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Amber Paulen

Vronsky's Toothache

I‘m nearly done with Anna Karenina for the second time; there are about 30 pages left to read. Last night Anna’s anxious and jealous thoughts culminated and she threw herself under the train. The scenes of Anna leading up her end were some of the best in the book, and I wondered why they didn’t stick stronger in my memory from my first read. Unless I read through this part so quickly that it just passed through my mind as words sometimes do. Especially good were the scenes in the carriage when Anna’s mind is both loose and focused. She thinks clearly about her situation for the first time but then jumps to observations about passers-by. Her disgust with everyone is so palatable that as I read it was easy to hate all those other people too.

In the next part and next chapter came a society scene two months later featuring Sergei Ivanovich, Levin’s half-brother. Its superficiality is shocking contrasted with the brutality of Anna’s death. And there we see Vronsky for the first time since Anna died, definitely distraught, but also with a toothache! Sergei Ivanovich talks to Vronsky’s mother first and she says at the end:

“Talk to him, please, I want him to be distracted. He’s so sad. And, as ill luck would have it, he’s got a toothache. He’ll be very glad to see you. Please talk to him, he’s walking on that side.”

Why did Tolstoy give Vronsky a toothache in this very scene? It’s fascinating. It changes the way the reader sees his suffering over Anna. It makes him slightly ridiculous. It’s a wonderful lesson in powerfulness of a single feature placed exactly right.


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