Study Guide

Anna Karenina Man and the Natural World

By Leo Tolstoy

Man and the Natural World

Sergey Ivanovitch Koznishev wanted a rest from mental work, and instead of going abroad as he usually did, he came towards the end of May to stay in the country with his brother. In his judgment the best sort of life was a country life. He had come now to enjoy such a life at his brother's. Konstantin Levin was very glad to have him, especially as he did not expect his brother Nikolay that summer. But in spite of his affection and respect for Sergey Ivanovitch, Konstantin Levin was uncomfortable with his brother in the country. It made him uncomfortable, and it positively annoyed him to see his brother's attitude to the country. To Konstantin Levin the country was the background of life, that is of pleasures, endeavors, labor. To Sergey Ivanovitch the country meant on one hand rest from work, on the other a valuable antidote to the corrupt influences of town, which he took with satisfaction and a sense of its utility. To Konstantin Levin the country was good first because it afforded a field for labor, of the usefulness of which there could be no doubt. To Sergey Ivanovitch the country was particularly good, because there it was possible and fitting to do nothing. (3.1.1)

Levin and his brother have radically different views on country life. For Levin, the countryside is where life is at its most vital. Koznyshev (or Koznishev) thinks that nothing happens outside of the cities. How is Levin thinking that he can be useful ("of which there could be no doubt") out in his country estate?

Now in the solitude of the country, she began to be more and more frequently aware of those joys. Often, looking at them, she would make every possible effort to persuade herself that she was mistaken, that she as a mother was partial to her children. All the same, she could not help saying to herself that she had charming children, all six of them in different ways, but a set of children such as is not often to be met with, and she was happy in them, and proud of them. (3.7.8)

The country brings out Dolly's joy in motherhood; in contrast, the city is associated with her husband's infidelities. The natural world seems to have an almost healing quality, in contrast to the damage of the social life in the cities.

[Dolly's] children scarcely knew Levin, did not remember when they had last seen him, but did not show that strange feeling of shyness and aversion towards him that children so often feel for shamming adults, for which they are so often painfully punished. Shamming in anything at all can deceive the most intelligent, perceptive person, but the most limited child will recognize it and feel aversion, no matter how artfully it is concealed. Whatever Levin's shortcoming were, there was no hint of sham in him, and therefore the children showed him the same friendliness they found in their mother's face. (3.9.14)

It seems as though Levin's great moral advantage is that he's truthful. And this truth goes beyond the fact that he doesn't lie. He also doesn't "sham," or pretend to be other than what he is. He acts instinctively according to his nature, and kids, being less damaged by society than adults, respond well to that.

Over tea Levin learned the whole story of the old man's farming. Ten years ago the old man had rente three hundred and twenty acres from a lady landowner, and last year he had bought them and rented eight hundred more from a local landowner. A small portion of the land, the worst, he rented out, and he himself ploughed some hundred acres with his family and two hired men. […] Despite the old man's complaints, it was clear that he was justifiably proud of his prosperity, proud of his sons, nephew, daughters-in-law, horses, cows, and especially that the whole farm held together. (3.25.15)

We see here an example of a peasant working according to the best of his nature. By focusing on family values, personal interest, and maintaining the land, this man has been able to fin a prosperous living that he's built up more or less from scratch. Even though we only see this old man once, he seems like one important model of how Russian peasant life should be organized (according to Levin).

"Yes, I should have said to [the old landowner]: 'You say our farming doesn't work because the muzhiks hate all improvements and that they must be introduced by authority. Now, if farming didn't work at all without these improvements, you'd be right; but it does work, and it works only where the worker acts according to his habits, like that old man half-way here' [...] We've been pushing ahead for a long time in our own way, the European way, without asking ourselves about the properties of the workforce. Let's try to look at the work force not as an ideal workforce but as the Russian muzhik with his instincts, and organize our farming accordingly." (3.28.34)

Here we get an inkling of the philosophy Levin's going to expand upon later. We're putting this in the "natural world" section because instincts emerge from nature, and because Levin connects peasants (and especially Russian peasants) with closeness to nature. How does Levin seem to imagine the nature of the Russian peasant? What connections is he making between the nature of the peasant and agricultural reforms?

At the sight of the sick man, [Kitty] felt pity for him. And pity in her woman's soul produced none of the horror and squeamishness it did in her husband, but a need to act, to find out all the details of his condition and help with them. As she did not have the slightest doubt that she had to help him, so she had no doubt that it was possible, and she got down to work at once. Those same details, the mere thought of which horrified her husband, at once attracted her attention. (5.18.2)

Kitty knows instinctively what to do to help Nicholas, while Levin is paralyzed. How does Tolstoy's portrayal of Kitty here help us to understand his views on the nature of women in general?

[Levin] did not consider himself wise, but he could not help knowing that he was more intelligent than his wife or Agafya Mikhailovna, and he could not help knowing that when he thought about death, he thought about it with all the forces of his soul. he also knew that many great masculine minds, whose thoughts about it he had read, had pondered death and yet did not know a hundredth part of what his wife and Agafya Mikhailovna knew about it [...] The proof that they knew firmly what death was lay in their knowing, with a moment's doubt, how to act with dying people and not being afraid of them. (5.19.2)

Levin feels the contrast between his intellectual knowledge of death and Kitty and Miss Agatha's emotional understanding of death. Why does Levin find that women have greater access to the natural world of life and death than he does? Why are certain figures in Anna Karenina – women, peasants, children – more natural than the male noblemen with whom Levin associates?

Running into the marsh, Laska at once picked up, amidst the familiar smells of roots, marsh grass, rust, and the alien smell of horse dung, the bird smell spread all through the place, that same strong-smelling bird that exited her more than anything else […] She had already begun a circle to find the place when her master's voice suddenly distracted her. "Here, Laska!" he said, pointing in a different direction […] She obeyed him, pretending to search in order to give him pleasure, ran all over the hummocks and then went back to the former place, and immediately sensed them again. (6.12.8)

Why do we get a scene in this chapter from Levin's dog's perspective? How does Levin's enthusiasm and skill for hunting seem to fit into this portrait of Levin as a natural guy? Can we make any comparisons between Levin's relationship with Laska and Vronsky's fatal episode with Frou-frou, his horse?

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