Anna Karenina By Leo Tolstoy Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapters 16-23

Summary

Vronsky, after his luxurious and coarse life in Petersburg, finds a "great and delicate pleasure" in the affection of this "sweet and innocent girl," though he feels no urge to marry and sees nothing wrong in paying attention to Kitty. The next day, waiting at the train station to meet his mother, he meets Oblonsky, whose sister is arriving on the same train. When Stiva explains that Levin's depressed mood last night was the result of Kitty's refusal, Vronsky feels like a conqueror and a hero.

When the train arrives, his mother introduces him to her traveling companion, the charming Madame Karenina; something peculiarly "caressing and soft" in the expression of her face catches his attention. Countess Vronsky explains this is the first time Anna has been away from her eight year old child and is somewhat anxious. "Yes," Anna smiles, "the countess and I have been talking all the time, I of my son and she of hers." Vronsky unable to take his eyes from Madame Karenina watches her walk lightly and rapidly with her brother to their carriage, carrying her "rather full figure with extraordinary lightness."

A sudden accident at the station draws a crowd. A guard, not hearing the train move back, has been crushed under the wheels of the car. Anna is horrified and even more impressed to learn that the man is the only support of an immense family. "Couldn't something be done?" she asks, and learns a few moments later that Vronsky had given 200 rubles for the benefit of the widow. Suspecting that this gesture has something to do with her, Anna frowns: It is something that ought not to have been.

In the carriage, Stiva wonders at her quivering lips and her tears. "It's an omen of evil," Anna says, and changes the subject. "Have you known Vronsky long?" she asks. "Yes," answers Stiva, "We're hoping he will marry Kitty." Indeed?" says Anna softly, then with a toss of her head, "Come, let's talk about you and what you wrote me about in your letter."

Anna's kindness and warmth, as well as her accurate recollection of the names, ages, and past illnesses of the Oblonsky children win Dolly's confidence. Eventually Anna talks of the problem that brought her to Moscow in the first place. She points out how miserable Stiva felt at his infidelity and how repentant he is. "I don't know how much love there still is in your heart for him," she tells Dolly. "You alone know whether there is enough for you to be able to forgive. If there is, then forgive him!" Dolly won over by Anna's sympathy and understanding, feels much comforted.

Kitty calls on the following day, soon finding herself in love with Anna, "as young girls often fall in love with older and married women." Anna's eagerness, freshness, and the elasticity of her movements seem to be those of a girl in her twenties, while her seriousness and mournful smile attract Kitty to her maturity. Congratulating Kitty on behalf of Vronsky, Anna relates an incident where the young man had saved a woman from drowning, a story told her by Countess Vronsky. But she does not mention the incident of the 200 rubles: fearing something personal in that gesture, she does not like to think of it. Dolly's children, shrieking with delight to see their aunt, interrupt further conversation, while Anna runs laughing to meet them. After dinner, Vronsky unexpectedly passes by but declines to join them. Kitty assumes he comes to seek her but does not wish to intrude while they have a guest. The visit seems odd to all of them, but particularly to Anna and she is troubled.

The great ball is held the following evening, and Kitty, intoxicated by the elegance of gowns around her, the lighted chandeliers, the livened footmen, feels her eyes sparkle and her lips rosy as young men constantly ask her to dance. She is certain that Count Vronsky will propose to her this night. Anna appears, beautifully elegant in a simple low-cut black velvet gown that brings out all her charm. Elated to see Vronsky, Kitty wonders why Anna deliberately refrains from answering his bow of greeting. Vronsky tells Kitty he has regretted not seeing her for so long. As they face each other during the pause before the dance, Kitty gives him a look "so full of love — that look, which met with no response, pierced her heart with unending shame for years after." During her quadrille with another partner, Kitty observes Anna and Vronsky dancing opposite. On Anna's expressive face appears the signs of excitement and success that she herself feels familiar with, while Vronsky's expression, always firm and independent, bears a look of "bewilderment and humbled submissiveness, like the expression of an intelligent dog when it has done wrong." Kitty's world crumbles; only her self-discipline allows her to continue dancing and smiling and talking.

Analysis

We first hear of Anna Karenina in Chapter l, where she intends to arrive at Moscow to repair a broken marriage: Indeed an ironic touch on the part of the author. The railroad station, the scene of Anna's first meeting with Vronsky, provides a symbol that concentrates the ideas of beginning, and, representing a point of departure as well. Alighting in Moscow, Anna confronts a new destiny and enters a foreign world. The "evil omen" which makes her shudder foreshadows her doom.

What is outstanding in Anna is her charm and fascination, apparent to Vronsky as their glances first meet. Capable of deep and strong passions, her whole being is directed toward love. Tolstoy writing that "her whole nature was so brimming over with something that against her will it showed itself . . ." indicates that her capacity for love has not yet been awakened.

Another outstanding quality is Anna's maturity. When she tells Vronsky that she and his mother have talked about their sons throughout the journey, Anna assumes herself a generation older than her future lover. This "age" difference between them underscores the essential duplicity and futility of their future relationship. The comparison of Seriozha with Vronsky also foreshadows Anna's later dilemma when she must choose between her child and her lover.

Anna becomes the object of fascination and love for everyone in her brother's household. She appeals to the children, wins Dolly's confidence: Kitty falls in love with her for her qualities of youth (denoting her peerage and future competition with Kitty) and maturity (denoting the emotional depth which charms Vronsky). But her charm is "diabolical and strange" at the same time. Kitty notices this during the ball when Anna regards her smilingly and with "drooping eyelids."

The key to Anna's personality and the quality which endears her to Tolstoy is her naturalness and emotional depth. She responds with her heart, not with applying social principles. Counseling Dolly to forgive Stiva, Anna argues, not from the standpoint of maintaining appearances to preserve a reputation before society, but from inner emotions. If you love him, then forgive him, Anna says. At the same time this quality provides the source of Anna's nobility, it also increases her susceptibility for a lawless passion.

In these episodes which reveal subtleties of individual character and relationships, a few of Tolstoy's narrative devices deserve brief mention. Though he is thoroughly an omniscient author, Tolstoy allows us to view the ball through the narrower — and more intense — viewpoint of Kitty, who watches Vronsky fall under Anna's spell. Kitty's suffering conveys to us the full quality of Madame Karenina's fascination.

Tolstoy also shows great dexterity in handling the psychological tensions and their physical relief. A good example of this occurs when Anna tells Kitty what a chivalrous nature Vronsky has. She relates how he saved a woman from drowning but refrains from mentioning the incident of the 200 rubles. In the pause, her frown keynotes the deceit which will enmesh her more and more: But at that moment, the children rush in and Anna, laughing, tumbles them to the ground.

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