Although I am still only posting about part one of Anna Karenina, reading-wise, I am well into part three. And I can tell you, I still dislike Levin. Vronsky and Anna are okay, but my favorite character by far is Kitty. I find it so interesting the scene where Vronsky and Anna fall in love is mostly seen through her eyes. After adapting it into first person, I got a really good sense of who Kitty is, and she’s awesome.
But don’t take my word for it. You can read the scene and decide for yourself.
Anna Karenina, part one, chapters 22-23: The Ballroom Scene (as told by Kitty)
The great staircase leading up to the ball was flooded with light and lined with flowers and footmen in red coats. A constant, steady hum like from a beehive came from the room, and I was both nervous and excited. We stood between a couple of trees, gave the last touches to our hair, and straightened our dresses in front of the mirror.
“Oh, the orchestra is playing the first waltz,” Mom said, and we could hear the music from the ballroom–the careful, distinct notes of the fiddles. Next to us, a creepy little old man arranged his gray curls in front of another mirror. He smelled like vodka, and stumbling against us on the stairs, he stood aside and checked me out.
Then a guy who’s too young both to shave and to know how to tie his tie, came running up to me. “May I have the first dance?”
“Haven’t you already promised the first dance to Vronsky?” My mother interjected before I could respond.
“Yes.” To the boy I said, “but I’d love to have the second dance with you.” That was a lie. If all went well, I’d be way too busy to see this boy again tonight.
We hadn’t even stepped inside the ballroom yet. As we did, an officer, buttoning his glove, stood aside in the doorway, and stroked his mustache. I’m pretty sure he was admiring me.
Well, I’ve got it going on tonight, even if I do say so myself.
I worked hard for it, what with planning my dress, my hair, and preparing for the ball. But I entered the ballroom in my fabulous tulle over a pink slip as easily and simply as though all the rosettes and lace, all the minute details of my ensemble, had not cost me or my family any thought. It was like I’d been born in tulle and lace, with my hair done up high on my head, and a rose and two leaves on the top of it.
“Let me fix your sash,” my mom said. But I waved her away.
“It’s fine, Mom. Everything is perfect.”
I could feel that it was one of my best days. My dress was not uncomfortable; the lace did not droop anywhere; the rosettes were not crushed nor torn off; my pink slippers with high, hollowed-out heels did not pinch; and the thick rolls of my chignon kept up on my head as if they were my own hair. The black velvet of my choker nestled with special softness round my neck. That velvet was delicious; earlier at home, looking at my neck in the mirror, I felt the velvet was speaking. Tonight will be your night.
Maybe it’s vain, but here at the ball, when I glanced at my reflection, I smiled.
There’s a throng of ladies, all tulle, ribbons, lace, and flowers, waiting to be asked to dance—but luckily, I’m never one of that throng. Right away, Yegoruska Korunsky, the handsome married man who organized the ball, caught my eye and ambled up to me. “Would you like to dance?”
He held out his hand and I accepted it.
“I’m glad you got here on time,” he said, embracing my waist; “it’s such a bad habit to be late.” Bending my left hand, I laid it on his shoulder, and my feet in their pink slippers began swiftly, lightly, and rhythmically moving over the slippery floor in time to the music.
“It’s a joy to dance with you,” he said to me, as we fell into the first slow steps of the waltz. “…exquisite—such lightness, precision.” That was nice of him, but I also knew that he says the same thing he said to almost all the girls he dances with.
I just smiled at his praise, and looked over his shoulder, scanning the room. This wasn’t like my first ball, when all the faces in the room melted into one vision of fairyland. But I wasn’t bored yet, either. No, I could enjoy being here without feeling overwhelmed. In the left corner of the ballroom I saw the cream of society gathered together. The social climbers and the posers. I saw Stiva, and next to him was Anna, wearing an incredibly elegant black gown. And he was there. I had not seen him since the night that Levin proposed and I shot him down. Even from a distance, I could see it was Vronsky, and I could feel him looking at me.
“Another turn, eh? You’re not tired?” my dancing partner Korsunsky said, a little out of breath.
“No, thank you!”
“Where should I take you to?”
“Anna Karenina’s over there … please take me to her.”
“Wherever you command.”
Korsunsky began waltzing with measured steps straight towards Anna and her group, continually saying, “Pardon, mesdames, pardon, pardon, mesdames”; and steering his course through the sea of lace, tulle, and ribbon, and not disarranging a feather.
We made it to Anna.
She was not in lilac, but in a black, low-cut, velvet gown, showing her full throat and shoulders that looked carved in ivory, and her curvy arms, with tiny, slender wrists. On her head, among her black hair—her own, with no extensions—was a little wreath of pansies, and a bouquet of the same in the black ribbon of her sash among white lace. Little wilful tendrils of her curly hair broke free about her neck and temples. Her only jewelry was a string of pearls.
Since Anna came to visit, we’d been hanging out every day, and I’d developed a huge girl crush. When I pictured her ball gown, I had pictured her invariably in lilac. But now seeing her in black, I realized there were hidden depths to Anna. She seemed both new and surprising to me.
God. I was an idiot to think that Anna could have worn lilac.
No, Anna needs to stand out against her attire; her dress could never be noticeable on her. And her black dress, with its sumptuous lace, was perfect; it was only the frame, and Anna was the picture. She was what people truly saw—simple, natural, elegant Anna.
She was standing with her usual perfect posture when I drew near. When Anna sensed my presence, she turned at once with a soft smile of protection towards me. With a flying, feminine glance she scanned my dress, and made a movement of her head, hardly perceptible, but I understood. She was signifying approval. “You came into the room dancing,” Anna said.
“This is one of my most faithful supporters,” said Korsunsky, bowing to Anna, whom he had not yet seen. “Kitty helps to make balls happy and successful. Anna, a waltz?” he bent down to her.
“I don’t dance when it’s possible not to dance,” she replied.
“But tonight it’s impossible,” answered Korsunsky.
At that instant Vronsky came up.
“Well, since it’s impossible tonight, we’d better get going,” she said, ignoring Vronsky’s bow, and she quickly put her hand on Korsunsky’s shoulder.
That was awkward.
Anna was pretending not to notice Vronsky. But why?
“Hey,” Vronsky said to me. “I know we were supposed to have the first dance, but I hadn’t seen you until now. Sorry about that.”
“Uh huh.” I was listening to Vronsky, but gazing at Anna. She’s a wicked good dancer.
But then, Vronsky stopped talking. Why wasn’t he asking me to waltz now? I glared at him.
He flushed a little and said, “Shall we?”
But he had only just put his arm around my waist and taken the first step when the music suddenly stopped. I looked into his face, which was so close to my own. I knew that I’d remember this moment for years to come; my gaze, full of love, to which he made no response, would cut into my heart with an agony of shame.
But then, the music started back up and I snapped out of it. Vronsky waltzed with me several times around the room. And if he seemed distant or distracted, I told myself that once we danced the mazurka, everything would be okay.
So what if he hadn’t asked me to dance the mazurka yet? At all the other balls we’d danced it together; it was our thing. That’s why I’d said no to five other guys who’d asked me to dance the mazurka with them. Of course, Vronsky would come through.
But then, later when I was dancing with a guy I did not care about, we were next to Vronksy and Anna. When I looked directly at Anna, I saw in her that excitement that I knew so well in myself; Anna was intoxicated with Vronsky’s attention. I knew that feeling and knew its signs: the quivering, flashing light in her eyes, and the smile of happiness and excitement unconsciously playing on her lips, and the deliberate grace, precision, and lightness of her movements.
My dancing partner asked me something, and I answered something vague, pretending to have a good time. But the pang in my heart only grew.
I tried to justify it. She’s just having a good time. It’s the energy of the crowd that she’s responding to. But who was I kidding? Every time Vronsky spoke to Anna, that joyous light flashed into her eyes, and the smile of happiness curved her red lips. She seemed to make an effort to control herself, to try not to show these signs of delight, but they occupied her face nonetheless.
“But what about him?” I looked at Vronsky and was filled with terror. His face mirrored Anna’s. What had become of his confident self-possession, and the carelessly serene expression of his face? Vronsky had always been a hard nut to crack, and I’d liked the challenge. But every time he turned to Anna, he bent his head, like he was eager to fall at her feet, and in his eyes there was nothing but humble submission and dread. “I’d do anything for you,” his eyes seemed every time to be saying, “but I want to save myself, and I don’t know how.”
He’d never given me a look like that.
They were talking about something boring, but it seemed that every word they said was determining their fate and mine. And my fate was not good. The whole ball, the whole world– everything seemed lost in fog inside my soul.
It took every ounce of my discipline, of my stern Russian upbringing, to do what was expected of me, that is, to dance, to answer questions, to talk, even to smile. But before the mazurka, when they were beginning to rearrange the chairs and a few couples moved out of the smaller rooms into the big room, came a moment of despair and horror.
I’d refused five partners! Now, I wouldn’t be dancing the mazurka at all. No chance was anyone else going to ask me. I would have to tell Mom that I didn’t feel well and wanted to go home, but I didn’t have the strength. I felt crushed. I went to the furthest end of the little drawing-room and sank into a low chair. My heart ached with a horrible despair.
“Kitty, what is it?” Countess Nordston stepped noiselessly over the carpet towards me. “I don’t understand.”
My lower lip began to quiver and I quickly got up.
“Kitty, you’re not dancing the mazurka?”
“No, no.” My voice shook with tears.
“He asked her for the mazurka in front of me,” said Countess Nordston, knowing I would understand who were “he” and “her.” “She said: ‘Why, aren’t you going to dance it with Kitty?’”
“Oh, I don’t care!” I lied.
No one understood. Days ago, I’d turned down Levin, who I maybe loved, because I thought Vronsky and I had something special going on.
Countess Nordston got Korsunsky to ask me to dance the mazurka. I watched Anna and Vronsky the whole time, and I saw everything. I saw that they felt alone in that crowded room. I saw Vronsky’s face, always so firm and independent, with a look of bewilderment and humble submissiveness, like an intelligent dog who’s been naughty. I saw that Anna’s smile was reflected in his own.
Some supernatural force drew my eyes to Anna’s face. She was fascinating in her simple black dress, fascinating round arms with their bracelets, fascinating firm neck with its thread of pearls, fascinating stray curls and loose hair, fascinating graceful, light movements of her little feet and hands, fascinating face in its eagerness…but there was something terrible and cruel in her fascination.
I admired her more than ever, and more and more painful was my suffering. I felt overwhelmed, and my face must have shown it. When Vronsky and I met eyes, it was like he didn’t recognize me at first.
“Great party.” he said to me, obviously for the sake of saying something.
“Sure,” I answered.
And I knew that whatever Vronsky and I had was now over.
SHAUNA SLADE-BOOTH says
I thoroughly enjoyed your version. The modern voice makes the story much more engaging than the original, but everyone knows Tolstoy is a hack.