Levin and Kitty
"Levin and Kitty were particularly happy and conscious of their love that evening. And their happiness in their love seemed to imply a disagreeable slur on those who would have liked to feel the same and could not—and they felt a prick of conscience. " - "Anna Karenina", Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy has created many female characters, each different and unique in their own way, both flawed and virtuous - they are socliates, religious and full of piety devotees, seductresses, matriarchs, young maidens who explore. Out of all of them, his probably most famous female character is Anna Karenina. Perhaps she is his most famous character of all of them and her name has the honor to be the title of his most famous novel. The novel "Anna Karenina" has seen many adaptations into cinema, ballets and operas. However, most of them focus on the passionate romance between Anna Karenina and Alexei Vronsky. Very few creators of visual arts, give any significant timing to the romance that happens along Anna's - the one between Kitty Shcherbatskya and Konstantin Levin. It would seem that in its lack of the scandalous and passionate allure, the slow and calm love that develops between Kitty and Levin seems stale. However, in my reading of the novel, it was always their relationship that I had personally admired.
The Many Kinds of Love
“I think... if it is true that
there are as many minds as there
are heads, then there are as many
kinds of love as there are hearts.”
― "Anna Karenina", Leo Tolstoy Tolstoy's novel is, depending on an edition, a 800 to 1000 pages long exploration of societal concept of love and marriage and individual love. Both of his leading female characters, Anna and Kitty break the societal conventions in pursuit of love that fulfills them as human beings and in which they and their beloved men can flourish and make each other happy. Throughout the novel, there is a visible contrast between authenticity of love that comes from one's heart and marriage that is made for social prestige our wealth. However, his two heroines "rebel" against the society which sees love of secondary importance, in very different ways. Anna and Alexei's love is a passionate, consuming love - it burns like a fire and the two seemingly have no options but to release that fire towards each other. Their love is not pejoratively judged, but over the time, the jealousy, the expectations, even the selfishness, the inability to choose and leave certain attachments behind, bring a destruction and tragedy to both Vronsky and Karenina. A reader may wonder then, whether it was love, or whether they both saw in each other a moment of freedom, liberation from the social expectations and loveless life. Or perhaps it was a combination of both. But their passion did not hurt only themselves but their families, including Anna's children. Kitty's romance, however, is entirely different, her situation perhaps being easier by the fact that she was unmarried. Levin, resembling Tolstoy's own life, was usually away from the society, preferring to stay at the countryside, run the estate and work with his peasants. His love for Kitty was deep and strong, she represented for him an ideal, seeing in her sort of angel, a divinity come down to earth. His proposal though, was met with a rejection. Kitty at the time was enjoying the society and had her eye on another man. Heartbroken, he continued with his countryside life. Kitty, because of her own heartbreak went for a spa where a big change occurs in her heart and mind. The broken heart and alone time made her see the truth - she was not a seductress, and she was not a socialite. The epiphany of self-awareness made her understand that she could only live with authenticity and honesty - standing firm on her ground and going after what she truly desired and what her heart truly wanted. Kitty's transformation from a curious maiden who sought affirmation from others to a woman who was certain of what she desired in life was also met with seeing value in Levin and not in the very often, disloyal and unethical men that she would encounter at the balls. Levin's heart was still full of love, and he, defeating all shame and pride, asked for Kitty's hand again. Humbled by the second chance, Kitty accepted. Love between Kitty and Levin, although lacking in passion and drama that Anna and Vronsky's had, was portrayal of pure love. Love that is slow and unselfish. Levin's long wait, Kitty's strength to admit her own mistake demanded deep self awareness, faith and selfless love for the other. Their love, despite their other trouble, was the one to last and become bigger, stronger, with the time.
The Lover is the One who Waits
“Am I in love? --yes, since I am waiting. The other one never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn't wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game. Whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover's fatal identity is precisely this: I am the one who waits.”
― "A Lover's Discourse: Fragments", Roland Barthes
Impatience and shortsightedness are often companions. Impatience, also often befriends expectations, fear and need for control. Expectations, fear and need for control on numerous occasions cause lethal wounds to relationships. It consumes the other and very quickly, the sweetness of freedom and its innocence become a prison. The lover is patient because the lover is confident of his love and because the lover loves for the sake of another, not personal pleasure. The lover is patient because the lover has faith and because the lover does not give up when discomfort and unpleasantness knock on the door. Levin waits for Kitty to grow and come along - despite her rejection he never looks for another and despite her rejection he approaches her again. Like a seer who, against everyone's reasonable suggestions, does not accept his vision to be untrue, so does the lover, with faith in his love fight any sound and practical advice to give it up. It is not just Levin who has to be patient and wait for his beloved, Kitty has to do it as well. Deeply religious and devoted, she marries a man who does not have faith, who struggles with it and who often feels detached from people around him. Kitty, however, does not push him, but with her behavior, her devotion, her deep compassion for everyone, the strength she carries bring him to faith. And it was not a big, strong vision as many think it would be - it took nothing but a meadow and open sky. Very often, in Tolstoy's novels, women carry this role of bringing their men towards faith, towards meaningful and loving existence. Of Kitty's strength, Tolstoy speaks: " 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." Kitty in that sense, has to wait for her husband to join her world of devotion, meaning and beauty, she has to wait for him to leave his previous existence full of irritability, doubt, fear and sometimes nihilism. But that was not the only thing Kitty has to wait for - Levin struggles to connect with their child, he finds it hard to love him. Towards the very end of the book, Levin finds in his heart, feelings and love for his son: "The baby was taken out of the bath, drenched with water, wrapped in towels, dried, and after a piercing scream, handed to his mother. Well, I am glad you are beginning to love him,’ said Kitty to her husband, when she had settled herself comfortably in her usual place, with the baby at her breast. ‘I am so glad! It had begun to distress me. You said you had no feeling for him.’ ‘No; did I say that? I only said I was disappointed. (,,,) ‘Not disappointed in him, but in my own feeling; I had expected more. I had expected a rush of new delightful emotion to come as a surprise. And then instead of that— disgust, pity..’ She listened attentively, looking at him over the baby, while she put back on her slender fingers the rings she had taken off while giving Mitya his bath. ‘And most of all, at there being far more apprehension and pity than pleasure. Today, after that fright during the storm, I understand how I love him." Both Kitty and Levin grow during their relationship, very often, subtly, influencing or triggering the growth in one another, both have to patiently, without judgement wait for the other, accompanied by a deep faith of the other in their hearts. Kitty and Levin's relationship is not perfect, but in every trouble that came their way, their love and bond was more important to both of them than the expectations they had of each other, than the manic need to consume the other. Kitty and Levin, then, become dedicated not only to each other, but to that love which they share, promising, never to allow it to break. In the end, I shall share the following quote by Ann Patchett: "When I was 21 I read “Anna Karenina.” I thought Anna and Vronsky were soul mates. They were deeply in love and therefore had to be together. I found Karenin cruel and oppressive for keeping his wife from her destiny. Levin and Kitty and the peasants bored me. I read those parts quickly. Last year I turned 49, and I read the book again. This time, I loved Levin and Kitty. I loved the fact that after she declined his proposal he waited for a long time to mend his hurt feelings and then asked her again. I loved that she had grown up in the interim and now felt grateful for a second chance. Anna and Vronsky bored me. I thought Anna was selfish and shrill. My heart went out to poor Karenin, who tried to be decent. What has literature taught me about love? Literature (along with experience) has taught me that love means different things at different points in our lives, and that often as we get older we gravitate toward the quieter, kinder plotlines, and find them to be richer than we had originally understood them to be."
Links Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy A Sentimental Education - The New York Times A Lover's Discourse - Fragments, Ronald Barthes