Anna Karenina – Section Two, by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy doesn’t change horses as one might expect of an authorial dividing line between sections of this story. Keep in mind that serialized stories must be written so that each segment clings desperately to those on either side in order to keep readers enthralled. So we see Kitty in emotional agony over Vrónsky’s “who cares” attitude toward her. Of course, he’s smitten with Anna, and she with him, and their affair grows more public as time passes. Alexéi Alexándrovich, Anna’s husband senses the liaison, but he seems more concerned with decorum than with the violation of the marriage. Thus Anna comes to despise her husband.
Meanwhile, Konstantín Lévin returns to his farm life, and he slowly wishes Kitty from his mind. The wheels to Vrónsky’s professional life begin to show signs of coming off over his insistence in hovering closely to Anna. And at a cavalry horse race, it becomes clear to Alexéi Alexándrovich that his wife’s heart lies elsewhere – Vrónsky’s horse tumbles, breaking the horse’s back and injuring Vrónsky. Alexéi Alexándrovich attempts to calm his upset wife, but she won’t have any of it – she admits to being Vrónsky’s lover.
And the section closes with Kitty receiving a bit of tough love from a new friend over her loss of both Vrónsky and Lévin.
Tolstoy more or less alternates cityscapes and their consequent drama with Lévin’s pristine rural life. Tolstoy’s purpose here is to depict good human qualities thriving in such a rural environment, with city life perhaps bringing out some of the worst in people. But he’s savvy enough as a writer not to make this too clear-cut. In a final scene, he argues with half brother Sergéi Ivánovich over the liberation of the serfs, Lévin taking a somewhat self-serving view of both the serfs and the prospect of their liberation.
The author’s project here, beyond the interweaving of his characters’ lives is a depiction of Russian life in its several facets. And toward this end, he already seems a master.
My rating: 18 of 20 stars
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