Tolstoy introduces the image of the train early in Anna Karenina and it seems like they will play an important role in the novel. Vronsky and Anna first meet at the train station and see a man crushed by the train—which Anna sees as a bad omen. Trains are typically connected with modernization and Tolstoy could be employing them to give modern overtones to Vronsky and Anna’s budding infatuation. Despite not emphasizing generational differences to the degree of Turgenev, Tolstoy does suggest that love and conceptions of marriage are changing and this is causing a great deal of confusion for many. He represents this in particular with the Shcherbatsky’s and Kitty’s decision about whom to marry. The image of the train does give a very modern overtone to the start of Anna and Vronsky’s relationship and makes it clear that their relationship will not be a traditional arrangement.
Train imagery also reinforces the notion that this is a novel about the aristocracy. It reinforces the wealth they have at their disposal and is key in developing the role of setting, particularly the role of Moscow vs. St. Petersburg that we talked about in class. If we take Levin as a stand-in for Tolstoy then it does appear that so far Tolstoy is suggesting that the village is superior to the city. I know other Russian authors have used trains to represent modernization and the conflict it sparks between the city and village and I think it will be interesting to see how Tolstoy negotiates these dynamics, as well as the differences between Petersburg and Moscow.