Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication Symbol Analysis

Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication Symbol Icon
For all of the novel’s verbosity, Tolstoy ultimately distrusts language, believing that actions speak louder than words. When Levin proposes to Kitty, they have such a deep connection that they do not even need to speak the words: he presents her with a code, and she replies in kind. In contrast, Anna and Karenin send letters back and forth about the divorce, but each written correspondence only heightens their failed communication. Anna also writes hectic notes to Vronsky with increasing frequency as their relationship disintegrates. The language in which characters speak also indicates their level of hypocrisy: when people want to pretend they’re members of high society, they speak in French, the intellectual and cultural language of Western society, rather than in their own native Russian. Tolstoy’s distrust in the written word is also apparent with Levin’s book project: although Levin spends a great deal of time writing about the state of the Russian peasant, agriculture, and humanity in general, he ultimately realizes that attending to his own family’s needs and dealing with the practical, pragmatic, physical considerations of his individual life are more important than writing about grand philosophical concerns.

Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication Quotes in Anna Karenina

The Anna Karenina quotes below all refer to the symbol of Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Viking edition of Anna Karenina published in 2000.
Part 1, Chapter 29 Quotes

Anna Arkadyevna read and understood, but it was unpleasant for her to read, that is, to follow the reflection of other people’s lives. She wanted too much to live herself.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

Ironically, Anna, the titular character of a novel dedicated to delving into its characters’ psychologies, does not trust the experience of reading about people, instead insisting on action. However, Anna does not object to reading because she finds it to be a pale comparison of life. On the contrary, reading over-stimulates her emotions, forcing her to spin around and around her decisions with intense scrutiny instead of moving forward.

In her desire to act rather than to read, Anna mirrors Levin. The nervousness and overstimulation that reading produces within her foreshadows Levin’s anxiety when he speaks with his brother about societal concerns. When both characters live too much in the world of words and artificially created structures, they grow overly self-critical and nervous. Anna and Levin both feel restored and calmed by coming back into contact with the natural world. Anna steps outside into the icy air, which exhilarates her and helps lift her feelings of shame and paranoia.

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Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

“Don’t you know that you are my whole life? But I know no peace and cannot give you any. All of myself, my love...yes. I cannot think of you and myself separately. You and I are one for me. And I do not see the possibility of peace ahead either for me or for you. I see the possibility of despair, of unhappiness... or I see the possibility of happiness, such happiness!...Isn’t it possible?” he added with his lips only; but she heard him.

Related Characters: Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (speaker), Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Vronsky and Anna communicate through a mixture of directly saying what they believe and letting many things go unsaid, but they both understand exactly what the other one is thinking. The bond between Anna and Vronsky is so strong that they can communicate with each other through gesture and thought, rather than merely through words. Although Anna and Vronsky often say out loud what they believe they should say to each other, what goes unsaid is more powerful than what they are pretending to say. Anna and Vronsky give lip service to the idea that they should separate and that Vronsky should try to make things right with Kitty, but their actions speak louder than their words, and the bond between them is stronger than societal conventions. When Vronsky articulates the love between Anna and himself, he says out loud that they are probably doomed to despair and unhappiness, but he and Anna both believe in the possibility that he does not say, which is the (unlikely) hope that they can be happy together.

She strained all the forces of her mind to say what she ought to say; but instead she rested her eyes on him, filled with love, and made no answer.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Anna recognizes that according to all the conventions of the world around her, she should cut off her relationship with Vronsky: she is married, and entering an affair with him would be disgraceful and socially damaging. However, her emotions are too strong, and they override what she believes she ought to say. Instead of saying anything, she looks at Vronsky, and––as is the case throughout the novel––actions speak louder than words. The look that Anna gives Vronsky echoes the first time that they saw each other at the train station, when their momentary glance instantaneously cemented the connection between them. From the first time Vronsky saw Anna, he recognized the tension between the animation within her and the restraint that society placed on her emotions. Now, the animation spills over the restraint.

Part 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

“Not a word more,” she repeated, and with an expression of cold despair on her face, which he found strange, she left him. She felt that at that moment she could not put into words her feeling of shame, joy, and horror before this entry into a new life, and she did not want to speak of it, to trivialize this feeling with imprecise words. But later, too, the next day and the day after that, she not only found no words in which she could express all the complexity of these feelings, but was unable even to find thoughts in which she could reflect with herself on all that was in her soul.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker), Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, events that go unspoken typically carry far more emotional weight than events that occur in words. On the one hand, Anna does not want to trivialize her experience with Vronsky by bringing it into the realm of mere language. She wants, instead, to retain the full mystery and complex nature of the event. Bringing the event into spoken language would also force Anna to reckon with the full consequences of her actions.

Anna does not want to process all of the complicated emotions she has as a result of having consummated her relationship with Vronsky, because that would force her to make choices that she does not want to make. When Vronsky and Anna had not slept together, their relationship could still dwell in the realm of plausible deniability. Anna rationalizes to herself that she is not processing their relationship fully by claiming to herself that she will do so in the future, but she continues to make more and more excuses for herself. Rather than letting the full weight of their action become something that Anna confronts and reckons with, the action becomes more and more powerful the longer it remains in the realm of the secretive and unspoken. When an action or emotion is put into words, it is abbreviated and made weaker, but when it goes unspoken, it can contain everything, so it gets stronger, for either good or for ill.

Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

“What was that? What? What was that terrible thing I saw in my dream? Yes, yes. The muzhik tracker, I think, small, dirty, with a disheveled beard, was bending down and doing something, and he suddenly said some strange words in French. Yes that’s all there was to the dream,” he said to himself. “But why was it so horrible?”

Related Characters: Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (speaker)
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication, Dreams and Spiritualism
Page Number: 355
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Vronsky pretends to put on a brave face to the outside world, he feels increasingly fraught with an impending doom that he perceives looming over his life, and he projects this fear into the interpretation of his night visions. Rather than brushing aside dreams, Vronsky takes them seriously. The fact that Vronsky cannot interpret the words of the muzhik (Russian peasant) in his dream fills him with dread. Tolstoy frequently underscores the inability of language to express great emotions throughout the novel: when characters want to express something truly profound or moving, they say nothing at all. However, the inability to understand a spoken language triggers a different set of emotions: fear, anxiety, and dread. When the unspoken is mutually understood, the non-verbal communication creates a shared language between the speakers. But since Vronsky cannot understand what the muzhik is saying, he creates the worst possible scenario in his imagination.

The muzhik’s use of unintelligible French also creates the sense that the social order has been unsettled. In nineteenth-century Russia, French was the language of high culture, and people spoke in French to elevate their positions in society. However, in the dream, the peasant is speaking the language of the aristocracy that Vronsky can no longer understand, which ominously portends Vronsky’s own fall from grace.

Part 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

“And this something turned, and I saw it was a muzhik with a disheveled beard, small and frightening. I wanted to run away, but he bent over a sack and rummaged in it with his hands...” And she showed how he rummaged in the sack. There was horror on her face. And Vronsky, recalling his dream, felt the same horror filling his soul.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker), Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication, Dreams and Spiritualism
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

Vronsky and Anna have shared the shame dream. When Anna tells Vronsky about her dream of the French-speaking, bearded muzhik rummaging in a sack, unbeknownst to her, she is describing the same person that Vronsky saw in his nightmare. The two lovers are seemingly so bonded that they share a subconscious mind, but the figure in their shared dream arouses horror within both of them. Anna tells Vronsky that Karenin has read the dream to indicate that she will die in childbirth. Karenin’s role in the relationship is already quite shaky: he keeps up the façade of their marriage because he doesn’t want to ruin his reputation, yet he knows that this sham cannot last forever, and so he perceives the vision as causing an end to this fragile state of affairs. The fact that Anna is relaying Karenin’s version of the dream to Vronsky and seeking Vronsky’s reassurance underscores the complicated power dynamic between all of them: though Anna is psychologically and physically bonded with Vronsky, she is still socially bound to Karenin.

However, when Anna is telling Vronsky about the dream, she feels the first stirrings of her child kicking inside her, and her emotions change suddenly from horror to joy. Since Vronsky cannot share the physical cause of her joy, he is puzzled by her sudden shift. Despite the ominous nightmare, Anna, at this point, is still capable of experiencing happiness brought on by the physical world: though she is worried and superstitious, she hasn’t yet surrendered herself completely to omens and dreams.

Part 4, Chapter 13 Quotes

“Here,” he said, and wrote the initial letters: w, y, a, m: t, c, b, d, i, m, n, o, t? These letters meant: “When you answered me: ‘that cannot be,’ did it mean never or then?” ... She wrote, t, I, c, g, n, o, a ... And he wrote three letters. But she was reading after his hand, and before he finished writing, she finished it herself and wrote the answer: “Yes.”

Related Characters: Konstantin (Kostya) Dmitrich Levin (speaker), Princess Katerina (Kitty) Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky (speaker)
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 397-398
Explanation and Analysis:

Oblonsky’s dinner party is ostensibly an event that brings people together for a single, united purpose. However, Tolstoy uses the occasion to explore all the various subplots and conversations swirling under the surface of the event. At the same dinner party in which Karenin explodes to Dolly in a rage against Anna, revealing the passions that had been building unspoken inside of him, Levin and Kitty are developing their own relationship, revealing to both themselves and each other the bond that has grown between them. Throughout Anna Karenina, language is a weak tool for communication, and the deepest bonds are revealed when people can connect without words.

Levin’s proposal to Kitty is almost a parody of the extent to which words are superfluous when two people are deeply in love. Levin presents Kitty with an abbreviated code of initial letters, rather than full words, to express his hope that she can forgive him. The fact that they communicate in written code, rather than spoken word, also deepens the power of their unspoken communication. Not only do Levin and Kitty have a coded interaction happening on the page in front of them, they are physically very close to each other, so they are having an unspoken physical conversation that reinforces the unspoken written conversation.

Levin’s proposal and Kitty’s acceptance also have an air of superstition. The emotions are so fraught and fragile that bringing them out into the open air might make the whole situation doomed. Instead, Levin writes them in code, so that they can be unheard and therefore more profoundly understood for their true nature. Tolstoy translates the code between Levin and Kitty for the reader. The reader must experience their love through the secondhand, imperfect medium of words, and the reader can watch but not enter the bond between Levin and Kitty.

Part 7, Chapter 24 Quotes

“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. But if you don’t love me, it would be better to say so.”

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker), Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 744
Explanation and Analysis:

When Vronsky wants to delay traveling and getting married for a few days so that he can take care of business for his mother, Anna becomes hysterical, accusing Vronsky of using respect as an excuse to avoid committing himself to her. The leap of logic between Vronsky’s accusation that she doesn’t respect his mother and Anna’s assertion that Vronsky doesn’t love her makes little sense. Anna herself realizes that she’s going too far in making this link, but she cannot stop herself, even though she knows that she is going beyond the bounds of reason. Anna’s jealousy has warped her love for Vronsky into irrational, addictive possessiveness.

Tolstoy often uses the ability, or lack thereof, of characters to communicate without words as a barometer that demonstrates the strength of their relationship. In the beginning of their relationship, Anna and Vronsky hardly needed words at all to communicate, since their thoughts and emotions were in sync. With just the flicker of a glance across the platform at the railway station, they understood their love for each other and their bond to each other. However, as the novel progresses, Anna grows increasingly jealous and increasingly anxious about her relationship with Vronsky. She reads every situation as an opportunity to find a demonstration of how his love for her has dimmed.

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Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication Symbol Timeline in Anna Karenina

The timeline below shows where the symbol Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication appears in Anna Karenina. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 10
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...is happy to see Oblonsky. Oblonsky orders an elaborate meal, speaking in Russian rather than French. Though Levin eats the meal, he would have been more comfortable with plain bread and... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
...him, but he continues to keep up his work on the farm. He receives a letter saying that his brother Nikolai is ill, and Levin persuades Nikolai to go to a... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 20
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...both know that he is also going to visit Anna. First, however, Vronsky reads a letter from his mother reproaching him for not visiting and a note from his brother that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 21
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Society and Class  Theme Icon
...warns him to be calm before the race. In the carriage ride, Vronsky reads the letters from his mother and brother, and for the first time since the start of the... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 22
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Vronsky speaks to Anna in French, as “you” in Russian is either too intimate or too cold. He asks Anna what... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 24
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...crowd, deliberately avoiding Princess Betsy and Anna. Vronsky’s brother tells him to answer his mother’s letter. Vronsky sees his only real rival in the race, a huge stallion named Gladiator. Vronsky... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 6
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...Koznyshev about finishing the meadow. Levin eats a late supper, and Koznyshev gives Levin a letter from Oblonsky, which asks Levin to help Dolly on her country estate. Koznyshev tells Levin... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 10
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Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...thinks that Dolly is giving him false hope. Dolly’s daughter comes in, and Dolly speaks French with her, which makes Levin think that she’s being insincere. After tea, Dolly is no... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 14
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Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
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When he arrives in Petersburg, Karenin goes straight to his study and writes Anna a letter in French, requesting that she return to Petersburg and enclosing money. He sends the letter... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 15
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...will go to Moscow that day, taking only themselves and Seryozha’s nurse. Anna writes a note to Karenin explaining that she is leaving for Moscow with their son. She begins a... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 16
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Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
As the house is preparing for Anna to leave for Moscow, Karenin’s letter arrives, and Anna is horrified when she reads that he demands that she return to... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 18
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
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...company, she knows that Vronsky is waiting at the rendezvous she has arranged on Betsy’s note. (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2
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Vronsky receives a note from Anna one evening requesting that he meet her at her home while Karenin is... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 3
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...describes a dream she had about a peasant with a dirty beard who speaks in French, just like Vronsky’s dream. Although she is horrified, all at once her face changes from... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 4
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
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...has disobeyed his orders. The next morning, Karenin goes into Anna room and snatches Vronsky’s letters away from her. Karenin speaks cruelly to Anna, and she protests, but he is telling... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 5
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...wants to prove adultery, says the lawyer, he will need witnesses, not just the love letters Karenin took from Anna. Karenin says he will inform the lawyer soon of his decision,... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 8
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
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Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Karenin receives a delegation from the racial minorities in the provinces; he also writes a letter to the lawyer to act at his discretion, enclosing the love letters from Vronsky to... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 13
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...knows Kitty is, and they communicate in a nearly wordless fashion. Levin writes the initial letters of each word of a sentence on the table in chalk. Kitty understands him precisely... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 16
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
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...both of these with the Prince, and with the father’s permission, he gives Kitty a diary that explains both of these matters. Kitty accepts him, though tearfully, and Levin feels even... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 17
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
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...conversation about infidelity, in particular one man’s praise of dueling. A valet brings Karenin two telegrams. One tells him that a rival of his at work has received the promotion Karenin... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 22
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...to talk to Karenin. Oblonsky begins to talk about Anna, but Karenin hands him a letter that says that even though it is extremely painful, he will grant Anna whatever she... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 7
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
...his life. To hide his conversation from the servants, Vronsky speaks to his friend in French, saying that he is traveling with Anna; the friend looks at it in the right... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 16
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At tea, Kitty reads a letter from Dolly. Levin has a letter from Marya, Nikolai’s on-again mistress, saying that Nikolai is... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 23
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...and Anna are in Petersburg, but hides the fact from Karenin. Anna sends Lydia a letter asking Lydia to arrange a meeting between Anna and Seryozha. Lydia is irritated and tells... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 25
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Lydia shows Karenin Anna’s letter, and Karenin is willing to grant Anna’s request, but Lydia talks him out of it.... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 29
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...extremely difficult to do. Anna, learning that Lydia and Karenin are close, writes Lydia the letter, but Lydia sends no reply, which hurts Anna; the eventual reply makes her angry. Anna... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 18
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...them to be. Vronsky’s country estate is very luxuriously and lavishly appointed. Anna speaks in French to Vronsky and Veslovsky when they arrive, and though she apologizes for the quality of... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 19
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...is wryly amused by the fight between Veslovsky and Levin, because Veslovsky, she says in French, seems so simple and nice. (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 21
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...now, but Vronsky sees himself and Anna as bound together. Anna needs to write a letter to Karenin requesting a divorce, which she hasn’t done yet. Dolly promises to talk to... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 31
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
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...men prepare to go out for more amusement after dinner. Vronsky’s butler brings in a letter from Anna, which already annoys him, since he knows it will be a message that... (full context)
Part 6, Chapter 32
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...That night, she writes to Vronsky in fear of losing him and sends the contradictory letter immediately; when she re-reads it the next day, she regrets the sentiment but is pleased... (full context)
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...there’s business in Moscow, she will go with him. Anna says she will write the letter to Karenin asking for a divorce. Although Vronsky says that he doesn’t wish to be... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 22
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
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...is speaking about Landau, not him. Through his sleep (or feigned sleep), Landau says, in French, that the person who came in last wants something and should leave. Oblonsky, completely perplexed... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 26
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
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...as he sleeps in his study. Anna has her recurring nightmare with the peasant muttering French words. When Anna wakes up, she initially feels better, but then she sees the young... (full context)
Part 7, Chapter 28
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...also visiting, but Dolly comes out alone to receive Anna. Anna asks to read the letter that Karenin sent Oblonsky refusing the divorce, but when she reads it, she says nothing.... (full context)
Part 8, Chapter 5
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...his duty to respect Vronsky for going to war. Koznyshev offers to write Vronsky a letter introducing him to influential people, but Vronsky says that his life has no value to... (full context)