Tuesday, September 1, 2015


(30) "Anna Karenina" Lapses in plot logic

Although Tolstoy usually does a masterful job at holding together the various plot lines and multitude of characters in his big novels, there are times when he forgets certain things or neglects to clarify others. Here are a few examples:

(1) Vronsky makes a horrible mistake while riding in the steeplechase (Part Two, Ch. 25). He shifts his weight in the saddle at the wrong time, causing his beloved mare Frou-Frou to fall. The horse has to be put down immediately after the fall. "The memory of this race lingered in his heart for a long time as the most difficult and agonizing memory in his life" (185, Schwartz trans., my emphasis URB). Tolstoy does not get around to describing Vronsky in events immediately subsequent to the steeplechase until several chapters into the next part (Part Three, Ch.20-22). Here is Vronsky at the beginning of Ch. 22, riding along in his carriage on the day after the steeplechase fiasco.

"His vague awareness of the clarity at which his affairs had arrived, his vague recollection of the friendship and flattery of Serpukhovskoi, who considered him a man who was needed, and, most of all, the anticipation of a rendezvous [with Anna]--all this combined to create the general impression of a joyous sense of life. This sense was so strong that he smiled in spite of himself. He lowered his feet, crossed one leg over the other knee, and grasping it with one hand, felt his resilient calf, which he had bruised yesterday in his fall [my emphasis, URB], and, leaning back, took several deep breaths, filling his chest.

"'Fine, very fine!' he told himself. Often before, too, he had experienced this joyous awareness of his own body, but never had he loved himself, his body, as he did now. He enjoyed feeling the mild pain in his strong leg [my emphasis, URB], enjoyed the muscular sensation of his chest moving when he took a breath" (287-88).

This description of how Vronsky delights in his very body and in life goes on for a whole long paragraph. Although Tolstoy reminds us of the steeplechase mishap twice, in references to the injured leg, the intervening chapters have, apparently, caused him to forget how devastated Vronsky was by the loss of Frou-Frou, and how guilty over his own role in that death. On the very next day he could simply not be exulting in life and in the strength of his body. Impossible.

(2) With his sense of propriety, with his feeling that his life and that of his wife must be kept within the bounds of proper Christian behavior, Alexei Karenin would be horrified to learn that his wife is pregnant by Vronsky. Anna informs Vronsky that she is pregnant on the day of the steeplechase. On that same day, in her distraught state after Vronsky's fall, she tells her husband, "I love him, I'm his lover, I can't stand you, I despise you," but she does not tell him that she is pregnant.In fact, never on the pages of the book do we see the moment when Karenin finds out. Therefore, we have no scene describing his horror at learning the news. In the confrontation between Anna and Karenin (Part Four, Ch. 4) on p. 335 we get the following dialogue:

"'You need Seryozha just to hurt me,' she said, looking up at him sullenly. 'You don't love him. Leave me Seryozha!'

"'Yes, I've even lost my love for my son because he is connected to my revulsion for you. But I will take him anyway. Good-bye!'

"He was about to leave, but she held him back.

'Alexei Alexandrovich, leave me Seryozha," she whispered again. 'I have nothing else to say. Leave me Seryozha until I. . . I'm going to give birth soon, leave him to me!'

"Alexei Alexandrovich flared up, and, tearing his hand away from her, he left the room without a word." That's the end of the chapter.

As far as the reader knows, this is the first time Karenin learns of the pregnancy, but the scene is written as if he had already known--no reaction to such dire news, just a brief flare-up and departure from the room. The scene when he first finds out about the pregnancy is missing from the book. A lapse in plot logic.

(3) In terms of plot logic the end of Part Four (399) is something of a muddle. Anna and Vronsky make a horrendous decision, to go abroad, to Italy, not to go ahead with the divorce just when Karenin offers them a divorce. Vronsky seals his future fate by turning down a transfer to Tashkent and resigning his commission, leaving him to maunder along as a civilian with nothing to do for the rest of the novel.

"'Stiva says he has agreed to everything, but I cannot accept his generosity,' she said, gazing pensively past Vronsky's face. 'I don't want a divorce. I don't care now. Only I don't know what he will decide about Seryozha.'"

A and V never recover from their refusal to act now as, later on in the novel, Karenin is not as amenable to allowing them a divorce. The decision not to proceed with the divorce seems, at first glance, totally illogical, but it makes sense if we recall that A and V are in terrible emotional and physical shape at this point, each of them having recently almost died--Anna in childbirth and Vronsky in a botched suicide. They just want to get away from the whole mess and recover abroad.

Here is the ending of Part Four:

"A month later Alexei Alexandrovich was left alone with his son in his apartments and Anna and Vronsky had gone abroad, not only without having obtained a divorce, but having resolutely refused one" (399).

Okay, so Anna, in her weak state, gives up on taking her beloved son Seryozha abroad. This is logical. Karenin has told her she can't have the boy. But what about the baby girl? Was there no dispute over who was to take her? After all, Annie is legally the daughter of Karenin, and he could assert his rights to her if he wished. Apparently she goes abroad with her mother and Vronsky, but she is not even mentioned in this final paragraph. This is ironic when we consider what happens later in the book--Karenin ends up with little Annie after Anna's suicide, and he dotes on the girl.

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