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Commentary and Notes (part one) to Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenin


By Vladimir Nabokov

No. 1 All was confusion in the Oblonski’s house

In the Russian text, the word dom (house, household, home) is repeated eight times in the course of six sentences. This ponderous and solemn repetition, dom, dom, dom, tolling as it does for doomed family life (one of the main themes of the book), is a deliberate device on Tolstoy’s part (p.3).

No. 2 Alabin, Darmstadt, America

Oblonski with several of his friends, such as Vronski and presumably Alabin, is considering arranging a restaurant supper in honor of a famous songstress (see note 75); these pleasant plans permeate his dream and mingle with recollections of recent news in the papers: he is a great reader of political hodge-podge. I find that about this time (February 1872) the Cologne Gazette at Darmstadt (capital of the Grand Duchy of Hesse, part of the new German Empire in 1866) was devoting much discussion to the so-called Alabama claims (generic name applied to claims for indemnity made by the U. S. upon Great Britain because of the damage done to American shipping during the Civil War). In result Darmstadt, Alabin, and America get mixed up in Oblonski’s dream (p.4).

No. 3 77 mio tesoro ”

My Treasure.” From Mozart’s Don Giovanni (1787), it is sung by Don Ottavio, whose attitude toward women is considerably more moral than Oblonski’s (p.4).

No. 4 But while she was in the house I never took any liberties. And the worst of the matter is that she is already . . .

The first “she” refers to Mile. Roland, the second to Oblonski’s wife Dolly, who is already eight months pregnant (Dolly is to be delivered of a girl at the end of the winter, that is in March) (p.6).

No. 5 Livery stable

Where the Oblonskis rented a carriage and a pair. Now the rent is due (p.7).

* Page references are to the 1935 Modern Library Edition; but the key phrases sometimes represent Nabokov’s retranslations.

No. 6 Anna Arkadievna, Daria Aleksandrovna

In speaking to a servant, Oblonski refers to his sister and wife by their first names and patronymics. In the reference to Dolly, there would not have been much difference had he said knyaginya (the Princess) or barynya (the Mistress) instead of “Daria Aleksandrovna” (p.7)

No. 7 Side whiskers

Fashionable in the seventies throughout Europe and America (p.7)

No. 8 You want to try

Matvey reflects that his master wishes to see if his wife will react to the news in the same way as she would have before their estrangement (p.8)

No. 9 Things will arrange themselves

The old servant uses a comfortably fatalistic folksy term: obrazuetsya, things will take care of themselves, it will be all right in the long run, this too will pass (p.8)

No. 10 He who likes coasting . .

The nurse quotes the first part of a common Russian proverb : “He who likes coasting should like dragging his little sleigh”(p.8).

No. 11 Flushing suddenly

Cases of flushing, blushing, reddening, crimsoning, coloring, etc. (and the opposite action of growing pale), are prodigiously frequent throughout this novel and, generally, in the literature of the time. It might be speciously argued that in the nineteenth century people blushed and blanched more readily and more noticeably than today, mankind then being as it were younger; actually, Tolstoy is only following an old literary tradition of using the act of flushing, etc., as a kind of code or banner that informs or reminds the reader of this or that character’s feelings (p.9). Even so the device is a little overdone and clashes with such passages in the book where, as in Anna’s case, “blushing” has the reality and value of an individual trait.

This may be compared to another formula Tolstoy makes much use of: the “slight smile,” which conveys a number of shades of feeling—amused condescension, polite sympathy, sly friendliness, and so on.

No. 12 A merchant

The name of this merchant (p.9), who eventually does acquire that forest at Ergushovo (the Oblonski’s estate), is Ryabinin: he is to appear in part two, chapter 16.

No. 13 Still damp

In the old system of making-ready, as employed in Russia and elsewhere by printers of newspapers, it was necessary to dampen paper before it could be satisfactorily printed. Hence a newspaper copy fresh from the press would be dampish to the touch (p.9)

No. 14 Oblonski’s newspaper

The mildly liberal newspaper Oblonski read was no doubt the Russian Gazette (Russkie Vedomosti), a Moscow daily (since 1868) (p.9).

No. 15 Ryurik

In the year a.d. 862, Ryurik, a Northman, the chief of a Varangian (Scandinavian) tribe, crossed the Baltic from Sweden and founded the first dynasty in Russia (862-1598). This was followed, after a period of political confusion, by the reign of the Romanovs (1613-1917), a much less ancient family than the descendants of Ryurik. In Dolgorukov’s work on Russian genealogy, only sixty families descending from Ryurik are listed as existing in 1855. Among these are the Obolenskis of which name “Oblonski” is an obvious and somewhat slatternly imitation, (p. 10).

No. 16 Bentham and Mill

Jeremy Bentham (1740-1832), English jurist, and James Mill (1773-1836), Scotch economist; their humane ideals appealed to Russian public opinion (p.ll).

No. 17 Beust rumored to have traveled to Wiesbaden

Count Friedrich Ferdinand von Beust (1809-1886), Austrian statesman. Austria was at the time a regular wasp’s nest of political intrigue, and much speculation was aroused in the Russian press when on November 10 new style, 1871, Beust was suddenly relieved of his function as Imperial Chancellor and appointed Ambassador to the Court of St. James. Just before Christmas, 1871, immediately after presenting his credentials, he left England to spend two months with his family in North Italy. According to the gazettes of the day and to his own memoirs (London, 1887), his return to London via Wiesbaden coincided with preparations for the thanksgiving service to be held in St. Paul’s Tuesday, February 17/15, 1872, for the recovery (from typhoid fever) of the Prince of Wales. Of Beust’s passage through Wiesbaden on his way back to England Oblonski read on a Friday; and the only Friday available is obviously February 23/11, 1872—which fixes nicely the opening day of the novel (p. 11).

Some of you may still wonder why I and Tolstoy mention such trifles. To make his magic, fiction, look real the artist sometimes places it, as Tolstoy does, within a definite, specific historical frame, citing fact that can be checked in a library—that citadel of illusion. The case of Count Beust is an excellent example to bring into any discussion about socalled real life and so-called fiction. There on the one hand is a historical fact, a certain Beust, a statesman, a diplomat, who not only has existed but has left a book of memoirs in two volumes, wherein he carefully recalls all the witty repartees, and political puns, which he had made in the course of his long political career on this or that occasion. And here, on the other hand, is Steve Oblonski whom Tolstoy created from top to toe, and the question is which of the two, the “real-life” Count Beust, or the “fictitious” Prince Oblonski is more alive, is more real, is more believable. Despite his memoirs—long-winded memoirs full of dead cliches—the good Beust remains a vague and conventional figure, whereas Oblonski, who never existed, is immortally vivid. And furthermore, Beust himself acquires a little sparkle by his participating in a Tolstoyan paragraph, in a fictitious world.

No. 18 They (Grisha and Tanya) were in the act of propelling something, and then something fell. . . . All is confusion, thought Oblonski.

This little accident to a simulated train against a background of confusion in the adulterer’s home will be marked by the good reader as a subtle premonition, devised by Tolstoy’s farsighted art, of a considerably more tragic catastrophe in part seven of the book. And what is especially curious is that Anna’s little boy Seryozha, later in the book, plays at school at an invented game where the boys represent a moving train; and when his house-tutor finds him despondent, the despondency is due not to his having hurt himself in that game but to his resenting the family situation (p. 11).

No. 19 She is up . . . that means she’s not slept again all night.

Dolly usually rose later and would never have been up as early as that (it is now around 9:30 a.m.) had she slept normally through the night (p.12).

No. 20 Tanchurochka

A further diminution fanciful and endearing, of the common diminutive “Tanya” or “Tanechka.” Oblonski crosses it with one of the dochurochka, tender diminutives of dochka, the Russian word for “daughter” (p.12).

No. 21 Petitioner

Oblonski, as any high official, was in a position to hasten the proceedings of a case or to cut through the red tape, or sometimes even to influence a dubious issue. The petitioner’s visit may be compared to seeing one’s Congressman in quest of a special favor. Naturally, there were more plain people among petitioners than high-born and influential ones, since Oblonski’s personal friend or social equal could ask him for a favor at a dinner or through a common friend (p. 12).

No. 22 The clockman

There was, in the homes of Russian gentlemen, a custom of having a clockmaker (who happens to be a German here) come once a week, generally on Fridays, to check and wind the desk clocks, wall clocks, and grandfather clocks in the house. This paragraph defines the day of the week on which the story begins. For a novel in which time plays such an important part, a clockman is just the right person to start it on its way (p. 17).

No. 23 Ten rubles

In the early seventies of the last century, one ruble was about three-quarters of a dollar, but the purchasing power of a dollar (one ruble thirty) was in some respects considerably higher than today. Roughly speaking, the government salary of six thousand per year that Oblonski was paid in 1872 would correspond to four thousand five hundred dollars of 1872 (at least fifteen thousand dollars of today, untaxed).*

* Perhaps more than $60,000 as of 1980. Ed.

No. 24 And the worst of the matter . . .

The worst of the matter, Dolly reflects, is that in a month or so she is going to have a child (p. 18). This is on Tolstoy’s part a nicely devised echo of Oblonski’s thoughts on the same subject (p.6).

No. 25 Complete liberalism

Tolstoy’s own notion of “liberalism” did not coincide with Western democratic ideals and with true liberalism as understood by progressive groups in old Russia. Oblonski’s “liberalism” is definitely on the patriarchal side and we shall also note that Oblonski is not immune to conventional racial prejudice (p.20).

No. 26 Uniform

Oblonski changed from a lounge coat he wore into a government official’s uniform (e.g., a green frock coat) (p.20).

No. 27 The Penza Provincial Office

Penza, main city in the Province of Penza, east central Russia (p.20).

No. 28 Kamer-yunker

German Kammerjunker, English (approximately) gentleman of the King’s bedchamber. One of the several Russian court ranks, of an honorary nature, with such tame privileges as, for instance, the right to attend court balls. The mention of this title in connection with Grinevich merely implies that he belonged, and prided himself in belonging, to a socially more prominent set than his colleague, the plodding old bureaucrat Nikitin (p.21 ). The latter is not necessarily related to the Nikitins mentioned by Kitty on p. 86.

No. 29 Kitty’s education

Though high schools for women began to come into existence as early as 1859, a noble family of the Shcherbatski type would either send their daughters to one of the “Institutes for Young Noblewomen,” that dated back to the eighteenth century, or have them educated at home by governesses and visiting teachers. The programme would consist of a thorough study of French (language and literature), dancing, music, drawing. In many families, especially in St. Petersburg and Moscow, English would run a close second to French.

A young woman of Kitty’s set would never go out-of-doors unattended either by a governess or by her mother or by both. She would be seen walking only at a certain fashionable hour on a certain fashionable boulevard, and on these occasions a footman would be following a few steps behind—both for protection and prestige.

No. 30 Lyovin

Tolstoy wrote “Levin,” deriving the surname of this character (a Russian nobleman and the representative of a young Tolstoy in the imaginary world of the novel) from his own first name “Lev” (Russian for “Leo”). Alphabetically the Russian “e” is pronounced “ye” (as in “yes”)> but in a number of instances it may have the sound of “yo” (as in “yonder”). Tolstoy pronounced his first name (spelled “Lev” in Russian) as “Lyov” instead of the usual “Lyev.” I write “Lyovin” instead of “Levin,” not so much to avoid any confusion (the possibility of which Tolstoy apparently did not realize) with a widespread Jewish surname of a different derivation, as to stress the emotional and personal quality of Tolstoy’s choice (p.21).


In giving to Nathalie Shcherbatski’s husband, a diplomat with extremely sophisticated manners, the surname Lvov, Tolstoy used a common derivative from “Lev” as if to point out another side of his, Tolstoy’s, personality in his youth, namely the desire to be absolutely comme il faut.

No. 31 Oblonski was on familiar terms

Russians (as well as the French and the Gemans) when addressing intimates use the singular “thou” (French tu, Germane) instead of “you.” This isty in Russian, the “y” being pronounced somewhat as “u” in “tug.” Although generally speaking the ty would go with the use of the interlocutor’s first name, a combination of ty with the surname, or even with first name and patronymic, occurs not infrequently (p.22).

No. 32 An active member of the zemstvo, a new type of man in this respect

The zemstvos (created by a government act of January 1, 1864) were district and provincial assemblies with councils elected by three groups: landowners, peasants, and townspeople. Lyovin had been at first an eager supporter of these administrative boards but now objected to them on the grounds that landowner members were steering their needier friends into various lucrative positions (p.23).

No. 33 New suit

According to fashion plates of the time, Lyovin probably wore a well-cut short coat (“sack coat”) with a braid edge, and then changed into a frock coat for his evening visit to the Shcherbatskis (p.24).

No. 34 Gurin

A merchant name implying a good but not smart restaurant, adequate for a friendly lunch around the corner (p.24).

No. 35 Eight thousand acres in the Karazinski district

The allusion is clearly to a district in the Province of Tula (further disguised as “Kashin”), Central Russia, south of Moscow, where Tolstoy possessed a considerable amount of land himself. A “province” (or “government,” guber-niya) consisted of districts (uezdy), and this one consisted of twelve such districts. Tolstoy invented “Karazinski,” fancifully deriving it from Karazin (the name of a famous social reformer, 1773-1842), and combining Krapivenski District, where his own estate, Yasnaya Poly ana, was situated (about eight miles from Tula on the Moscow-Kursk line), with the name of a neighboring village (Karamyshevo) (p.26). Lyovin had also land in the “Selez-nyovski” district of the same (“Kashin”) province.

No. 36 Zoological Garden

Tolstoy has in view a skating rink on the Presnenski Pond or some part of it, just south of the Zoo, in the north-west corner of Moscow (p.26).

No. 37 Red stockings

According to my source (Mode in Costume, by R. Turner Wilcox, New York, 1948, p. 308) purple and red in petticoats and stockings were great favorites with Parisian young ladies around 1870—and fashionable Moscow, of course, followed Paris. The shoe in Kitty’s case would probably be a buttoned bottine of fabric or leather (p.28).

No. 38 A very important philosophical question

Tolstoy did not bother to go very far for a suitable subject. Problems of mind versus matter are still discussed all over the world; but the actual question as defined by Tolstoy was by 1870 such an old and obvious one, and is stated here in such general terms, that it hardly seems likely a professor of philosophy would travel all the way (over 300 miles) from Kharkov to Moscow to thrash it out with another scholar (p.30).

No. 39 Keiss, Wurst, Knaust, Pripasov

Although according to the Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (Leipzig, 1882), there was a German educator Raimond Jacob Wurst (1800-1845) and a sixteenth-century song-maker Heinrich Knaust (or Knaustinus), I can find no Keiss, let alone Pripasov, and prefer to think that Tolstoy wittily invented wholesale that string of materialistic philosophers with—in plausible percentage—one Russian name in the wake of three German ones (P-31).

No. 40 The skating ground

Ever since the beginning of history, when the first skates were fashioned from the cannon bone of a horse, boys and young men used to play on the ice of frozen rivers and fens. The sport was extremely popular in old Russia, and by 1870 had become fashionable for both sexes. Club-skates of steel, round-toed or pointed, were strapped to the shoe and kept firm by clamps, spikes, or screws that entered the sole. This was before the time that special skating-boots, with skates permanently fixed to them, were used by good skaters (p.34).

No. 41 The old curly birches of the garden, with all their branches weighed down by snow, seemed decked in new festive vestments

As previously noted, Tolstoy’s style, while freely allowing the utilitarian (“parabolic”) comparison, is singularly devoid of poetical similes or metaphors intended to appeal primarily to the artistic sense of the reader. These birch-trees (with the “sun” and “wild rose” comparisons further) are an exception. They will presently cast a few spicules of their festive frost onto the fur of Kitty’s muff (p.35).

It is curious to compare Lyovin’s awareness of these emblematic trees here, at the commencement of his courtship, with certain other old birches (to be first mentioned by his brother Nikolay), that are worried by a crucial summer storm in the last part of the book.

No. 42 Behind chairs

A beginner might toddle along in his awkward skates clinging to the back of a chair painted green, on wooden runners, and in these same chairs ladies might be driven around by a friend or paid attendant (p.35).

No. 43 Russian garb

This lad, a gentleman’s son, wears for skating the winter attire of the lower classes, or a stylized version of it—high boots, short belted coat, sheepskin cap (p.36).

No. 44 We are at home on Thursdays. . . . “Which means today?” said Lyovin

This is a slip on Tolstoy’s part; but then, as previously mentioned, Lyovin’s time throughout the book is prone to lag behind the time of the other characters. The Oblonskis, and we, know it is Friday (chapter 4), and later references to Sunday confirm this (p.40).

No. 45 The Hotel d’Angleterre or the Ermitage

Nabokov’s drawing of a costume such as Kitty wore when she The Ermitage is mentioned but not chosen, since it would skated with Lyovin. have been hardly seemly for a novelist to advertise one of the best Moscow restaurants (where, according to Karl Baedeker, writing in the nineties, i.e., twenty years later, a good dinner minus wine cost two rubles twenty-five, or a couple of old-time dollars). Tolstoy mentions it, along with his invented Angleterre, merely to point out the latter’s gastronomic rank. It will be noted that dinner is at the old-fashioned time between five and six (p.40).

No. 46 Sleigh

Cabs for hire as well as private vehicles other than the kareta (a closed carriage on wheels, such as Oblonski used) were more or less snug sleighs for two people. Snow permitting the use of sleighs covered the streets of Moscow and Petersburg approximately from November to April (p.40).

No. 47 Tatars

Or, less, correctly, Tartars—a name given to nearly three million inhabitants of the former Russian Empire, chiefly Moslems and mostly of Turkic origin, remnants of the Mongol (Tatar) invasions of the thirteenth century. From the Province of Kazan, East Russia, a few thousand migrated in the nineteenth century to Petersburg and Moscow where some of them pursued the calling of waiters (p.41).

No. 48 The French girl at the buffet board

Her job would be to supervise the buffet, and sell flowers (p.41).

No. 49 Prince Golitsyn

A generalized gentleman here. The moralist in Tolstoy had such a distaste for “inventing” (although actually the artist in him invented a greater number of plausible people than any man before him except Shakespeare) that often in his drafts we find him using “real names” instead of the slightly camouflaged ones he superimposed later. Golitsyn is a well-known name, and in this case Tolstoy apparently did not bother to twist it into Goltsov or Litsyn in his final text (p.42).

No. 50 Oysters

Flensburg oysters: these came from German beds (on the North Sea coast of Schleswig Holstein, just south of Denmark), which from 1859 to 1879 were rented to a company in Flensburg on the Denmark border.

Ostend oysters: ever since 1765 seed oysters had been brought from England to Ostend in Belgium.

Both “Flensburg” and “Ostend” were small products in the seventies, and these imported oysters were highly esteemed by

Russian epicures (p.42).

No. 51 Cabbage soup and groats

Shchi—z soup consisting mainly of boiled cabbage—and grechnevaya kasha— boiled buckwheat meal—were, and presumably still are, the staple food of Russian peasants, whose rustic fare Lyovin would partake of in his capacity of gentleman farmer, man of the soil, and advocate of his simple life. In my time, forty years later, to slurp shchi was as chic as to toy with any French fare (p.42).

No. 52 Chablis, Nuits

Burgundy wines, white and red respectively. The white wines known to us as Chablis are made in the Department of Yonne (eastern France) situated in the oldest viticultural district of Europe, namely the ancient province of Burgundy. Nuits (place name) St. Georges, which presumably was the waiter’s suggestion, comes from vineyards north of Beaune, in the center of

the Burgundy district (p.43).

No. 53 Parmesan

Cheese was eaten with bread as an hors-d’oeuvre and in between courses (p.43).

No. 54 Gallant steeds

Russia’s greatest poet Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837) translated into Russian (from a French version) Ode LIII of the socalled Anacreontea, a collection of poems attributed to Anacreon (born in the sixth century b.c. in Asia Minor, died at the age of 85), but lacking the peculiar forms of Ionic Greek in which he wrote according to authentic fragments quoted by ancient writers. Oblonski misquotes Pushkin horribly. Pushkin’s version reads: Gallant steeds one recognizes By the markings branded on them; Uppish Parthians one can tell By their elevated mitres; As to me I recognize Happy lovers by their eyes . . . (p.45)

No. 55 And with disgust the scroll of my past life I read, and shudder, and denounce it And bitterly complain. . .

Lyovin quotes a passage from Pushkin’s poignant “Recollection” (1828) (p.48)

No. 56 Recruits

In the summary of the week’s news of the Pall Mall Budget for December 29, 1871, I find the following: “An Imperial decree has been issued at St. Petersburg fixing the levy of recruits of the year 1872 at the rate of six per 1000 for the whole empire including the Kingdom of Poland. This is the usual levy in order to raise the army and navy to their proper standard” etc.

This note has little direct bearing on our text but is of some interest in itself (p.48)

No. 57 Himmlisch ist’s . .

“To conquer my earthly lust would have been divine but if I have not succeeded, I experience all the same lots of pleasure.

According to a brief note in Maude’s translation of the novel (1937), Oblonski quotes these lines from the libretto of the Fledermaus which, however, was first produced two years after that dinner.

The exact reference would be: Die Fledermaus, komische Operette in drei Akten nach Meilhac und Halevy (authors of Le Reveillon, a French vaudeville, which itself was taken from a German comedy Das Gefangnis by Benedix), bearbeitet von

Haffner und Genee, Musik von Johann Strauss. First produced in Vienna on April 5, 1874 (according to Loewenberg’s Annals of Opera, 1943). I have not discovered this anachronistic quotation in the score but it may be in the complete book (p.50).

No. 58 That gentleman in Dickens . .

The reference is to the pompous and smug Mr. John Podsnap in Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend, which had first appeared in

London in twenty monthly parts from May 1864 to November 1865. Podsnap, who was “happily acquainted with his own merit and importance, [had] settled that whatever he put behind him he put out of existence. . . . [He] had even acquired a peculiar flourish of the right arm in often clearing the world of its most difficult problems by sweeping them behind him . . .” (p.50).

No. 59 Plato’s “Symposium”

In this dialogue Plato, a notorious Athenian philosopher (died in 347 b.c. at the age of eighty), has several banqueters discuss love. One of them rhetorically distinguishes earthly from heavenly love; another sings of Love and Love’s works; a third, Socrates, speaks of two kinds of love, one (“being in love”) which desires beauty for a peculiar end, and the other enjoyed by creative souls that bring into being not children of their body but good deeds (culled from an old edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica) (p.51).

No. 60 The dinner bill

This literary dinner had cost twenty-six rubles including the tip, so Lyovin’s share was thirteen rubles (about ten dollars of the time). The two men had two bottles of champagne, a little vodka, and at least one bottle of white wine (p.52).

No. 61 Princess Shcherhatski had been married thirty years ago

A slip on Tolstoy’s part. Judging by Dolly’s age, it should be at least thirty-four (p.53).

No. 62 Changes in the manner of society

In 1870, the first institution of higher learning for women (the Lubianski Courses: Lubyanskie Kursy) was inaugurated in Moscow. In general it was a time of emancipation for Russian women. Young women were claiming a freedom they did not have until then—among other things the freedom to choose their own husbands instead of having their parents arrange the match (p.54).

No. 63 Mazurka

One of the dances at balls of the time (“Gentlemen commencing with left foot, ladies with right, slide, slide, slide, slide, bring feet together, leap-turn” etc.). Tolstoy’s son Sergey, in a series of notes on Anna Karenin (Literaturnoe nasledstvo, vols. 37-38, pp. 567-590, Moscow, 1939), says: “The mazurka was a favorite with ladies: to it the gentlemen invited those ladies to whom they were particularly attracted”(p.55).

No. 64 Kaluga

A town south of Moscow in the Tula direction (Central Russia) (p.60).

No. 65 Classic, modern

“Classic” (klassicbeskoe) education in reference to Russian schools meant the study of Latin and Greek, whereas “Modern” (realnoe) implied their replacement by living languages, with the stress laid on the “scientific” and practical in other subjects (p.62).

No. 66 Spiritualism

The talk (at the Shcherbatskis) about table turning in part one, chapter 14, with Lyovin criticizing “spiritualism” and Vronski suggesting they all try, and Kitty looking for some small table to use—all this has a strange sequel in part four, chapter 13, when Lyovin and Kitty use a card table to write in chalk and communicate in fond cipher. This was a fashionable fad of the day—ghost rapping, table tilting, musical instruments performing short flights across the room, and other curious aberrations of matter and minds, with well-paid mediums making pronouncements and impersonating the dead in simulated sleep (p.62). Although dancing furniture and apparitions are as old as the world, their modern expression stems from the hamlet Hydesville near Rochester, New York State, where in 1848 raps had been recorded, produced by the ankle bones or other anatomical castanets of the Fox sisters. Despite all denouncements and exposures, “spiritualism” as it unfortunately became known fascinated the world and by 1870 all Europe was tilting tables. A committee appointed by the Dialectical Society of London to investigate “phenomena alleged to be spiritual manifestations” had recently reported thereon—and at one seance the medium Mr. Home had been “elevated eleven inches.” In a later part of the book we shall meet this Mr. Home under a transparent disguise, and see how strangely and tragically spiritualism, a mere game suggested by Vronski in part one, will affect Karenin’s intentions and his wife’s destiny.

No. 67 Ring game

A parlor game played by young people in Russia and presumably elsewhere: the players form a circle all holding the same string, along which a ring is passed from hand to hand while a player in the middle of the circle tries to guess whose hands conceal the ring (p.65).

No. 68 Prince

Princess Shcherbatski’s way of addressing her husband as knyaz (Prince) is an old-fashioned Moscovism. Note also that the Prince calls his daughters “Katenka” and “Dashenka” in the good Russian manner, i.e., having no use, as it were, for newfangled English diminutives (“Kitty” and “Dolly”) (p.66).

No. 69 Tyutki

A plural noun applied by the gruff Prince to the young scatterbrains, with connotations of fatuousness and foppery. It does not really suit Vronski whom Kitty’s father seems to have in mind here; Vronski may be vain and frivolous but he is also ambitious, intelligent, and persevering. Readers will note the curious echo of this fancy word in the name of the hairdresser (“Tyutkin coiffeur”) whose sign Anna reads with a roaming eye on the day of her death while driving through the streets of Moscow (p. 885); she is struck by the absurd contrast of “Tyutkin,” a Russian comedy name, with the stiff French epithet “coiffeur,” and for a second reflects she might amuse Vronski by making a joke of this (p.66).

No. 70 Corps of pages

Pazbeski ego imperatorskogo velichestva korpus (His Imperial Majesty’s Corps of Pages), a military school for the sons of noblemen in old Russia, founded 1802, reformed 1865 (p.68).

No. 71 Chateau des Fleurs, can-can

Allusion to a night restaurant with vaudeville performances on a stage. “The notorious can-can … is only a quadrille danced by gross people” (Allen Dodworth in Dancing and its Relations to Education and Social Life, London, 1885) (p.69).

No. 72 The station

The Nikolaevski or Peterburgski railway station in the north-central part of Moscow. The line was built by the government in 1843-1851. A fast train covered the distance between Petersburg and Moscow (about 400 miles) in twenty hours in 1862 and in thirteen hours in 1892. Leaving Petersburg around 8 p.m., Anna arrived in Moscow a little after 11 a.m. the following day (p.70).

No. 73 Ah, your Serenity

An inferior—servant, clerk, or tradesman—would address a titled person (prince or count) as “your Serenity,” vashe siyatel’stvo (German “Dur-chlaucht”). The use which Prince Oblonski (who is a siyatel’stvo in his own right, of course) makes of the term in greeting Count Vronski is playfully patronizing: he mimics an elderly attendant stopping a young scapegrace in his tracks, or—as more precisely, perhaps—acts the staid family man speaking to a flighty bachelor (p.70).

No. 74 Honi soit qui mal y pense

The motto of the Order of the Garter, “Shame to him who thinks evil of it,” as pronounced by Edward the Third in 1348 when rebuking the mirth of some noblemen over a lady’s fallen garter (p.70).

No. 75 Diva

This Italian word (“the divine one”) was applied to celebrated singers (e.g., la diva Patti); by 1870, in France and elsewhere, the term was often used in reference to flashy ladies of the variety stage; but here I think a respectable singer or actress is implied. This diva, reflected and multiplied, takes part in Oblonski’s dream—the dream from which he awakes Friday at 8 a.m., February 11 (p. 4). Here, on page 71 Oblonski and Vronski talk of the supper to be given in her honor next day, Sunday, February 13. On page 77 Oblonski talks about her (“the new singer”) with Countess Vronski at the station, that same Saturday morning, February 12. Finally, on page 90, he tells his family, at 9:30 p.m. the same Saturday, that Vronski has just called to inquire about the dinner they are to give next day to a celebrity from abroad. It seems that Tolstoy could not quite make up his mind whether the occasion was to be formal or frivolous (p.71).

It should be noted that at the end of part five, the appearance of a famous singer (the diva Patti, this time she is named) occurs in a critical passage of Anna’s romance with Vronski.

No. 76 Through the frosty haze one could distinguish a number of railway workers, wearing short sheepskin coats and felt snowboots, in the act of stepping across the rails of the curving tracks

Here commences a sequence of subtle moves on Tolstoy’s part aiming at bringing about a gruesome accident and, simultaneously, adducing the impressions from which later a crucial nightmare seen both by Anna and Vronski will be formed. The poor visibility among the frosty vapors is connected with various muffled-up figures such as these railway workers and, a little further, the muffled-up, frost-covered engine driver. The death of the railway guard which Tolstoy is preparing occurs on page 77: “a guard . . . too much muffled up against the severe frost had not heard a train backing [the optical haze becomes an auditory one] and had been crushed.” Vronski views the mangled body (p.77) and he (and possibly Anna) has also noticed a peasant with a bag over his shoulder emerge from the train (p.72)—a visual impression that will breed. The theme of “iron” (which is beaten and crushed in the subsequent nightmare) is also introduced here in terms of a station platform vibrating under a great weight (p.71).

No. 77 The locomotive came rolling by

In the famous photograph (1869) of the first two transcontinental trains meeting at Promontory Summit, Utah, the engine of the Central Pacific (building from San Francisco eastward) is seen to have a great flaring funnel stack, while the engine of the Union Pacific (building from Omaha westward) sports but a straight slender stack topped by a spark-arrester. Both types of chimneys were used on Russian locomotives. According to Collignon’s Chemins de Fer Russes (Paris, 1868), the seven and a half meters long locomotive, with wheels oOOo, of the fast train connecting Petersburg and Moscow had a straight funnel two and a third meters high, i.e., exceeding by thirty centimeters the diameter of its driving wheels whose action is so vigorously described by Tolstoy (p.72).

No. 78 This lady’s appearance . . .

It is not necessary for the reader to look at Anna with Vronski’s eyes, but for those who are anxious to appreciate all the details of Tolstoy’s art, it is necessary to realize clearly what he meant his heroine to look like. Anna was rather stout but her carriage was wonderfully graceful, her step singularly light. Her face was beautiful, fresh, and full of animation. She had curly black hair that was apt to come awry, and gray eyes glistening darkly in the shadow of thick lashes. Her glance could light up with an enchanting glow or assume a serious and woeful expression. Her unpainted lips were a vivid red. She had plump arms, slender wrists and tiny hands. Her handshake was vigorous, her motions rapid. Everything about her was elegant, charming and real (p.73).

No. 79 Oblonski! Here!

Two men of fashion, close friends or messmates, might call each other by their surnames, or even by their titles—count, prince, baron—reserving first names or nicknames for special occasions. When Vronski calls to Steve “Oblonski!” he is using an incomparably more intimate form of address than if he had shouted out Stepan Arkadyevich’s name and patronymic (p.74).

No. 80 Vous filez le parfait amour. Tant mieux, mon cher

You are engrossed in perfect love-making. So much the better, my dear (p.75).

No. 81 Unusual color, unusual event

There is of course no actual connection between the two, but the repetition is characteristic of Tolstoy’s style with its rejection of false elegancies and its readiness to admit any robust awkwardness if that is the shortest way to sense. Cp. the somewhat similar clash of “unhasting” and “hastily” some fifty pages further on. The station master’s cap was of a bright red color (p.76).

No. 82 Bobrishchevs

We may infer that they were giving this particular ball (p.86).

No. 83 Anna’s dress

Perusal of an article on “Paris fashions for February” in the London Illustrated News, 1872, reveals that whereas toilettes de promenade just touched the ground, an evening dress had a long square-cut train. Velvet was most fashionable, and for a ball a lady would wear a robe princesse of black velvet over a skirt of faille, edged with chantilly lace, and a tuft of flowers in the hair (p.93).

No. 84 Waltz

Sergey Tolstoy, in the series of notes already mentioned (see note 63), describes the order of dances at a ball of the type described here: “The ball would start with a light waltz, then there would come four quadrilles, then a mazurka with various figures. . . . The final dance would be a cotillion . . . with such figures as grand-rond, chaine, etc., and with interpolated dances — waltz, galop, mazurka.”

Dodworth in his book (Dancing, 1885) lists as many as two hundred and fifty figures in the “Cotillion or German.” The grand-rond is described under Nr. 63 as: “Gentlemen select gentlemen; ladies select ladies; a grand round is formed, the gentlemen joining hands on one side of the circle, the ladies on the other; the figure is begun by turning to the left; then the conductor who holds his lady by the right hand, advances, leaving the other [dancers] and cuts through the middle of the round . . . [then] he turns to the left with all the gentlemen while his partner turns to the right with all the ladies, continuing down the side of the room, thus forming two lines facing. When the last two have passed out [!] the two lines advance, each gentleman dancing with opposite lady.” Various “chains” —double, uninterrupted, etc. —can be left to the reader’s imagination (p.95).

No. 85 People’s theatre

According to a note in Maude’s translation, a people’s theatre (or more exactly a privately financed theatre—Moscow having only State theatres at that time) was initiated “at the Moscow Exhibition of 1872″ (p.95).

No. 86 She had refused five partners

She had also refused Lyovin a few days before. The whole ball (with its wonderful break [p.95] “the music stopped”) is subtly emblematic of Kitty’s mood and situation (p.97).

No. 87 . . . Enchanting [was] the firm-fleshed neck with its row of pearls [zhemchug] . . . enchanting [her] animation [ozhivlenie] but there was something terrifying [uzhasnoe] and cruel [zhestokoe] about her charm

This “zh” repetition (phonetically coinciding with “s” in “pleasure”—the buzzing ominous quality of her beauty—is artistically followed up in the penultimate paragraph of the chapter: “… the uncontrollable [neuderzhimy], quivering [drozhashchi] glow of her eyes and smile burned [obzhog] him. . . .” (pp.98-99).

No. 88 Dance leader

“The conductor [or "leader"] should exercise constant watchfulness and be ever on the alert to urge the tardy, prompt the slow, awake the inattentive, signal those occupying the floor too long, superintend the preparatory formation of the figure, see that each dancer is on the proper side of his partner, and, if simultaneous movement is required, give the signal for that movement to commence etc. He is thus compelled to fulfill the duties of a ‘whipper-in,’ as well as those of conductor, instructor, and superintendent.” Toned down by the social position and expert dancing of the people involved in the present ball, this was more or less Korsunski’s function (p.99).

No. 89 There is some gentleman, Nikolay Dmitrich

Nikolay’s lowly mistress uses the first name and abridged patronymic as a respectful wife would in a petty bourgeois household (p. 101).

When Dolly, in speaking of her husband calls him by his first name and patronymic, she is doing something else: she chooses the most formal and neutral manner of reference to him to stress the estrangement.

No. 90 And the birches, and our schoolroom

With keen nostalgic tenderness recalling the rooms in the ancestral manor, where as boys he and his brother used to have lessons with a tutor or a governess (p. 107).

No. 91 Gypsies

Night restaurants had Gypsy (Tzygan) entertainers who sang and danced. Good-looking female Gypsy performers were extremely popular with Russian rakes (p. 108).

No. 92 His low-slung carpet sleigh

A type of rustic comfortable sleigh which looked as if it consisted of a rug on runners (p. 109).

No. 93 Heated

Lyovin’s manor house was heated by means of wood-burning Dutch stoves, a stove per room, and there were double windows with wads of cotton wool between the panes (p.112).

No. 94 Tyndall

John Tyndall (1820-1893), author of Heat as a Mode of Motion (1863 and later editions). This was the first popular exposition of the mechanical theory of heat which in the early sixties had not reached the text books (p. 113).

No. 95 Third hell

The three Russian station bells had already become in the seventies a national institution. The first bell, a quarter of an hour before departure, introduced the idea of a journey to the would-be passenger’s mind ; the second, ten minutes later, suggested the project might be realized; immediately after the third, the train whistled and glided away (p. 118).

No. 96 Car

Roughly speaking, two notions of night-traveling comfort were dividing the world in the last third of the century: the Pullman system in America, which favored curtained sections and which rushed sleeping passengers feet foremost to their destination; and the Mann system in Europe, which had them speed sidewise in compartments; but in 1872, a first-class car (euphemistically called sleeping-car by Tolstoy) of the night express between Moscow and Petersburg was a very primitive affair still wavering between a vague Pullman tendency and Colonel Mann’s “boudoir” scheme. It had a lateral corridor, it had water closets, it had stoves burning wood; but it also had open-end platforms which Tolstoy calls “porches” (krylechki), the vestibule housing not having yet been invented. Hence the snow driving in through the end doors when conductors and stove-tenders passed from car to car. Night accommodations were draughty sections, semi-partitioned off from the passage, and it is evident from Tolstoy’s description that six passengers shared one section (instead of the four in sleeping compartments of a later day). The six ladies in the “sleeping” section reclined in fauteuils, three facing three, with just enough space between opposite fauteuils to permit the extension of footrests. As late as 1892, Karl Baedeker speaks of first-class cars on that particular line as having fauteuils which can be transformed into beds at night but he gives no details of the metamorphosis, and anyway, in 1872, the simulacrum of full-length repose did not include any bedding. To comprehend certain important aspects of Anna’s night journey, the reader should clearly visualize the following arrangement: Tolstoy indiscriminately calls the plush seats in the section either “little divans” or “fauteuils”; and both terms are right since, on each side of the section, the divan was divided into three armchairs. Anna sits facing north, in the righthand (south-east) window corner, and she can see the left-hand windows, across the passage. On her left she has her maid Annushka (who this time travels with her in the same section, and not second-class, as she had on her journey to Moscow) and on the other side, further west, there is a stout lady, who being closest to the passage on the left-hand side of the section, experiences the greatest discomfort from heat and cold. Directly opposite Anna, an old invalid lady is making the best she can of the sleeping arrangements; there are two other ladies in the seats opposite to Anna, and with these she exchanges a few words (p. 118).

No. 97 Small traveling lantern

This was, in 1872, a very primitive gadget, with a candle inside, a reflector, and a metallic handle that could be fixed to the arm of a railway fauteuil at the reader’s elbow (p. 118).

No. 98 The stove-heater

Here is a further set of impressions going back to the muffled-up guard who got crushed (“someone being torn part”) and going forward to Anna’s suicide (the blinding wall, the “sinking”). The wretched stove-heater seems to somnolent Anna to be gnawing at something in the wall, and this will be twisted into the groping and crushing motion of the disgusting dwarf in her later nightmare (p. 118).

No. 99 A stop

The station is Bologoe, midway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. In the 1870s this was a twenty-minute stop in the small hours for some bleak refreshments (see also note Nabokov’s sketch of the sleeping car in which Anna rode from 72) (p. 120). Moscow to St. Petersburg.

No. 100 Round hat

In 1850, there appeared a hard hat with a low crown designed by William Bowler, an English hatter, and this was the original model of the bowler, or derby—its American name stemming from the fact that the Earl of Derby wore a gray bowler with a black band to the English races. It was generally adopted in the seventies.

Karenin’s ears should be noted as the third item in the series of the “wrong things” which underscore Anna’s mood (p. 123).

No. 101 Panslavist

Promoter of a spiritual and political union of all Slavs (Serbs, Bulgarians, etc.), with Russia at its head (p.128).

No. 102 Put [Seryozha] to bed

The time is around 9 p.m. (see end of paragraph). For some reason Seryozha has been put to bed earlier than usual (see above where “around ten” is mentioned as his bedtime—a singularly late one for a child of eight) (p.131).

No. 103 Due de Lille’s Poesie des Enfers

Possibly a disguised allusion on Tolstoy’s part to the French writer Count Mathias Philippe Auguste Villiers de L’Isle Adam (1840-1889). Tolstoy invented the title, “The Poesie of Hades,” (p. 132).

No. 104 Vronski’s teeth

In the course of the novel, Tolstoy refers several times to Vronski’s splendid regular teeth, sploshnye zuby, which make a smooth solid ivory front when he smiles; but before he disappears from the pages of the novel in part eight, his creator, punishing Vronski in his brilliant physique, inflicts upon him a marvelously described toothache (p. 137).

No. 105 A special note on the game of tennis

At the end of chapter 22 of part six, Dolly Oblonski watches Vronski, Anna, and two male guests play tennis. This is July 1875 and the tennis they are playing on the Vronski country estate is the modern game, which a Major Wingfield introduced in England in 1873. It was an immediate success and was played in Russia and in this country as early as 1875. In England, tennis is often called lawn tennis because at first it was played on croquet lawns, hard or turfy, and also in order to distinguish it from the ancient game of tennis, played in special tennis halls and called sometimes court-tennis. Court-tennis is mentioned both by Shakespeare and Cervantes. Ancient kings played it, stamping and panting in resounding halls. But this (lawn tennis), I repeat, is our modern game. You will notice Tolstoy’s neat description: the players divided into two teams of two stood on opposite sides of a tightly drawn net with gilt poles (I like the gilt—an echo of the game’s royal origin and genteel resurrection) on the nicely rolled croquet-ground. The various personal tricks of playing are described. Vronski and his partner Sviazhski played a good game and played it very earnestly: keeping a sharp eye on the ball as it came their way and without haste or delay Nabokov’s drawing of a tennis costume such as Anna wore in her game with Vronski they ran nimbly up to it, waited for the rebound, and neatly hit it back—most of the shots were more or less lobs I’m afraid. Anna’s partner, a young man called Veslovski, whom Lyovin had thrown out of his house a couple of weeks before, played worse than the others. Now comes a nice detail: the men with the ladies’ permission took their coats off and played in their shirt sleeves. Dolly found the whole performance unnatural—grown-up people running after a ball like children. Vronski is a great admirer of English ways and fads, and the tennis illustrates this. Incidentally, the game was much tamer in the seventies than it is today. A man’s service was a stiff pat, with the racquet held vertically at eye level; a lady’s sevice was a feeble underhand stroke.

No. 106 A special note on the question of religion

The people in the book belong to the Russian church, the so-called Greek Orthodox—or more correctly Greek Catholic— Church, which separated from the Roman communion a thousand years ago. When we first meet one of the minor characters in the book, Countess Lidia, she is interested in the union of the two churches and so is the pietist lady Madame Stahl affecting Christian devotion, whose influence Kitty soon gets rid of at Soden. But as I say, the main faith in the book is the Greek Catholic creed. The Shcherbatskis, Dolly, Kitty, their parents, are shown combining the traditional ritual with a kind of natural, old-fashioned, easy-going faith which Tolstoy approved of, for in the seventies when Tolstoy was writing this novel he had not evolved yet his fierce contempt for church ritual. The marriage ceremony for Kitty and Lyovin, and the priests, are described sympathetically. It is at his marriage that Lyovin, who had not gone to church for years and had considered himself an atheist, feels the first pangs of faith birth, then doubt again—but at the end of the book we leave him in a state of bewildered grace, with Tolstoy gently pushing him into the Tolstoyan sect.

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