Anna Karenina: briefly happy in black velvet

the book:

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Published 1878, Maude Translation 1918   Chapter 22

Anna was not in lilac, the colour Kitty was so sure she ought to have worn, but in a low-necked black velvet dress which exposed her full shoulder and bosom that seemed carved out of old ivory, and her rounded arms with the very small hands. Her dress was richly trimmed with Venetian lace. In her black hair, all her own, she wore a little garland of pansies, and in her girdle, among the lace, a bunch of the same flowers. Her coiffure was very unobtrusive. The only noticeable things about it were the wilful ringlets that always escaped at her temples and on the nape of her neck and added to her beauty. Round her finely chiselled neck she wore a string of pearls. Kitty had been seeing Anna every day and was in love with her, and had always imagined her in lilac, but seeing her in black she felt that she had never before realized her full charm. She now saw her in a new and quite unexpected light. She now realized that Anna could not have worn lilac, and that her charm lay precisely in the fact that her personality always stood out from her dress, that her dress was never conspicuous on her. And her black velvet with rich lace was not at all conspicuous, but served only as a frame; she alone was noticeable — simple, natural, elegant and at the same time merry and animated.

observations: The new film of Anna Karenina is out today, starring Keira Knightley – who apparently said playing Elizabeth Bennett was harder, because people loved the Jane Austen heroine, but didn’t feel as strongly about Anna. I would say amongst women of my acquaintance it’s the other way round – Anna Karenina is up there as a top favourite, forever lost in a swirl of furs, trains and adultery. (In lilac? Oh Kitty. No, never.) There’s a previous blog entry here on AK, and I was extremely proud to have found such a beautiful photo, but was firmly told by one fan that she wasn’t anything like beautiful enough to be Anna. So it’s with some trepidation that we offer this one. It is the scandalous picture of Madame X by John Singer Sargent, which he hoped would make his career but was a disaster for him and for his model, which seemed appropriate. (JSS had to repaint one of the shoulder straps to make it look less sexy.)

The epigraph of the novel is: Vengeance is mine, I will repay. It would be good to know what exactly Tolstoy meant.

Links up with: the earlier entry, Anna in white, is
here. More classic Russian women here. Miss Pettigrew wears black velvet too, but probably looks different. This book contains a discussion on whether she should be Karenin or Karenina in English translation.

There are two pictures already used on the blog which might have done for Anna: another Sargent
here, and - out of era but in the mood - the bad girl in a black dress.


  1. The picture is perfect! The rounded shoulders, full bosom and white skin, all there. I haven't seen the recent film and KK is probably the right age to play Anna but the wrong person - too thin!


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