OK, I’ll admit I know next to nothing about horses, let alone “chasing steeples.” I learned quite a bit about it all just reading about Vronsky’s race. After the rather disturbing ending to the race, I just couldn’t get it out of my head, so I went back and read parts again and started getting strange vibes. I think this little episode is an analogy of Anna and Vronsky’s relationship as well as a foreboding foreshadowing of the end. Not that I have reached the end, mind you, but this is my guess.
Let’s start with the horse. I’m probably breaking “The Ban” here, but there is the obvious comparison of Vronsky riding the horse and “riding” Anna. The horse is described as having bright sparkling eyes and a spirited yet gentle appearance. Couldn’t this also apply to Anna? Vronsky calls the horse “darling,” and he calls Anna darling as well. Vronsky is both frightened and excited due to the horse being in the “very best condition.”
Then we get the disturbing race, where Vronsky rides the horse over barriers, ditches, and fences. He takes the lead and is on the way to winning, pushing the mare to her “last reserve of strength,” when he makes the horrible mistake of not giving the horse her head, but instead pulling her head up causing her to fall and break her back. The horse “lay (on the ground), breathing heavily, gaz(ing) at him with her beautiful eyes,” struggling and falling again. What is Vronsky’s response to this pitiful sight? “His face distorted with passion, pale and with quivering jaw, Vronsky kicked her with his heel in the belly and again pulled at the reins.” He kicks her?! Yes. And the horse only “looked at her master with eloquent eyes.” Of course, the horse must be shot, and eventually, Vronsky does feel badly. “For the first time in his life he experienced the worst kind of misfortune – one that was irretrievable and caused by his own fault.” Somehow I think there will be a second time coming. Poor Anna.
P.S. I know Anna is not without fault in this affair, but for some reason I still like this analogy.
P.S.S. The horse’s name is Frou-Frou, which is French for “frilly or ornamental.” Vronsky sees Anna as his ornament in Society – a frill he can show off to others and be proud of acquiring.