Saturday, May 2, 2015

"Anna Karenina" THE DREAMS (2) ANNA'S DEATH

(22) The Dreams (continued from last blog post)

QUOTE FROM PART 7, CH.26 (p. 782):

"In the morning she was awakened by a horrible nightmare, which had recurred several times in her dreams, even before her liaison with Vronsky [my emphasis URB]. A little old man with unkempt beard was doing something bent down over some iron, muttering meaningless French words, and she, as she always did in this nightmare (it was what made it so horrible), felt that this peasant was taking no notice of her, but was doing something horrible with the iron--over her. And she awoke in a cold sweat."

She dreams this dream on the last morning of her life. It has obvious sexual implications. The peasant is bent over her and doing something with a piece of iron. This is almost a symbolic rape, or could be interpreted as what physical passion, raw carnality, has done to her against her will: raped her and taken away her humanity.

But the most horrible revelation, in this, the last ever of her recurrent nightmares, is that Anna had had the nightmare even before her liaison with Vronksy. As if to imply that the seeds of destruction had been implanted in Anna's psyche in girlhood and were merely waiting for an opportunity to burgeon. But does the detail--in Russian: еще до связи с Вронским--mean even before she had ever met Vronsky? Even before that disheveled peasant walked into her life and nightmares at the train station where she first met Vronsky? If so, then Tolstoy has pushed the element of predestination in his novel maybe a tad too far.

The peasant is to make one more appearance in the flesh. The scenes describing Anna's final hours are masterfully done, using a stream of consciousness technique to reveal her distraught and frantic state. Once again she is on a train.but now she sees everything and everyone around her as ugly and grotesque:

"Even the child is hideous and affected, thought Anna. To avoid seeing anyone, she got up quickly and seated herself at the opposite window of the empty carriage. A deformed peasant covered with dirt, in a cap from which his tousled hair stuck out, passed by that window, stooping down to the carriage wheels. There's something familiar about that hideous peasant, thought Anna. And remembering her dream, she moved away to the opposite door, shaking with terror" (p.795).

Several more frantic pages go by, as Anna's mind races with desultory thoughts. She exits the train, wanders among the hideous people all around her (the word "hideous" is recurrent). In her confused mind she thinks of punishing Vronsky. "No, I won't let you make me miserable, she thought menacingly, addressing not him, not herself, but the power that made her suffer, and she walked along the platform past the station buildings" (797).

"And all at once she thought of the man crushed by the train the day she had first met Vronsky, and she knew what she had to do. With a rapid light step she went down the steps that led from the water tank to the rails and stopped close to the approaching train" (798).

The peasant, now in the employ of Death, shows up one more time at the end, to commit a rape-murder:

"She wanted to fall halfway between the wheels of the front car, which was drawing level with her. But the red bag that she was taking off her arm delayed her and she was too late; the car had passed. She had to wait for the next. A feeling she had experienced when about to take the first plunge in bathing came upon her, and she crossed herself. That familiar gesture flooded her soul with memories of childhood and girlhood, and suddenly the darkness that had shrouded everything was ripped apart, and life, with all its bright past joys, rose up before her for an instant. But she kept her eyes on the wheels of the second car. Exactly at the moment when the midpoint between the wheels drew level with her, she threw away the red bag, and, drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands under the car, and, with a light movement, as if she would arise immediately, she dropped on her knees. At that instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. Where am I? What am I doing? What for? She tried to get up, to throw herself back, but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and dragged her down. "Lord, forgive me everything!," she said, feeling it was useless to struggle. Muttering to himself, a little peasant was working over some iron. And the light of the candle by which she had read the book filled with troubles, lies, sorrow and evil, flared up more brightly than ever before, illumined for her all that had been mired in darkness, flickered, began growing dim, and was quenched forever" (798-99--last page of Part 7).

What was Tolstoy's own attitude toward his heroine? It changed over time. When he was writing the early drafts of the novel he conceived of Anna as a negative character, one who would, perhaps like Princess Betsy, leave the reader feeling disgust and revulsion. But Tolstoy was too much of an artist to sustain such a viewpoint for the main character over the course of a long novel.

In the only scene where his two main characters, Anna and Lyovin, meet, Tolstoy writes, "Though he had judged her so severely hitherto, now, by some strange chain of reasoning, he was justifying her and also felt sorry for her" (730). Tolstoy has put much of himself into the character of Lyovin, and here, most likely, he has Lyovin express his own feelings.

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