croquet party at Betsy’s offers an oddly disturbing insight into Petersburg life. There’s Betsy, who plays a tantalising little game of pretending that she doesn’t know about the affair with Vronsky. And there are this season’s celebrity beauties, one a blonde concoction of revealingly tailored fashion, the other a woman who seems to have made her ingénue persona a selling point. Each has her groupies, gallant older men or doe-eyed young ones. Tolstoy has told us that love affairs are a game in this circle of society, and now he’s showing how it works. Briefly, Anna is taken by the idea that she’d like to stay in this fantasy… but she has scribbled a note to Vronsky (with Betsy’s sly connivance) and she goes to see him.

Cut again, to Vronsky this time. Tolstoy offers us deeper insights than we’ve had before, in which we see a man who is as much a product of one clearly-defined sub-set of society as Betsy is. For him it’s his regiment, and Tolstoy presents it satirically. ‘Vronsky’s life was particularly happy in that he had a code of principles, which defined with unfailing certitude what he ought and what he ought not to do.’ As if. We’ve already seen him sorting out his finances according to this code, in which ‘one must pay a cardsharper, but need not pay a tailor,’ and all its other rules are just as arbitrary. Those relating to dealings with women aren’t helping him now… and besides, he behaves as impulsively as most of the other characters in the novel when important decisions are to be made. He isn’t as rich as he lets everybody think, having let his older brother have more than half his own share of his inheritance. It might not be wise, but his sister-in-law’s gratitude makes him feel good.

He’s behaved just as impulsively in his career. We know from Part 2 that he has passed up a chance for promotion that would have taken him away from Anna. Now we hear of a ‘blunder’ he made two years before, when he wrongly assumed that refusing a promotion would increase his perceived value. We meet Serpuhovskoy, his friend and former equal in the regiment, who did not refuse the same offer. He has benefited from a campaign in the east and is the regiment’s rising star. Tolstoy is careful to show us that Vronsky is far above any feeling of jealousy, and he is as friendly as ever with him. But we have seen both sides of his character, the generosity and the pride, to say nothing of a moral code that is based on a kind of pragmatic machismo. Hmm.

We have already been in on his musings on his conversation with Anna before the race. He doesn’t have the resources – I can’t think of anybody who would – to think through the complexities. In his mind he has reduced Karenin to the trivial role (in his code) of wronged husband, and… and what? His code has nothing to offer beyond the duel that he assumes will take place – and we’ve already seen Karenin’s decision to reject that option. As for Anna…. It is no surprise that their meeting, when it takes place, is one of those conversational minefields in which neither participant has any understanding of what the other is thinking about. It is only now that she tells him what she said to Karenin after the race, although she had seen Vronsky later that evening: ‘she did not tell him of what had passed between her and her husband, though, to make the position definite, it was necessary to tell him.’ Now she does tell him, and is surprised by Vronsky’s response: ‘she was not listening to his words, she was reading his thoughts from the expression of his face. She could not guess that that expression arose from the first idea that presented itself to Vronsky—that a duel was now inevitable. The idea of a duel had never crossed her mind, and so she put a different interpretation on this passing expression of hardness.’

And so the conversation progresses. Anna had been feeling fatalistic as soon as she received the letter from Karenin: ‘she knew then at the bottom of her heart that everything would go on in the old way, that she would not have the strength of will to forego her position, to abandon her son, and to join her lover.’ Nothing in the conversation changes her mind. It would have been different if ‘he were to say to her resolutely, passionately, without an instant’s wavering: “Throw up everything and come with me!” She would give up her son and go away with him. But this news had not produced what she had expected in him; he simply seemed as though he were resenting some affront.’ She understands nothing of his ‘code’, and when even Karenin’s letter produces no response from him that she can understand, she knows she will have to stay with Karenin.

Vronsky is feeling almost as wretched as Anna, because he cannot comfort her. He speaks of the ‘degrading’ position she is in if she stays, and she bridles at this. ‘“You say degrading… don’t say that. Those words have no meaning for me,” she said in a shaking voice. She did not want him now to say what was untrue. She had nothing left her but his love, and she wanted to love him.’ But… but he’s not playing the romantic hero she seems to have expected. The conversation ends on a dying fall when he pretends that things will be settled when they return to Petersburg. ‘“Yes,” she said. “But don’t let us talk any more of it.”’ Aargh.

Only one chapter remains in this thread, and it’s chilling. Karenin is so deeply immersed in the triumph of his public demolition of his enemies that he has forgotten about his ultimatum to Anna. She returns to their family home on the agreed day – but he is bemused when his servant tells him that she is there. He keeps her waiting so long she has to seek him out, and when she does he is only interested in keeping up appearances. After dismissing almost anything she says, he sums up his own position: ‘I want you not to meet that man here, and to conduct yourself so that neither the world nor the servants can reproach you … not to see him.’ The end.

30 December
Part 4
By the end of this section – through some careful manoeuvring by, of all people, Stepan Oblonsky – the two major crises in the novel have been resolved. As if. Things are looking good from where Oblonsky is standing, and he is already composing in his mind a self-congratulatory riddle based on the second of his successes. (‘What’s the difference between me and the Emperor?’) He has been able to persuade Karenin that he should let Anna decide her own future, even though everything about this outcome is anathema to him. And, half-way through Part 4 – which is also exactly half-way through the novel – he has brought together Levin and Kitty, who are to be married. But…

…but what? At this point, not a single one of the main characters has whatever it takes to negotiate the tricky business of life. Take Levin for a start, who sometimes seems like a hopeless case. Oblonsky invites both him and Kitty to a dinner-party, and whatever qualms Levin has about meeting her disappear the moment he sees her. After their innocent little game of writing out the initial letters of their thoughts – it’s often difficult to remember he’s in his thirties – he spends a sleepless night of joy during which everyone he meets is clever and wise. He’s so like Scrooge on the morning after the visitations of the night – ‘An intelligent boy! A remarkable boy!’ – that I wondered if Tolstoy might want us to notice the similarity. It’s comic and endearing, but there’s no engagement with the realities of adult life. We’ve seen Levin’s enthusiasms before – he’s spent a whole year either on his farm or trawling around Europe for ideas – and… and what? He knows nothing about Kitty, and she knows nothing about him. However much he likes to mess with the conventions, Tolstoy isn’t going to give them a happy ending with 400 pages yet to go. In fact we’ve had a couple of hints of realities to come – Levin’s wrong-headed insistence on giving Kitty his intimate diaries to read, and the little aside we get that Levin’s state of brainless euphoria will last ‘until the day after the wedding.’

Then there’s Karenin. Tolstoy is always much more thorough in presenting his point of view than, say, Anna’s – and it isn’t pretty. It’s easy to see why others find him cold – there’s a comic riff on his effect on the other dinner-party guests before Oblonsky arrives – and yet somehow Tolstoy manages to make him so believably human that you can’t help feeling for him. Almost. He’s trapped in a persona that isn’t fit for purpose as he carefully maps out his next move according to a set of logical rules of behaviour. His decision early in Part 4 to go for divorce, with full custody for himself of their child, makes him the villain of Anna’s story. He’s self-righteous and self-serving, of course – we’re not expected to like him – but all along, Tolstoy shows us that according to Karenin’s world view, he is doing everything right. We even notice (because Tolstoy slips it in) that he is the one who dutifully goes to Mass. Of course he does.

It doesn’t make him a hypocrite. He is ambitious and quick to do whatever he can to squash his enemies, but it’s because he thinks that the outcomes he seeks are the best. He genuinely seems to believe that he is helping the racial minorities in the provinces with his schemes and boards of enquiry, and is nonplussed when his great rival outmanoeuvres him by joining his faction in order to muddy the waters. Karenin doesn’t do politics in this way, and would never dream of such a stratagem. Ok. But he is also emotionally stunted. Tolstoy has mentioned as early as Part 2 that he is unable to deal sensibly with anyone, in either his public or private life, who breaks down in tears. And we’ve known from the first moment we meet him at the station in Petersburg that he can only express tenderness with heavy layers of irony.

After having visited the divorce lawyer – there’s a chapter in which Tolstoy is as satirical about the legal profession as he has been about doctors, as we watch this one adeptly catching moths – Karenin is in Moscow on his way to visit the province that has now caused him so much political embarrassment. Along with a telegram telling him his rival’s just got the promotion he wanted, there’s another from Anna. She is convinced that she won’t survive giving birth, and he gets the train back to Petersburg. She seems to be right: her baby girl is safe, but the doctors – hah! – say Anna has only a 1% chance of survival.

Tolstoy takes Karenin to an interesting place now, and he can only manage it because he’s been presenting him as such an ambiguous character. Karenin had been hoping that Anna would die and remove the biggest complication in his life – he loves things to be well-ordered – but the scene at the bedside overwhelms him. His feelings are already more complicated than I’ve made them sound – at the dinner party there had been approving talk of a wronged husband who had shot the lover in a duel, whilst Dolly has been urging him to forgive – and now he accepts what he takes to be Anna’s repentant mood to repair the rift between them. Fine. Except, two months after she unexpectedly pulls through, he’s at his wits’ end again. He can see no way out of it, and Oblonsky seizes his chance to persuade him to let Anna have her way. Karenin puts things in ostentatiously Christian terms: ‘Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also….’ It’s a quotation he’s used before, and it’s a sham. Whilst believing nothing that Oblonsky says, he lets him decide his fate because he has lost the ability to make decisions of his own.

As for Anna and Vronsky…. At different points they each come to the conclusion that there is simply no way out but death. The situation, already ‘one of misery for all three’ at the beginning of Part 4, begins to break down when Karenin meets Vronsky the one time Anna has persuaded him to go against the stipulation not to visit. Karenin’s rule-based system kicks in – she has broken the agreement, so he must respond – and he visits the divorce lawyer. But that comes only after we see the highly problematic meeting between Anna and Vronsky. His duties leave her with too much time to herself, and she succumbs to the ‘demon’ of jealousy. Tolstoy presents Vronsky’s point of view, not hers, as the combination of her near-hysteria and the physical effects of pregnancy reduce her attractiveness in his eyes. But, having once imagined that the affair might not last forever, changing circumstances have made him realise that he could not possible leave her. And later in Part 4, when Karenin’s re-entry into her life makes it seem as though he has lost her, his love for her becomes stronger than ever. For the first time in his life, his code has utterly failed him and he understands what he never could before, that sometimes life is no longer worth living.

Anna’s crisis is different – although, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, Tolstoy describes a nightmare that she and Vronsky share of a mysterious muzhik who seems to have broken in, and who speaks words in French. Tolstoy doesn’t follow her descent into suicidal thoughts, opting to present her unpredictable state of mind through the eyes of Vronsky and, later, Karenin. She drops dark hints to Vronsky that she can foresee an outcome that will solve their problems, and it becomes clear that she is convinced she will die in childbirth.

The telegram she sends Karenin, the one that brings him to her bedside, brings about the next big shift. She finds such unexpected qualities of generosity in her husband – he wants to behave in a Christian way – that she agrees to all his conditions for keeping the marriage going, including a promise never to see Vronsky again. She appears lucid, and Karenin decides to believe that she is showing genuine repentance. In the following weeks he even comes to love the baby girl, now also called Anna. Ok.

But his conclusion about their future relationship is as unsafe as Anna’s. The new set-up doesn’t last, and two months later she can’t bear him to be in the same room. Meanwhile Vronsky, after having missed any vital organs when he shot himself in the chest, has decided to take up the offer of a posting to Tashkent. But none of the decisions these people make is really fit for purpose, and this is when Oblonsky visits. Karenin throws in his lot with the fudge that Oblonsky comes up with, justifying it as Christian charity. Vronsky resigns from the army, and the last sentence of Part 4, in its directness, demonstrates the speed of the volte-face: ‘A month later Alexey Alexandrovitch was left alone with his son in his house at Petersburg, while Anna and Vronsky had gone abroad, not having obtained a divorce, but having absolutely declined all idea of one.’

There’s something ominous about the fact that it is Oblonsky who has brought all this about. He never thinks about the moral consequences of his actions, continues to buy luxury items as though he had no money worries, and appears to sail through life unscathed. When he advises other people how to behave, they are happy to listen. Fine. But it’s hard to believe that his worldly pragmatism is going to bring about any lasting happiness.

7 January 2015
Part 5
I can’t think of a more genuinely adult novel than this one. The long-anticipated crunch for Levin (and Kitty) comes when they arrive at his estate straight from the wedding. In the Anna/Vronsky thread we witness the strain they have put themselves under by trying to live lives that mean nothing to them. Tolstoy moves both these stories in new directions, and the tone can be coolly objective or wryly satirical. His characters behave in ways we recognise, usually leading to unintended and unsatisfactory outcomes. It happens with Karenin who, persuaded of his own saintly patience by the fading Countess Lidia Ivanovna (desperately seeking, like Vronsky, a project to fill her days), surrenders to her judgment and allows Anna to be treated cruelly. Did he mean this to happen? He would say not, but in Tolstoy’s highly plausible version of the world few people are capable of evaluating their own motives.

Tolstoy treats the Levin/Kitty thread satirically as long as they are in Moscow. Levin is almost cast in the role of clown, still in ‘the same delirious condition’ as before, and the wedding ceremony is a catalogue of mistakes that suggests both he and Kitty are doubtless as unprepared for life as they are for the orthodox marriage service. When Tolstoy takes up their thread again, after they have been living on Levin’s estate for three months, things have moved in a completely new direction. What has hit both of them since we last saw them – although it’s only Levin’s point of view we are given directly – is real life. ‘He was happy, but…’ But what? ‘At every step he found his former dreams disappointed, and new, unexpected surprises of happiness.’ It’s taken three months for him to get this far. Things have been so difficult between them – not that they for a moment cease loving each other – that Tolstoy slips in the information that the first month ‘remained in the memories of both as the bitterest and most humiliating period in their lives.’

Things still have a long way to go when a different kind of crisis comes along. Levin has heard from Nikolai’s mistress that he is dying in a provincial town, and prepares to leave next day. He is appalled when Kitty says she wants to come with him, and the ensuing row is utterly plausible. She is (rightly) hurt by his assumption that she would only be a hindrance. He genuinely seems to believe that she only wants to avoid being left on her own, and can see only difficulties. How will they travel? How can she possibly be in the same room as Nikolai’s mistress…? But she does go and, as days pass, he realises that she is able to give the dying man what he needs in ways that would be far beyond what he himself could offer. Her presence brings home to him not only how useless he would have been on his own – i.e. the usual egotism of this 30-something man in overgrown adolescent mode – but a growing recognition of her true value.

Kitty’s development continues to be shown from a male point of view. Tolstoy, 19th Century writer that he is, has Levin recognise in her the womanly virtues which are presented as alien to men: the ability to nest-build, to respond unsentimentally to illness and death, to instinctively prepare for a family life that includes children. We even hear, in the last sentence of this thread in Part 5, that she is pregnant. Tolstoy needs her to be a worthy partner: if Levin is to become a fully-formed adult (and I’ve never doubted it) Kitty has to make the same journey. I hope that when we reach Part 6 we’ll finally get to see things from her point of view.

The Anna/Vronsky thread is different. They are already fully-formed and capable adults before the novel even opens and now, in Italy, things seem good: ‘Anna, in that first period of her emancipation and rapid return to health, felt herself unpardonably happy and full of the joy of life.’ Hah. Even before the end of this paragraph she has a feeling ‘akin to what a drowning man might feel who has shaken off another man clinging to him… better not to brood over these fearful facts.’ Anna? Not brood? One thing this novel has taught us is that every action has consequences – and we watch as both Anna and Vronsky live through these. But not quite yet…

… because their lives in Italy are literally inconsequential. Vronsky, bored after three months of leisure and feeling claustrophobic in a world with almost nobody but Anna to talk to, has done the calculation: ‘Sixteen hours of the day must be occupied in some way.’ He has chosen painting, and Tolstoy turns his attempt to become an artist into a satire on the dilettantism of the bored rich. (I wonder if Mikhailov, the real artist who can’t stand the rich amateur with too much time on his hands, is a veiled self-portrait of the author. His disgust at uninformed pronouncements on ‘talent’ and ‘technique’ shows the artist’s perpetual antipathy towards critics, and the insights we gain into this minor character’s never-ending self-doubt seem to come from a writer who knows all about it.)

Meanwhile Anna is going through her own crisis. She is coming to recognise the enormity of her actions – that earlier denial of guilt was always self-deceiving – and it is getting in the way of her relationship with Vronsky. This woman who, before she met him, was able to find her way easily through the arbitrary and treacherous rules of society – her advice to Dolly in Part 1 is a masterclass – now looks at Vronsky with a sort of anxious desperation. She is depressed if he goes out without her, and worries about not connecting with baby Anna, who ‘had not had a hundredth part of the care and thought which had been concentrated on her first child.’ She sometimes thinks about Seryozha, and decides that when they have to go back to Petersburg for a brief visit, she will see him.

Hah. The Petersburg trip turns into a nightmare as Anna tries not to believe that she has burnt all her boats. She writes to Karenin requesting a visit on Seryozha’s birthday, but the letter is intercepted by Lidia Ivanovna. By this time she has got her claws into Karenin, and he agrees that it wouldn’t be good for the boy to see his mother. She goes anyway, and for maybe an hour or so it’s as though she’s never been away. But the servants let her know that Karenin is on his way to Seryozha’s room, and she goes so quickly – not without meeting her husband at the door – that she forgets to leave the presents she’s so carefully chosen. It puts more strain on her relationship with Vronsky, because she has never mentioned her desperate need to see her son and he can’t understand her distracted mood either before or after she has been. Anna isn’t thinking straight, and blames him, ‘forgetting she had herself kept from him everything concerning her son.’ It sets the scene for her mortifying night out at the opera.

What do I need to say about that? Vronsky is far more aware of how things will be if she goes, although no more aware than Anna would have been before her life started falling apart. There have been plenty of warnings, like Betsy’s visit lasting only ten minutes, and her invitation – the only one Anna receives during the few days of their stay – for her to call at a time when nobody else will be around. Vronsky arrives late, to discover that she has been insulted by the wife of a man who had wanted to acknowledge her. Anna is distraught, and has a blazing row with Vronsky afterwards that is all too plausible. ‘“You, you are to blame for everything!” she cried, with tears of despair and hatred in her voice, getting up.

“I begged, I implored you not to go, I knew it would be unpleasant….”

“Unpleasant!” she cried—“hideous! As long as I live I shall never forget it. She said it was a disgrace to sit beside me.”’ It’s difficult to believe the blandly neutral little sentence that ends Part 5: ‘The next day, completely reconciled, they left for the country.’

Before any of this, Tolstoy has been holding up Karenin for our closer scrutiny. We are shown why, before the entrance of Lidia Ivanovna, he has entirely run out of any ideas about what to do. He has gone as far as he’s going in his dogged political career, has no friends to confide in, and his manager finds him with his head in his hands. He isn’t a bad man, just desperately unimaginative. He only married Anna following pressure from a scheming aunt of hers, and he has always tried to behave properly. The countess, always on the lookout for a worthy cause – she has the ‘enthusiastic fervour’ that has recently become the vogue – sees how he has been brought low by the humiliation he feels. She makes her move: ‘If I could take from off you all these petty, humiliating cares … I understand that a woman’s word, a woman’s superintendence is needed. You will intrust it to me?’

Of course he will. And Tolstoy’s step-by-step description of her self-serving campaign against Anna – and Karenin’s self-serving complicity – is a masterful satire on the holier-than-thou mind-set of a bored, privileged society. And once he has allowed the countess free rein to deal with his affairs Anna can expect no mercy.

20 January
Part 6
Anna is starting to scare me now. Not that we see her before Chapter 17 – but when we do we see the toll that her new life is taking on her. Or rather, Dolly sees it, and we see it through her eyes. ‘Any other woman, a less close observer, not knowing Anna before… would not have noticed anything special in Anna.’ She is looking perfect, utterly at ease with Dolly, newly arrived on a two-day visit, and with everybody else in the little group of house-guests and servants. But… the reader notices long before Tolstoy mentions it that whenever the conversation with Dolly becomes intimate, she says that they will talk about it ‘later’. This happens at least three times. When the conversation does eventually come, it’s terrifying – and when, some weeks later, Vronsky is away for longer than he’d expected, we recognise the Anna who was looking forward to her own death the year before – and who now admits frankly to herself that she feels no love for the daughter she has had with Vronsky. I’ll come back to both of them later.

Levin is fairly terrifying as well. Things had been looking up in Part 5, when Kitty’s all-round competence at Nikolai’s death-bed seemed to have brought Levin to his senses. But no. Levin is still at the mercy of emotions over which he has no control, as we see at least three times. The first half of Part 6 is set entirely in and around Pokrovskoe, his estate, and everything seems to be fine between him and Kitty. The idea of her pregnancy, and of the son he is sure she will bear him, brings him joy that seems literally boundless. His joy isn’t the problem. The trouble begins when Oblonsky brings a friend to join them in a hunting trip they’ve been planning. The friend, Vassenka Veslovsky, is an overgrown kid. He’s boyishly enthusiastic about everything but hasn’t a shred of adult tact. He likes Kitty and, basically, flirts with her. Anyone but Levin would laugh at his gaucheness (later we see Vronsky doing exactly this), and Tolstoy has this thought occur to Oblonsky for our benefit. But this is Levin, and Veslovsky’s behaviour sends him into a black rage of jealousy. He mistakes Kitty’s red-faced embarrassment for something else entirely and, as usual, he has to confront her with it later. She is mortified, but she is able to make him recognise his mistake. But, my God.

The three men go on their two-day hunting trip – there’s a lot of talk now and at other times about ‘male freedom’ and ‘male independence’ – and we see more of Veslovsky’s all-round gaucheness. (A thread running through Part 6, more than in any other section of the novel, is the part the upper classes should play in Russian society. Looking at Veslovsky, it’s hard to see any role for them at all, and I wonder whether Tolstoy is presenting him as a satirical caricature.) But, again, it’s Levin’s behaviour that is the most worrying. He knows from past experience that if he misses his first shot, he is likely to do badly all day. This is exactly what happens, and he works himself into a complete lather as he makes mistake after mistake. In his different way, he is as babyish as Veslovsky. He’s very hard to like when he’s like this, which is often.

After another morning’s shooting – this time Levin’s first shot is on target, so things go well – they return to his place. By now, Levin has learnt from his previous mistakes and treats Veslovsky’s flirtations with good humour. As if. What he really does is work himself into an even blacker, more jealous state than ever, and he confronts Kitty again. She’s had enough, and when he says he’d like to tell Veslovsky to leave, she agrees. She can’t stand it when he behaves like this. Who could? I’ve had enough of him after this performance – he’s 35 years old, for God’s sake – and his big show of boredom at the political meeting at the end of Part 6 doesn’t improve him. It’s strange, because he seems to be the nearest thing to a self-portrait that Tolstoy presents to us. Levin’s disaffection with the political process, presumably, is Tolstoy’s – but why does he have to seem so brainless all the time?

Dolly and her family are at Pokrovskoe for the summer, and this keeps a thread going that started in Part 5. Then, it was all to do with Seryozha and how his parents were managing, or not managing, to bring him up. Karenin sees his education as central and, because of his own limitations, it’s all he can offer his son. We see how starved Seryozha is of parental affection through the way he tries to build a relationship with his tutor and the servants, and in the pathos of the scene with Anna. But that’s Part 5. In Part 6 we see Dolly doing her best with her own children, and we see Oblonsky leaving it all to her. There’s something symbolic about the way a lesson that Levin is giving to one of them is cut short by Oblonsky’s arrival – Levin takes more interest than Oblonsky does – and I can’t think of a single time when Oblonsky asks Dolly about anything to do with the children.

Oblonsky is another example of how the upper classes get it wrong. Tolstoy often mentions his lavish dinners and the expensive little items he buys for himself, and in this section it’s the latest gun. It’s only last year when he was selling off part of Dolly’s inheritance, the wood on the estate, but she sees none of the benefit of it. Her chemises are patched – Tolstoy gives us the calculations she’s made about money saved, to the nearest kopek – and, later, she frets over the telegrams he likes to send when he’s had a good dinner, costing a rouble a time. It’s wearing her out, and, as she travels to see Anna and Vronsky, an entire chapter is given over to her darkest thoughts. The house on the their estate is practically uninhabitable – Oblonsky’s expensive renovations the previous year were only cosmetic, it seems – and she can’t see how they will be able to afford to bring up the children. She fantasises about a different life, pretending to herself that Veslovsky’s gallant attentions prove that she’s still an attractive woman.

The payoff, when it comes at the end of a day spent with Anna and Vronsky, is a kind of revelation: she’d rather have her own life than Anna’s, and she cuts her visit short. But Tolstoy makes her journey to that moment of recognition fascinating. He keeps to Dolly’s point of view for almost the whole visit, and through her we are able to see the cracks in the surface gloss of the rural idyll that Anna and Vronsky are constructing. It’s their second attempt at creating a new life (the two weeks visit to Petersburg, which Vronsky remembers with horror at one point, doesn’t count), and it seems far more satisfactory than the Italian experiment. Vronsky has thrown himself – and more money, surely, than he can afford – into becoming the country gentleman. There’s the big house, lavishly renovated and furnished, and another project, a hospital costing 100,000 roubles. Meanwhile…

…Anna seems to spend an equivalent amount of time and energy on making herself the perfect partner for this man. We first see her on the road, where ‘her beautiful head… her full shoulders, her slender waist in her black riding habit, and all the ease and grace of her deportment, impressed Dolly.’ And, as the day goes on, it becomes clear that this is the point. She has turned herself into a beautiful object, putting on a different perfect outfit for each part of the day. Her conversation seems as sincere and affectionate as ever…. Except it isn’t. This newly minted Anna doesn’t need anything to disturb the calm perfection of the life she is helping Vronsky to create – which would be fine if it was working. But Vronsky takes Dolly to one side and we see his desperation. He wants their daughter to be legally his, wants any future children to be his legal heirs. He tells Dolly he needs her to persuade Anna to write to Karenin requesting a divorce.

The conversation she has with Anna doesn’t happen until bedtime, and it’s torture for both of them. Dolly, good friend that she is, tries to do what Vronsky asked. But Anna drops such a bombshell that her efforts comes to nothing: ‘I shall have no more children.’ We get the beginning of an explanation: ‘The doctor told me after my illness…’ but instead of her words, we get two lines of widely spaced dots. (In another translation, we get no more than the ellipsis as I’ve written it.) Dolly is entirely taken aback – in such cases ‘one feels for the first instant is that it is impossible to take it all in, and that one will have to reflect a great, great deal upon it’ – and the conversation can’t really get beyond this barrier. She does bring up the main subject, but gets nowhere: ‘“that is just why a divorce is necessary.” But Anna did not hear her. She longed to give utterance to all the arguments with which she had so many times convinced herself.’ We’ve reached the kind of conversational impasse we’re familiar with in this novel, where neither speaker is capable of listening to the other. Dolly decides she needs to get back to terra firma, and leaves next morning. Anna’s farewell is as calm and charming as you would expect, and to Dolly it means almost nothing.

Tolstoy keeps the focus on Anna and Vronsky, and we get a more intimate picture of the cracks in the relationship. Anna tells him nothing that will disturb the equilibrium, either about her decision never to have more children or her reasons for not seeking a divorce. She concentrates all her energy on what we’ve seen, but the flaws in her strategy are all too clear. Neither the shapely arms we’ve seen her hold up to show Dolly nor the beauty of her face will last forever, so she goes along with whatever projects he happens to be interested in.

By the time we reach October, towards the end of Part 6, politics is the new interest and by now she’s learnt not to make such a scene when he leaves for the big provincial election meeting. But we only learn later that the calmness that surprises Vronsky at the time is a sham, after he has sent him a letter full of both pleading and recriminations when he stays longer than he promised. The gap between them is growing, as she tries to interpret the looks on Vronsky’s face. Often she gets it wrong but, ominously, she sometimes gets it right:
‘“You talk as if you were threatening me. But I desire nothing so much as never to be parted from you,” said Vronsky, smiling.
But as he said these words there gleamed in his eyes not merely a cold look, but the vindictive look of a man persecuted and made cruel.
She saw the look and correctly divined its meaning.
“If so, it’s a calamity!” that glance told her. It was a moment’s impression, but she never forgot it.’

She has already promised to write to Karenin for the divorce and, despite knowing that it won’t happen, she pretends it will. Like Parts 4 and 5, Part 6 ends with yet another move, this time to Moscow. ‘Expecting every day an answer from Alexey Alexandrovitch, and after that the divorce, they now established themselves together like married people.’ Oh dear.

Other things, briefly. The education of children, which I’ve mentioned, comes up elsewhere too: Vronsky dismisses the idea of a school rather than a hospital because it’s what everybody is doing and he wants something different; and during the vote the issue of schools for girls comes up only to be dismissed. The role of the ruling classes is the subject of endless conversations at Levin’s place and, inevitably, during the political debates before the elections. Oblonsky teases Levin for the naivety of his position: Levin sees it as unjust that the upper classes have so much, for so little effort, but has no intention at all of changing anything. What would he do? Divide his money between his servants? In fact, even though plenty of people see the status quo as unfair, nobody pretends they will do anything about it. Levin’s complete lack of interest in the conduct of the elections might seem childish, but he seems to have a point.

29 January
Part 7
This novel is full of wonders. Anna’s death – I’d known it was coming, but forgot that it comes 50 pages before the end of the novel – is remarkable not only because of the almost stream-of-consciousness presentation of it, but also because everything about her final day alive arises directly from what we’ve come to know about her throughout the novel. The same goes for Vronsky. He tries to make the most of a situation that is completely out of his control but simply doesn’t have the resources to deal with Anna when she presents him with what, to him, look like completely unreasonable demands. Given all this, it’s hard to blame him for what happens.

And Oblonsky. We’ve known from the start that he believes, in a perfectly good-natured way, that the world owes him a living. He’s likeable and had known exactly how, for example, to smooth the way for Levin to get back together with Kitty. But really, that effortless social manipulation is based on nothing more than charm and invitations to dinner, and it’s all he’s good at. The expense of it has brought him to a crisis – he would have spent all Dolly’s money by now if she hadn’t refused to sign off the last third of it – and his attempt to deal with Karenin over the divorce ends in complete failure. Again, everything in Part 7 that we learn about these men grows perfectly naturally from what we know about them already. And they both contribute to Anna’s doom.

But Part 7 starts with Levin, as bemused by the Moscow sophisticates as Craig Raine’s Martian. He feels completely out of place, regards conventions – those visits full of meaningless pleasantries and the set of liveries he has to buy for his servants – as completely senseless. It’s like the ridiculous elections at the end of Part 6, where Levin’s complete lack of interest might seem childish – except that he’s right. Despite all the debates we hear about the role and duties of the ruling classes, all the elections do is perpetuate the status quo. They will change absolutely nothing.

But that was Part 6. In these early chapters of Part 7 it’s impossible not to see Levin is a self-portrait of the author. Tolstoy has done this Martian thing before, in War and Peace, when he has Natasha attend the opera for the first time. It’s a comic set piece as, through her eyes, Tolstoy describes it as it appears to someone who isn’t buying into the fantasy at any level: ‘One very fat girl in a white silk dress sat apart on a low bench, to the back of which a piece of green cardboard was glued….’ And so on. Through Natasha in that novel, and Levin in this one, Tolstoy holds up a satirical mirror to a ridiculously self-regarding and self-important society. Levin never stops being a clown, but it doesn’t stop him seeing things as they really are. And, crucially, when he meets Anna for the first time – what? He sees in her what the world refuses to see.

But it’s more complicated than that. Knowing that Anna has only 20 or so chapters left to live, Tolstoy brings in this character he’s deliberately kept apart from her from the beginning. Levin is her brother’s best friend, they are both in their thirties, and they’ve never met. Yeh, sure. But Tolstoy isn’t aiming for naturalism or plausibility. He’s going for a literary coup, one in which a person known for his complete lack of city sophistication can meet her for the first time.

Except, to begin with, he doesn’t meet her. He meets a portrait of her, the one done in Italy that made Vronsky quietly give up his own short-lived attempt to become an artist. In other words he meets a version of her, one created by someone entirely separate from her and over which, to that extent, she has no control. That’s the point. She never has any control over how she is presented. Levin, faced by this portrait that almost nobody has ever seen, falls in love with it. That’s also the point. The Anna he sees in the portrait – he still hasn’t met her in the flesh – is ravishing. (Does he even know it’s Anna? Does it matter at this point?) The artist has packaged her one way whereas, of course, Petersburg and Moscow have packaged her completely differently. Neither is the real Anna – but she has to live with society’s version of her, however distant from the reality this may be. She has no power to affect this, and this is one of the terrible truths that leads to her complete breakdown at the end of Part 7.

When Levin meets her, Tolstoy takes things to an entirely new place. Levin is putty in her hands. She knows this, plays with the embarrassment of this unsophisticated man who is married to her sister-in-law, and – and what? Knows that she is playing the sort of games that fallen women do play. At one level she’s thinking, well, if that’s what they want, that’s what I’ll give them. Meanwhile, she’s also doing something that I imagine would be gratifying to anyone in her position: proving to herself that, however powerless she has been made to feel, she’s still got what it takes to wind a man around her little finger. She muses on this when Tolstoy stays with her for a single chapter after she has left, and she’s very ambivalent about it.

Then we’re back with Levin, going quietly – or not so quietly – distracted as the time comes for Kitty to give birth. Tolstoy might be generous in portraying his alter ego as a buffoon but, as ever, I find the comedy of Levin’s gaucheness tiresome as he is unable to credit any prior knowledge of these matters to the doctor, to the midwife, or to Dolly. You really would think nobody had ever had a wife giving birth before…. Although even I was quietly impressed by the description of what becomes almost an out-of-body experience for Levin as 22 hours pass in a miasma of different emotions. Tolstoy is honest in his presentation of Levin’s horrified confusion when he first sees the child – and this thread comes to an end with a tangle of emotions he can’t possibly understand: ‘the apprehension lest this helpless creature should suffer was so intense, that it prevented him from noticing the strange thrill of senseless joy and even pride that he had felt when the baby sneezed.’

Next comes the interlude of Oblonsky’s attempt to kill two birds with one stone in Petersburg. His affairs, we learn in the opening sentence of a new chapter, are ‘in a very bad way’. This comes as no surprise, and nor does the way he sets about exploiting every useful contact he has in order to attain what he is keen to deny is a sinecure. Really, of course, it is exactly that, and there are others in the queue he finds at the office of the man he calls ‘the Jew’. His punning joke about the man’s Jewishness is untranslatable, and masks his discomfort during his long wait. Things are no better at Karenin’s, where he needs his brother-in-law both to pull some strings over the job and to grant Anna a divorce. His conversation, in which he attempts to keep up with Karenin’s arguments, show him up as the lightweight he has always been. Tolstoy might like Oblonsky as much as Levin does, but he presents him for what he is in these chapters.

He also presents Karenin’s new-found religious fervour as based on little more than a silly fad. He satirises the latest false prophet idolised by the Countess Lidia, the one on whose judgment Karenin will base his decisions about the divorce. He is based on real-life religious quacks fashionable in the 1870s, and Tolstoy has no time for him at all. If we want to be charitable, perhaps we should see the little soiree where this charlatan is presented as a sign of Karenin’s desperate search for meaning in his life. But we’re more likely to see it as a sign that Karenin was never as deep as he thought he was.

And then, culminating in Anna’s impulsive suicide, come the nine most harrowing, claustrophobic chapters in the novel. They cover a couple of days in May, when both Anna and Vronsky would have been glad to be away from Moscow – but, as a doom-laden authorial pronouncement insists, ‘In order to carry through any undertaking in family life, there must necessarily be either complete division between the husband and wife, or loving agreement. When the relations of a couple are vacillating and neither one thing nor the other, no sort of enterprise can be undertaken.’ Vacillating describes them exactly, as one or other of them can go from tenderness to coldness within the space of a sentence. In fact, it’s almost always Anna, as Tolstoy shows in forensic detail the toll that has been taken on Anna’s state of mind by months of uncertainty. The point of view is always hers, to the extent that Vronsky’s indifference or cruelty, described as though in neutral terms, is really only ever as she perceives it. As she looks ‘with horror at the clear expression of hatred that was on his whole face, especially in his cruel, menacing eyes,’ we have to remind ourselves that these expressions of his are entirely in her imagination.

The grinding relentlessness of what is becoming an obsession with her – that he does not love her as before, therefore must be in love with another woman – is what makes these chapters so claustrophobic. There’s no escape for the reader any more than there is for her, as we sit in on a whole day of accusations and futile point-scoring. She interprets everything he says as some kind of deception or rebuff, so that she even resents his comment, clearly spoken from the heart, that her decision to start packing is a good one. How patronising can you get? Is she a child to be patted on the head? He goes out, and she decides she just can’t go on like this. She remembers another time when things couldn’t go on. Why didn’t she die in childbirth? And now, a new possibility hovers on the edge of her consciousness, just out of sight. When Vronsky returns that night, she sends a message that she has a headache and doesn’t want to see him. So he doesn’t see her – which, of course, proves he doesn’t love her.

The next day, Tolstoy arranges for all kinds of accidental circumstances to contrive in a rattle-bag of misunderstandings. She hears a carriage, sees Vronsky going down to greet the heiress his mother wants him to marry. Later he plans to visit his mother, after Anna has grudgingly accepted he needs to go, but now she is resentful. After he has gone, she relents, and sends an apologetic note – which he is just too late to receive. He is on his way to the station, so she sends another note (or is it a telegram this time?) and again he doesn’t receive it. She gets in the carriage to try to catch up with him… and fails. With her mind in a more and more hectic state, she wonders what on earth to do.

Tolstoy’s portrayal of her almost psychotic anxiety feels like modernism. She goes to Dolly’s and is appalled by the embarrassing encounter with Kitty. Back in the carriage, there’s a strange light illuminating everything she sees, powerful enough to rip aside anything false. So every person she notices on the street is, in her mind, wasting their time. Those two might look like friends, but what was it that Yashvin said yesterday about gamblers seeing the other player as an enemy? That’s all of life for her now, with everybody hiding their real feelings of hatred. Her mind, flitting about from one worry to another, or to a short-lived moment when she persuades herself that every one of her fears is unfounded, will suddenly fasten itself on to some shop sign: ‘she envies me, and hates me. And we all hate each other. I Kitty, Kitty me. Yes, that’s the truth. “Tiutkin, coiffeur.” Je me fais coiffer par Tiutkin….’ It really is like Bloom wandering around Dublin, but there’s a terrifying edge to her fluttering thoughts. She finds herself back home, if you can call it home, goes to the station, gets on the train to where Vronsky’s mother lives, gets off….

And, in the last moments, we really do get a stream-of-consciousness presentation of what is going through her mind. Her lost-seeming progress down to the end of the platform – those men really are trying to get too close to her, she decides – takes her to a place where she can reach the mid-point between two slowly moving wheels. She only has a vague notion of what she is doing there, and there is no certainty in her. But she behaves as if there is, sees the spot – but is encumbered by her handbag. Then she isn’t.

‘She… fell on her hands under the carriage, and lightly, as though she would rise again at once, dropped on to her knees. And at the same instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. “Where am I? What am I doing? What for?”’

She sees that muzhik working on some ironwork above her, the one who has appeared at least twice before in dreams. And as for that light, ‘the light by which she had read the book filled with troubles, falsehoods, sorrow, and evil, flared up more brightly than ever before, lighted up for her all that had been in darkness, flickered, began to grow dim, and was quenched forever.’ Ah.

4 February
Part 8
This is all about the aftermath of Anna’s death, yes? Nope. It’s Breughel’s Fall of Icarus all over again. To quote Auden’s ‘Musee Des Beaux Arts’, ‘everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may / Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, / But for him it was not an important failure.’ The tone is set in the opening sentences: ‘Almost two months had passed. The hot summer was half over, but Sergei Ivanovitch was only just preparing to leave Moscow.’ And we’re following the point of view of a man who doesn’t cease being a minor character even as we find out all about his hopes and disappointments. That’s the point. He’s on his way to see Levin for a two-week summer break with Levin’s old friend Katavasov. In the station waiting-room, somebody tells him that the ‘notorious’ Vronsky is travelling on the same train. The story of the tragedy is already second-hand.

Sergei’s disappointment is to do with the book that has taken him six years to write, and that disappeared almost without trace as soon as it was published. Tolstoy might be writing from experience of the poor review written by someone the writer decides must bear a petty grudge (Sergei once corrected his use of a word in conversation), but the point is that none of it is important. There’s a small-scale war going on in the Balkans, and it becomes Sergei’s new interest as young Russians volunteer to fight alongside their Slavic ‘brothers’ against the Turks. This is where Vronsky is going, and when the train stops we find out how he couldn’t speak for six weeks after Anna’s death and is now throwing himself into a fight where there can be no negative outcome. ‘I’ve enough bodily energy to cut my way into their ranks, and to trample on them or fall—I know that. I’m glad there’s something to give my life for, for it’s not simply useless but loathsome to me.’ And that’s the last we see of him.

Sergei and Katavasov’s arrival at Levin’s estate becomes a framing device for the rest of Part 8. For two chapters, with Levin away sorting things out on the estate – it’s what he his time with, not that he gets any joy from it – it’s all about domestic arrangements. Then comes the opening of Chapter 8 and, sticking solidly to Levin’s point of view, Tolstoy has him painfully trying to come to terms – this is what he also does, all the time – with life, the universe and everything. Tolstoy gets straight into it: ‘Ever since, by his beloved brother’s deathbed, Levin had first glanced into the questions of life and death in the light of these new convictions, as he called them… he had been stricken with horror, not so much of death, as of life.’

The whole of the rest of the novel, twelve chapters (of nineteen), shows him beginning to come to terms with the existential crisis he has lived through ever since Nikolai’s death. There had been one brief time, when his son was being born, when he had believed completely in the existence and power of God. But as soon as the crisis was over, so was his faith, and he is left with a glorious memory of what now seems unattainable. This has led him, we learn, to such a serious contemplation of suicide that he has stopped trusting himself near guns and ropes.

It’s a good job this is a novel. At exactly this moment, after he has been wrestling with these matters for over four chapters, Levin has a conversation with one of the muzhiks on the estate. And something this man says leads to a kind of epiphany. Contrasting a self-centred and greedy man they know with another who shows generosity even if he lose by it – it really does seem this simple – he sums it up: ‘One man lives for his own wants and nothing else, like Mituh, he only thinks of filling his belly, but Fokanitch is a righteous man. He lives for his soul. He does not forget God.’ And that’s enough to set Levin’s thoughts going along a completely new track. The simple words of the muzhik bring Levin to the conclusion that all those philosophers he’s been reading, and the endless, point-scoring arguments that people have, are missing the point. There’s nothing difficult about recognising the difference between right and wrong behaviour. We just know.

Am I over-simplifying? Does it matter? It works for Levin, bemused by what he is feeling. ‘“Can this be faith?” he thought, afraid to believe in his happiness.’ He returns to his house, having been warned that Sergei ‘and another gentleman’ are there, and is momentarily wrong-footed in his new-found resolution always to behave generously. He wouldn’t be Levin if it was straightforward, and I think Tolstoy wants us to be tolerant of him even as he catches himself falling into his old ways. Sergei and Katavasov are incorrigible, and Levin keeps finding himself in arguments with them. Or he is annoyed at Kitty, who has taken their tiny son to the woods and gets caught in a rainstorm. And so on.

But things are different. He knows what he is like as well as we do: ‘I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly….’ But he has come to a genuine realisation throughout these chapters. Faith, God or whatever it is called – Levin has become suspicious of mere words – is not a rational thing, and can therefore not be understood through the arguments of philosophers or anyone else. Levin sees that what he does is ‘no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.’ It’s the best that anybody can do.

And that’s it. There’s none of the neat tying up of loose ends we might expect. Anna herself has only been mentioned once, when Vronsky briefly remembers the horror of seeing her face, still beautiful despite the mangling of her body. But that was a long time ago. We’re on Levin’s estate now, and both Moscow and Petersburg are a long way away. All we know of Karenin is that he attended the funeral and that Vronsky, in his grief, has allowed him to take the daughter Anna never loved. Oblonsky has got his sinecure, and Dolly is as unhappy as ever. Life goes on. What else could it do?

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