Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Anna Karenina’s conduct

One of the greatest novels ever written, Anna Karenina sets the impossible and destructive triangle of Anna, her husband Karenin, and her lover Vronsky against the marriage of Levin and Kitty, thus illuminating the most important questions that face humanity. A new film adaptation of the novel, starring Keira Knightly and directed by Joe Wright, opens today in the United States. (It was released 7 September in the UK.) We’ve paired a scene from the film with an excerpt of the novel below.

EVERY one was loudly expressing disapproval and repeating the words some one had uttered: ‘They will have gladiators and lions next,’ and every one was feeling the horror of it, so that when Vronsky fell and Anna gave a loud exclamation, there was nothing remarkable about it. But afterwards a change came over Anna’s face which was positively improper. She quite lost self-control. She began to flutter like a captive bird, now rising to go, now addressing Betsy.

‘Let us go!’ she said.

But Betsy did not hear her. She was leaning over to speak to a General who was below.

Karenin approached Anna and politely offered her his arm.

‘Come, if you like,’ he said in French; but Anna listened to what the General was saying and did not notice her husband.

‘He too has broken his leg, they say. It’s too bad,’ the General said,

Anna, without replying to her husband, raised her glasses and looked toward the spot where Vronsky had fallen; but it was so far off, and so many people had crowded there, that it was impossible to distinguish anything. She put down her glasses and was about to go; but at that moment an officer galloped up and reported something to the Emperor. Anna bent forward to listen.

‘Stiva! Stiva!’ she called to her brother.

But he did not hear her. She was again on the point of going.

‘I again offer you my arm if you wish to go,’ said her husband touching her arm. With a look of repulsion she drew back, and without looking at him replied:

‘No, no, leave me alone, I shall stay here,’

She now saw an officer running to the Grand Stand from the place where Vronsky had fallen. Betsy waved her handkerchief to him. The officer brought the news that the rider was unhurt but that the horse had broken its back.

On hearing this Anna quickly sat down and hid her face behind her fan. Karenin saw that she was crying, and that she was unable to keep back either her tears or the sobs that made her bosom heave. He stepped forward so as to screen her, giving her time to recover.

‘For the third time I offer you my arm,’ he said after a while, turning toward her. Anna looked at him and did not know what to say. The Princess Betsy came to her aid.

‘No, Alexis Alexandrovich,’ she put in, ‘I brought Anna here and I have promised to take her back again.’

‘Excuse me, Princess,’ he said, smiling politely but looking her firmly in the eyes, ‘but I see that Anna is not very well, and I wish her to come with me.’

Anna looked round with alarm, rose obediently and put her hand on her husband’s arm.

‘I will send to him and find out, and will let you know,’ Betsy whispered to her.

On leaving the stand Karenin as usual spoke to people he met, and Anna as usual had to reply and make conversation: but she was beside herself and walked as in a dream, holding her husband’s arm.

‘Is he hurt or not? Is it true? Will he come or not? Shall I see him to-night?’ she thought.

In silence she took her place in her husband’s carriage, and in silence they drove out of the crowd of vehicles. In spite of all he had seen, Karenin would still not allow himself to think of his wife’s real position. He only saw the external sights. He saw that she had behaved with impropriety and he considered it his duty to tell her so. But it was very difficult for him to say that and nothing more. He opened his mouth to say that she had behaved improperly, but involuntarily said something quite different.

‘After all, how inclined we all are to these cruel spectacles,’ he said. ‘I notice…’

‘What? I do not understand,’ said Anna contemptuously.

He was offended and at once began to tell her what he wanted to.

‘I must tell you…’ he said.

‘It’s coming—the explanation!’ she thought and felt frightened.

‘I must tell you that you behaved improperly to-day,’ he said in French.

‘How did I behave improperly?’ she said aloud, quickly turning her head and looking him straight in the eyes, now without any of the former deceptive gaiety but with a determined air beneath which she had difficulty in hiding the fright she felt.

‘Don’t forget,’ said he to her, pointing at the open window behind the coachman’s box; and, slightly rising, he lifted the window.

‘What did you consider improper?’ she asked again.

‘The despair you were unable to conceal when one of the riders fell.’

He expected a rejoinder from her; but she remained silent, looking straight before her.

‘I asked you once before to conduct yourself in Society so that evil tongues might be unable to say anything against you. There was a time when I spoke about inner relations; now I do not speak of them. I speak now of external relations. Your conduct was improper and I do not wish it to occur again.’

She did not hear half that he said, but felt afraid of him and wondered whether it was true that Vronsky was not hurt. Was it of him they were speaking when they said that he was not hurt but the horse had broken its back? She only smiled with simulated irony when he had finished; and she did not reply because she had not heard what he said. Karenin had begun to speak boldly, but when he realized clearly what he was talking about, the fear she was experiencing communicated itself to him He saw her smile and a strange delusion possessed him. ‘She smiles at my suspicions. In a moment she will tell me what she told them: that these suspicions are groundless and ridiculous.’

Now that a complete disclosure was impending, he expected nothing so much as that she would, as before, answer him mockingly that his suspicions were ridiculous and groundless. What he knew was so terrible that he was now prepared to believe anything. But the expression of her frightened and gloomy face did not now even promise deception.

‘Perhaps I am mistaken,’ said he. ‘In that case I beg your pardon.’

‘No, you were not mistaken,’ she said slowly, looking despairingly into his cold face. ‘You were not mistaken. I was, and cannot help being, in despair. I listen to you but I am thinking of him. I love him, I am his mistress, I cannot endure you. I am afraid of you, and I hate you. Do what you like to me.’

And throwing herself back into the corner of the carriage she burst into sobs, hiding her face in her hands. Karenin did not move, and did not change the direction in which he was looking, but his face suddenly assumed the solemn immobility of the dead, and that expression did not alter till they reached the house. As they were driving up to it, he turned his face to her still with the same expression and said:

‘Yes! But I demand that the external conditions of propriety shall be observed till’—his voice trembled—‘till I take measures to safeguard my honour and inform you of them.’

He alighted first and helped her out. In the presence of the servants he pressed her hand, re-entered the carriage, and drove off toward Petersburg.

After he had gone the Princess Betsy’s footman brought Anna a note.

‘I sent to Alexis to inquire about his health. He writes that he is safe and sound, but in despair.’

‘Then he will come,’ thought she. ‘What a good thing it is that I spoke out.’

She looked at the clock. She had three hours still to wait, and the memory of the incidents of their last meeting fired her blood.

‘Dear me, how light it is! It is dreadful, but I love to see his face, and I love this fantastic light…. My husband! Ah, yes…. Well, thank heaven that all is over with him!

Recent Comments

  1. thewryter

    What have they done to this book?! I will go see it, because I am so fond of this book and of all of Tolstoy’s work. But where is the passion, the rage from Karenin, where is the defiance in Anna? My God, didn’t anyone on that set READ the book?

  2. Daphne Sayed

    This is so interesting.I was amazed to see the film was accurate.

  3. […] lands. But very few Russian nobles were like the people you see in the latest remake of Anna Karenina, waltzing around ballrooms dripping jewels and getting entangled in sticky love affairs. The […]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *