Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ANNA KARENINA Read-Along: First Week (Part II)

Overall Impressions


I am now doing Part II of this novel, for two reasons.  First, I started the book late, because I didn't order it from Amazon early  enough.  Second, my previous post became a rather long one, so I saw the need for another post, just for Part II.

There's so much going on in this novel!   It's immediately obvious, as one advances deeper into the book, that this novel is not just about Anna Karenina, in spite of its title.  ( A couple of other participants have mentioned this, too.)  More than one character takes center stage at several points.  The plot first focuses on one of them, and then another.  Of course, by this time, Vronsky and Anna usually appear together whenever the narrative focuses on Anna. 

I am so glad that Tolstoy doesn't include any graphic sex scenes in this novel!  It's bad enough that Anna and Vronsky are having an affair.  I wouldn't be able to tolerate having their lovemaking described, too!  

I'm struggling a bit with the plot now.  Quite frankly, I'm forcing myself to continue reading.  However, I am feeling a curious sense of detachment from the narrative, at the same time.  Yet, as I read about how Alexei Karenin, Anna's husband, was trying as hard as he could to push aside his suspicions, I was totally in his shoes.  His behavior reminded me of how I, too, tried as hard as I could to dismiss my own suspicions about my first husband's behavior.  There was evidence staring me in the face, too, since I even went as far as to do my own 'detective work'!  I still couldn't quite believe this evidence, though...  So, when I was reading about Karenin's efforts to push his tormenting thoughts aside, I felt pretty uncomfortable, because his feelings mirrored my own when I was going through that terrible period in my life...still, there was that curious sense of detachment...  I really can't explain this strange contradiction. 

From one chapter to the next, Tolstoy has the reader plunge completely into this affair.  Anna was trying to not think of Vronsky, attempting to avoid running into him.  Then suddenly, the affair has already started.  This was a bit shocking, to say the least.  Again, however, Tolstoy merely alludes to the fact that the two of them have been sexually intimate.   Tolstoy, unlike D.H. Lawrence, a writer whose novels I refuse to read, has not descended into vulgarity and coarseness.  He refrains from giving the reader any intimate details.  Lawrence, from what I've heard, was the first writer to use explicit, vulgar language in a novel.

As Anna and Vronsky become more deeply involved with each other, Anna feels more revulsion toward her husband.  Granted, Karenin is not exactly the most emotionally expressive, 'amorous' (to use Stiva's vocabulary) husband in the world, but what has he done to Anna to deserve this revulsion she feels?  I wish Tolstoy had provided more details on their courtship, as well as the early years of their marriage.   It seems that theirs was most likely an arranged marriage, with no love on either side.  Tolstoy does tell us that Karenin is twenty years older than his wife.  But then, Edward Rochester was also twenty years older than Jane Eyre.  In spite of this , theirs was a true love match. 

In this part of the novel, Tolstoy also tells us about Kitty and her parents traveling abroad, to a famous spa.  Kitty's parents want to see if this will cure her; she has become very despondent since being so pointedly rejected by Vronsky, who had, paradoxically enough, never really courted her.  He had, however, shown some interest in her, and she was expecting a marriage proposal from him.

At the spa, Kitty finds a new friend -- a young girl named Varenka, who is completely selfless; she goes around helping sick people at the spa.  Taking her as a role model, Kitty begins to help these people herself.  She finds her own healing in doing so, and becomes a more spiritual person in the process.

In other news....Oblonsky goes to visit Konstantin Levin at his country estate, sells a forest to one of Levin's neighbors (Levin tells him that the neighbor is cheating him out of a lot of money), and goes bird-hunting with the landowner.  Levin, of course, is dying to know whether or not Kitty has gotten married.  He becomes very concerned when Oblonsky tells him that she has fallen ill. 

Back to Anna and Vronsky.  She suddenly reveals, during one of his clandestine visits, that she's pregnant.  He urges her to tell her husband, then leave him, so that the two of them can be together.  Anna, however, is hesitant to do this, since she fears her son might be taken away from her, according to the divorce laws of the time.  Not too long thereafter, in spite of her fears, she does tell Karenin that his suspicions are indeed warranted...

And now I'd like to answer some of the Part II questions asked by Stephanie of Five Alarm Book Reviews, the blog hosting this read-along:

1.)  Do you get the sense that Anna truly feels guilty about the actions she has taken with Vronsky? 

I think that, in her heart of hearts, Anna does indeed feel guilty.  Just as her husband attempts to push away his suspicions that she is really having an affair, she attempts to push away her guilt.  She rationalizes her behavior by suddenly finding fault with Karenin, to whom she has been married for several years, and whose son she has borne.  Again, I wish I had more information regarding their earlier years.  Had Anna felt unhappy in her marriage before she met Vronsky?  Was there an undercurrent of unhappiness that was triggered by Vronsky, as Anna suddenly realized 'what she was missing out on'?  The reader just doesn't have enough information.  But yes, I do believe she feels guilty.  People who know that their actions are wrong always become defensive when questioned, and Anna certainly does when her husband begins to question her actions.  People who feel and know their gullt also attempt to dismiss any suspicions about their actions.  Again, this is something that Anna does, until she can't take the lying anymore, and finally tells her husband that he's entirely correct in his assumptions.

2.)  Vronsky is a Count with a military background -- a very dashing figure of manhood.  In what ways is he a worthy and appropriate lover for the passionate Anna Karenina?  In what ways does he potentially fall short in this role?

He is apparently perfectly appropriate for Anna, if one is only considering whether they are sexually and emotionally compatible.  However, the fact remains that their relationship is totally immoral, so, in this sense, he is totally inappropriate for her.  Anna has no business having an affair with him!! 

I don't understand why people tend to put the cart before the horse.  If you're unhappy in your marriage, first get a divorce (if there is no possibility of improvement, that is, because counseling is always an option), and then, and only then, find another romantic partner.  Why do people insist on having affairs, and end up hurting their spouses or significant others?  Why don't people consider the consequences of their actions?  I simply don't understand. 

If I were having trouble in my marriage, any other man would be totally inappropriate for me, until I divorced my husband.  Period.  People might be totally and perfectly suited for each other, but, unless they're single, this possibility cannot and should not be explored.  If it is, the deceived party always ends up suffering.  Why make someone suffer, even if you no longer love them?  Are they not human beings, too?  Are they not entitled to basic human compassion?

As for being 'worthy' of Anna, Vronsky most definitely is not.  Any man who is willing to sleep with a married woman is not a good, honorable man.  Such a man is not worthy of respect.  Nor can he be trusted.  Of course, the same thing goes for a woman.  Just as Vronsky is not worthy of Anna, she herself is not worthy of her husband, nor of any other decent, honorable man. 

To sum up, Vronsky might be a great partner in the sexual area, but he fails miserably in other, even more important areas.  He is morally and spiritually bankrupt.  So is Anna, for that matter.

3.)  Society -- what it means to be a part of high society or operate successfully in high society -- is discussed at length in Part Two.  What do you feel you have discovered about the way Russian society used to work?  How does it seem different from your life today?

Alexei Karenin embodies the values of this society, and in this particular area, I totally dislike him.  (I also dislike his emotional unavailability.)The high society of this time had a superficial veneer of respectability, while in the background, all sorts of scandals went on.  Karenin is willing to 'look the other way' as long as his wife does nothing to ruin his standing in this society.  He has too much at stake, as he rises through the government ranks.  This type of attitude is more typical of women, so I do find it a bit, well, unmanly for Karenin to be concerned with such a thing.  It's a rather cowardly attitude to take.  But then, Karenin is a workaholic, although this word didn't exist at the time.  Workaholics are known for burying their feelings in work.  Karenin values his well-ordered existence, in which he really doesn't pay that much attention to his wife's emotional needs.  Appearance is everything to him.  This was the way the high society of the time functioned.  Anna is tired of this hypocrisy.  Her 'solution', though, is totally wrong. 

As for how all this seems different from my life today, well, I'm not a member of high society, but I see hypocrisy all around me every day.  Where?  At work.  Office politics has taken the place of high society politics -- at my level, that is.  In today's high society, , too, people still behave in hypocritical ways, and try to 'keep up appearances'.  Today the stakes are one's standing on the stock exchange, for example.  As for arranged marriages, I'm sure that type of thing still goes on.  Wealthy families want to make sure that their children 'marry money', for instance. 

I also see hypocrisy in the 'high society' of Hollywood stars.  For instance, I'm sure that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt feel very good about themselves because they do a lot of charity work, but the fact remains that they'rea pair of adulterers, and all their good deeds for charity will never take that away, at least, not in my eyes.  The fact remains that they caused Jennifer Anniston, Brad's first wife, a lot of pain with their highly-publicized affair, and I'm sure she still hasn't completely recovered from the blow, all appearances to the contrary.  So, for the record, I can't stand 'Brangelina'!!!!

4.)  When Kitty tells Varenka at the end of Part Two that she will never marry, do you believe her?

Well, I already know the answer to this question.   She does end up getting married, later on.  However, even if I didn't already know that, I still wouldn't believe her, for the simple reason that this is the type of thing jilted lovers always say, after their hearts have been broken.  People who have been cheated on, too, also vow never to get into another relationship.  For the most part, these 'vows' or 'promises' are eventually dismissed, once the heartbroken persons have healed enough to enter into new relationships (or to revive the old ones, if it's a possibility). 

Please remember to visit
the other blogs participating
in this read-along!



  1. hi Maria! what a thorough review! thanks for sharing your thoughts on Part II. some of your questions regarding Anna and Karenin's early years will more or less be clarified in Part IV.

  2. Hi, Ao!

    Thank you for the compliment!!! I think this book is really affecting me emotionally, since I myself had to deal with infidelity in the past....

    I'm glad that some of my questions about their early relationship will be clarified in Part IV. Hope I get there! I'm really behind...

    You're welcome for the share, and thanks for commenting!! : )


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