Anna Karenina Gender Quotes
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In those days Levin used often to be in the Shcherbatskys' house, and he was in love with the Shcherbatsky household. Strange as it may appear, it was with the household, the family, that Konstantin Levin was in love, especially with the feminine half of the household. Levin did not remember his own mother, and his only sister was older than he was, so that it was in the Shcherbatskys' house that he saw for the first time that inner life of an old, noble, cultivated, and honorable family of which he had been deprived by the death of his father and mother. All the members of that family, especially the feminine half, were pictured by him, as it were, wrapped about with a mysterious poetical veil, and he not only perceived no defects whatever in them, but under the poetical veil that shrouded them he assumed the existence of the loftiest sentiments and every possible perfection. Why it was the three young ladies had one day to speak French, and the next English; why it was that at certain hours they played by turns on the piano, the sounds of which were audible in their brother's room above, where the students used to work; why they were visited by those professors of French literature, of music, of drawing, of dancing; why at certain hours all the three young ladies, with Mademoiselle Linon, drove in the coach to the Tversky boulevard, dressed in their satin cloaks, Dolly in a long one, Natalia in a half-long one, and Kitty in one so short that her shapely legs in tightly-drawn red stockings were visible to all beholders; why it was they had to walk about the Tversky boulevard escorted by a footman with a gold cockade in his hat–all this and much more that was done in their mysterious world he did not understand, but he was sure that everything that was done there was very good, and he was in love precisely with the mystery of the proceedings. (1.6.2)
Women are mysterious, heavenly creatures for Levin. Beyond this idealization, females are essential components to his vision of a proper home. He loves Kitty in part because she comes from his idea of the perfect family. For more on Levin's ideas about women and family, check out his "Character Analysis."
Bowing to right and left to the people he met, and here as everywhere joyously greeting acquaintances, he went up to the sideboard for a preliminary appetizer of fish and vodka, and said to the painted Frenchwoman decked in ribbons, lace, and ringlets, behind the counter, something so amusing that even that Frenchwoman was moved to genuine laughter. Levin for his part refrained from taking any vodka simply because he felt such a loathing of that Frenchwoman, all made up, it seemed, of false hair, poudre de riz, and vinaigre de toilette. He made haste to move away from her, as from a dirty place. His whole soul was filled with memories of Kitty, and there was a smile of triumph and happiness shining in his eyes. (1.10.1)
For Levin, it seems, women are either pure (like Kitty) or completely loathsome, like the French women in this scene. Is he putting Kitty on too high a pedestal? And maybe judging these French women too severely?
On the drive home, as Darya [Dolly] Alexandrovna, with all her children round her, their heads still wet from their bath, and a kerchief tied over her own head, was getting near the house, the coachman said, "There's some gentleman coming: the master of Pokrovskoe, I do believe."
Darya Alexandrovna peeped out in front, and was delighted when she recognized in the gray hat and gray coat the familiar figure of Levin walking to meet them. She was glad to see him at any time, but at this moment she was specially glad he should see her in all her glory. No one was better able to appreciate her grandeur than Levin.
Seeing her, he found himself face to face with one of the pictures of his daydream of family life. (3.9.1-3)
Dolly embodies an idealized mother, and particularly so in this moment. Levin longs for this kind of woman to be part of his life and help him build a family. For more on Dolly as a mother, check out her "Character Analysis." You can also visit Anna's "Character Analysis" to learn more about Tolstoy's views on women as mothers.