“Each of us has skeletons in his soul, as the English say.”
Hello fellow challengers. Well, if you’re anything like us, you’ll have had a busy few weeks, and reluctantly experienced a little bit of a lull in your reading because of it. But don’t worry – we set ourselves plenty of time for this challenge precisely to allow for a set back or two.
So a quick look at what’s been happening up to now (we’re only up to page 250 but what we have managed to read has been eventful to say the least!)…
Kitty’s health has been failing since her humiliating rejection by Vronsky, and she is advised to go abroad to recover.
Meanwhile, in Saint Petersburg, Vronsky continues to pursue Anna, who, despite an initial attempt to reject him, eventually gives in to his attention. The narrative jumps forward a few months, to a point at which their relationship has been consummated, and Anna is pregnant with Vronsky’s child.
When Vronsky falls from his horse during a race, Anna is unable to hide her distress and when Karenin reminds her of the impropriety of paying too much attention to Vronsky in public, which is fast becoming the subject of gossip, Anna confesses all.
Recounting it like this, it seems pretty simple, doesn’t it: Anna and Vronksy have committed adultery and done a terrible thing? But what’s struck us most in these last few chapters is that morality for Tolstoy isn’t that clear cut...
His narration is such that at no point amid all of the gossip, guilt and lying around their affair is judgment passed on any one character. In fact the narrative, which shifts from character to character in attention and focus, seems engineered precisely to generate opposing views - even Anna herself describes the sensation of loving Vronsky as a “criminal joy”.
Linked to this is the idea of emotional self-knowledge, the conflict between inner and outer lives - something we picked up on at the very beginning of the novel, and something that’s kept coming up since.
Anna and Levin represent the extremes of self-knowledge. Vronksy explains their predicament with absolute resignation: “Whatever our fate is or will be, we have made it.” As a result of this they seem (whether we consider it shameful or not) very public with their affair - so much so that when Vronsky falls from his horse during his race, the strength of Anna’s feelings for him make it physically impossible for her to hide her horror.
In fact, it’s the public nature of their affair seems to bother Karenin more than Anna’s adultery itself, and Tolstoy’s portrayal of him is very much as her cold, restrained counterpart; “not a man, [but] a machine” – someone who believes that “Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that might have lain unnoticed” and who finds his own feelings “illogical” and “senseless.”
When Anna does confess, we feel that surely it’s is a truth he can’t ignore? But his response is only that she must maintain the status quo until he can find a suitable solution, ensuring that her admission, her attempts at truth (which is fast becoming the currency of morality in the novel), change nothing about her situation. Meanwhile we see Karenin, whose conscience is theoretically clear of any social wrong, as guilty of a preference for deceit.
That’s quite a cliff hanger to end on so we’re dying to read on! Expect more from us next week and until then happy reading.