A few weeks ago, I started re-reading Tolstoy’s classic, Anna Karenina. I am reading the Pevear and Volokohonsky translation, the recipient of the PEN Translation Prize and an Oprah Book Club selection. I picked up my copy at the local library, where it was on sale for $3. For once, a paperback beats a Kindle edition for price (the Kindle edition is available for $10.72). At $3, this edition is a steal, as graceful and stately as a Russian ballet.
Speaking of the ballet: this being a used copy, I found inside it what looks like an old ticket to the Bolshoi Ballet, or at least a counterfoil, which the previous owner must have left inside the book. I use it as a bookmark. It looks like a currency bill. I was startled to find it there, a piece of paper that takes me right back to Russia in an instant, much like the book itself. In an odd way, quite the madeleine moment, although I have never been to Russia, much less to a performance by the Bolshoi.
In what I read last night, Anna returns home from a party at Princess Betsy’s late at night, where her odious husband, Alexei Alexandrovich, is awaiting her, to talk to her about her “behavior” that evening. Her “behavior” consisted of sequestering herself with Vronsky at the party, in full view of St. Petersburg paparazzi. To give her husband credit, at least he tries to talk to her about what had happened instead of boxing her ears in or throwing her out of the house or outright accusing her of infidelity. Anna, of course, prevails, declaring that she is tired and that there is nothing to talk about, even though there most certainly is. One sees Alexei losing ground very rapidly in front of Anna’s calm demeanor and repeated declarations that she is “sleepy.”
Of their relationship after this, Tolstoy writes: “Outwardly things were the same, but inwardly their relationship had changed completely. Alexei Alexandrovitch, such a strong man in affairs of state, here felt himself powerless. Like a bull, head lowered obediently, he waited for the axe that he felt was raised over him.” It is interesting that for all his facility with words, Alexei is never able to say what he needs to say to Anna. Her secretiveness and deceit in effect rob him of speech.