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Anna Karenina’s happiness

It’s Valentine’s Day on Thursday, so let us celebrate the happiness of brief, all-encompassing love. We’ve paired a scene from the recent film adaptation of Anna Karenina, currently nominated for fours Oscars, with an excerpt of the novel below. In it, Anna and Vronsky discuss the happiness of their newfound love.

IT was already past five, and in order not to be late and not to use his own horses, which were known to everybody, Vronsky took Yashvin’s hired carriage and told the coachman to drive as fast as possible. The old four-seated hired vehicle was very roomy; he sat down in a corner, put his legs on the opposite seat, and began to think. A vague sense of the accomplished cleaning up of his affairs, a vague memory of Serpukhovskoy’s friendship for him, and the flattering thought that the latter considered him a necessary man, and above all the anticipation of the coming meeting, merged into one general feeling of joyful vitality. This feeling was so strong that he could not help smiling. He put down his legs, threw one of them over the other, and placing his arm across it felt its firm calf, where he had hurt it in the fall the day before, and then, throwing himself back, sighed deeply several times.

‘Delightful! O delightful!’ he thought. He had often before been joyfully conscious of his body, but had never loved himself, his own body, as he did now. It gave him pleasure to feel the slight pain in his strong leg, to be conscious of the muscles of his chest moving as he breathed. That clear, cool August day which made Anna feel so hopeless seemed exhilarating and invigorating to him and refreshed his face and neck, which were glowing after their washing and rubbing. The scent of brilliantine given off by his moustache seemed peculiarly pleasant in the fresh air. All that he saw from the carriage window through the cold pure air in the pale light of the evening sky seemed as fresh, bright and vigorous as he was himself. The roofs of the houses glittered in the evening sun; the sharp outlines of the fences and the corners of buildings, the figures of people and vehicles they occasionally met, the motionless verdure of the grass and trees, the fields of potatoes with their clear-cut ridges, the slanting shadows of the houses and trees, the bushes and even the potato ridges—it was all pleasant and like a landscape newly painted and varnished.

‘Get on, get on!’ he shouted to the coachman, thrusting himself out of the window; and taking a three-rouble note from his pocket he put it into the man’s hand as the latter turned round. The coachman felt something in his hand, the whip cracked, and the carriage rolled quickly along the smooth macadamized high road.

‘I want nothing, nothing but that happiness,’ he thought, staring at the ivory knob of the bell between the front windows of the carriage, his mind full of Anna as he had last seen her.

‘And the longer it continues the more I love her! And here is the garden of Vrede’s country house. Where is she? Where? Why? Why has she given me an appointment here, in a letter from Betsy?’ he thought; but there was no longer any time for thinking. Before reaching the avenue he ordered the coachman to stop, opened the carriage door, jumped out while the carriage was still moving, and went up the avenue leading to the house. There was no one in the avenue, but turning to the right he saw her. Her face was veiled, but his joyous glance took in that special manner of walking peculiar to her alone: the droop of her shoulders, the poise of her head; and immediately a thrill passed like an electric current through his body, and with renewed force he became conscious of himself from the elastic movement of his firm legs to the motion of his lungs as he breathed, and of something tickling his lips. On reaching him she clasped his hand firmly.

‘You are not angry that I told you to come? It was absolutely necessary for me to see you,’ she said; and at sight of the serious and severe expression of her mouth under her veil his mood changed at once.

‘I angry? But how did you get here?’

‘Never mind!’ she said, putting her hand on his arm. ‘Come, I must speak to you.’

He felt that something had happened, and that this interview would not be a happy one. In her presence he had no will of his own: without knowing the cause of her agitation he became infected by it.

‘What is it? What?’ he asked, pressing her hand against his side with his elbow and trying to read her face.

She took a few steps in silence to gather courage, and then suddenly stopped.

‘I did not tell you last night,’ she began, breathing quickly and heavily, ‘that on my way back with Alexis Alexandrovich I told him everything … said I could not be his wife, and … I told him all.’

He listened, involuntarily leaning forward with his whole body as if trying to ease her burden. But as soon as she had spoken he straightened himself and his face assumed a proud and stern expression.

‘Yes, yes, that is better! A thousand times better! I understand how hard it must have been for you’ he said, but she was not listening to his words—only trying to read his thoughts from his face. She could not guess that it expressed the first idea that had entered Vronsky’s mind: the thought of an inevitable duel; therefore she explained that momentary look of severity in another way. After reading her husband’s letter she knew in the depths of her heart that all would remain as it was, that she would not have the courage to disregard her position and give up her son in order to be united with her lover. The afternoon spent at the Princess Tverskaya’s house had confirmed that thought. Yet this interview was still of extreme importance to her. She hoped that the meeting might bring about a change in her position and save her. If at this news he would firmly, passionately, and without a moment’s hesitation say to her: ‘Give up everything and fly with me!’ she would abandon her son and go with him. But the news had not the effect on him that she had desired: he only looked as if he had been offended by something. ‘It was not at all hard for me — it all came about of itself,’ she said, irritably. ‘And here …’ she pulled her husband’s note from under her glove.

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‘I understand, I understand,’ he interrupted, taking the note but not reading it, and trying to soothe her. ‘I only want one thing, I only ask for one thing: to destroy this situation in order to devote my life to your happiness.’

‘Why do you tell me this?’ she said. ‘Do you think I could doubt it? If I doubted it …’

‘Who’s that coming?’ said Vronsky, pointing to two ladies who were coming toward them. ‘They may know us!’ and he moved quickly in the direction of a sidewalk, drawing her along with him.

‘Oh, I don’t care!’ she said. Her lips trembled and her eyes seemed to him to be looking at him with strange malevolence from under the veil. ‘As I was saying, that’s not the point! I cannot doubt that, but see what he writes to me. Read—’ she stopped again.

Again, as at the first moment when he heard the news of her having spoken to her husband, Vronsky yielded to the natural feeling produced by the thoughts of his relation to the injured husband. Now that he held his letter he could not help imagining to himself the challenge that he would no doubt find waiting for him that evening or next day, and the duel, when he would be standing with the same cold proud look as his face bore that moment, and having fired into the air would be awaiting the shot from the injured husband. And at that instant the thought of what Serpukhovskoy had just been saying to him and of what had occurred to him that morning (that it was better not to bind himself) flashed through his mind, and he knew that he could not pass on the thought to her.

After he had read the letter he looked up at her, but his look was not firm. She understood at once that he had already considered this by himself, knew that whatever he might say he would not tell her all that he was thinking, and knew that her last hopes had been deceived. This was not what she had expected.

‘You see what a man he is!’ she said in a trembling voice. ‘He …’

‘Forgive, me, but I am glad of it!’ Vronsky interrupted. ‘For God’s sake hear me out!’ he added, with an air of entreaty that she would let him explain his words. ‘I am glad because I know that it is impossible, quite impossible for things to remain as they are, as he imagines.’

‘Why impossible?’ said Anna, forcing back her tears and clearly no longer attaching any importance to what he would say. She felt that her fate was decided.

Vronsky wanted to say that after what he considered to be the inevitable duel it could not continue; but he said something else.

‘It cannot continue. I hope that you will now leave him. I hope …’ he became confused and blushed, ‘that you will allow me to arrange, and to think out a life for ourselves. To-morrow …’ he began, but she did not let him finish.

‘And my son?’ she exclaimed. ‘You see what he writes? I must leave him, and I cannot do that and do not want to.’

‘But for heaven’s sake, which is better? To leave your son, or to continue in this degrading situation?’

‘Degrading for whom?’

‘For everybody, and especially for you.’

‘You call it degrading! do not call it that; such words have no meaning for me,’ she replied tremulously. She did not wish him to tell untruths now. She had only his love left, and she wanted to love him. ‘Try to understand that since I loved you everything has changed for me. There is only one single thing in the world for me: your love ! If I have it, I feel so high and firm that nothing can be degrading for me. I am proud of my position because … proud of … proud …’ she could not say what she was proud of. Tears of shame and despair choked her. She stopped and burst into sobs. He also felt something rising in his throat, and for the first time in his life he felt ready to cry. He could not explain what it was that had so moved him; he was sorry for her and felt that he could not help her, because he knew that he was the cause of her trouble, that he had done wrong.

‘Would divorce be impossible?’ he asked weakly. She silently shook her head. ‘Would it not be possible to take your son away with you and go away all the same?’

‘Yes, but all that depends on him. Now I go back to him,’ she said dryly. Her foreboding that everything would remain as it was had not deceived her.

‘On Tuesday I shall go back to Petersburg and everything will be decided. Yes,’ she said, ‘but don’t let us talk about it.’

Anna’s carriage, which she had sent away and ordered to return to the gate of the Vrede Garden, drove up. Anna took leave of Vronsky and went home.

A classic of Russian literature, this new edition of Anna Karenina uses the acclaimed Louise and Alymer Maude translation, and offers a new introduction and notes which provide completely up-to-date perspectives on Tolstoy’s classic work.

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