Noted historian, literary scholar, and Anna Karenina translator Rosamund Bartlett's lecture on the Modernity of Anna Karenina was one of the best events I've ever attended at Stetson. I've not yet read Anna Karenina but I've seen the 1935 film starring Greta Garbo. After attending Dr. Bartlett's lecture, Tolstoy is at the top of my summer reading list.
One of the aspects of her brilliant talk that captivated me the most was her focus on the railways as Tolstoy's commentary on modernity. Throughout the story, the train station provides a key setting in the relationship between Anna and Vronsky. It is where they meet throughout the story. It is the setting of infidelity and the breakdown of the family - key themes in Tolstoy's modernity. Trains are a literal representation of the iron and artifice that represent everything Tolstoy thinks is wrong with the modern world. Yet, while clearly repulsed by trains, Tolstoy cannot help by fascinated by them and the possibilities and changes they bring. Anna's ultimate suicide by train symbolizes Tolstoy's fear that society will suffer the same fate; modernize itself to death and degradation.
Having Dr. Bartlett speak at Stetson was truly a memorable experience and one that makes me pause and reconsider the brilliance of Tolstoy.