Tolstoy’s Use of Metaphorical Analogy in Anna Karenina

David S. Danaher, University of Wisconsin-Madison

While symbolical aspects of the meaning of Tolstoy’s works have been treated in the critical literature (by, for example, Gustafson and Silbajoris), his use of metaphorical analogy in Anna Karenina has yet to be discussed as a coherent rhetorical strategy. That Tolstoy uses metaphorical analogy systematically at crucial junctures throughout the novel and that the novel’s characters differ significantly in their own ability (or inability) to think metaphorically are two facts that seemed to have passed under the radar of most literary critics.

This paper proposes to analyze metaphorical analogy in the novel from the perspective of the conceptual approach to metaphor developed within the framework of cognitive linguistics (the seminal work here is Lakoff and Johnson). This perspective highlights aspects of metaphorical thought that seem particularly important in Tolstoy’s rhetorical use. These aspects include: the non-propositional or experiential nature of metaphor, the relationship between metaphorical language and feeling, metaphor’s ability to create intimacy between speakers, and its effectiveness in the rhetoric of persuasion. Cognitive linguists have noted that metaphors never merely describe, but are rather invitations for further cognition, thought, and evaluation. They activate the personal experience of the hearer or reader and appeal, on that basis, for judgements of metaphorical aptness.

A study of metaphorical analogy in the novel relates to what Jackson has called Tolstoy’s “invitation to visual judgement.” Many of the metaphors in the novel are introduced by phrases or in contexts recalling visual evaluation (kazalos') and/or intellectual judgements grounded in observation (kak budto). These metaphors, along with other devices in the text, invoke someone’s explicit or implicit evaluation, and Tolstoy clearly chooses rhetorical means that are meant to implicate the reader in this evaluative process.

In addition to the above-mentioned aspects of Tolstoy’s use of metaphor, this study provides insight into Tolstoy as a metonymical writer (Jakobson and, more recently, Curtis), the pre-symbolist status of Anna Karenina (Mandelker and others), specific detail motifs in the text that have yet to be remarked (for example, what I would call the raz- motif that brings together Anna’s knitting [razviazat'], deception [razorvat' lozh'], divorce [razvod] as well as both Anna’s and Levin’s doubts [razve]), and the narrative techniques often associated with the terms “telling” and “showing” (Booth).

My analysis is based on a database of instances of metaphorical analogy in the novel. I will obviously not be able to treat all of the topics suggested in this abstract, but will limit myself to aspects of the project that can be adequately covered in the time provided.


Booth, W. (1961) The Rhetoric of Fiction.

Curtis, J. (2002) “Metaphor is to Dostoeskii as Metonymy is to Tolstoi,” Slavic Review.

Gustafson, R. (1986) Leo Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger.

Jackson, R. (1993) Dialogues with Dostoevsky.

Jakobson, R. (1956) “Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances.”

Lakoff, G. and M. Johnson (1980) Metaphors We Live By.

Mandelker, A. (1993) Framing “Anna Karenina”.

Silbajoris, R. (1990) Tolstoy’s Aesthetics and His Art.