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Vladimir Nabokov’s lecture on Anna Karenin (1877)


LEO TOLSTOY (1828-1910)

Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer of prose fiction. Leaving aside his precursors Pushkin and Lermontov, we might list the greatest artists in Russian prose thus: first, Tolstoy; second, Gogol; third, Chekhov; fourth, Turgenev.† This is rather like grading students’ papers and no doubt Dostoevski and Saltykov are waiting at the door of my office to discuss their low marks.

The ideological poison, the message—to use a term invented by quack reformers—began to affect the Russian novel in the middle of the last century, and has killed it by the middle of this one. It would seem at first glance that Tolstoy’s fiction is heavily infected with his teachings. Actually, his ideology was so tame and so vague and so far from politics, and, on the other hand, his art was so powerful, so tiger bright, so original and universal that it easily transcends the sermon. In the long run what interested him as a thinker were Life and Death, and after all no artist can avoid treating these themes.

Count Leo (in Russian Lev or Lvov) Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a robust man with a restless soul, who all his life was torn between his sensual temperament and his supersensitive conscience. His appetites constantly led him astray from the quiet country road that the ascetic in him craved to follow as passionately as the rake in him craved for the city pleasures of the flesh.

In his youth, the rake had a better chance and took it. Later, after his marriage in 1862, Tolstoy found temporary peace in family life divided between the wise management of his fortune—he had rich lands in the Volga region—and the writing of his best prose. It is then, in the sixties and early seventies, that he produced his immense War and Peace (1869) and his immortal Anna Karenin. Still later, beginning in the late seventies, when he was over forty, his conscience triumphed: the ethical overcame both the esthetical and the personal and drove him to sacrifice his wife’s happiness, his peaceful family life, and his lofty literary career to what he considered a moral necessity: living according to the principles of rational Christian morality—the simple and stern life of generalized humanity, instead of the colorful adventure of individual art. And when in 1910 he realized that by continuing to live on his country estate, in the bosom of his stormy family, he still was betraying his ideal of a simple, saintly existence, he, a man of eighty, left his home and wandered away, heading for a monastery he never reached, and died in the waiting room of a little railway station.

I hate tampering with the precious lives of great writers The beginning of Nabokov’s discussion of Tolstoy’s life. and I hate Tom-peeping over the fence of those lives—I hate the vulgarity of “human interest,” I hate the rustle of skirts and giggles in the corridors of time—and no biographer will ever catch a glimpse of my private life; but this I must say. Dostoevski’s gloating pity for people—pity for the humble and the humiliated—this pity was purely emotional and his special lurid brand of the Christian faith by no means prevented him from leading a life extremely removed from his teachings. On the other hand, Leo Tolstoy like his rep resentative Lyovin was organically unable to allow his conscience to strike a bargain with his animal nature—and he suffered cruelly whenever this animal nature temporarily triumphed over his better self.


*”Translators have had awful trouble with the heroine’s name. In Russian, a surname ending in a consonant acquires a final ‘a’ (except in the case of such names as cannot be declined) when designating a woman; but only when the reference is to a female stage performer should English feminize a Russian surname (following a French custom: la Pavlova, ‘the Pavlova’). Ivanov’s and Karenin’s wives are Mrs. Ivanov and Mrs. Karenin in England and America— not ‘Mrs. Ivanova’ or ‘Mrs. Karenina.’ Having decided to write ‘Karenina,’ translators found themselves forced to call Anna’s husband ‘Mr. Karenina,’ which is about as ridiculous as calling Lady Mary’s husband ‘Lord Mary.’ ” Transferred from VN’s commentary note. Ed.

† ” When you read Turgenev, you know you are reading Turgenev. When you read Tolstoy, you read just because you cannot stop.” Bracketed note elsewhere in the section. Ed.

And when he discovered his new religion and in the logical development of this new religion—a neutral blend between a kind of Hindu Nirvana and the New Testament, Jesus minus the Church—he reached the conclusion that art was ungodly because it was founded on imagination, on deceit, on fancy-forgery, he ruthlessly sacrificed the giant of an artist that he was to a rather pedestrian and narrow minded though well-meaning philosopher that he had chosen to become. Thus when he had just reached the uppermost peaks of creative perfection with Anna Karenin, he suddenly decided to stop writing altogether, except for essays on ethics. Fortunately he was not always able to maintain in chains that gigantic creative need of his and, succumbing once in a while, added to his output a few exquisite stories untainted by deliberate moralizing among which is that greatest of great short stories, “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.”

Many people approach Tolstoy with mixed feelings. They love the artist in him and are intensely bored by the preacher; but at the same time it is rather difficult to separate Tolstoy the preacher from Tolstoy the artist—it is the same deep slow voice, the same robust shoulder pushing up a cloud of visions or a load of ideas. What one would like to do, would be to kick the glorified soapbox from under his sandalled feet and then lock him up in a stone house on a desert island with gallons of ink and reams of paper—far away from the things, ethical and pedagogical, that diverted his attention from observing the way the dark hair curled above Anna’s white neck. But the thing cannot be done : Tolstoy is homogeneous, is one, and the struggle which, especially in the later years, went on between the man who gloated over the beauty of black earth, white flesh, blue snow, green fields, purple thunderclouds, and the man who maintained that fiction is sinful and art immoral—this struggle was still confined within the same man. Whether painting or preaching, Tolstoy was striving, in spite of all obstacles, to get at the truth. As the author of Anna Karenin, he used one method of discovering truth; in his sermons, he used another; but somehow, no matter how subtle his art was and no matter how dull some of his other attitudes were, truth which he was ponderously groping for or magically finding just around the corner, was always the same truth — this truth was he and this he was an art.

What troubles one, is merely that he did not always recognize his own self when confronted with truth. I like the story of his picking up a book one dreary day in his old age, many years after he had stopped writing novels, and starting to read in the middle, and getting interested and very much pleased, and then looking at the title—and seeing: Anna Karenin by Leo Tolstoy.

What obsessed Tolstoy, what obscured his genius, what now distresses the good reader, was that, somehow, the process of seeking the Truth seemed more important to him than the easy, vivid, brilliant discovery of the illusion of truth through the medium of his artistic genius. Old Russian Truth was never a comfortable companion; it had a violent temper and a heavy tread. It was not simply truth, not merely everyday pravda but immortal istina—not truth but the inner light of truth. When Tolstoy did happen to find it in himself, in the splendor of his creative imagination, then, almost unconsciously, he was on the right path. What does his tussle with the ruling Greek-Catholic Church matter, what importance do his ethical opinions have, in the light of this or that imaginative passage in any of his novels?

Essential truth, istina, is one of the few words in the Russian language that cannot be rhymed. It has no verbal mate, no verbal associations, it stands alone and aloof, with only a vague suggestion of the root “to stand” in the dark brilliancy of its immemorial rock. Most Russian writers have been tremendously interested in Truth’s exact whereabouts and essential properties. To Pushkin it was of marble under a noble sun ; Dostoevski, a much inferior artist, saw it as a thing of blood and tears and hysterical and topical politics and sweat; and Chekhov kept a quizzical eye upon it, while seemingly engrossed in the hazy scenery all around. Tolstoy marched straight at it, head bent and fists clenched, and found the place where the cross had once stood, or found—the image of his own self.

One discovery that he made has curiously enough never been noticed by critics. He discovered—and certainly never realized his discovery—he discovered a method of picturing life which most pleasingly and exactly corresponds to our idea of time. He is the only writer I know of whose watch keeps time with the numberless watches of his readers. All the great writers have good eyes, and the “realism,” as it is called, of Tolstoy’s descriptions, has been deepened by others; and though the average Russian reader will tell you that what seduces him in Tolstoy is the absolute reality of his novels, the sensation of meeting old friends and seeing familiar places, this is neither here nor there. Others were equally good at vivid description. What really seduces the average reader is the gift Tolstoy had of endowing his fiction with such time-values as correspond exactly to our sense of time. It is a mysterious accomplishment which is not so much a laudable feature of genius as something pertaining to the physical nature of that genius. This time balance, absolutely peculiar to Tolstoy alone, is what gives the gentle reader that sense of average reality which he is apt to ascribe to Tolstoy’s keen vision. Tolstoy’s prose keeps pace with our pulses, his characters seem to move with the same swing as the people passing under our window while we sit reading his book.

The queer thing about it is that actually Tolstoy was rather careless when dealing with the objective idea of time. In War and Peace attentive readers have found children who grow too fast or not fast enough, just as in Gogol’s Dead Souls, despite Gogol’s care in clothing his characters, we find that Chichikov wore a bearskin overcoat in midsummer. In Anna

Karenin, as we shall see, there are terrific skiddings on the frozen road of time. But such slips on Tolstoy’s part have nothing to do with the impression of time he conveys, the idea of time which corresponds so exactly with the reader’s sense of time. There are other great writers who were quite consciously fascinated by the idea of time and quite consciously tried to render its movement; this Proust does when his hero in the novel In Search of Lost Time arrives at a final party where he sees people he used to know now for some reason wearing gray wigs, and then realizes that the gray wigs are organic gray hairs, that they have grown old while he had been strolling through his memories; or notice how James Joyce regulates the time element in Ulysses by the slow gradual passing of a crumpled bit of paper down the river from bridge to bridge down the Liffy to Dublin Bay to the eternal sea. Yet these writers who actually dealt in time values did not do what Tolstoy quite casually, quite unconsciously, does: they move either slower or faster than the reader’s grandfather clock; it is the time by Proust or the time by Joyce, not the common average time, a kind of standard time which Tolstoy somehow manages to convey.

No wonder, then, that elderly Russians at their evening tea talk of Tolstoy’s characters as of people who really exist, people to whom their friends may be likened, people they see as distinctly as if they had danced with Kitty and Anna or Natasha at that ball or dined with Oblonski at his favorite restaurant,* as we shall soon be dining with him. Readers call Tolstoy a giant not because other writers are dwarfs but because he remains always of exactly our own stature,† exactly keeping pace with us instead of passing by in the distance, as other authors do.

* “Those very particular sensations of reality, of flesh and blood, of characters really living, of living on their own behalf, the main reason for this vividness is due to the fact of Tolstoy’s possessing the unique capacity of keeping time with us ; so that if we imagine a creature from some other solar system who would be curious about our time conception, the best way to explain matters to him would be to give him to read a novel by Tolstoy—in Russian, or at least in my translation with my commentaries.” VN deleted passage from the section. Ed.

† “The Russian writer Bunin told me that when he visited Tolstoy for the first time and sat waiting for him, he was almost shocked to see suddenly emerge from a small door a little old man instead of the giant he had involuntarily imagined. And I have also seen myself that little old man. I was a child and I faintly remember my father shaking hands with someone at a street corner, then telling me as we continued our walk, ‘That was Tolstoy.’ ” VN deleted passage from the section. Ed.

And in this connection it is curious to note that although Tolstoy, who was constantly aware of his own personality, constantly intruding upon the lives of his characters, constantly addressing the reader—it is curious to note that nevertheless in those great chapters that are his masterpieces the author is invisible so that he attains that dispassionate ideal of authors which Flaubert so violently demanded of a writer: to be invisible, and to be everywhere as God in His universe is. We have thus the feeling now and then that Tolstoy’s novel writes its own self, is produced by its matter, by its subject, not by a definite person moving a pen from left to right, and then coming back and erasing a word, and pondering, and scratching his chin through his beard.*

The intrusion of the teacher into the artist’s domain is, as I have remarked already, not always clearly defined in Tolstoy’s novels. The rhythm of the sermon is difficult to disentangle from the rhythm of this or that character’s personal meditations. But sometimes, rather often in fact, when pages and pages follow which are definitely in the margin of the story, telling us what we ought to think, what Tolstoy thinks about war or marriage or agriculture — then the charm is broken and the delightful familiar people who had been sitting all round us, joining in our life, are now shut off from us, the door is locked not to be opened until the solemn author has quite, quite finished that ponderous period in which he explains and reexplains his ideas about marriage, or Napoleon, or farming, or his ethical and religious views.

As an example, the agrarian problems discussed in the book, especially in relation to Lyovin’s farming, are extremely tedious to foreign-language readers, and I do not expect you to study the situation with any degree of penetration. Artistically Tolstoy made a mistake in devoting such a number of pages to these matters, especially as they tend to become obsolete and are linked up with a certain historical period and with Tolstoy’s own ideas that changed with time. Agriculture in the seventies does not have the eternal thrill of Anna’s or Kitty’s emotions and motives. Several chapters are devoted to the provincial elections of various administrators. The landowners through an organization called zemstvo tried to get into touch with the peasants and to help the peasants (and themselves) by setting up more schools, better hospitals, better machinery, et cetera. There were various participating landowners: conservative, reactionary landowners still looked upon the peasants as slaves—though officially the slaves had been liberated more than ten years before—while liberal, progressive landowners were really eager to improve conditions by having peasants share the landlord’s interests and thus helping the peasants become richer, healthier, better educated.

It is not my custom to speak of plots but in the case of Anna Karenin I shall make an exception since the plot of it is essentially a moral plot, a tangle of ethical tentacles, and this we must explore before enjoying the novel on a higher level than plot.

One of the most attractive heroines in international fiction, Anna is a young, handsome, and fundamentally good woman, and a fundamentally doomed woman. Married off as a very young girl by a well-meaning aunt to a promising official with a splendid bureaucratic career, Anna leads a contented life within the most sparkling circle of St. Petersburg society. She adores her little son, respects her husband who is twenty years her senior, and her vivid, optimistic nature enjoys all the superficial pleasures offered her by life.

When she meets Vronski on a trip to Moscow, she falls deeply in love with him. This love transforms everything around her; everything she looks at she sees in a different light. There is that famous scene at the railway station in St. Petersburg when Karenin comes to meet her on her way back from Moscow, and she suddenly notices the size and vexing convexity of his huge homely ears. She had never noticed those ears before because she had never looked at him critically; he had been for her one of the accepted things of life included in her own accepted life. Now everything has changed. Her passion for Vronski is a flood of white light in which her former world looks like a dead landscape on a dead planet.

Anna is not just a woman, not just a splendid specimen of womanhood, she is a woman with a full, compact, important moral nature : everything about her character is significant and striking, and this applied as well to her love. She cannot limit herself as another character in the book, Princess Betsy, does, to an undercover affair. Her truthful and passionate nature makes disguise and secrecy impossible. She is not Emma Bovary, a provincial dreamer, a wistful wench creeping along crumbling walls to the beds of interchangeable paramours. Anna gives Vronski her whole life, consents to a separation from her adored little son—despite the agony it costs her not to see the child—and she goes to live with Vronski first abroad in Italy, and then on his country place in central Russia, though this “open” affair brands her an immoral woman in the eyes of her immoral circle. (In a way she may be said to have put into action Emma’s dream of escaping with Rodolphe, but Emma would have experienced no wrench from parting with her child, and neither were there any moral complications in that little lady’s case.) Finally Anna and Vronski return to city life. She scandalizes hypocritical society not so much with her love affair as with her open defiance of society’s conventions.

* VN continued, but then deleted, “and then getting cross with his wife Sofia Andrevna for letting a noisy visitor into the neighboring room.” Ed.

While Anna bears the brunt of society’s anger, is snubbed and snobbed, insulted and “cut,” Vronski, being a man—a not very deep man, not a gifted man by any means, but a fashionable man, say—Vronski is spared by scandal: he is invited, he goes places, meets his former friends, is introduced to seemingly decent women who would not remain a second in the same room with disgraced Anna. He still loves Anna, but sometimes he is pleased to be back in the world of sport and fashion, and he begins occasionally to avail himself of its favors. Anna misconstrues trivial unloyalties as a drop in the temperature of his love. She feels that her affection alone is no longer enough for him, that she may be losing him.

Vronski, a blunt fellow, with a mediocre mind, gets impatient with her jealousy and thus seems to confirm her suspicions.* Driven to despair by the muddle and mud in which her passion flounders, Anna one Sunday evening in May throws herself under a freight train. Vronski realizes too late what he has lost. Rather conveniently for him and for Tolstoy, war with Turkey is brewing—this is 1876—and he departs for the front with a battalion of volunteers. This is probably the only unfair device in the novel, unfair because too easy, too pat.

A parallel story which develops on seemingly quite independent lines is that of the courtship and marriage of Lyovin and Princess Kitty Shcherbatski. Lyovin, in whom more than in any other of his male characters Tolstoy has portrayed himself, is a man of moral ideals, of Conscience with a capital C. Conscience gives him no respite. Lyovin is very different from Vronski. Vronski lives only to satisfy his impulses. Vronski, before he meets Anna, has lived a conventional life: even in love, Vronski is content to substitute for moral ideals the conventions of his circle. But Lyovin is a man who feels it his duty to understand intelligently the surrounding world and to work out for himself his place within it. Therefore Lyovin’s nature moves on in constant evolution, spiritually growing throughout the novel, growing toward those religious ideals which at the time Tolstoy was evolving for himself.

Around these main characters a number of others move. Steve Oblonski, Anna’s lighthearted good-for-nothing brother; his wife Dolly, born Shcherbatski, a kindly, serious, long-suffering woman, in a way one of Tolstoy’s ideal women, for her life is selflessly devoted to her children and to her shiftless husband; there is the rest of the Shcherbatski family, one of Moscow’s old aristocratic families; Vronski’s mother; and a whole gallery of people of St. Petersburg high society. Petersburg society was very different from the Moscow kind, Moscow being the kindly, homey, flaccid, patriarchal old town, and Petersburg the sophisticated, cold, formal, fashionable, and relatively young capital where some thirty years later I was born. Of course there is Karenin himself, Karenin the husband, a dry righteous man, cruel in his theoretical virtue, the ideal civil servant, the philistine bureaucrat who willingly accepts the pseudo-morality of his friends, a hypocrite and a tyrant. In his rare moments he is capable of a good movement, of a kind gesture, but this is too soon forgotten and sacrificed to considerations of his career. At Anna’s bedside, when she is very sick after bearing Vronski’s child and certain of her impending death (which, however, does not come), Karenin forgives Vronski and takes his hand with a true feeling of Christian humility and generosity. He will change back later to his chilly unpleasant personality, but at the moment the proximity of death illumes the scene and Anna in a subconscious way loves him as much as she loves Vronski: both are called Aleksey, both as loving mates share her in her dream. But this feeling of sincerity and kindliness does not last long, and when Karenin makes an attempt at securing a divorce—a matter of not much consequence to him but which would make all the difference to Anna—and is faced with the necessity of submitting to unpleasant complications in the course of obtaining it, he simply gives up and refuses ever to try again, no matter what this refusal may mean to Anna. Moreover, he manages to find satisfaction in his own righteousness.

* VN bracketed for reconsideration but did not delete: “Of course he is an incomparably more civilized person than squire Rodolphe, Emma’s coarse lover; but still there are moments when, during his mistress’ tantrums, he might be ready to say mentally, with Rodolphe’s intonation, ‘You are losing your time, my good girl.’ ” Ed.

Though one of the greatest love stories in world literature, Anna Karenin is of course not just a novel of adventure. Being deeply concerned with moral matters, Tolstoy was eternally preoccupied with issues of importance to all mankind at all times. Now, there is a moral issue in Anna Karenin, though not the one that a casual reader might read into it. This moral is certainly not that having committed adultery, Anna had to pay for it (which in a certain vague sense can be said to be the moral at the bottom of the barrel in Madame Bovary). Certainly not this, and for obvious reasons: had Anna remained with Karenin and skillfully concealed from the world her affair, she would not have paid for it first with her happiness and then with her life. Anna was not punished for her sin (she might have got away with that) nor for violating the conventions of a society, very temporal as all conventions are and having nothing to do with the eternal demands of morality. What was then the moral “message” Tolstoy has conveyed in his novel? We can understand it better if we look at the rest of the book and draw a comparison between the Lyovin-Kitty story and the Vronski-Anna story. Lyovin’s marriage is based on a metaphysical, not only physical, concept of love, on willingness for self-sacrifice, on mutual respect. The Anna-Vronski alliance was founded only in carnal love and therein lay its doom.

It might seem, at first blush, that Anna was punished by society for falling in love with a man who was not her husband. Now such a “moral” would be of course completely “immoral,” and completely inartistic, incidentally, since other ladies of fashion, in that same society, were having as many love-affairs as they liked but having them in secrecy, under a dark veil. (Remember Emma’s blue veil on her ride with Rodolphe and her dark veil in her rendezvous at Rouen with Leon.) But frank unfortunate Anna does not wear this veil of deceit. The decrees of society are temporary ones ; what Tolstoy is interested in are the eternal demands of morality. And now comes the real moral point that he makes: Love cannot be exclusively carnal because then it is egotistic, and being egotistic it destroys instead of creating. It is thus sinful. And in order to make his point as artistically clear as possible, Tolstoy in a flow of extraordinary imagery depicts and places side by side, in vivid contrast, two loves: the carnal love of the Vronski-Anna couple (struggling amid their richly sensual but fateful and spiritually sterile emotions) and on the other hand the authentic, Christian love, as Tolstoy termed it, of the Lyovin-Kitty couple with the riches of sensual nature still there but balanced and harmonious in the pure atmosphere of responsibility, tenderness, truth, and family joys.

A biblical epigraph: Vengeance is mine; I will repay (saith the Lord). (Romans XII, verse 19)

What are the implications? First, Society had no right to judge Anna; second, Anna had no right to punish Vronski by her revengeful suicide.

Joseph Conrad, a British novelist of Polish descent, writing to Edward Garnett, a writer of sorts, in a letter dated the 10th of June, 1902, said: “Remember me affectionately to your wife whose translation of Karenina is splendid. Of the thing itself I think but little, so that her merit shines with the greater lustre.” I shall never forgive Conrad this crack. Actually the Garnett translation is very poor.

We may look in vain among the pages of Anna Karenin for Flaubert’s subtle transitions, within chapters, from one character to another. The structure of Anna Karenin is of a more conventional kind, although the book was written twenty years later than Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Conversation between characters mentioning other characters, and the maneuvers of intermediate characters who bring about the meetings of main participants—these are the simple and sometimes rather blunt methods used by Tolstoy. Even simpler are his abrupt switches from chapter to chapter in changing his stage sets.

Tolstoy’s novel consists of eight parts and each part on the average consists of about thirty short chapters of four pages. He sets himself the task of following two main lines—the Lyovin-Kitty one and the Vronski-Anna one, although there is a third line, subordinate and intermediary, the Oblonski-Dolly one that plays a very special part in the structure of the novel since it is present to link up in various ways the two main lines. Steve Oblonski and Dolly are there to act as go-betweens in the affairs of Lyovin and Kitty and in those of Anna and her husband. Throughout Lyovin’s bachelor existence, moreover, a subtle parallel is drawn between Dolly Oblonski and Lyovin’s ideal of a mother which he will discover for his own children in Kitty. One should notice, also, that Dolly finds conversation with a peasant woman about children as fascinating as Lyovin finds conversation with male peasants about agriculture.

The action of the book starts in February 1872 and goes on to July 1876: in all, four years and a half. It shifts from Moscow to Petersburg and shuttles among the four country estates (because the country place of the old Countess Vronski near Moscow also plays a part in the book, though we are never taken to it).

The first of the eight parts of the novel has as its main subject the Oblonski family disaster with which the book starts, and as a secondary subject the Kitty-Lyovin-Vronski triangle.

The two subjects, the two expanded themes—Oblonski’s adultery and Kitty’s heartbreak when her infatuation for Vronski has been ended by Anna*—are introductory notes to the tragic Vronski-Anna theme which will not be so smoothly resolved as are the Oblonski-Dolly troubles or Kitty’s bitterness. Dolly soon pardons her wayward husband for the sake of their five children and because she loves him, and because Tolstoy considers that two married people with children are tied together by divine law forever. Two years after her heartbreak over Vronski, Kitty marries Lyovin and begins what Tolstoy regards as a perfect marriage. But Anna, who becomes Vronski’s mistress after ten months of persuasion, Anna will see the destruction of her family life and will commit suicide four years after the book’s start.

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

“All was confusion in the Oblonski house [in the sense of 'home,' both 'house' and 'home' being dom in Russian].† The wife had discovered that the husband had an affair with a French girl, who had been a governess in their house, and she had declared to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him. This situation was now in its third day, and not only husband and wife, but all the members of the family and the household, were conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was no sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskis. The wife did not leave her own rooms, the husband had not been in the house for three days. The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess had quarreled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to find a new place for her; the chef had walked off the day before just at dinner-time; the woman who cooked for the servants and the coachman had given notice. Nabokov’s outline of the plot for Anna Karenin, part one.

“Three days after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonski—Steve as he was called in the fashionable world—woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o’clock in the morning, not in his wife’s bedroom, but on the morocco upholstered sofa in his study. He turned over his stout, well-caredfor person on the springy sofa, as though he would sink into a long sleep again; he vigorously embraced the pillow on the other side and pressed his cheek against it; but all at once he gave a start, sat up on the sofa, and opened his eyes.

* In a sentence that he later deleted VN adds: “It should be noticed that Anna who with wisdom and grace brings on the reconciliation and thus performs a good action, simultaneously performs an evil action by captivating Vronski and breaking up his courtship of Kitty.” Ed.

† “Dom—Dom—Dom: the tolling bell of the family theme—house, household, home. Tolstoy deliberately gives us on the very first page the key, the clue: the home theme, the family theme.” This sentence is drawn from a page of notes for the start of this section. For a more elaborate statement, see VN’s Commentary Note Number 2. Ed.

‘Yes, yes, how did it go?’ he thought, recalling his dream. ‘Yes, how did it go? Ah, yes. Alabin was giving a dinner at Darmstadt [in Germany]; no, not Darmstadt, but something American. Yes, but then, Darmstadt was in America. Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner on tables made of glass, and the tables sang, Il mio tesoro —not Il mio tesoro though, but something better, and there were some sort of little decanters, and these were at the same time women, too.’ “*

Steve’s dream is the kind of illogical arrangement that is hastily brought about by the dream producer. You must not imagine these tables as merely covered with glass —but made completely of glass. Wine-decanters, of crystal, sing in Italian voices and at the same time these melodious decanters are women—one of those economic combinations that the amateur management of our dreams often employs. It is a pleasant dream, so pleasant in fact, that it is quite out of keeping with reality. He awakes not in the connubial bed but in the exile of his study. This however is not the most interesting point. The interesting point is that Steve’s light-hearted, transparent, philandering, epicurean nature is cunningly described by the author through the imagery of a dream. This is the device for introducing Oblonski: a dream introduces him. And another point: this dream with singing little women is going to be very different from the dream about a muttering little man that both Anna and Vronski will see.

We are going to pursue our inquiry as to what impressions went to form a certain dream that both Vronski and Anna had in a later part of the book. The most prominent of these occurs on her arrival in Moscow and her meeting with Vronski.

“Next day at eleven in the morning, Vronski drove to the station to meet his mother who was coming from Petersburg and the first person he came across on the great flight of steps was Steve Oblonski who was expecting his sister by the same train. [She was coming to reconcile Steve and his wife.]

” ‘Hallo there,’ cried Steve, ‘whom are you meeting?’

” ‘My mother,’ answered Vronski. . . . ‘And whom are you meeting?’

” ‘A pretty woman,’ said Steve. ‘Oh,’ said Vronski.

” ‘Shamed be who thinks evil of it,’ said Steve. ‘It’s my sister Anna.’

” ‘Ah, that’s Karenin’s wife,’ said Vronski.

” ‘Know her?’ asked Steve.

The opening pages in Nabokov’s teaching copy of Anna Karenin.

* The passages quoted by VN in these lectures represent his revision of the Garnett translation of the novel, and his occasional abridgements and paraphrases for oral reading. Ed.

” I think I do, or perhaps not, I am not sure.’ Vronski spoke heedlessly with a vague recollection of something formal and dull evoked by the name Karenin.

” ‘But,’ Steve went on, ‘my celebrated brother-in-law, you surely must know him?’ . . .

” ‘Well, by reputation, by sight. I know that he is clever, learned, churchy or something. But you know that is not in my line,’ added Vronski in English. . . .

“Vronski followed the conductor to the car where his mother was, went up the steps and at the entrance of the section he stopped short in the vestibule of the car to make room for a lady who was coming out. With the instinct of a man of the world he at once classified her as belonging to the highest society. He begged her pardon, retreated and was about to proceed on his way when he felt he must glance at her again; not because she was very beautiful, not because of her elegance and subdued grace but because in the expression of her charming face as she passed close by him, there was something peculiarly caressing and soft. As he looked back at her, she too turned her head. Her sparkling eyes that were grey but looked darker because of her thick lashes rested with friendly attention on his face as though she were recognizing him, and then promptly passed away to the passing crowd where she was looking for someone. Vronski had time to notice the suppressed eagerness which played over her face and flitted about her brilliant eyes and the faint smile that curved her red lips. She seemed to be brimming over with something that gleamed against her will in her eyes and her smile. Then deliberately she put out the light in her eyes but it was still there on her lips glimmered against her will in her faintly susceptible smile. . . .”

Vronski’s mother who had been traveling with this lady, who is Anna, introduces her son. Oblonski appears. Then, as they are all going out, there is a stir. (Rodolfe saw Emma for the first time over a basin of blood. Vronski and Anna meet also over blood.)

“Several men ran by with frightened faces. The station master too ran by in that cap of his which was of such an unusual color [black and red]. Obviously something unusual had happened. ” They learned presently that a station guard either drunk or too much muffled up in the bitter frost, had not heard the train as it started to back out of the station and had been crushed. Anna asks if something could be done for his widow—he had a huge family—Vronski immediately glanced at her and said to his mother he would be back in a minute. We find later that he had given two hundred rubles for the man’s family. (Mark the muffled-up man being crushed. Mark that his death establishes a kind of connection between Anna and Vronski. We shall need all these ingredients when we discuss the twin dream they have.)

“People coming and going were still talking of what had happened. ‘What a horrible death,’ said a man who was passing by.

‘They say he was cut in two pieces.’ ‘On the contrary, I think it is the easiest, the quickest,’ said another [and Anna marks this]. ‘How is it no safety measures are taken?’ said a third.

“Anna seated herself in the carriage and Steve saw with surprise that her lips were quivering, and she had difficulty restraining her tears. ‘What is it, Anna?’ he asked. ‘It’s an omen of evil.’ ‘Nonsense,’ said Steve.” And he goes on to say how glad he is that she has come.

The remaining important formative impressions for the dream come later. Anna has met Vronski again at the ball and danced with him—but that is all for the moment. Now she is on her way back to St. Petersburg, having reconciled Dolly and her brother Steve.

“‘Come, it’s all over [her interest in Vronski], and thank God!’ was the first thought that came to Anna, when she had said good-bye for the last time to her brother, who had stood blocking up the entrance to the car till the third bell rang. She sat down in her plush seat beside Annushka [her maid], and looked about her in the twilight of the [so-called] sleeping-car.

‘Thank God! Tomorrow I shall see Sergey and Aleks, and my life will go on in the old way, all nice and as usual.’

“Still in the same anxious frame of mind, as she had been all that day, Anna took pleasure in preparing herself for the journey with great care. With her small deft hands she opened and shut her red handbag, took out a little pillow, laid it on her knees, and carefully wrapping up her legs, made herself comfortable. An invalid lady was already settling down to sleep in her seat. Two other ladies began talking to Anna, and a stout elderly lady who was in the act of wrapping up her legs snugly made observations about the heating of the train [a crucial problem with that stove in the middle and all those icy drafts]. Anna said a few words, but not foreseeing any entertainment from the conversation, she asked Annushka to get out the small traveling lantern, hooked it onto the arm of her fauteuil, and took out from her bag a paper-knife and an English novel [of which the pages were uncut]. At first her reading made no progress. The fuss and bustle were disturbing [people walking down the passage along the doorless sections of that night coach]; then when the train had started, she could not help listening to the sound of the wheels; then her attention was distracted by the snow beating on the left window and sticking to the pane, and the sight of the muffled conductor passing by [an artistic touch this, the blizzard was blowing from the west; but it also goes well with Anna's onesided mood, a moral loss of balance], and the conversations about the terrific blizzard raging outside. And so it went on and on: the same shaking and knocking, the same snow on the window, the same rapid transitions from steaming heat to cold and back again to heat, the same passing glimpses of the same figures [conductors, stove-tenders] in the shifting dusk, and the same voices, and Anna began to read and to understand what she read. Her maid was already dozing, with her mistress’s red bag in her lap, clutching it with her broad hands, in woolen gloves, of which one was torn at a finger tip [one of these little flaws that correspond to a flaw in Anna's own mood]. Anna read but she found it distasteful to follow the shadows of other people’s lives. She had too great a desire to live herself. If she read that the heroine of the novel was nursing a sick man, she longed to move herself with noiseless steps about the room of a sick man; if she read of a member of Parliament making a speech, she longed to be delivering the speech herself; if she read of how Lady Mary had ridden to the hounds, and had teased her sister-in-law, and had surprised everyone by her pluck, Anna too wished to be doing the same. But there was no chance of doing anything; and she toyed with the smooth ivory knife in her small hands, and forced herself to go on reading. [Was she a good reader from our point of view? Does her emotional participation in the life of the book remind one of another little lady? Of Emma?].

“The hero of the novel was about to reach his English happiness, a baronetcy and an estate, when she suddenly felt that he ought to feel somehow ashamed, and that she was ashamed, too [she identifies the man in the book with Vronski]. But what had he to be ashamed of? ‘What have/ to be ashamed of?’ she asked herself in injured surprise. She laid down the book and sank against the back of her fauteuil, tightly gripping the knife in both hands. There was nothing. She went over all her Moscow impressions. All was good, pleasant. She remembered the ball, remembered Vronski’s face of slavish adoration, remembered all her conduct with him: there was nothing shameful. And for all that, at this point in her memories, the feeling of shame was intensified, as though some inner voice, just at that point when she thought of Vronski, were saying to her, ‘Warm, very warm, hot.’ [In a game where you hide an object and hint at the right direction by these thermal exclamations — and mark that the warm and the cold are alternating in the night-coach too.] ‘What is it?’ she asked herself, shifting her position in the fauteuil. ‘What does it mean? Can it be that between me and that officer boy there exist, or can exist, any other relations than those of ordinary acquaintance?’ She gave a little snort of contempt and took up her book again; but now she was definitely unable to follow the story. She passed the ivory paper-knife over the window-pane, then laid its smooth, cool surface [contrast again of warm and cold] to her cheek, and almost laughed aloud at the feeling of delight that all at once without cause came over her [her sensuous nature takes over]. She felt as though her nerves were violin strings being strained tighter and tighter on their pegs. She felt her eyes opening wider and wider, her fingers and toes twitched, something within her oppressed her, while all shapes and sounds seemed in the uncertain half-light to strike her with unaccustomed vividness. Moments of doubt were continuously coming upon her, when she was uncertain whether the train was going forwards or backwards [compare this to an important metaphor in 'Ivan Ilyich'], or was standing still altogether; whether it was Annushka at her side or a stranger. ‘What’s that on the arm of the chair, a fur cloak or some big furry beast? And what am I myself? Myself or somebody else?’ She was afraid of giving way to this state of oblivion. But something drew her towards it. She sat up to rouse herself, removed her lap robe and took off the cape of her woolen dress. For a moment she regained full consciousness and realized Pages from Nabokov’s teaching copy of Anna Karenin.that the working man who had come into the car, wearing a long nankeen coat with one button missing from it [another flaw in the pattern of her mood], was the stove-heater, that he was looking at the thermometer, that it was the wind and snow bursting in after him [telltale flaw] at the door of the car; but then everything was blurred again. That working man seemed to be gnawing at something in the wall, the old lady began stretching her legs the whole length of the section and filling it with a black cloud; then there was a fearful creaking and knocking, as though someone were being torn apart [mark this half-dream]; then there was a blinding dazzle of red fire before her eyes and a wall seemed to rise up and hide everything. Anna felt as though she had fallen through the floor. But it was not terrible, it was delightful. The voice of a man muffled up [note this too] and covered with snow shouted something in her ear. She pulled herself together; she realized that it was a station and that this muffled up man was the conductor. She asked her maid to hand her the cape she had taken off and her warm kerchief, put them on, and moved towards the door.

” ‘Do you wish to go out, Ma’am?’ asked the maid.

” ‘Yes, I want a little air. It’s very hot in here.’ And she opened the door leading to the open platform of the car. The driving snow and the wind rushed to meet her and struggled with her over the door. But she enjoyed the struggle. [Compare this with the wind struggling with Lyovin at the end of the book.]

“She opened the door and went out. The wind seemed as though lying in wait for her [again the pathetic fallacy about the wind: emotions ascribed to objects by man in distress] ; with a gleeful whistle it tried to snatch her up and bear her off, but she clung to the cold iron post at the car’s end, and holding her skirt, got down onto the station platform and stood on the lee side of the car. The wind had been powerful on the open end of the car, but on the station platform, sheltered by the cars, there was a lull. . . .

“But then again the raging tempest rushed whistling between the wheels of the cars, and around the corner of the station along its pillars. The cars, pillars, people, everything that was to be seen was covered with snow on one side and was getting more and more thickly covered there. [Now mark the following ingredient of the later dream.] The bent shadow of a man glided by at her feet, and she heard sounds of a hammer upon iron. ‘Hand over that telegram!’ came an angry voice out of the stormy darkness on the other side. . . . Muffled figures ran by covered with snow. Two gentlemen with lighted cigarettes passed by her. She drew one more deep breath of the fresh air, and had just put her hand out of her muff to take hold of the car platform post and get back into the car, when another man in a military overcoat, quite close beside her, stepped between her and the flickering light of a station lamp. She turned and immediately recognized Vronski. Putting his hand to the peak of his cap, he bowed to her and asked, Was there anything she wanted? Could he be of any service to her?

She peered for a few seconds at him without answering, and, in spite of the shadow in which he was standing, she saw, or fancied she saw, the expression of his face and his eyes. It was again that expression of respectful ecstasy which had made such an impression upon her the day before. . . .

” T didn’t know you were on the train. Why are you here?’ she said, letting fall the hand with which she had grasped the iron post. And irrepressible lovely joy lit up her face.

” ‘Why am I here?’ he said, looking straight into her eyes. ‘You know why. I am on this train to be where you are. I can’t help it.’

“At that moment the wind, as if surmounting all obstacles, sent the snow flying from the car roofs, and clanked some sheet of iron it had loosened, while the throaty whistle of the engine roared in front, plaintively and gloomily. . . .

“And clutching at the cold post, she clambered up the steps and got rapidly into the hallway of the car. . . .

“At Petersburg, so soon as the train stopped and she got out, the first person that attracted her attention was her husband.

‘Oh, mercy! why have his ears become like that?’ she thought, looking at his cold and imposing figure, and especially at his ears whose cartilages propped up the brim of his round hat of black felt.”

“[Lyovin] walked along the path towards the skating-ground, and kept saying to himself—’You mustn’t be excited, you must be calm. What’s the matter with you? What do you want? Be quiet, stupid,’ he conjured his heart. And the more he tried to compose himself, the more breathless he found himself. An acquaintance met him and called him by his name, but Lyovin did not even recognize him. He went towards the ice-slopes for coasting whence came the clank of the chains of sleighs as they were dragged up, the rumble of the descending sleighs, and the sounds of merry voices. He walked on a few steps, and the skating-ground lay open before his eyes, and at once, amidst all the skaters, he recognized her.

“He knew she was there by the rapture and the terror that seized on his heart. She was standing talking to a lady at the opposite end of the skating-rink. There was nothing striking either in her dress or in her attitude. But for Lyovin she was as easy to find in that crowd, as a wild rose among nettles. . . .

“On that day of the week and at that time of day people of one set, all acquainted with one another, used to meet on the ice. There were crack skaters there, showing off their skill, and beginners behind chairs on wooden runners clinging to the backs of these gliding chairs and scuttling along with timid awkward movements; boys, and elderly people skating for their health. They seemed to Lyovin an elect band of blissful beings because they were here, near her. All the skaters, it seemed, with perfect indifference, caught up with her, overtook her, even spoke to her, and, quite apart from her presence, enjoyed the excellent ice and the fine weather.

“Nikolay Shcherbatski, Kitty’s cousin, in a short jacket and tight trousers, was sitting on a bench with his skates on. Upon seeing Lyovin, he cried to him : ‘Ah, the best skater in Russia! Been here long? First-rate ice—put on your skates, old fellow.’

“‘I haven’t got my skates with me,’ Lyovin answered, marveling at this boldness and ease in her presence, and not for one second losing sight of her, though he did not look at her. He felt that an invisible sun was coming near him. She was at the bend of the rink and, holding together her slender feet in their blunt-toed high skating shoes, with obvious apprehension she glided in his direction. [Ridiculous—Garnett has Kitty turn her toes out.] A young boy in Russian garb, violently swinging his arms and bending low towards the ice, was in the act of overtaking her. She skated uncertainly ; taking her hands out of the little muff, that hung on a cord round her neck, she held them ready for emergency, and looking towards Lyovin, whom she had recognized, she smiled at him, and at her own fears. When she had got round the turn, she gave herself a springy push-off with one foot, and skated straight up to her cousin.

Clutching at his arm, she nodded smiling to Lyovin. She was lovelier than he had imagined her. . . . But what always struck him in her as something unlooked for, was the expression of her eyes, mild, calm, and truthful. . . .

” ‘Have you been here long?’ she said, shaking hands with him. ‘Thank you,’ she added, as he picked up the handkerchief that had fallen out of her muff. [Tolstoy keeps a keen eye on his characters. He makes them speak and move—but their speech and motion produce their own reaction in the world he has made for them. Is that clear? It is.]

” ‘I didn’t know you could skate, and skate so well.’

“She looked at him attentively as though wishing to find out the cause of his confusion.

” ‘Your praise is worth having,’ she said. ‘They say you are a crack skater,’ and with her little black-gloved hand she brushed off the little spikes of hoar frost which had fallen upon her muff. [Again Tolstoy's cold eye.]

” ‘Yes, I used once to skate with passion,’ Lyovin answered. ‘I wanted to reach perfection.’

” ‘You do everything with passion, I think,’ she said smiling. ‘I should so like to see how you skate. Put on skates, and let us skate together.’

” ‘Skate together! Can that be possible?’ thought Lyovin, gazing at her.

” II’ll put them on directly,’ he said.

“And he went off to get skates.

” ‘It’s a long while since we’ve seen you here, sir,’ said the attendant, supporting his foot, and screwing on the skate to theheel. ‘There have been no first-rate skaters among the gentlemen since your time. Will that be all right?’ said he, tighteningthe strap.

” A little later, “one of the young men, the best of the skaters after Lyovin’s time, came out of the coffee-house in his skates,with a cigarette in his mouth. Taking a run, he dashed down the ice crusted steps in his skates, bouncing noisily. He flew down, and without even changing the relaxed position of his arms, skated away over the ice.

” ‘Ah, that’s a new trick!’ said Lyovin, and he promptly ran up to the top to do this new trick.

” ‘Don’t break your neck! It needs practice!’ Kitty’s cousin shouted after him.

“Lyovin went on the porch, and running from above to gain impetus, he dashed down, preserving his balance in this unwonted motion with his arms. On the last step he stumbled, but barely touching the ice with his hand, with a violent effort recovered himself, and skated off, laughing.”

We are at a dinner party two years after Lyovin had been rejected by Kitty, a dinner party arranged by Oblonski. First let us retranslate the little passage about a slippery mushroom.

” ‘You have killed a bear, I’ve been told!’ said Kitty, trying assiduously to spear with her fork a slippery preserved mushroom, every little poke setting the lace quivering over her white arm. [The brilliant eye of the great writer always noting what his puppets are up to after he has given them the power to live.] ‘Are there bears on your place?’ she added, turning her charming little head to him and smiling.”

We come now to the famous chalk scene. After dinner Kitty and Lyovin are for a minute in a separate part of the room.

“Kitty, going up to a card-table, sat down, and, taking up the chalk, began drawing concentric circles upon the immaculate green cloth.

“They began again on the subject that had been started at dinner—the liberty and occupations of women. Lyovin shared Dolly’s opinion that a girl who did not marry should find some occupation suitable for a lady, in her own family. . .

“A silence followed. She was still drawing with the chalk on the table. Her eyes were shining with a soft light. Under the influence of her mood, he was pervaded with an increasing feeling of happiness.

” ‘Akh! I have scrawled all over the table!’ she said, and laying down the chalk, she made a movement as though to get up.

” ‘What! Shall I be left alone—without her?’ he thought with horror, and he took the chalk. ‘Wait a minute,’ he said, ‘I’ve long wanted to ask you one thing.

“He looked straight into her friendly, though frightened eyes.

” ‘Please ask it.

” ‘Here,’ he said; and he wrote the initial letters w,y, s, n, d,y,m,n. These letters meant, ‘When you said no, did you mean never?’ There seemed no likelihood that she could make out this complicated sentence; but he looked at her as though his life depended on her understanding the words. She glanced at him seriously, then puckered her brow and began to read.

Once or twice she stole a look at him, as though asking him, ‘Is it what I think?’

” ‘I understand,’ she said, flushing a little. “‘What is this word?’ he said, pointing to the n that stood for never.

” ‘It means never,’ she said; ‘but that’s not true!’ “He quickly rubbed out what he had written, gave her the chalk, and stood up. She wrote, t, i, c, n, a, d. . . . It meant, ‘Then I could not answer differently.’

“He glanced at her questioningly, timidly. ” ‘Only then?’ ‘Yes,’ her smile answered. “‘And now?’ he asked.

“‘Well, read this,’ she said. She wrote the initial letters f, a, f. This meant, ‘Forget and forgive.’ ”

All this is a little far fetched. Although, no doubt, love may work wonders and bridge the abyss between minds and present cases of tender telepathy — still such detailed thought-reading, even in Russian, is not quite convincing. However, the gestures are charming and the atmosphere of the scene artistically true.

Tolstoy stood for the natural life. Nature, alias God, had decreed that the human female should experience more pain in childbirth than, say, a porcupine or a whale. Therefore Tolstoy was violently opposed to the elimination of this pain.

In Look magazine, a poor relation of Life, of April 8, 1952, there is a series of photos under the heading, “I Photographed my Baby’s Birth.” A singularly unattractive baby smirks in a corner of the page. Says the caption : Clicking her own camera as she lies on the delivery table, Mrs. A. H. Heusinkveld, a photography-writer (whatever that is) of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, records (says the caption) these extraordinary views of the birth of her first baby—from the early labor pains to the baby’s first cry.

What does she take in the way of pictures? For instance: “Husband [wearing a handpainted philistine tie, with a dejected expression on his simple face] visits wife in the midst of her pains” or “Mrs. Heusinkveld shoots Sister Mary who sprays patient with disinfectants.”

Tolstoy would have violently objected to all this. Except for a little opium, and that did not help much, no anaesthetics were used in those days for relieving the pains of childbirth. The year is 1875, and all over the world women were delivered in the same way as two thousand years ago. Tolstoy’s theme here is a double one, first, the beauty of nature’s drama; and second, its mystery and terror as perceived by Lyovin. Modern methods of confinement —anaesthetics and hospitalization—would have made this great chapter 15 of part seven impossible, and the dulling of natural pain would have seemed quite wrong to Tolstoy the Christian. Kitty was having her baby at home, of course, Lyovin wanders about the house.

“He did not know whether it was late or early. The candles had all burned out. . . . He sat listening to the doctor’s small talk. . . . Suddenly there came an unearthly shriek from Kitty’s room. The shriek was so awful that he did not even start but gazed in terrified inquiry at the doctor. The doctor put his head on one side, listened, and smiled approvingly. Everything was so extraordinary that nothing could strike Lyovin as strange. . . . Presently he tiptoed to the bedroom, edged around the midwife [Elizaveta] and Kitty’s mother, and stood at Kitty’s pillow. The scream had subsided but there was some change now. What it was he did not see and did not understand, and had no wish to see or understand. . . . Kitty’s swollen and agonized face, a tress of hair clinging to her moist temple, was turned to him. Her eyes sought his eyes, her lifted hands asked for his hands. Clutching his cold hands in her hot ones, she began squeezing them to her face.

” ‘Don’t go, don’t go! I am not afraid, I am not afraid. Mamma, take off my earrings, they bother me. . . .’ [List these earrings with the handkerchief, the frost on the glove, and other little objects that Kitty handles in the course of the novel.] Then suddenly she pushed him away. ‘Oh, this is awful, I am dying, go away,’ she shrieked. . . .

“Lyovin clutched at his head and ran out of the room.

” ‘It’s all right, everything is all right,’ Dolly called after him. [She had gone through it seven times herself.]

‘ ‘But,’ thought Lyovin, ‘they might say what they liked.’ He knew now that all was over. He stood in the next room, his head leaning against the door-post, and heard someone emitting shrieks, howls, such as he had never heard before and he knew that this howling thing had been Kitty. But now he had long ago ceased to wish for the child, by now he loathed this child. He did not even wish for her life now. All he longed for was the end of this awful anguish.

” ‘Doctor, what is it, what is it? Good Lord!’ he said, snatching at the doctor’s arm as the latter came out.

” ‘Well,’ said the doctor, ‘it’s the end,’ and the doctor’s face was so grave as he said it that Lyovin took the end as meaning her death. ” [Of course, what the doctor meant was: it will be over in a minute now.]

Now comes the part that stresses the beauty of this natural phenomenon. Mark incidentally that the whole history of literary fiction as an evolutionary process may be said to be a gradual probing of deeper and deeper layers of life. It is quite impossible to imagine either Homer in the ninth century b.c. or Cervantes in the seventeenth century of our era—it is quite impossible to imagine them describing in such wonderful detail childbirth. The question is not whether certain events or emotions are or are not suitable ethically or esthetically. The point I want to make is that the artist, like the scientist, in the process of evolution of art and science, is always casting around, understanding a little more than his predecessor, penetrating further with a keener and more brilliant eye—and this is the artistic result.

“Beside himself he hurried to the bedroom. The first thing he saw was the face of the midwife. It was even more frowning and stern. Kitty’s face was not there. In the place where it had been was something that was fearful in its strained distortion and in the sounds that came from it. [Now comes the beauty of the thing.] He fell down with his head on the wooden framework of the bed, feeling that his heart was bursting. The awful scream never paused, it became still more awful, and as though it had reached the utmost limit of terror, suddenly it ceased. Lyovin could not believe his ears, but there could be no doubt; the scream had ceased and he heard a subdued stir and bustle, and hurried breathing, and her voice, gasping, alive, tender, and blissful, uttered softly, ‘It’s over!’

“He lifted his head. Exhausted, with her hands lying on the quilt, most lovely and serene, she looked at him in silence and tried to smile, and could not.

“And suddenly, from the mysterious and awful far-away world in which he had been living for the last twenty-two hours, Lyovin felt himself all in an instant borne back to the old every-day world, now flooded by such a radiance of happiness that he could not bear it. The strained strings snapped, sobs and tears of joy which he had never foreseen rose up with such violence that his whole body shook. . . . Falling on his knees before the bed, he held his wife’s hand before his lips and kissed it, and the hand, with a weak movement of the fingers, responded to his kiss. [The whole chapter is magnificent imagery. What slight figures of speech there are, shade into direct description. But now we are ready for a summation by means of a simile.] And meanwhile, there at the foot of the bed, in the deft hands of the midwife, like a flickering light on the oil of a lamp, there flickered the life of a human being which had never existed before and which would now . . . live and create in its own image.”

We shall mark later the image of the light in connection with Anna’s death, in the chapter of her suicide. Death is the delivery of the soul. Thus childbirth and soulbirth (death) are expressed in the same terms of mystery, terror, and beauty. Kitty’s delivery and Anna’s death meet at this point.

The birth of faith in Lyovin, the pangs of faith birth.

“Lyovin with big steps strode along the highroad, absorbed not so much in his tangled thoughts as in his spiritual condition, unlike anything he had experienced before. . . .

[A peasant with whom he had been talking had said of another peasant that he—that other peasant—lived for his belly, and then had said that one must not live for one's belly, but for truth, for God, for one's soul.]

” ‘Can I have found a solution for myself, can my sufferings be over?’ thought Lyovin striding along the dusty road. . . . He was breathless with emotion. He turned off the road into the forest and sat down on the grass in the shade of an aspen. He took his hat off his hot head and lay propped on his elbow in the lush fluffy woodland grass [which Mrs. Garnett has trampled upon with flat feet: it is not 'feathery grass.']

” ‘Yes, I must make it clear to myself,’ he thought as he followed the movements of a small green bug creeping up a blade of witch-grass: it was interrupted in its progress by a leaf of gout-wort. ‘What have I discovered?’ he asked himself [referring to his spiritual condition] and bending aside the leaf out of the beetle’s way and turning down another blade of grass to help it cross over onto it. ‘What is it makes me glad? What have I discovered?’

” ‘I have only found out what I knew all along. I have been set free from falsity, I have found the Master.’ ”

But what we must mark is not so much the ideas. After all we should always bear in mind that literature is not a pattern of ideas but a pattern of images. Ideas do not matter much in comparison to a book’s imagery and magic. What interests us here is not what Lyovin thought, or what Leo thought, but that little bug that expresses so neatly the turn, the switch, the gesture of thought.

We now come to the last chapters of the Lyovin line—to Lyovin’s final conversion—but again let us keep an eye on the imagery and leave the ideas to pile up as they please. The word, the expression, the image is the true function of literature. Not ideas.

At Lyovin’s estate the family and the guests had been on an outing. Then it is time to go back.

“Kitty’s father and Sergey, Lyovin’s half brother, got into the small cart and drove off; storm clouds were gathering; the rest of the party hastened homeward on foot.

“But the storm-rack, now white, then black, moved upon them so quickly that they had to walk fast to get home before the rain. The foremost clouds, lowering and as black as soot-laden smoke, moved with extraordinary swiftness over the sky. The party was two hundred paces from the house, the wind of the storm was already blowing and now every second the downpour might come.

“The children ran ahead with frightened and gleeful yells.

Dolly, struggling as best she could with her skirts that clung round her legs, was more running than walking, her eyes fixed on the children. The men holding onto their hats strode with long steps beside her. They were just at the steps of the porch when a big raindrop fell and splattered on the rim of the iron gutter. The children ran into the shelter of the house talking excitedly. Nabokov’s notes on Anna Karenin, part eight, chapter 12, with his caution that “literature isnot a pattern of ideas …”

‘Is my wife home?’ Lyovin asked of the housekeeper who had met them in the hall with kerchiefs and lap-robes that she was about to send to the picnickers.

” ‘We thought she was with you,’ she said.

” ‘And the baby?’

” ‘They must be all in the grove, the nurse too.’

“Lyovin snatched up the lap-robes and coats and ran towards the grove.

“In that brief interval of time the thunderhead had engulfed the sun so completely that the day was as dark as during an eclipse. Stubbornly the wind tried to stop him as though insisting on its rights [the pathetic fallacy of the wind, as on Anna's train trip; but direct imagery will now turn into a comparison], and tearing the leaves and flowers off lime-trees, and turning back the foliage of the white birch branches so as to reveal, hideously and strangely, their nakedness, the wind twisted and tossed everything to one side—acacias, flowers, burdocks, long grass, tall tree-tops. The peasant girls working in the garden ran shrieking into the shelter of the servants’ quarters. The downpour had already flung its livid veil over all the distant forest and over half the near fields, and was rapidly swooping down upon the grove. The wet of the rain as it spurted up in tiny drops upon touching the ground could be smelled in the air. Bending his head* and struggling with the wind that strove to snatch the wraps he was carrying away from him [pathetic fallacy continued], Lyovin was nearing the grove, and had just caught sight of something white from behind an oak-tree, when there was a sudden flash, the whole earth seemed on fire, and the sky seemed to split in two. Opening his blinded eyes, Lyovin gazed through the thick veil of rain and to his horror the first thing he saw was the uncannily changed position of the green crest of the familiar oak-tree in the middle of the grove. [Compare the scene of the race, Vronski feeling "his changed position" when his horse broke its back while jumping an obstacle in the race.]

” ‘Can it have been struck?’ he hardly had time to think when, moving more and more rapidly, the foliage of the oak vanished behind other trees, and he heard the crash of the great tree falling upon the others.

“The blaze of lightning, the sound of thunder and the sudden chill that ran through him were all merged for him in one pang of terror. ‘My God, my God, not on them,’ he said.

“And though he thought at once how senseless was his prayer that the falling oak should not have killed them since it had already fallen, he repeated it, knowing that he could do nothing better than utter this senseless prayer. . . .

“They were at the other end of the grove, under an old lime-tree; they were calling him. Two figures in dark dresses (the dresses had been of a light color when they had started out)† stood bending over something. They were Kitty and the nurse. The rain had almost stopped. It was beginning to clear up when he reached them. The nurse’s skirt was dry but Kitty was drenched, and her soaked clothes clung to her. Both stood bending in the same position as when the storm broke, over a baby carriage protected by a green umbrella. ‘Alive? Safe? Thank God,’ he said. His soaked boots slipped and sloshed in the puddles as he ran up to them. . . . [He was angry with his wife.] They gathered up the baby’s wet diapers.” [Wet from the rain? This is not clear. Note how Jove's shower has been transformed into a beloved babe's wet diaper. The forces of nature have surrendered to the power of family life. The pathetic fallacy has been replaced by the smile of a happy family.]

The Baby’s Bath : “With one hand Kitty was supporting the head of the chubby baby: he was floating on his back in the bath and diddling his legs. With her other hand she squeezed the sponge over him, and the muscles of her forearm contracted in

measured motion. …” (Again mistranslated by Gar-nett, who leaves out all reference to the muscles.)


* The Garnett translation reads: “Holding his head bent down before him,” on which VN fastidiously notes, “Mark that Mrs. Garnett has decapitated the man.” Ed.

† VN interjects: “The point of this is of course messed up by Garnett,” who writes, “they had been light summer dresses when they started out.” Ed.

The nurse supporting him with one hand under his little belly, lifted him out of the bath, poured a jugful of water over him, he was wrapped in towels, dried and after some piercing screams handed over to his mother.

” ‘Well, I am glad you are beginning to love him,’ said Kitty to her husband, when she had settled comfortably in her usual place, with the baby at her breast. ‘You remember you said you had no feeling for him.’

‘ ‘Really? Did I say that? Oh—I only said I was sort of disappointed.’

” ‘In him?’

” ‘Not in him but well—in my own feeling. I had somehow expected more, some new delightful emotion, a big surprise, and then instead—disgust, pity.’

“She listened attentively looking at him over the baby while she put back on her slender fingers the rings she had taken off while giving the baby his bath. . . . [Tolstoy never misses a gesture.]

“Lyovin on leaving the nursery and finding himself alone,* went back in thought to the blurry something in his mind.

Instead of going into the drawing-room where he heard voices, he stopped on the terrace and leaning his elbows on the parapet gazed at the sky. It was quite dark now. The south was free of clouds which had drifted on towards the opposite side. There were flashes of lightning and distant rumbles from that quarter. He listened to the measured drip-drip from the lime-trees in the garden and looked at the triangle of stars he knew so well and the milky way with all its ramifications.

[Now comes a delightful comparison to be marked with love and foresight.] At each flash the Milky Way and even the bright stars vanished but as soon as the lightning died away, they reappeared in their places as though a hand had thrown them back with careful aim. [Is this delightful comparison clear?]

” ‘Well, what is perplexing me?’ Lyovin said to himself. ‘I am wondering about the relationship to God of all the different religions of all mankind. But why do I bother? [Why indeed, murmurs the good reader.] To me individually, personally, to my own heart has been revealed a knowledge beyond all doubt, and unattainable by reason, and here am I obstinately trying to use my reason…. The question of other creeds and their relations to Divinity I have no right to decide, no possibility of deciding.’

” ‘Oh, you have not gone in,’ said Kitty’s voice all at once as she went by through the terrace on her way to the drawingroom.

‘What is the matter?’ she said, looking intently at his face in the starlight.

“But she could not have seen his face if a flash of lightning had not hidden the stars and revealed it. In that flash she saw his face clearly and seeing him happy and calm, she smiled at him. [This is the functional after effect of the delightful comparison we have noticed. It helps to clear matters.]

” ‘She understands,’ he thought. ‘Shall I tell her? Yes.’ But at that moment she began speaking. ‘Do me a favor,’ she said. ‘Go into that guest room and see if they have fixed it right for Sergey [his half brother]. I can’t very well. See if they have put the new wash-stand there.’

” ‘O.K.,’ said Lyovin and gave her a kiss. ‘No, I had better not speak of it,’ he thought. ‘It is strictly for me alone, vitally for me alone, and not to be put into words.

‘This new feeling has not changed me, has not made me happy as I had dreamt it would in regard to that feeling for my child. No surprise in this either. But faith or no faith this feeling has come to stay.’

* In a note VN objects to Mrs. Garnett’s phrasing of this opening, “Going out of the nursery and being alone again.” Ed.

‘I shall go on, in the same old way, losing my temper with the coachman, falling into angry discussions, being tactless.

There will still be the same wall of reticence between my soul and other people, even between me and my wife. I shall still go on blaming her for my own fears and regretting it. I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my whole life now, apart from anything that may happen to me, every minute of it is no longer meaningless as it was before. It has acquired now the positive meaning of good which I have the power to give it.’

Thus the book ends, on a mystic note which seems to me rather a part of Tolstoy’s own diary than that of the character he created. This is the background of the book, the Milky Way of the book, the Lyovin-Kitty family life line. We shall presently turn to the pattern of iron and blood, to the Vronski-Anna pattern that stands in awful relief against this star-dusted sky.

Although he is mentioned earlier, Vronski makes his first appearance in part one, chapter 14, at the Shcherbatskis. Incidentally, it is here that starts an interesting little line, the line of “spiritualism,” table tilting, entranced mediums, and so on, a fashionable pastime in those days. Vronski in a light-hearted mood wishes to try out this fashionable fad; but much later, in chapter 22 of part seven, it is, curiously enough, owing to the mediumistic visions of a French quack who has found patrons among Petersburg society people, it is owing to him that Karenin decides not to give Anna a divorce—and a telegram to that effect during a final period of tragic tension between Anna and Vronski helps to build up the mood that leads to her suicide.

Some time before Vronski met Anna, a young official in her husband’s department had confessed his love to her and she had gaily relayed it to her husband; but now, from the very first look exchanged with Vronski at the ball, a fateful mystery enfolds her life. She says nothing to her sister-in-law about Vronski’s giving a sum of money for the widow of the killed railway guard, an act which establishes, through death as it were, a kind of secret link between her and her future lover. And further, Vronski has called on the Shcherbatskis the evening before the ball at the exact moment when Anna remembers so vividly her child from whom she is separated for the few days she has spent in Moscow smoothing her brother’s troubles. It is the fact of her having this beloved child which will later constantly interfere with her passion for Vronski.

The scenes of the horse race in the middle chapters of part two contain all kinds of deliberate symbolic implications. Firstly there is the Karenin slant. In the pavilion at the races a military man, Karenin’s social superior, a high-placed general or a member of the royal family, kids Karenin, saying—and you, you’re not racing; upon which Karenin replies deferentially and ambiguously, “the race I am running is a harder one, ” a phrase with a double meaning, since it could simply mean that a statesman’s duties are more difficult than competitive sport, but also may hint at Karenin’s delicate position as a betrayed husband who must conceal his plight and find a narrow course of action between his marriage and his career. And it is also to be marked that the breaking of the horse’s back coincides with Anna’s revealing her unfaithfulness to her husband.

A far deeper emblematism is contained in Vronski’s actions The final page in Nabokov’s teaching copy of Anna Karenin, at that eventful horse race. In breaking Frou-Frou’s back with his concluding comments. and in breaking Anna’s life, Vronski is performing analogous acts. You will notice the same “lower jaw trembling” repeated in both scenes: the scene of Anna’s metaphysical fall when he is standing over her adulterous body, and the scene of Vronski’s physical fall when he is standing over his dying horse. The tone of the whole chapter of the race with the building up of its pathetic climax is echoed in the chapters relating to Anna’s suicide. Vronski’s explosion of passionate anger—anger with his beautiful, helpless, delicate-necked mare whom he has killed by a false move, by letting himself down in the saddle at the wrong moment of the jump—is especially striking in contrast to the description that Tolstoy gives a few pages earlier, when Vronski is getting ready for the races—”he was always cool and self-controlled” — and then the terrific way he curses at the stricken mare.

“Frou-Frou lay gasping before him, bending her head back and gazing at him with her exquisite eye. Still unable to realize what had happened, Vronski tugged at his mare’s reins. Again she struggled like a fish, and making the saddle flaps creak, she freed her front legs but unable to lift her rump, she quivered all over and again fell on her side. With a face hideous with passion, his lower jaw trembling and his cheeks white, Vronski kicked her with his heel in the stomach and again fell to tugging at the rein. She did not stir, but thrusting her nose into the ground, she simply gazed at her master with her speaking eye.*

“‘A—a—a!’ moaned Vronski, clutching at his head. ‘Ah! what have I done! The race lost! And my fault! shameful, unpardonable! And this poor, lovely creature killed by me!’

Anna almost died giving birth to Vronski’s child.

I shall not say much about Vronski’s attempt to kill himself after the scene with Anna’s husband at her bedside. It is not a satisfactory scene. Of course, Vronski’s motives in shooting himself may be understood. The chief one was injured pride, since in the moral sense Anna’s husband had shown himself, and had seemed to be, the better man. Anna herself had called her husband a saint. Vronski shoots himself much for the same reason as that for which an insulted gentleman of his day would have challenged the insulter to a duel, not to kill his man, but on the contrary to force him to fire at him, the insulted one. Exposing himself to the other man’s forced fire would have wiped away the insult. If killed, Vronski would have been revenged by the other’s remorse. If still alive, Vronski would have discharged his pistol in the air, sparing the other man’s life and thus humiliating him. This is the basic idea of honor behind duels, although of course there have been cases when both men were out to kill each other. Unfortunately, Karenin would not have accepted a duel, and Vronski has to fight his duel with his own self, has to expose himself to his own fire. In other words, Vronski’s attempt at suicide is a question of honor, a kind of hara-kiri as understood in Japan. From this general point of view of theoretic morals this chapter is all right.

But it is not all right from the artistic viewpoint, from the point of view of the novel’s structure. It is not really a necessary event in the novel; it interferes with the dream-death theme that runs through the book; it interferes technically with the beauty and freshness of Anna’s suicide. If I am not mistaken, it seems to me that there is not a single retrospective reference to Vronski’s attempted suicide in the chapter dealing with Anna’s journey to her death. And this is not natural: Anna ought to have remembered it, somehow, in connection with her own fatal plans. Tolstoy as an artist felt, I am sure, that the Vronski suicide theme had a different tonality, a different tint and tone, was in a different key and style, and could not be linked up artistically with Anna’s last thoughts.

The Double Nightmare : A dream, a nightmare, a double nightmare plays an especially important part in the book. I say “double nightmare” because both Anna and Vronski see the same dream. (This monogrammatic interconnection of two individual brain-patterns is not unknown in so-called real life.) You will also mark that Anna and Vronski, in that flash of telepathy, undergo technically the same experience as Kitty and Lyovin do when reading each other’s thoughts as they chalk initial letters on the green cloth of a card table. But in Kitty-Lyovin’s case the brain-bridge is a light and luminous and lovely structure leading towards vistas of tenderness and fond duties and profound bliss. In the Anna and Vronski case, however, the link is an oppressive and hideous nightmare with dreadful prophetic implications.

* Mrs. Garnett translates, “gazed at her master with her speaking eyes,” to which VN adds the note in his teaching copy, “A horse can’t look at you with both eyes, Mrs. Garnett.” Ed.

As some of you may have guessed, I am politely but firmly opposed to the Freudian interpretation of dreams with its stress on symbols which may have some reality in the Viennese doctor’s rather drab and pedantic mind but do not necessarily have any in the minds of individuals unconditioned by modern psychoanalytics. Hence I am going to discuss the nightmare theme of our book, in terms of the book, in terms of Tolstoy’s literary art. And this is what I plan to do : I shall go with my little lantern through those murky passages of the book where three phases of Anna’s and Vronski’s nightmare may be traced. First: I shall trace the formation of that nightmare from various parts and ingredients that are found in Anna’s and Vronski’s conscious life. Second: I shall discuss the dream itself as dreamed both by Anna and Vronski at a critical moment of their intertwined lives — and I shall show that although the ingredients of the twinned dream were not all the same with Anna and with Vronski, the result, the nightmare itself, is the same, although somewhat more vivid and detailed in Anna’s case. And third: I shall show the connection between the nightmare and Anna’s suicide, when she realizes that what the horrible little man in her dream was doing over the iron is what her sinful life has done to her soul—battering and destroying it—and that from the very beginning the idea of death was present in the background of her passion, in the wings of her love, and that now she will follow the direction of her dream and have a train, a thing of iron, destroy her body.

So let us start by studying the ingredients of the double nightmare, Anna’s and Vronski’s. What do I mean by the ingredients of a dream ? Let me make this quite clear. A dream is a show—a theatrical piece staged within the brain in a subdued light before a somewhat muddleheaded audience. The show is generally a very mediocre one, carelessly performed, with amateur actors and haphazard props and a wobbly backdrop. But what interests us for the moment about our dreams is that the actors and the props and the various parts of the setting are borrowed by the dream producer from our conscious life. A number of recent impressions and a few older ones are more or less carelessly and hastily mixed on the dim stage of our dreams. Now and then the waking mind discovers a pattern of sense in last night’s dream; and if this pattern is very striking or somehow coincides with our conscious emotions at their deepest, then the dream may be held together and repeated, the show may run several times as it does in Anna’s case.

What are the impressions a dream collects on its stage? They are obviously filched from our waking life, although twisted and combined into new shapes by the experimental producer, who is not necessarily an entertainer from Vienna. In Anna and Vronski’s case the nightmare takes the form of a dreadful-looking little man, with a bedraggled beard, bending over a sack, groping in it for something, and talking in French—though he is a Russian proletarian in appearance—about having to beat iron. In order to understand Tolstoy’s art in the matter, it is instructive to note the building up of the dream, the accumulation of the odds and ends of which that nightmare is going to consist—this building up starts at their first meeting when the railway worker is crushed to death. I propose to go through the passages where the impressions occur of which this common nightmare will be formed. I call these dream-building impressions the ingredients of the dream.

The recollection of the man killed by the backing train is at the bottom of the nightmare that pursues Anna and that Vronski (although with less detail) also sees. What were the main characteristics of that crushed man? First, he was all muffled up because of the frost and thus did not notice the backward lurch of the train that brought Anna to Vronski. This “muffled up” business is illustrated before the accident actually happens by the following impressions: these are Vronski’s impressions at the station as the train bringing Anna is about to come:

Through the frosty haze one could see railway workers in winter jackets and felt boots crossing the rails of the curving lines, and presently as the engine puffs in one could see the engine driver bowing in welcome—all muffled up and gray with frost.

He was a wretched, poor man, that crushed fellow, and he left a destitute family—hence a tattered wretch.

Mark incidentally the following point: this miserable man is the first link between Vronski and Anna, since Anna knows that Vronski gave money for the man’s family only to please her—that it was his first present to her—and that as a married woman she should not accept gifts from strange gentlemen.

He was crushed by a great weight of iron.

And here are some preliminary impressions, Vronski’s impression as the train draws in: “One could hear the rolling of some great weight.” The vibration of the station-platform is vividly described.

Now we shall follow up these images —muffled up, tattered man, battered by iron, through the rest of the book.

The “muffled up” idea is followed up in the curious shifting sensations between sleep and consciousness that Anna experiences on her way back to Petersburg on the night train.

The muffled up conductor covered with snow on one side and the stove-heater whom she sees in her half-dream gnawing the wall with a sound as if something were torn apart, are nothing but the same crushed man in disguise—an emblem of something hidden, shameful, torn, broken, and painful at the bottom of her new-born passion for Vronski. And it is the muffled man who announces the stop at which she sees Vronski. The heavy iron idea is linked up with all this during these same scenes of her homeward journey. At that stop she sees the shadow of a bent man gliding as it were at her feet and testing the iron of the wheels with his hammer, and then she sees Vronski, who has followed her on the same train, standing near her on that station platform, and there is the clanging sound of a loose sheet of iron worried by the blizzard.

The characteristics of the crushed man have by now been amplified and are deeply engraved in her mind. And two new ideas have been added, in keeping with the muffled-up idea, the tattered element and the battered-by-iron element.

The tattered wretch is bending over something.

He is working at the iron wheels.

The Red Bag

Anna’s red bag is prepared by Tolstoy in chapter 28 of part one. It is described as “toy-like” or “tiny” but it will grow. When about to leave Dolly’s house in Moscow for Petersburg, in a fit of bizarre tearfulness Anna bends her flushed face over the little bag in which she is putting a nightcap and some cambric handkerchiefs. She will open this red bag when she settles down in the railway car to take out a little pillow, an English novel and a paper-knife to cut it, and then the red bag is relinquished into the hands of her maid, who dozes beside her. This bag is the last object she sheds when she gets rid of her life four years and a half later (May 1876) by jumping under a train when this red bag, which she tries to slip off her wrist, delays her for a moment.

We now come to what was technically known as a woman’s “fall. ” From the ethical viewpoint, this scene is far removed from Flaubert, from Emma’s euphoria and Rodolphe’s cigar in that sunny little pinewood near Yonville. Through this episode runs a sustained ethical comparison of adultery in terms of a brutal murder—Anna’s body, in this ethical image, is trampled upon and hacked to pieces by her lover, by her sin. She is the victim of some crushing force.

“That which for Vronski had been almost a whole year the one absorbing desire of his life . . . that which for Anna had been an impossible, awful, and even for that reason most entrancing dream of bliss, that desire had been fulfilled. He stood before her, pale, his lower jaw trembling. . . .

” ‘Anna! Anna!’ he kept saying in a trembling voice. . . . He felt what a murderer must feel, when he sees the body he has robbed of life. That body, robbed by him of life, was their love, their young love. . . . Shame at their spiritual nakedness crushed her and him. But in spite of all the murderer’s horror before the body of his victim, he must hack it to pieces, hide the body, must take advantage of what he has gained by murder.

“With fury, with passion, the murderer falls on the body, and drags it and hacks at it. And thus he covered her face and shoulders with kisses.” This is a further development of the death theme that started with the muffled-up guard being cut in two by the train that brought Anna to Moscow.

Now we are ready for the two dreams a year later. This is part four, chapter 2.

“When he got home, Vronski found there a note from Anna. She wrote, T am ill and unhappy. I cannot come out, but must see you. Come this evening. My husband goes to the Council at seven and will be there till ten.’ He was struck by the strangeness of her inviting him despite her husband’s insisting on her not receiving him; he decided to go.

“Vronski had that winter got his promotion, was now a colonel, had left the regimental quarters, and was living alone.

After having some lunch, he lay down on the sofa, and in five minutes memories of the disgusting scenes he had witnessed during the last few days [he had been attache to a foreign prince visiting Russia, who had been shown all the most lurid sides of gay rich life] got mixed up with the image of Anna and of a peasant [a trapper] who had played an important part in a certain bear-hunt, and Vronski fell asleep. He woke up in the dark [it was evening by now] trembling with horror, and made haste to light a candle. ‘What was it? What? What was the dreadful thing I dreamed? Yes, yes; I think a little dirty man resembled that trapper with the disheveled beard, stooping down doing something; and all of a sudden he began saying some strange words in French. ‘Yes, there was nothing else in the dream,’ he said to himself. ‘But why was it so awful?’ He vividly recalled the peasant again and those incomprehensible French words the peasant had uttered, and a chill of horror ran down his spine.

“What nonsense!” thought Vronski, and glanced at his watch. [He was late for his visit to Anna. As he entered the house of his mistress he met Karenin coming out.] Vronski bowed, and Karenin, chewing his lips, lifted his hand to his hat and went on. Vronski saw him, without looking round, get into the carriage, the footman handed him the lap-robe and the operaglass through the window, and the carriage drove off. Vronski went into the hall. His brows were scowling, and his eyes gleamed with a proud and angry light in them. . . .

“He was still in the hall when he caught the sound of her retreating footsteps. He knew she had been expecting him, had listened for him, and was now going back to the drawing-room. [He was late. The dream had delayed him.]

‘No,” she cried, on seeing him, and at the first sound of her voice the tears came into her eyes. ‘No; if things are to go on like this, it will happen much, much sooner.’

” ‘What will happen, my dear?’

” ‘What? I’ve been waiting in agony for an hour, two hours. . . . No, … I can’t quarrel with you. Of course you couldn’t come.’

She laid her two hands on his shoulders, and looked a long while at him with a profound, passionate, and at the same time searching look. . . .

[Note that the first thing she says to him is connected vaguely with the idea that she will die.]

” ‘A dream?’ repeated Vronski, and instantly he recalled the peasant of his dream.

“‘Yes, a dream,’ she said. ‘It’s a long while since I dreamed it. I dreamed that I ran into my bedroom, that I had to get something there, to find out something; you know how it is in dreams,’ she said, her eyes wide with horror; ‘and in the bedroom, in the corner, stood something.’

” ‘Oh, what nonsense! How can you believe . . .’

“But she would not let him interrupt her. What she was saying was too important to her.

” ‘And the something turned round, and I saw it was a peasant with a disheveled beard, little, and dreadful-looking. I wanted to run away, but he bent down over a sack, and was fumbling there with his hands . . .’ [She uses the same word— disheveled. Vronski in his dream had not made out the sack or the words. She had.]

“She showed how he had moved his hands. There was terror in her face. And Vronski, remembering his dream, felt the same terror filling his soul.

” ‘He was groping for something in the sack, and kept talking quickly, quickly, in French, you know: Il faut le battre, le fer, le broyer, le petrir [beat it, the iron, crush it into shape]. . . . And in my horror I tried to wake up, and woke up . . . but woke up in the dream. And I began asking myself what it meant. And Korney [a servant] said to me: “In childbirth you’ll die, ma’am, you’ll die. . . .” And I woke up.’ [It is not in childbirth she will die. She will die in soul birth, though, in faith birth.] . . .

“But all at once she stopped. The expression of her face changed instantly. Horror and excitement were suddenly replaced by a look of soft, solemn, blissful attention. He could not understand the meaning of the change. She was listening to the stirring of the new life within her.”

[Notice how the idea of death is associated with the idea of childbirth. We should connect it with that of the flickering light symbolizing Kitty's baby and with the light Anna will see just before she dies. Death is soul birth for Tolstoy.]

Now let us compare Anna’s dream and Vronski’s dream.

They are essentially the same of course and both are founded in the long run on those initial railway impressions a year and a half before—on the railway guard crushed by a train. But in Vronski’s case the initial tattered wretch is replaced, or let us say acted, by a peasant, a trapper, who had participated in a bear hunt. In Anna’s dream there are added impressions from her railway journey to Petersburg— the conductor, the stove-tender. In both dreams the hideous little peasant has a disheveled beard, and a groping, fumbling manner—remnants of the “muffled-up” idea. In both dreams he stoops over something and mutters something in French—the French patter they both used in speaking of everyday things in what Tolstoy considered a sham world; but Vronski does not catch the sense of those words; Anna does, and what these French words contain is the idea of iron, of something battered and crushed—and this something is she.

Anna’s Last Day

The sequence and the events of Anna’s last days in the middle of May 1876 in Moscow are quite clear.

Friday she and Vronski quarrelled, then made it up and decided to leave Moscow for Vronski’s country estate in Central Russia on Monday or Tuesday, as she desired. Vronski had wished to go later because of some business he had to wind up but had then given in. (He was selling a horse, and also a house belonging to his mother.)

Saturday a telegram comes from Oblonski who is in Petersburg, about 350 miles north of Moscow, telling them that there is very little chance that Karenin will grant Anna a divorce. Anna and Vronski have another quarrel that morning, and Vronski is away all day settling business matters. On Sunday morning, the last day of her life, she was waked by a horrible nightmare, which had already recurred several times in her dreams, even before she and Vronski had become lovers. A little old man with a rumpled beard was doing something bent down over some iron, muttering meaningless French words, and she, as she always did in this nightmare (it was this that made the horror of it), felt that this peasant was taking no notice of her, but whatever his horrible business with iron, it was something performed over her. After seeing that hideous nightmare for the last time, Anna notices from her window Vronski in a brief pleasant conversation with a certain young lady and her mother whom the old Countess Vronski from her suburban estate had asked to transmit to him some business papers to be signed in connection with the house she is selling. Without any reconciliation with Anna, Vronski leaves. First he drives to the racing stables where he keeps a horse that he is about to sell, then sends the carriage back for Anna’s use in the day and proceeds by local train to his mother’s estate in the suburbs in order to get her signature in connection with those papers that she has sent him. A first message, urging him not to leave her alone, is sent by Anna with coachman Michael to the stables; but Vronski has already left, the messenger and message come back: Vronski has already gone to the station to take that train to his mother’s place a few miles out of town. Anna sends the same Michael with the same note to old Countess Vronski’s place and simultaneously sends a telegram to that place, urging him to return at once. The abrupt telegram will come before the pathetic note comes.

In the afternoon around three she goes to Dolly Oblonski in her victoria; driven by coachman Theodore; and we shall analyze in a moment her thoughts on the way. First let us proceed with this scheme. Around six she drives home and finds an answer to her telegram—Vronski wires that he cannot be home before ten in the evening. Anna decides to take a suburban train and get off at the Obiralovka station near his mother’s estate; she plans to leave the train there and get in touch with Vronski, and if he does not join her and come back to town with her she plans to travel on, no matter where, and never to see him again. The train leaves Moscow city at eight p.m. and some twenty minutes later she is at Obiralovka, the suburban station. Remember it is a Sunday, and lots of people are around, and the impact of various impressions, festive and coarse, mingles with her dramatic meditations.

At Obiralovka, she is met by Michael, the coachman whom she had sent with the message, and he brings a second answer from Vronski saying again that he cannot return before ten in the evening. Anna also learns from the servant that the young lady, whom the old Countess Vronski wishes her son to marry, is there with Vronski at his mother’s place. The situation assumes in her mind the fiery colors of a devilish intrigue against her. It is then that she decides to kill herself; she throws herself under an oncoming freight train, on that sunny Sunday evening in

May 1876, forty-five years after Emma Bovary had died.

This is the pattern; now let us go back five hours earlier to the afternoon of that Sunday and to some details of her last day.

The Stream of Consciousness or Interior Monologue is a method of expression which was invented by Tolstoy, a Russian, long before James Joyce, character’s mind in its natural flow, now running across personal emotions and recollections and now going underground and now as a concealed spring appearing from underground and reflecting various items of the outer world. It is a kind of record of a character’s mind running on and on, switching from one image or idea to another without any comment or explanation on the part of the author. In Tolstoy the device is still in its rudimentary form, with the author giving some assistance to the reader but in James Joyce the thing will be carried to an extreme stage of objective record.

We return to Anna’s last afternoon. Sunday in Moscow, May 1876. The weather has just cleared up after a morning drizzle.

The iron roofs, the sidewalks, the cobble-stones, the wheels, the leather, and the metal plates of carriages—everything glistens brightly in the May sunshine. It is three o’clock on Sunday in Moscow.

As Anna sat in the corner of the comfortable horse-driven carriage, a victoria, she ran over the events of the last days, recalling her quarrels with Vronski. She blamed herself for the humiliation to which she had lowered her soul. Then she fell to reading the signs of the stores. Now comes the device of stream of consciousness: “Office and warehouse. Dentist. Yes, I’ll tell Dolly all about it. She does not like Vronski. I shall be ashamed but I’ll tell her. She likes me. I’ll follow her advice. I won’t give in to him. Won’t let him teach me. Filipov’s bun shop. Somebody said they send their dough to Petersburg. The Moscow water is so good for it. Ah, those cold springs at Mytishchi and those pancakes! . . . Long long ago, I was seventeen, I had gone with my aunt to the monastery there, in a carriage, there was no railway yet there. Was that really me? Those red hands? Everything that seemed to me so wonderful and unattainable is now so worthless, and what I had then is out of my reach forever! Such humiliation. How proud and smug he will be when he gets my note begging him to come. But I’ll show him, I’ll show him. How awful that paint smells. Why is it they’re always painting buildings? Dressmaker. Man bowing. He’s Ann Ushka’s husband. Our parasites. [Vronski had said that.] Our? Why our? [We have nothing in common now.] What’s so awful is that one can’t tear up the past. . . . What are those two girls smiling about? Love, most likely. They don’t know how dreary it is, how degrading. The boulevard, the children. Three boys running, playing at horses. Seryozha! [her little boy]. And I am losing everything and not getting him back.”

After her inconclusive visit to Dolly, where incidentally she sees Kitty, she drives home. On the way home the stream of consciousness resumes its course. Her thoughts shuttle between the incidental (specific) and the dramatic (general). A fat ruddy gentleman takes her for an acquaintance, lifts his glossy top hat above his bald glossy head, then perceives his mistake. “He thought he knew me. Well, he knows me as little as anyone in the world knows me. I don’t know my own self. I only know my appetites, as the French say. Those children want that dirty icecream; this they do know. Ice-cream seller, bucket, takes the bucket off his head, wipes the sweat off his face with a towel. Same towel. We all want what is sweet: if not expensive candy, then cheap dirty ice-cream in the street, and Kitty’s the same: if not Vronski then Lyovin; and we all hate each other, I, Kitty, Kitty me. Yes, that’s the truth. [Now she is struck by the grotesque combination of a funny Russian name and the French word for hairdresser. Mark that the little Russian peasant in her nightmare muttered French words.] Tyutkin, coiffeur. Je me fais coiffer par Tyutkin. [I go to Tyutkin for my hairdo. She improves upon the impression with this lame little joke.] I’ll tell him that when he comes—she smiled. But immediately she remembered that now she had no one to tell anything amusing to.” The stream of consciousness flows on. “And there is nothing amusing either. All is hateful. Church bells. How carefully that merchant crosses himself. Slow. Afraid of letting something drop out of his inside pocket. All those churches and ringing, all that humbug. Simply to conceal that we all hate each other like those cab-drivers there who are insulting each other.”

With coachman Theodore driving, and footman Peter sitting beside him on the box, she drives to the station to take the train to Obiralovka. The stream of consciousness takes up again on the way to the station. “Yes, what was the last thing I thought of so clearly? Tyutkin hairdresser? No, not that. Yes, hatred, the one thing that holds men together. No use your going [mentally addressing some people in a cab, evidently going on an excursion to the country]. And the dog you are taking with you will be of no help. You can’t get away from yourselves. Dead drunk factory worker, lolling head, he has found a quicker way. Count Vronski and I did not find that intoxication though we expected so much. . . .

“Beggar woman with a baby. She thinks I am sorry for her. Hate, torture. Schoolboys laughing. Seryozha! [Again the lyrical inward cry.] I thought I loved my child, used to be touched by my own tenderness, but I have lived without him, and I gave him up for another love, and did not regret the exchange till that love was satisfied. And with loathing she thought of what she meant by ‘that love,’ her carnal passion for Vronski.

She arrives at the station, and takes a local train for Obiralovka, the nearest station to Countess Vronski’s estate. As she takes a seat in the railway car two things happen simultaneously. She hears some voices talking affected French and at the same moment she sees a hideous little man, with tangled hair and all covered with dirt, stooping toward the wheels of the railway carriage. With an unbearable shock of supernatural recognition she recalls the combination of her old nightmare, the hideous peasant hammering at some iron and muttering French words. The French—symbol of artificial life—and the tattered dwarf—symbol of her sin, filthy and soul-stunting sin—these two images come together in a fateful flash.

You will note that the coaches of this suburban train are of a different type from those of the night express between Moscow and Petersburg. In this suburban train, each carriage is much shorter and consists of five compartments. There is no corridor. Each compartment has a door on either side, so people get in and out, with a great slamming of five doors on each side of the coach. Since there is no corridor, the conductor, when he has to pass while the train is in motion, has to use a footboard on either side of each coach. A suburban train of this kind has a maximum speed of about thirty miles per hour.

She arrives twenty minutes later at Obiralovka and from a message brought by the servant discovers that Vronski is not willing to come at once—as she had pleaded with him to do. She walks along the platform, talking to her own tortured heart.

“Two maid-servants turned their heads, stared, and made some remarks about her dress. ‘Real,’ they said of the lace she was wearing. . . .A boy selling soft drinks stared at her. She walked further and further along the platform. Some ladies and children who had come to meet a gentleman in spectacles paused in their laughter and chatter and stared at her too. She quickened her pace and walked on to the end of the platform. A freight train was backing in. The platform vibrated. And all at once she thought of the man crushed [the day she had first met Vronski, more than four years ago, as that train of the past came back for her]. And she knew what she had to do. With a swift light motion she went down the steps that led from a water tank to the rails and stopped quite near the train that was lumbering by slowly. [She was now on the level of the tracks.] She looked at the lower part of the cars, at the screws and chains and the tall iron wheels of a car slowly moving by, and her eyes tried to find the middle between the front and back wheels to seize the moment when that middle point would be opposite her [the middle point, the entrance to death, the little archway]. ‘Down there,’ she said to herself, looking into the shadow of the car, at the coal dust on the sleepers, ‘down there, in the very middle, and I will punish him, and escape from everyone and from myself.’

“She meant to fall under the wheels of the first car, as its middle part came level with her, but the little red bag [our old friend] which she tried to slip off her wrist delayed her, and it was too late, the middle entrance had already passed. She waited for the next car. It was like entering the water when bathing in a river, and she crossed herself. This familiar gesture brought back a flood of young memories, and suddenly the fog that had just been covering everything was torn apart, and she glimpsed all the brightness of her past life. But she did not take her eyes from the wheels of the approaching car, and exactly at the moment when the middle point between the wheels came opposite her she flung aside the red bag and, drawing her head in, fell on her hands under the car, and lightly, as though she would rise again at once, dropped to her knees. And at the same instant she was terrified. ‘Where am I? What am I doing?’ She tried to get up, to turn, but something huge and merciless struck her on the back, and dragged her along. She prayed, feeling it impossible to struggle. [In a last vision] the little peasant muttering to himself was working at his iron, and the candle by which she had read the book of troubles, deceit, grief, and evil, flared up more brightly than ever before, illumed for her all that had been darkness, sputtered, began to dim and went out for ever.”