Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Origins and Adultery

In keeping with the tail end of Scott’s post, I’ve also been thinking a lot about characters’ origins and how Tolstoy’s been playing with locales as a means of characterization and social commentary.  It seems significant to me that the Vronskys, upper-crust characters of debatable moral fiber, are from St. Petersburg, while Levin, a lower-class noble but an ultimately more sympathetic character, prefers country life, kasha, and peasant traditions to the conventions of high society.  I especially enjoyed Vronsky’s conversation with Levin where he expressed that all Muscovites “have something edgy about them” and “keep rearing up for some reason, getting angry, as if they want to make you feel something,” and  the inclusion of the passage where Kitty’s father describes Vronsky as a “little fop from Petersburg” who’s been “made by machine”.  We’ve also come across the trope of the wealthy noble selling off country estates to pay his debts in the form of Prince Oblonsky, who is also wrapped up in the business of city life, government work, and adultry.  At the very least, Tolstoy seems to be critiquing the nobility’s disconnect from their Russian roots; beyond this, it seems he is equating urban life with mechanization, modernization, and the importation of European culture, all processes which he portrays as corrupting and antithetical to traditional Russian  life. 

I also think Tolstoy is trying to draw parallels between adultery and the adoption of European customs and culture.  I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that Stiva cheats on Dolly with the French governess, and I also think it’s significant that a good number of the Russian princesses have adopted European nicknames.  Beyond this, the periodic inclusion of lines spoken in French and English seems to contrast with the many allusions to Puskin (some accurate, others not so much).  SO.  What do you guys think?  Do you see any other ways Tolstoy plays with setting or concepts of Russian national identity in his characterizations?   

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