Part Four was a quick read, but it packed quite a punch, didn't it? Deathbed reconciliations, a suicide attempt—even a marriage proposal and a new birth! Through all the drama, I was struck by Tolstoy's themes of love and forgiveness.
Did you ever think Karenin could go through such a real awakening? He gives himself over to compassion and forgiveness, and opens himself up. For the first time in his life, he feels a deep and genuine love—for baby Anna. He feels spiritual joy, and wants to save everybody. "Above all the very joy of forgiveness made it so that he suddenly felt not only relief from his suffering bit also an inner peace that he had never experienced before." (p. 418) He's even willing to allow Anna and Vronsky to continue their relationship as long as he's not deprived of the children.
And what about that moment at Anna's deathbed? Anna begging Karenin...Karenin taking Vronsky's hands from his face—and, tears streaming—forgiving him? I felt Vronsky's shame, Karenin's deliverance, and Anna's delirium, all at once!
The tragedy is that Anna simply cannot love Karenin. She's afraid of him, repulsed by his presence and intimidated by his magnanimity. She doesn't see the beauty of his transformation at all. Forgiveness frees Karenin, but somehow that same act twists something in Anna and Vronsky's hearts.
Vronsky and Anna may still feel passion for one and other, but I doubt they truly love each other. Vronsky is most drawn to her when he thinks he's lost her forever. Anna gives him her body, but is totally preoccupied with divorce, her son—even death. Instead of feeling relief or unburdened, they seem lower than before and more helpless. Vronsky shoots himself to avoid the humiliation. Anna abandons her son and runs away to Italy with her new family. They seem destined to an unhappy ending. Now, Kitty and Levin are another story! Their love seems to shed light and life on them both. I love how the most ordinary moments—a boy, a pigeon, the smell of bread—make Levin laugh and weep in his loved filled trance! Neither Kitty nor Levin are perfect. Kitty's vanity kept her from accepting Levin's first proposal and Levin isn't as pure or religious as Kitty—but they want to love each other completely and honestly. Levin easily forgives Kitty. He thinks she's innocent and he had never stopped loving her. And when Levin risks all by letting Kitty read his diaries, he is trusting that her love will prevail. Even in her grief, she forgives him. Their love is strengthened more than ever.
In Karenin, in Levin, and in Kitty, we see an open heart transformed by love and forgiveness. That is spiritual power!
On to Part Five—we're halfway through the book!