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Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 1, Chapters 11–15 | Summary

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Summary

During dinner in Chapter 11, Stiva tells Levin about Count Alexei Vronsky, a rich and handsome officer from Petersburg who has been courting Kitty in Levin's absence. Thus, he advises him not to wait to propose. Stiva then alludes to his current predicament in which he feels he owes something to his mistress, who has "sacrificed everything." Levin initially responds without much sympathy, saying all fallen women are "vermin," but then softens his stance when he remembers his own sexual escapades. Stiva says Levin is "a wholesome character" who expects life to be the same way, when in reality "all the variety ... all the beauty of life [is] made up of light and shade."

It is revealed in Chapter 12 that Princess Shcherbatsky does not want her daughter to marry Levin, preferring the rich, aristocratic Vronsky, a brilliant match for Kitty. Vronsky has been openly courting Kitty, and the princess expects him to propose. The reader learns in Chapter 13 that Kitty is nervous about both suitors coming to her home in the evening. She loves Levin, whom she has known since childhood. On the other hand, she imagines a brilliant future with Vronsky, while a future with Levin seems "cloudy." Levin arrives early and finds her alone, and when he proposes in Chapter 14 she turns him down. As other people arrive, Levin slips out at the first opportunity. Later, in Chapter 15 the old prince is told that Kitty refused Levin, and he is furious with his wife, calling Vronsky a "popinjay ... who is only amusing himself."

Analysis

The conversation between Stiva and Levin highlights their different attitudes toward sex, love, and marriage. Levin has not been chaste as a single man, but he feels shame about it. He looks with disgust upon sexual liaisons outside of marriage, and for him they are all in the same category—with no difference between a prostitute and a governess. Levin should be understood as Tolstoy's mouthpiece and the moral compass of the novel. Thus, the modern reader cannot help but cringe at his division of the female gender into two categories of "pure woman" and "whore." But as the novel progresses, it becomes clear, as pointed out by Gayle Greene (1977), that Tolstoy the moralist is often at odds with Tolstoy the visionary artist. Moreover, Tolstoy the artist portrays the plight of women with great sensitivity and depth, even as Tolstoy the moralist relegates them to the limited and necessary sphere (in his estimation) of wifehood and motherhood.

Levin's idea of marital love is entirely romantic. For this reason, he does not comprehend how Stiva can look for sexual gratification outside his marriage, saying, "I do not understand how I could pass by a bakery, as full as I am now, and steal a sweet roll." Partly he is naive about marital bliss, but partly Stiva is shallow and greedy—the kind of man who fills his emptiness by gorging on an excessive and variegated number of rolls. Stiva rightly points out to his friend that he looks at things as either black or white. The case of the governess is not so cut and dried, because Stiva has some obligation to her now that he has tarnished her reputation.

Just as Stiva's predicament is complicated, the love between Kitty and Levin is not so simple. He loves her unconditionally, but previously he was also somewhat in love with her sisters as part of his romance with the family. Kitty sees Vronsky as a charming, good-looking newcomer, highly valued by her mother and society, and therefore a much more attractive prospect.

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