Anna Karenina and Levin—Intersecting Lives
Until Part Seven of the novel, the Levin-Kitty and the Anna-Vronsky plots have been engaged in parallel stages, but with totally different results. In Part Five, they each have honeymoons, but Kitty and Levin emerge from the solipsism of this state to embrace familial responsibility whereas Anna and Vronsky flounder in their indulgence and grow further apart. In Part Six, the couples each set up housekeeping on their country estates for the summer, but Tolstoy stages every mundane detail of life on each of the estates so that it all adds up to diametrically opposed existential solutions.
In Part Seven, Tolstoy does something very different with the two plots—he intersects the plotlines, in what many see as the nexus of the novel. To carry this off, Tolstoy relies on symmetry and opposition, two of his favorite principles of construction. He starts by stationing everyone in Moscow. First, he stages a meeting between Kitty and Vronsky, their first since the opening scenes of the novel. This meeting reminds us of past pairings and other plot possibilities. It also draws into question the barriers between the two plots by reminding us of some common ground between them. Is Anna really so different from Kitty? Their lives couldn't seem more different right now, but reminders of the past make us wonder why their paths have so diverged.
Secondly, since Tolstoy has trained us to expect symmetry, we know that Anna and Levin's meeting must happen next. Readers aware of Levin's status as a kind of alter ego for Tolstoy will perhaps be especially watchful during this scene. It may offer some clues about Tolstoy's response to his adulterous heroine. Tolstoy has already shown that society is merciless to Anna, whether it's her Petersburg friends or her neighbors in the box at the opera. Everyone is ready to cast a stone at Anna—but not Levin.
When the novel began, Levin was certainly quite judgmental about women who have affairs: "They're vermin for me, and all fallen women are the same." (p. 41) But, lo and behold, Levin finds himself having a totally different response in Anna's company. "He listened, talked, and all the while thought about her, about her inner life, trying to guess her feelings. And he who had formerly judged her so severely, now, by some strange train of thought, justified her and at the same time pitied her, and feared that Vronsky did not fully understand her." (p. 701) Although there may well be some sexual tension between them (we are told that Anna did her best with all young men to "arouse a feeling of love for her"), what is remarkable in this description is the fact that Levin is entering her "inner life," "trying to guess her feelings." Maybe it's not all about physical attraction, maybe he is responding to her as a lost soul. He is making the empathetic leap of trying to feel along with her, trying to see things from her point of view. This is a revolution for Levin, and also for the novel itself.
What does Levin feel for Anna?