Itinerant Barbaras: Anna Karenina's Peripatetic Guardian Saints

Christianity and Literature
                                                                        Vol. 63, No.2 (Winter 2014)

                      Itinerant Barbaras:
           Anna Karenina's Peripatetic Guardian Saints

                                    Marcia A. Morris

    Abstract: In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy directs our attention toward
    several sub-sets of characters by conferring shared given names on
    them. This articlefocuses on one such subset-three minor characters
    named Barbara. Tolstoy derives his three Barbaras from the third-
    century St. Barbara, a protectress against violent death. All of the
    main protagonists of Anna Karenina are beset by fears of losing
    their place in the world, and several of them actively contemplate
    suicide. Three of them-Anna, Vronsky, and Kitty-are given a
    guardian-Barbara, who helps (or, in defiance of the protagonists'
    expectations, fails to help) to ground them. Each of the Barbaras
    is an effective protectress in proportion to how well she hews to the
    structural paradigm provided by the Life of St. Barbara.

    In this article I argue that Barbara, the third-century Christian martyr
and saint, serves as a model for three secondary characters in Leo Tolstoy's
Anna Karenina, each of whom bears the given name Varvara (the Russian
rendering of "Barbara"). These Varvaras function-or at least are expected
by other characters to function -as guardians for three of the novel'sprimary
characters. At one time or another, Kitty Shcherbatsky, Aleksei Vronsky,
and Anna Karenina each suffers profound inner turmoil, and each of them
looks to one or another of the Varvaras for succor. By examining the degree
to which each Varvara manifests (or fails to manifest) the loving protection
associated with the original St. Barbara, I add to our understanding of
Tolstoy's view of our moral duty to our fellow human beings. Byuncovering
a character typology that recurs throughout various parts of the novel, I also
uncover one of the devices Tolstoy relies on to unite the Anna/Vronsky and


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204                       CHRISTIANITY AND LITERATURE

the Kitty/Levin plots, each of which contains at least one Varvara. Finally,
by exploring the ways in which one character in particular mediates her
typology, I attenuate Tolstoy's judgment on his heroine, suggesting that a
failed guardian is at least partially culpable for Anna's downfall.
     As Anna Grodetskaia has shown, the lives of the saints were important
sources for Anna Karenina. Indeed, Sophia Andreevna, Tolstoy's wife,
noted in spring of 1871 that Tolstoy was actively engaged in reading them
(Grodetskaia, 2000, 19). Both Demetrius of Rostovs Reading Menaion and
Metropolitan Macarius' Great Reading Menaion served as sources, but since
Demetrius provides the more detailed account of St. Barbara's life, I will rely
on his version for the main points of her legend.
     Barbara was a beautiful young girl, whose father shut her up inside an
impenetrable, albeit luxuriously appointed, tower in order to safeguard her
chastity. He did, however, lighten his strictures to the extent of allowing
her to visit an adjacent bathhouse. Once, left unattended while her father
was away on business, Barbara availed herself of the opportunity to bathe
in order to speak with local Christians. She immediately recognized the
wisdom and beauty of the new religion and converted. Her father, a ferocious
pagan, was apprised of this turn of events upon his return and had Barbara
seized and imprisoned-confined, in other words, to a second impenetrable
space. While in prison, Barbara succored a fellow captive and helped her to
bear her torments. Her father, having served as both judge and executioner,
ultimately beheaded Barbara. His triumph, however, was hollow; no sooner
had he murdered his pious daughter than he himself was struck and killed
by lightning. 1 In a bow to poetic justice, Barbara came to be venerated as
a protector against sudden death, and she has been recognized as a patron
saint by, among others, artillerymen and miners.
     St. Barbara was not mentioned in the earliest Christian sources, nor
was she widely venerated until the seventh century; as a result, the Roman
Catholic Church removed her from its liturgical calendar in 1969. Eastern
Orthodox believers, by contrast, have never ceased to revere Barbara, and
the Russian Church holds her in particular regard. Barbara's cult on east
Slavic soil has deep roots and is well attested to. Her relics were transferred
from Constantinople to Kiev in the twelfth century, and a version of her
Life appeared in Church Slavonic shortly thereafter. New manuscripts of the
Life were penned on a regular basis throughout the medieval period.' Even
today, St. Barbara continues to play an active role in Russia's spiritual life-
the Orthodox Church has recognized her as the protector of the nation's
Strategic Rocket Forces (Kishkovsky).

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     Although I have not found explicit references to St. Barbara in Tolstoy,
it is my contention that significant circumstantial evidence argues in favor
of viewing her as a major influence on Anna Karenina's three Varvaras.
As Grodetskaia has shown, Tolstoy never overtly references specific saints
in the novel even though their legends and lives underpin much of his
characterization. Paradoxically, the lives are, in Grodetskaia's words, both
"hidden" and "manifest" (2000, 103). Anna Karenina meditates deeply on
many of The Life of St. Barbara's most central themes: marriage and female
purity, fear of betrayal, spatial confinement, and retribution, and while it
is first and foremost Tolstoy's primary characters who actively confront
and negotiate these dangers, it is his Varvaras who shadow the primary
characters, "hidden" yet "manifest:' The other characters expect them to
take up Barbara's traditional role as protector.'
     Tolstoy populates Anna Karenina with many varieties of secondary
characters. The Varvaras (together with Stiva Oblonsky's valet Matvei and
Dolly's confidante Matryona Filimonovna) occupy a special category-
helpers-and are unique within the world of the novel in reaching out (or
in being expected to reach out) to establish selfless ties to others. Vladimir
E. Alexandrov has argued that all the characters in Anna Karenina, both
primary and secondary, "exist in their own worlds" (231). They share, in
his opinion, little or no common ground with each other (147). While I
agree with his basic contention that the majority of the novel's characters
live in emotional and spiritual silos, I nevertheless believe that the Varvaras
constitute exceptions to Alexandrov's rule. Women of complex social and/
or economic standing, they depend on others for their material welfare.
Even so, they are hardly menials. With one foot in the grand world of high
society and the other in the lower world of material contingency or social
disadvantage, they are well poised to become mediators and helpers.
      Grodetskaia has pointed out that Tolstoy does not merely take his
hagiographic source materials on face value but, rather frequently, chooses
to polemicize with them (2000, 106), and certainly his Varvaras offer us
an example of reimagining and reconfiguring. In sharp contrast with St.
Barbara, who was very much spatially grounded, Tolstoy's Varvaras seem
to occupy almost no space at all.' This deficit applies equally to both the
physical and the social realms. With certain qualifications, it also stretches
to the spiritual. For example, neither Varenka, Kitty's friend, nor Princess
Varvara, Anna's aunt, seems to have a fixed abode: Varenka follows her
patroness, Mme. Stahl, from one watering hole to another; while Princess

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Varvara is, quite simply, a freeloader who takes up residence wherever she
can. As a servant's child who has been "adopted" by Mme. Stahl, Varenka has
no family name and, more generally, no place in Russia's social structure.'
Varya, Vronsky's sister-in-law and the daughter of a Decernbrist," is tainted
by her father's status as an exile and is, accordingly, at an implied physical
and social remove from other members of the gentry. Although Princess
Varvara is related by birth and thus also by rank to the Oblonskys, Vronsky
considers her to be "notorious;' a woman, in other words, who has forfeited
her standing. Varya, whom Vronsky initially considers a kind and grateful
sister, abandons her moral space when she refuses to receive Anna. Princess
Varvara is even worse-she lives off Anna and Vronsky parasitically but
mutters condemnations against them whenever the opportunity arises.
     The Varvaras gain whatever place they have in the world through
contiguity with the people they are attached to-each of whom, ironically
enough, is afraid of losing his/her own place. Each Varvara is associated
with, or revolves around, a primary character who enjoys the privileges of
birth and the advantages of wealth and who, it might seem, is preeminently
well grounded. Nonetheless, to one extent or another, these primary
characters all sense the ground shifting under their feet, and all reach out
for reassurance: Kitty uses Varenka as a foil" against whom she can redefine
herself after her shameful experience with Vronsky; Vronsky, for his part,
needs Varya to put a good face on his attempted suicide and potential
social embarrassment; and Anna summons Princess Varvara whenever her
socially anomalous position puts her in need of a female chaperone. Each of
the Varvaras, in keeping with her role as protectress, is summoned in order
to succor the character she orbits; by her very presence she is supposed to
smooth over his/her fears of displacement.
     First to Varenka. Kitty meets her protectress at a particularly difficult
time, while recovering in Germany from her grievous disappointment in
love. If we accept The Life of St. Barbara as an intertext for Anna Karenina,
this trip to Europe can be read as an alternative to old Prince Shcherbatsky's
desire to sequester Kitty in the countryside, where she might be kept safe
from the depredations of young men. The prince's suggestion sets off
nineteenth-century reverberations of St. Barbara's earlier sequestration by
her father but also piques our curiosity, given that Kitty does not go to the
     As she contemplates leaving Russia, Kitty is terribly unsure of her
place in life-she fears that her humiliation at Vronsky's hands has become

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common knowledge and tarnished her reputation." What if she is doomed
to become an old maid? And, as if to make things even more difficult, once
she arrives at the spa, she is at a physical remove from her beloved sister
and father. However, Kitty's new locale seems to be ideally suited to offer a
reassuring sense of fixity and stability:

    As in all places where people gather, so in the small German watering-place
    to which the Shcherbatskys came there occurred the usual crystallization,
    as it were, of society, designating for each of its members a definite and
    invariable place. As definitely and invariably as a particle of water acquires
    the specific form of a snowflake in freezing, so each new person arriving
    at the spa was put at once into the place appropriate for him. (214; XVIII,

A very long paragraph follows this introductory passage, elaborating
exactly how each member of the spa's community is placed vis-a-vis every
other one. The spa is a physical space that exists, in large part, to consign its
visitors to their proper social places.
     Kitty and her mother, just like the spa's other guests, are sorted and
placed according to their social merits. Then, however, in stark contrast to
his treatment of the Shcherbatskys, comes the narrator's initial description
ofVarenka, companion to a wealthy, high-society lady. She is described in
almost Gogolian fashion as the sum of the places she does not occupy, the
qualities she does not possess: she is, for instance, not Mme. Stahl's daughter;
neither is she her paid helper. She does not enjoy a socially prestigious title
like Kitty; neither does she have a patronymic-at least not for the next 350
pages-nor does she ever acquire a family name. She is not exactly young;
but neither is she old. She is talented but takes no joy in it; she makes others
happy but seems to know neither great happiness nor great sorrow herself.
She is utterly placeless with regards to both physical and social space. She
seems, however, to occupy a disproportionately large spiritual space. In
fact, Varenka presents precisely the vision of moral excellence that Kitty
craves for herself: "Varenka, lonely, without family, without friends, with
her sad disappointment, desiring nothing, regretting nothing, was that very
perfection of which Kitty only allowed herself to dream" (224; XVIII, 236).
     We watch as Kitty attaches herself to Varenka and imitates her in all
things. She only begins to distance herself from her new friend when the'
old prince arrives and reestablishes a vivid and visceral sense of precisely
who the Shcherbatskys are-a Russian princely family displaced in a foreign

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land. But is this timely advent the sole and simple reason why Kitty gets past
her loss of self and rushes home, "to the fresh air, to Russia, to Yergushovo..."
(236; XVIII, 249)? Has the spa's rigid social hierarchy worked its magic
and re-grounded her? Alternately, has her protectress' good example saved
Kitty from despair and renewed her sense of place and purpose? There are
subtle hints in the text that would lead us to believe that events unfold in a
somewhat more complicated fashion.
     When Prince Shcherbatsky first arrives at the spa, Kitty is most anxious
to present Varenka to him. Varenka is, as usual, busy with a variety of errands.
Of particular interest is the fact that, when Kitty makes the introduction,
Varenka is engaged in taking Mme. Stahl her sewing in a "little red bag"
(krasnaia sumochka; 229; XVIII, 241). This is not the first appearance of a red
bag in the novel. Anna, more than one hundred pages earlier, has boarded
a train for St. Petersburg also carrying "a little red bag" (krasnyi meshochek;
99; XVIII, 106).10 This red bag will follow Anna throughout her tribulations
and even ultimately delay her suicide for a brief moment ("She wanted to
fall under the first carriage, the midpoint of which had drawn even with her.
But the red bag, which she started taking off her arm, delayed her, and it was
too late ..." [768; XIX, 348]). Anna's red bag is a physical emblem of passion
for Vronsky, which she tries to shake off with her death." When Varenka
trots past Kitty carrying the unexpectedly displaced red bag, she evokes a
momentary vision of Vronsky and illicit sexual passion. As unpleasant as
this is bound to be for Kitty, it nevertheless forces her to reexamine her
imprudent passion and realize that she has survived it.
     Kitty does not see Varenka again until later in the day, when she decides
that "even Varenka looked different to her now. She was not worse, but she
was different from what she had formerly imagined her to be" (234; XVIII,
247). If we revisit Anna's return trip to St. Petersburg, we will remember
that Anna, upon first seeing her husband and her son again, finds them
both to be rather worse than she had remembered them. There is a distinct
correspondence between the two "recognition" scenes, which invites us
to believe that, contrary to the narrator's assertions, Kitty does indeed
find her friend "worse:' As if in further confirmation of this view, Kitty
proceeds to quarrel nastily with Varenka and soon thereafter returns to
Russia. She has finally rejected the red bag of sexual passion-safely carried
away by Varenka-and freed herself to find her true place by Levin's side."
For her part, Varenka has deliberately resurrected Kitty's shame, forced
her to examine it openly and, in so doing, cured her. Kitty, however, is

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understandably discomfited by her encounter with the red bag and connects
her unpleasant experience with Varenka.
     This interpretation of Varenka and Kitty's actions is amplified by
subsequent events. For hundreds of pages, Varenka disappears entirely from
the novel. Then, just when the comfortable fixity of Kitty and Levin's family
life has apparently been secured, Varenka arrives again, out of nowhere
and right on cue. At the point when we meet with her for a second time,
Levin is suddenly shaken in his happiness by the arrival of a houseguest,
the irrepressible Vasenka Veslovsky." Vasenka has come, uninvited, to stay
with Levin, after having already spent time with Anna and Vronsky. Levin,
observing that Vasenka is attracted to Kitty, is tortured by jealousy and
ultimately gives him his marching orders. Vasenka, of course, will quickly
return to Vronsky's estate, where the guests view sexual badinage and,
indeed, adultery, very differently.
     Meanwhile, however, Varenka remains at Pokrovskoe, where most of
the household has decided to take a humorous view of Vasenka's dismissal.
In particular, Dolly laughingly laments that her intention of donning some
new ribbons in honor of Vasenka has been forestalled. Dolly's particular
choice of enticing adornment is hardly arbitrary, since Vasenka is closely
associated with ribbons-he invariably wears a beribboned Scottish cap,
which is the primary physical descriptor applied to him when he enters
the novel. Indeed, Vasenka's cap comes to function as a metonymy for the
man himself. Aside from this cap, we initially hear only that Vasenka is a
"brilliant young man around Petersburg and Moscow" (568-9; XIX, 142).
The cap becomes a signifier for the loose morals cultivated by "brilliant
young men;' and, like Anna's bag, it identifies its bearer as ripe for passion.
Dolly's willingness to sport her own ribbons indicates that she is not
immune to the attractions of the fast life, but, at the same time, her ultimate
failure to do so assures us that she ultimately steps back from temptation."
     Dolly repeats the story of her interrupted needlework several times, as
if to underscore its importance, and, although she presumably tells it to
everyone, the only member of her audience whom we actually observe is
Varenka. Varenka, we are told, derives undisguised pleasure from the story
and "roll]s] with laughter" (604; XIX, 179). Once again, Varenka comes into
close contiguity with an emblematic object signifying sexual passion, and
once again that object is potentially troubling to Kitty. But Varenka's role
as protectress holds. Although Levin physically removes the actual man
from Pokrovskoe, Varenka'slaughter banishes the most offending vestige of
him-his ribbons, with all their sexual associations.

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     Thus, Varenka, acting in tandem with the old prince in one instance
and with Levin in another, is able to mediate and defuse the sexual passion
implicit in Kitty's relations with young men. How does she manage it?
Donna Orwin has suggested that Varenka lacks the vitality to make a life
of her own (197). I agree but would add that this is not necessarily a deficit
in Varenka. Varenka is able to re-imagine and then preserve Kitty's place in
the larger social order only by virtue of having renounced her own. When
we first meet her at the German spa, she is, as I have already noted, defined
quite starkly by her placelessness. When we reencounter her at Pokrovskoe,
she finally has an opportunity to claim a place of her own-s-Levin's brother
Sergei Ivanovich shows palpable signs of wanting to propose to her. Sergei
Ivanovich even thinks of his relationship with Varenka as one in which she
would adopt his space: "she was poor and alone, so she would not bring a
heap of relations and their influence into the house ... but would be obliged
to her husband in all things ..." (563; XIX, 136). Varenka, however, preempts
the proposal by initiating a conversation about mushrooms. She thereby
forfeits her best chance for a place of her own," in exchange, however, she
will be free to dispel the effects of Vasenkas subsequent attraction to Kitty.
Thus, in the two instances when Kitty most needs a friend and protectress to
preserve her sense of place, Tolstoy emphasizes that Varenka has willingly
helped her by forgoing a place of her own. He achieves this not through
an explicit causal link but rather through creating scenes that delineate
Varenka's lack of familial connections and then following them with scenes
in which Kitty requires help. Once Kitty is firmly and unshakably enshrined
in her role as wife and mother, Varenka disappears from the novel. When, at
novel's close, Kitty is threatened by a lightning bolt, it is her husband, Levin,
who comes to her rescue."
     Tolstoy introduces Varenka as the paradigmatic Varvara." She is the
first of her name to enter the narrative, and her actions create a blueprint
for Varya and Princess Varvara. She exemplifies the thematic dialectic of
place vs. displacement as well as the structural pattern into which the other
Varvaras must try to fit-an initial appearance in which they are called
on to protect a primary character, followed by a second appearance with
analogous expectations.
     Varenka is ultimately rewarded narratologically for the noble resolution
she gives to the paradigm. Although she enters the novel as a placeless, almost
nameless non-entity, she alone of the Varvaras is granted a brief experience
of narrative independence. During her visit to Pokrovskoe, Tolstoy gives her

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her own voice and momentarily allows her to serve as a focalizing character.
In the scene in which Sergei Ivanovich weighs the wisdom of proposing to
her, we see through Varenkas eyes all the poignancy of finally acquiring a
real place in life: "To be the wife of a man like Koznyshev, after her situation
with Mme. Stahl, seemed to her the height of happiness" (565; XIX, 137).
She lets the opportunity slip, however-possibly because she is only "almost
certain" (565; XIX, 137-8) that she loves Sergei Ivanovich. Having kept the
conversation with her would-be suitor firmly anchored in mushrooms,
Varenka drops her bid for social position and loses her voice. The rest of the
scene is filtered through Sergei Ivanovich.
     Barbara Lonnqvist has noted that Tolstoy develops the Kitty/Levin
world-the only part of the novel in which Varenka gains a foothold-
through a system of symbolism that is very different from that employed
for Anna and Vronsky's world. The imagery of bears-big, small, wild,
and tame-for example, runs throughout the Kitty/Levin plot. Anna and
Vronsky, by contrast, live in a world of iron-they dream of a muzhik who
hammers iron, and crucial parts of their romance unfold on the railway
(in Russian, zheleznaia doroga or "iron way"). Lonnqvist suggests that the
competing systems of imagery in the Kitty/Levin and Anna/Vronsky worlds
cannot ultimately be reconciled. I would suggest that, while this is true in the
main, there is an important exception-the little red bag, which links Kitty
and Anna much more substantively than do their meetings at Dolly's house
and which reminds us that Kitty has been tempted by Vronsky as surely as
Anna has been. As we have seen, Varenka removes the red bag from Kitty's
world, leaving her free to join with Levin. The Varvara helper-figures in
the Anna/Vronsky world, by contrast, fail in their duties either wholly or
partially. Anna's red bag remains firmly anchored in the symbolism of this
world and brings both Anna and Vronsky to grief.
     The second character to enter the novel bearing a variant of the name
"Varvara' is Vronsky's sister-in-law, Varya. As I have already noted, she
is the impoverished daughter of a Decembrist and has thus (presumably)
shared with her father the experience, or at least the notoriety, of exile-the
ultimate physical displacement. 18 She was also born a Princess Chirkov and
has become a Countess Vronsky, however, which implies a recognized social
space. When Varya marries into the family, Vronsky, knowing his brother's
expenses, offers to relinquish his share of the revenues from their father's
estate. This generous impulse, however, results in a shortage of funds, which
temporarily makes it difficult for Vronsky to unite himself with Anna.

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     Although the saving presence of a "Varvara' in the family offers an
excellent pretext for renouncing his ill-fated love, Vronsky is nevertheless
determined to pursue his affair with Anna. After an initial period of joy,
however, he falls into despair. Anna, having borne Vronsky's child, turns to
Karenin for forgiveness. Vronsky, who has no place in the household of the
reconciled spouses, retreats in despair. As he lies in his room contemplating
suicide, he finds that his head is resting on a pillow that Varya has
embroidered for him. He weighs his options and thinks to himself "this is
how people lose their minds;" which, in the original Russian, reads "Tak
skhodiat s uma" translating literally as "this is how they walk out of their
minds" (emphasis added; 417; XVIII, 439).
     Vronsky, like Kitty before him, fears that the indefinite relations he
now enjoys with a lover have lost him his place in life ("He felt himself
shamed, humiliated, guilty, and deprived of any possibility of washing away
his humiliation. He felt himself thrown out of the rut he had been following
so proudly and easily until then" (emphasis added; 415; XVIII, 436). His
repeated use of the expression "walk out of one's mind" as he thinks about
killing himself signals his own realization of an internal displacement of
sorts. And Varya, whose image appears to him just before he shoots himself
and who successfully nurses him back to health afterwards, textually
brackets his fears of placelessness. Through her own social placelessness
and the law of opposite effects, she grounds him.
     It is very much in the capacity of patron saint and updated incarnation of
the third-century Barbara that Varya intervenes to save Vronsky, an officer
(and prospective artillery man"), from sudden death. The hagiographical
paradigm has blurred, however, and Vronsky himself ends up by assuming
one of Barbara's and, by extension, Varya's plot functions. Earlier in the
novel, while Vronsky is attempting to convince Anna to leave her husband,
he sets aside a day out of his busy schedule to "square his accounts" (302;
XVIII, 319). He knows that, having succeeded in winning Anna's affections,
he will need ready funds with which to whisk her away. Vronsky is, as we
have been informed more than once, a wealthy man, but he finds himself
in difficulties owing to his generous impulse toward his brother. But every
time that he contemplates revoking his gift, he sees Varya's grateful face
before him ("dear, sweet Varya reminded him at every chance that she
remembered his generosity and appreciated it [304; XVIII, 321]). Vronsky
ultimately manages to bring order to his money troubles and then "shave[s],
washe[sJ, [takes] a cold bath and [goes] out (307; XVIII, 324). Bathing, it

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will be remembered, is associated in The Life of St. Barbara with Barbara's
conversion to Christianity. Tolstoy pauses to savor this scene of Vronsky
bathing and underscores it by having a minor character retrospectively
recapitulate it: "I was coming to get you. Your laundry took a long time
today.... Afterwards it's always as if you just got out of the bath" (307;
XVIII, 324).
     Vronsky, in other words, is given the opportunity, like St. Barbara before
him, to wash himself clean of sin and baptize himself into righteousness;
the invocation of Varya three pages earlier has set us up to make this
intertextual connection. If we recall The Life of St. Barbara, however, we will
also recall that its bathing imagery concerns Barbara herself, not the person
she protects. If Tolstoy had hewn precisely to the hagiographical paradigm,
then the bath scene in Anna Karenina would properly have featured a
Barbara surrogate, in this case, Varya. Instead, the scene is unexpectedly
granted to Vronsky, presaging the fact that Vronsky will ultimately have to
become his own guardian. We may, as a result, anticipate that, after repaying
her debt to Vronsky by saving him from sudden death, Varya will leave him
to find his own way.
     And indeed, this is precisely what she does. Varya, like Varenka, makes
a second, very brief appearance in the novel. This time, unlike Varenka, she
refuses to help the character she is meant to save. Vronsky has, by this point,
regained Anna's love and simultaneously re-lost his certainty concerning
his position in society. Anna has left her husband in order to pursue her
passion and, to an even greater degree than Vronsky, has thereby also lost
her position in society. At this crucial turn, Vronsky turns to Varya with the
request that she call on Anna and allow Anna to call on her. Varya answers:
"You want me to see her, to receive her, and in that way to rehabilitate her
in society, but you must understand that I cannot do it. I have growing
daughters, and I must live in society for my husband's sake" (529; XIX, 101).
In other words, she suddenly conceives of herself as a Countess Vronsky,
as someone who is firmly rooted in a social position. Gone is any sense of
the social anomaly implicit in her Decernbrist affiliation; gone, as well, is
the recognition of Vronsky as Varya's benefactor and Varya as Vronskys
grateful protectress. Varya is now unwilling to consort with those who are
less fixed than she herself is. By refusing to see Anna, she abdicates her
role as guardian against death and thereby helps to set in motion the chain
of events that will lead to Anna's ultimate isolation and suicide as well as
Vronskys (presumably) fatal decision to go off to war,"

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     It remains to examine Princess Varvara Oblonsky, Anna's aunt and the
only Varvara to travel under her full, non-diminutivized name. It is Princess
Varvara's role to orbit her niece Anna and to protect her from the particular
variety of shame and displacement that she encounters once she has left her
family and taken up with Vronsky.
     Princess Varvara first enters the novel when Anna, lodged in an
impersonal hotel and upset by the humiliating conditions she must endure
in Petersburg, suddenly decides to go to the theater in order to test whether
she has, indeed, lost her place in society. In need of a chaperone, she recalls
her indigent aunt, saying as she does, "Varvara is no worse than others"
(543; XIX, 115), a sure indication that she very much is worse." Another
woman in the theater viciously insults Anna, while Princess Varvara stands
by "especially red, laugh [ing] unnaturally" (546; XIX, 119).
     Unlike Varenka and Varya, Princess Varvara is either unwilling or
unable to help the character she herself depends upon for her very existence
in the novel. As a result, Anna has no buffer between herself and her fears of
being ostracized. Her experience at the theater teaches her very quickly that
she has irrevocably lost her place in Petersburg society. Having already tired
of life in Italy (which is portrayed as an essentially declasse space-at least
as far as expatriate Russians are concerned), and having burnt her bridges in
Petersburg, Anna has no choice but to move to the country. There, she will
increasingly experience life as alienating and devoid of purpose.
     Once she has relocated to Vronskys estate, Anna strives mightily to
create a new place for herself: she exhibits a keen interest in Vronsky's plans
for a state-of-the-art hospital; she takes up riding and lawn tennis; she
becomes a reader of serious literature. Nevertheless, we quickly realize that
she has failed to create her own particular niche-after all, both the hospital
and the physical activity are essentially Vronsky's projects, and reading is no
more than a means of filling her time. Moreover, Anna is clearly out of place
in the spaces that Dolly feels she should occupy-her daughter's nursery and
the household's domestic arena.
     At the point where we learn that Anna has begun taking laudanum to
help dull her sense of displacement, Princess Varvara has just made her
second foray into the novel. We see her usefulness-or lack thereof-
through Dolly's eyes. Upon arriving at Vronsky's estate, Dolly finds the
princess firmly ensconced:

      Princess Varvara was her husband's aunt; she had known her for a long
      time and had no respectfor her. Sheknewthat Princess Varvara had spent

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    her whole life as a sponger on wealthy relations, but the fact that she was
    now living off Vronsky, a man who was a stranger to her, offended her
    feelings for her husband'sfamily. (611; XIX, 186)

In fact, the situation is even more offensive than Dolly first imagines it to
be; Princess Varvara, far from showing her gratitude to her hosts, takes
advantage of Anna's difficulties for the selfish purpose of re-defining herself:

    Princess Varvara ... at once began to explainto [Dolly] that she wasliving
    with Anna because she had always loved Anna more than had her sister
    Katerina Pavlovna, the one who had brought Anna up, and now, when
    everyone had abandoned Anna, she considered it her duty to help her in
    this most difficult, transitional period. (620; XIX, 195)

The emphasis here is not on Anna's troubles but rather on Princess Varvara's
magnanimity. Princess Varvara, in other words, seeks to raise herself vis-
a-vis other family members by humbling Anna: she implies broadly that
Anna's present situation is unacceptable and simultaneously takes a dig
at her own sister, who saw to it that Anna married "well" and gained her
initial social position. Princess Varvara fails utterly as a protectress; her
primary concern is to ease her own social displacement by giving Anna's
moral reputation a push in the wrong direction. She ultimately departs for
Petersburg, leaving Anna to spend her final, terrifying days in Moscow
bereft of a guardian.
     In the case of Anna and Princess Varvara, the lines of affiliation with
The Life of St. Barbara have become grotesquely twisted and intertwined.
Anna, to an even greater extent than Vronsky, discovers that her need for a
guardian must go unmet. Accordingly, she is left, like Vronsky, to care for
herself. As she awaits the oncoming train, the last thing she sees is "a little
muzhik, muttering to himself ... working over some iron" (768; XIX, 349).
This little peasant has haunted her dreams ever since her first acquaintance
with Vronsky, and, in this final appearance, he takes the form of an ore-
worker, a member of one of the professions Barbara particularly protects."
In the absence of a Barbara, however, there is no protection, and Anna,
like St. Barbara, is beheaded. In the aftermath of Anna's suicide, Vronsky
rushes to the station: "on a table in the shed, sprawled shamelessly among
strangers, lay the blood-covered body, still filled with recent life; the intact
head with its heavy plaits and hair curling at the temples ..." (780; XIX 362).
     Alex Woloch has suggested that secondary characters in the nineteenth-

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century novel can be grouped into two categories, the "workers;' flat
characters who are reduced to a single functional use within the narrative,
and the "eccentrics;' disruptive, oppositional elements within the plot.
While workers are absorbed into the narrative, losing their own interiority
in the process, eccentrics grate against their position and are either exiled
from the narrative or discursively killed (24-26). In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
nuances the stark choice of either/or. His Varvaras, like Woloch's workers,
have a single functional purpose-to aid specific primary characters. At
the same time, they are creatures of their own needs and desires, which
sometimes places them in opposition to the primary characters and likens
them to Woloch'seccentrics. Varenka enters and exits the novel as a worker
and only briefly flirts with becoming an eccentric by craving her own social
position as Kitty'ssister-in-law.Byresponding to Koznyshevs affections, she
protests against and threatens to abandon her primary function. Ultimately,
however, she allows herself to be absorbed back into her role and, thus, into
the novel. Varya represents an admixture of worker and eccentric, adhering
to her function when Vronsky has shot himself but rejecting it afterward
when he asks her to help Anna. Princess Varvara pretends to be a worker,
showing up on both occasions when Anna needs her. In reality, however,
her own selfish motives color all her actions, and she ends up an eccentric.
    This disposition of Varvaras along the worker/eccentric spectrum has
a bearing on one of the novel's central themes-who should judge?
O. Slivitskaia has proposed that Anna Karenina is structured on
the tension between two opposing tendencies: the urge toward moral
generalization (as exemplified by the epigraph, "Vengeance is mine, I will
repay") and the realization that individual cases are what really matter
(313). Christopher Fort has argued in his discussion of the epigraph that
Tolstoy rejects human in favor of divine judgment, which suggests that the
novel ultimately moves beyond both the general and the particular. From
this it follows that characters within the fiction who presume to judge have
improperly arrogated a divine right to themselves. They may judge based
on a universal notion of morality (Varya believes that contact with fallen
women in general will sully a family's reputation) or they may focus on a
particular case (Princess Varvara very specificallysingles out Anna as having
gone wrong). In either case, however, it is the character who judges rather
than the one judged who transgresses. Tolstoy's worker, Varenka, steps away
from judgment, while Varya ultimately embraces it. Princess Varvara, the
eccentric-in-worker's-clothing, regularly allows herself to judge Anna even

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ANNA KARENINA AND THE LIFE OF                                ST.    BARBARA   217

as she pretends to help her. Princess Varvara mirrors society's appropriation
of the divine prerogative in concentrated form. She pays for her unkindness
by losing her place not only in the Vronsky/Anna plot but also in the novel
as a whole.
     The world of Anna Karenina is one in which the overwhelming
majority of the characters are either searching for a place-physical, social
or spiritual-that they have been denied, or else are seeking desperately to
hold onto a place they fear is eroding. The greatest fear each character faces
is that s/he might ultimately have no place." The Varvaras enter this world
of impending displacement with a mission to re-place other characters. But
like St. Barbara, whose Christian mission required her to relinquish the
comforts of her tower in order to meet and minister to her fellow prisoner,
the Varvaras must also forfeit their places if they are to help others. The
more a given Varvara embraces this sacrifice, the more the character she
protects prospers. Conversely, however, the more she shirks her task, the
more her charge suffers.
     Varenka, whose very name signals the diminutive space she occupies,
is the most willing of the three Varvaras to make sacrifices. Conversely,
Princess Varvara, who bears the full, formal version of their shared name,
is the least willing to forgo the pathetically few prerogatives she enjoys.
Varya occupies the middle space between the two; she is initially helpful but
ultimately turns her back on her charge. Varya presents a debased doubling
ofVarenka; Princess Varvara a yet more debased tripling.
     In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy paints a fallen universe in which only a limited
number of characters are destined to find a secure space-and they do so at
the expense of others. Varya and Princess Varvara strive to hold onto their
variously tenuous social positions and thereby diverge from the example set
by Varenka. They end up leaving their charges in the lurch, and, perhaps
as a result, they are never vouchsafed their own tiny moment of narrative
independence. Indeed, their selfish efforts, aimed at carving out a larger
social space for themselves, bear-for them-unexpectedly disappointing
fruit: they actually lose space in the novel's plot. The number of pages in
Anna Karenina devoted to Varya is more modest than the number given to
Varenka, and Princess Varvaras page-count is slimmer still.
     The choices that this triumvirate of secondary characters make have
a profound impact on the fates of three of Anna Kareninas primary
characters. Ultimately, of course, Kitty, Vronsky, and Anna themselves are
responsible for their own choices. At critical points in the novel, each stands

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at a crossroads, and each must decide how to proceed. It is only just and
fair that we should judge them based on their own decisions. But through
the inclusion of the three Varvaras, Tolstoy complicates our judgment. He
suggests that we are destined to flourish only inasmuch as we are capable
of forming loving connections with others. Just as the threads of Anna
Karenina's plot intertwine with each other, so too do the threads of human
lives. Although the three Varvaras occupy relatively little space-both in
the depicted world of Anna Karenina and on the actual physical pages of
the novel-the linkages they forge help to bind the primary characters to
their proper places in the world. Without effective guardians, the novel's
protagonists are left to face the consequences of their own flawed choices.

                                                                               Georgetown University


     1Demetrius of Rostov, Zhitie i stradanie sviatoi velikomuchenitsy Varvary.

     2M. A. Fedotova offers a very helpful, in-depth discussion of Russian versions
of the life in "Kul't sviatoi Varvary v tvorchestve Dimitriia Rostovskogo,"
     3Although several of the categories of people Barbara protects are more fre-

quently encountered in Roman Catholic practice, they also appear in Orthodoxy
(Fedotova, 98). Moreover, it would not be unprecedented for Tolstoy to borrow
from the west with regards to religious observance in Anna Karenina. In the early
stages of writing, for instance, he famously included an epigraph from Rom. 12:19
("Mne otmshchenie, i Az vozdam" i.e., "Vengeance is mine; I will repay"). In his
earliest draft, his quotation did not conform to the Church Slavonic Bible. Boris
Eikhenbaum has suggested that in its original form it represented instead a back
translation from the German as Tolstoywould have read it in Schopenhauer ("Ot-
mshchenie moe" from "Mein ist die Rache;" Tolstoi in the Seventies, 145). I am
grateful to Svetlana Grenier for reminding me of Eikhenbaum's discussion.
     4Donna Tussing Orwin makes the point even more forcefully: "In both Anna
Karenina and War and Peace characters who seem to live for others are suspect:
Sonia and Varenka both lack the vitality to make lives of their own and cannot
serve as models for the truly vital characters" (Tolstoy's Art and Thought: 196-7).
I fully agree that Varenka cannot serve as a model and that her role is, therefore,
strictly ancillary.
     5Svetlana Slavskaya Grenier considers the literary ward to be doubly marginal-
ized, since she is both a dependent and a socially marginalized figure (Representing
the Marginal Woman, 7).
      61he Decembrists were a group of Russian officers who staged an abortive re-

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ANNA KARENINA AND THE LIFE OF                                ST.   BARBARA   219

bellion in 1825. They intended to introduce a series of reforms that would have
diminished the role of the monarchy in Russia. Following Nicholas I's suppression
of the revolt, five of the Decembrists were hanged and the remainder of those who
had not fled the country were sentenced to hard labor and/or exile to Siberia. They
were not allowed to return to European Russia until Alexander II amnestied them
in 1856.
     "Grenier also uses "foil" to describe Varenkas role vis-a-vis Kitty and describes
her as offering "an 'alternative' woman's voice" (Representing the Marginal Woman,
101). Grenier makes this observation in her discussion of Tolstoy's polyphony and
movement toward an unfinalized female ward character. While the context is dif-
ferent from mine, I am in full agreement with her point.
     8"Like Dolly and Levin, Kitty experiences the shame of rejection as alienation
from self, family, and society" (Deborah A. Martinsen, "Tooth Pain, Shame, and
Moral Choice in Anna Karenina" forthcoming in Tolstoy One Hundred Years On).
     "Quotations are from the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation of Anna Kar-
enina; I have also retained their transliteration of the characters' names. After each
page reference to the translated novel, I also supply a reference to the appropriate
volume and page number in the Polnoe sobranie sochinenii for readers who would
prefer to follow in the original Russian.
     "Tolstoy refers to Anna's bag consistently as a "meshocheki' while the bag that
Varenka carries is a "sumochka" In the nightmare that plagues both Anna and
Vronsky, a peasant thrusts his hands into a "meshok? Thus, the same morpheme
is used for the "bag" that is shared by Anna and the peasant, while red coloring
and diminutive size characterize the bags shared by Anna and Varenka. The more
domesticated "sumochka" or handbag, better suits the more cautious and domesti-
cated Kitty, while the more generalized "meshok" makes more sense in the context
of the dream of the peasant. Liza Knapp has linked Anna's jettisoning of the red
bag, with its sexual resonances, to her signing herself with the cross right before she
throws herself under the train. The two actions taken together suggest to Knapp
that Anna has purified herself ("Tolstoy's Labyrinth of Linkages," 24). Barbara Lon-
nqvist reads the red bag as a symbol of Anna's dark inner life.
     11A number of critics have commented on Anna's red bag, although no one, as

far as I know has noticed its connection to Varenka. Among the strongest opinions
concerning the symbolism of this bag is that voiced by Helena Goscilo: "Few novels
betray such a visceral fear and disgust of female sexuality as Anna Karenina, where
'" Tolstoy resorts to ... the reductive, demeaning symbol of the little red bag for
Anna's awakened carnal desire" ("Motif-Mesh as Matrix;' 86).
        0 . Slivitskaia follows a number of other critics in suggesting that Kitty, who
initially tried to imitate Varenka, has now realized that she is her own person and
must live in her own way. While this may be how Kitty herself understands the
situation, I believe that Tolstoy intends Varenka neither as a model nor as a false
model for Kitty. Rather, he creates her as a helper whom Kitty casts off when she no

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longer has need of her.
      13Note the phonetic similarity between "Varenka' and "Vasenka," Although
Vasenka presumably has a patronymic, it is not used. Instead, like Varenka, he is
regularly referred to by a diminutive in -enka.
      14This desire to move toward the brink, followed almost immediately by a re-
treat, is, of course, exactly what Dolly's subsequent visit to Anna at Vronsky's es-
tate is about. As Dolly travels toward the estate, she mentally excuses Anna for her
betrayal of Serezha and Karenin, musing that, were she in Anna's place, she might
have done the same thing herself. As she returns from the estate, however, she reso-
lutely rejects Anna's path.
      "Rtchard F. Gustafson reads this scene somewhat differently, as a repetition of
the moment at the ball where Vronsky "rejects" Kitty by failing to return her loving
look (Leo Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger, 45). In my reading, Varenka controls her
own fate.
      "Lightning might seem to be a rather arbitrary means of threatening Kitty,
particularly in a novel in which machines are the preferred instruments of death,
but Kitty's lightning serves as a reminder of TheLife of St. Barbara.
      17This implies a type of "doubling" ofVarenka. Although doubling is more fre-
quently associated with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy too uses the technique. A number of
critics, for example, have looked at the doubles Anna spins off: Amy Mandelker in
"Framing Anna Karenina" refers to: "a schizoid vision of multiples of Anna as she is
surrounded by doubles of herself: her servant, Annushka, her daughter Annie, and
her adopted daughter Hannah" (158).
      "Tolstoy's chronology is a bit stretched here. Prince Chirkov must have gone
into exile in 1825 as a very young man in order for Varya to enter the novel in the
1870s as the mother of still-young daughters.
      19At novel's end, Vronsky boards the train that will eventually take him to fight
in the Serbian war ofliberation. Although Vronsky's precise military designation is
unclear, one of his fellow passengers says to another, "Yes, they're especially short
of you artillerymen:' raising the possibility that Vronsky, too, will be attached to the
artillery (776; XIX, 358).
      20Gary Saul Morson valorizes Varya as "another Dolly:' and suggests that her
role in attending Vronsky after he shoots himself aligns her with Dolly's generos-
ity, kindness, and wisdom (Anna Karenina in Our Time: SeeingMore Wisely, 100).
While his characterization applies very well to Varya's initial response to another's
need, it cannot account for her second, less valorous one, in which she shows her-
self to be selfish and unkind.
      21Note once again Anna's tendency to evaluate characters according to whether
they are "worse" or "no worse" than they seem to be. Once Anna commits herself to
her affair with Vronsky, her ability to judge becomes twisted. She finds her husband
and son to be "worse" than she remembers them but Princess Varvara to be "no
worse" than others.

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ANNA KARENINA AND THE LIFE OF                                  ST. BARBARA   221

     22Gary Browning argues that the peasant of Anna's dream "is moving toward
and soon will find close affiliation ... with Vronsky" By extension, Vronsky, who
will shortly be associated with artillerymen, is also associated with iron workers
("Peasant Dreams in Anna Karenina" 526).
     231n his essay "Design in the Russian Novel:' Edward Wasiolek points to a more
broadly based, but essentially analogous, fear and extends its scope to cover all
of nineteenth-century intellectual life: "There is no fear more poignant, insistent,
Widespread in Russian thought and literature than that things 'do not fit'" (54). In
this article, I have restricted myself to displacement of specific characters in a spe-
cific novel, but I am in full agreement with Wasiolek's more ambitious application
of the notion.

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