I encountered this mystifying aside (bolded) in the text of Anna Karenina. I assumed it might be a biblical reference, but upon checking, it doesn't seem that the biblical Rebecca was a slave. A quick search doesn't show any other potential references in English literature. I'm not well-read in Russian literature, so I don't know if it is a reference to a Russian-language text. Does anyone know what Tolstoy means?

It's a Constance Garnett translation, if that helps.

The below quote is from Chapter 34:

As for the baroness, [Petritsky] was sick to death of her, especially since she'd taken to offering continually to lend him money. But he had found a girl--he'd show her to Vronsky--a marvel, exquisite, in the strict Oriental style, "genre of the slave Rebecca, don't you know." He'd had a row, too, with Berkoshov, and was going to send seconds to him, but of course it would come to nothing. Altogether everything was supremely amusing and jolly. And, not letting his comrade enter into further details of his position, Petritsky proceeded to tell him all the interesting news.

2 Answers 2


I assumed it might be a biblical reference, but upon checking, it doesn't seem that Rebecca was a slave.

It is her, Rebecca.

According to these comments to "Anna Karenina" (in Russian, search for 'genre' on that page to hit the comment about Ребекка):

Стр. 130. ...в восточном строгом стиле, «genre рабыни Ребекки...» — Имеется в виду библейский тип Ревекки (Ребекки), которую привел из Месопотамии раб Авраама (Бытие, гл. 24).

Translated by www.translate.ru:

P. 130.... in the oriental strict style, "genre of Rebecca's slave..." - Refers to the biblical type of Rebecca (Rebekah), which Abraham's slave brought from Mesopotamia (Genesis, chap. 24).

Does anyone know what Tolstoy means?

These are Petritsky's words, not Tolstoy's. Apparently, Petritsky is a young and not very educated man - you can read the description of him at the start of the very same chapter:

Petritsky was a young lieutenant, not particularly well-connected, and not merely not wealthy, but in debt all around. Toward evening he was always drunk, and he had often found himself in the guardhouse because of sorts of ludicrous and disgraceful scrapes, but he was a favorite both of his comrades and his superior officers.

So, my best guess would be that Tolstoy here gives us a hint on the "educational level" of Petritsky, who had probably once heard or read that Rebecca was brought from Mesopotamia by Abraham's slave (Eliezer) but he mixed this all up and believes Rebecca herself was a slave.


They are Bohemians influenced by Paris of the time that was propagandizing representations of slavery which had recently been abolished. Usually sexualized, objectified and stereotyped but the artists most likely felt they were sympathetic to the cause and doing not only the fashionable thing but the moral thing by creating these pieces and pursuing the subject matter in this way. Rebecca was a fair skinned slave girl that recieved her freedom from some important guy and she went on to tour the north, I believe.

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    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 9:27
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    You say you believe this. Could you please explain why you believe this. That would make a much better answer.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 17:26
  • Sara is describing Orientalism, typified by artists like Gerome (see for example (NSFW WARING: clarkart.edu/artpiece/detail/slave-market )
    – Yorik
    Commented Jul 27, 2022 at 18:24

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