Sunday, February 24, 2013

Anna Karenina: Part V, Chapter 22

In Part V, Chapter 22 of Anna Karenina, Alesky Aleksandrovich Karenin is alone and in despair. His wife Anna has left him for Count Vronsky, a military officer. He feels he can not endure the "weight of universal contempt and exasperation" which he sees in the faces of all he meets. At his most bitter moment, his friend the Countess Lydia Ivanovna comes to him. The warmth of her affection causes Karenin to break down.

"Dear friend!" she said in a voice breaking with emotion. "You must not give way to grief. Your sorrow is great, but you must find consolation."
"I am crushed, I am annihilated, I am no longer a man!" said Aleksey Aleksandrovich, . . . gazing into her brimming eyes. "My position is so awful because I can nowhere find support, not even in myself."
"You will find support; seek it -- not in me, though I beseech you to believe in my friendship," she said, with a sigh. "Our support is love, that He has vouchsafed us. His burden is light," she said, with the look of ecstasy Aleksey Aleksandrovich knew so well.
"He will be you support and your succor."
 Though it seemed evident that she was moved by her own lofty sentiments, and by that new mystical fervor which had lately gained ground in Petersburg, and which seemed to Alekesey Aleksandrovich excessive, still it was gratifying to hear this now. 


Our support is love, that He has vouchsafed us.

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:35-39
His burden is light

28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30 

*All Scripture quotes are from the King James Version unless otherwise stated.

(Source: BibleGateway. Image Source: WikiPaintings)


  1. Now you've got me wondering about "that new mystical fervor which had lately gained ground in Petersburg". A revival in St. Petersburg? Was this historical, or something made up for the novel?

    1. There is big question mark in my margin here! Though I haven't yet found the specifics, I do know that Russia was in the midst of a slow, painful process of modernization during this time. Tolstoy was skeptical about all Western influence on his culture.

      I added that paragraph about the "new mystical fervor" to this post at the last minute because I wanted to be true to Tolstoy's portrayal of this scene.

      The Countess Lydia Ivanovna is depicted as a shallow, overly dramatic, overly emotional woman. Though she urges Karenin to trust in Jesus, she also has her own designs on him. Desperate for support and friendship, He soon grants her the management of his household. Later, when Anna pleads for access to her son, the Countess manipulates Karenin into prohibiting Anna from seeing him. The Countess also tells Anna's son that his mother is dead to him.

      From this I get the impression that if there was a revival happening in St. Petersburg, Tolstoy wasn't thrilled about it.

      He later refers to Karenin's experience of "asking Christ in to his heart" as shallow and erroneous -- a "mock salvation."

      Anna Karenina has been referred to as Tolstoy's "spiritual autobiography". While reading it, I sometimes felt as though he was working through his spiritual questions and venting as he went along.

    2. Excellent background, thanks!

  2. For reference. This quote belongs with this post:

    "[Lydia Ivanovna] gave Aleksey Aleksandrovich moral support in the consciousness of her love and respect for him, and still more, as it was soothing for her to believe, in that she almost turned him to Christianity -- that is, from an indifferent and apathetic believer she turned him into an ardent and steadfast adherent of the new interpretation of Christian doctrine, which had been gaining ground of late in Petersburg. It was easy for Aleksey Aleksandrovich to believe in this teaching. Aleksey Aleksandrovich, like Lydia Ivanovna, and others who shared their views, was completely devoid of that depth of imaginative faculty, that spiritual faculty in virtue of which the conceptions evoked by the imagination become so vivid that they demand being brought into harmony with other conceptions, and with actual fact. He saw nothing impossible and inconceivable in the idea that death, though existing for unbelievers, did not exist for him, and that, as he was possessed of the most perfect faith, of the measure of which he was himself the judge, therefore there was no sin in his soul, and he was experiencing complete salvation here on earth.

    "It is true that the erroneousness and shallowness of the conception of his faith was dimly perceptible to Aleksey Aleksandrovich, and he knew that when, without the slightest idea that his forgiveness was the action of a higher power, he had surrendered directly to the feeling of forgiveness, he had felt more happiness than now when he was thinking every instant that Christ was in his heart, and that in signing official papers he was doing His will. But for Aleksey Aleksandrovich it was a necessity to think that way; it was such a necessity for him in his humiliation to have at least some elevation, however imaginary, from which, looked down upon by all, he could look down on others, that he clung to his mock salvation as if it were genuine."