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.


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.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.