Konstantine Levin Anna Karenina
Konstantine Levin has often been described as Tolstoy’s self-portrait. Anna Karenina was written when Tolstoy was passing through a terrible crisis. It is said that Tolstoy was seeking frantically the meaning and purpose of life. The delineation of the character of Levin was like a timely utterance of his thought that gave him immense relief. While critical about the important characters of the novel, Tolstoy painted the picture of Levin with warmth and unction.
Tolstoy’s marriage compares favourably with that of Levin. Both Tolstoy and Levin were the scions of the aristocratic families. The love of Kitty and Levin was the transposition of Tolstoy’s love with his wife. Tolstoy wanted to change the woman, whom she married. And so did Levin. “You must believe me”, wrote Tolstoy to his beloved, “that nothing in the world is achieved without effort–not even love, the most beautiful and natural of feelings”.
Both Tolstoy and Levin demanded toil and self-denial from their wives. They did not like that their soul’s partners should pass their days in luxury and idleness like the wives of the Russian grandees. Tolstoy described in detail their future life to his beloved. As Kitty for a while was enamoured of Vronsky, Tolstoy had also reasons to believe that his fiancée has felt drawn to a person named Mortimer. In fact, Tolstoy had grown jealous, but the cloud was very soon lifted.
Both Tolstoy and Levin were endowed with enormous physical strength and vigour. Both disliked the artificial life of the city and decided to pass their days in the country, far from the madding crowd, and engage themselves in agricultural activities not so much for their own material welfare as for the benefit of the peasants.
Tolstoy wrote to his wife at the outbreak of the famine:
“One can of course help with seed and bread those who come begging, but this is not assistance, it is a drop in the ocean, and furthermore such help is self-contradictory?”
What, then, is the way out? Tolstoy himself gave an answer:
“Only in one way : by leading a righteous life.”
Levin feels exactly like Tolstoy, and does what Tolstoy does not. He finds the country good, because it is the scene of labour. His presence is constantly needed in the plough-land. When his brother asks him if manual labour in the field has undermined his self-respect, Levin reacted sharply:
The death of Levin’s brother reminds us of the death of Tolstoy’s brother. Levin’s brother, Nicolay dies in the presence of Levin and Kitty. It is death that brings into focus the difference between the male and female reactions to such mysteries as death. And Levin and Kitty react differently.
Tolstoy and Levin made proposals of marriage to their fiancées almost in an identical manner. Each pair traced with a piece of chalk on a card-table the initial letters of the words they were too nervous to utter. Both Tolstoy and Levin maintained diaries, which were a faithful record of all that they had done and thought. We have it on the testimony of Tolstoy himself that Levin’s inner life was almost purely autobiographical. Both Tolstoy and Levin had the honesty to put their diaries in the hands of their wives, although they knew full well that the words in the diaries might leap out and cause irreparable offence. And the two women were genuinely shocked to read the contents and that for obvious reasons. For wives always want that their husbands should have no past.
Tolstoy contrasted the marriage of Levin and Kitty with the love of Anna and Vronsky. For he himself had a happy family like that of Levin and Kitty. As with Levin, and so with Tolstoy marriage did not, in fact, could not solve the spiritual problems which were constantly oppressing them. Both were relentless reformers and attacked cant and hypocrisy, the corruptions of the society, the fashionable liberalism of the intellectuals, reclining on their arm-chairs, in short, the world “which distorts all truthful feelings and inevitably crushes the generous enthusiasm of the mind”.
Both Tolstoy and Levin were brought up in a religious atmosphere under the aegis of orthodox Christianity. But that could not fill the emptiness of their life. In his Confession Tolstoy wrote:
“I was baptized and brought up in the Orthodox Christian faith. I was taught it from childhood and all though my boyhood and youth. But when I left university after my second year at the age of eighteen I no longer believed anything of what I had been taught”.
He was between two worlds, one dead, and the other powerless to be born. He was, at times, on the border of atheism and found hardly any proof of the very existence of God.
Levin had a similar experience, and though apparently a happy father and husband, in a state glowing health, was often thinking of suicide. He kept a rope hidden lest he might be tempted to hang himself, and he would not go out of home with a gun lest he might shoot himself.
We have it on authority that the idea of suicide was not far from Tolstoy’s mind either. Levin told Oblongsky:
“I’ve not given up thinking of death. It’s true that it’s high time I was dead; and all this is nonsense. It’s the truth I am telling you “.
Tolstoy thought along the same lines. We have, at least, three works of Tolstoy where ‘death’ has a special significance, namely Three Deaths, The Death of Ivan Ilych, and Anna Karenina. In a letter to Fet, Tolstoy wrote:
“Once a man has realised that death is the end of everything, then there is nothing worse than life either.”
Levin, in course of time, had his religious faith restored, although Dostoyevsky was a little sceptical about it. Tolstoy had also regained his faith. Along with Christian feelings, he had also, as he himself said,
“a feeling for truth and beauty… How they are combined I don’t know and I cannot explain; but the cat and the dog live together in the same closet and this is positive”.
Since we are concerned with Levin’s spiritual transformation, we must go into details. His marriage was successful. But shortly he was disillusioned. He had disappointment about his exorbitant expectations from marriage. Kitty was, no doubt, a member of Levin’s own circle of society. And like Levin, she never showed off pride in her set. She also shared her husband’s ideals and aspirations. Before their marriage they had a tacit understanding.
“She told him that she loved him because she understood him completely, because she knew what he would like, and because everything he liked was good. And this seemed to him perfectly clear”
But for no fault of either Levin or Kitty, Levin suffered from a terrible depression, which, he imagined, death alone could terminate. For no ostensible reasons the husband and wife drifted apart. Levin turned to the peasants and led the most elementary life. He was in touch with the soil.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Levin was least interested in the Pan-Slavic movement. Tolstoy also did not get involved in the political struggle that was on.
Intellectual conversation left Levin cold. There is hardly any difference between one intellectual and another as there is none between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
The concluding words of the novel sum up Levin’s realisation of truth–truth which so long eluded his grasp :
“I shall probably continue to get out of temper with my coachman, to go into useless arguments, to air my ideas unreasonably, I shall always feel a barrier between the sanctuary of my soul and the soul of other people, even that of my wife ; I shall always be holding her responsible for my annoyances and feeling sorry for it directly afterwards. I shall continue to pray without being able to explain to myself why I pray : but my inner life has won its liberty; it will no longer be at the mercy of events, and every minute of my existence will have a meaning sure and profound which it will be in my power to impress on every single one of my actions, that of being good”.
Rosemary Edmonds puts that
“Levin is a faithful reflection of Tolstoy himself. In the character of Levin Tolstoy express himself own convictions and views, sometimes even putting them into Levin’s mouth by force”.
The striking similarity between the creator and the created did not escape the notice of even the wife of Tolstoy, who said,
“Lyovochka [Tolstoy], you are Levin plus talent”.