The night before her suicide, Anna Karenina has a strange nightmare about a muzhik, or former serf, who speaks French and is doing something with a piece of iron. Given the place of class in the novel, if mainly on the Levin side rather than the Anna side, critics of Tolstoy have said less than might have been expected about the simple fact that this is a wealthy woman dreaming uneasily about a poor man. This essay attempts an interpretation of the dream, which Anna shared, more or less, with Vronsky, relating it both to Anna Karenina as a whole and to the general issue of the marginal existence of the poor in novels by, for, and about their social superiors. Reference is made to Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), John James Bezer’s Autobiography of One of the Chartist Rebels of 1848, Edmund Wilson’s 1942 novella, “The Princess with the Golden Hair,” and Jacques Rancière’s The Philosopher and His Poor.
A Little Muzhik, Muttering to Himself: The Novel and the Poor
Bruce Robbins is Old Dominion Foundation Professor of the Humanities at Colum-bia University. His most recent book is The Beneficiary (Duke University Press, 2017). A collection of essays entitled Cosmopolitanisms, coedited with Paulo Horta, also came out in 2017. He is also the director of a 2012 documentary entitled “Some of My Best Friends Are Zionists,” available at bestfriendsfilm.com.
Bruce Robbins; A Little Muzhik, Muttering to Himself: The Novel and the Poor. boundary 2 1 May 2020; 47 (2): 71–89. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-8193245
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