In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile.

These lines in Part One, Chapter 18, detail the first fateful meeting between Anna and Vronsky at the train station. Tolstoy’s description recalls the stereotype of “love at first sight” popular in romance novels of both Tolstoy’s day and our own time. In the case of Vronsky and Anna, they share much more than a glance, as both are immediately captivated. Red lips and shining eyes are traditional attributes of the romantic heroine. The device of showing the male as the active looker and the female as the object gazed at is similarly traditional in the romance novel. Words like “fluttered” and “overflowed” might just as easily be found in a trite love scene as in a serious work of literature.

Tolstoy, however, avoids the comic extremes of romance writing by adding a mystical and philosophical dimension to Vronsky and Anna’s meeting. The abundance that Anna displays is an excess of “something,” a mysterious undefined entity that raises the moment into the realm of spiritualism and religion, beyond language and rational thought. Similarly, the “restrained animation” on Anna’s face foreshadows the restraint—in the form of laws, social conventions, duties—that she later fights against as she pursues her illicit love with Vronsky. The description also emphasizes Anna’s “animation,” her life force, with a word that in both Russian and English is derived from the word for soul. Even in the first moment of Vronsky and Anna’s meeting we sense that much more than a physical passion is at stake: their interaction is a study of the soul and the indefinable spiritual qualities that, for Tolstoy, make humans human.