Monday, July 23, 2012

ANNA KARENINA Read-Along: Third Week, Part V

Welcome to the third week of
this read-along, hosted by
Stephanie @
Five Alarm Book Reviews!

If you'd like to participate,
just click on the button for this meme,
located in my sidebar.
Then, write your own post,
and link up by clicking on the
button above!

Overall Impressions

WARNING: Spoilers Ahead!

I'm afraid I'll have to do two separate posts again, since there's so much I want to say...

There are times in one's life in which one has to do the morally correct thing, in spite of one's strong feelings.  There is a higher, moral law, and it is this law that must prevail.  That's why I love the classic, Jane Eyre. Jane knew that Rochester was not free to marry her.  He begged her to simply live with him; after all, he said, no one would ever know, since he lived out in the country.  Jane replied that she would know, and that was enough.  She could not live with a guilty conscience.  And so, in spite of her great love for him, she fled...

Anna Karenina makes little effort to nip things in the bud.   When she first begins to feel the stirrings of her attraction to Vronsky, and his to her, she does feel uncomfortable, and tries to avoid running into him.  But this phase soon passes, and she then succumbs to the attraction.  As all adulterers do, she attempts to rationalize her behavior.  Karenin, her husband, repels her with his lack of emotion.   Vronsky, on the other hand, stirs her passion.  Thus, she is 'justified' in beginning an affair with him. 

What a difference between these two women!  Jane suffered because of her decision, but could continue her life with a clear conscience, knowing that she had done the right thing.  Anna Karenina also suffered because of her decision -- her own conscience did not allow her a moment's peace, even though she tried to suppress her feelings of having done something wrong.

What I especially liked about Part 5 was that Levin and Kitty finally got married!  And I found it so endearing, too, that Levin still had doubts as to whether he was worthy of Kitty.  It was also touching.  This happened on the very day of their wedding, too.  Kitty, at first annoyed by his apparent questioning of her love for him, realizes that he simply adores her, but is at the same time afraid that she might really not love him after all.  So she quickly reassures him, and everything is okay again.  The marriage goes forward as planned.

Not being very familiar with the Russian Orthodox Church, I found the wedding ceremony itself fascinating.  There were a few similarities to Catholic ritual, with which I grew up.  However, there were other things I found new and strange, such as the carrying of an icon of the Savior for the bridegroom, and another of the Mother of God for the bride.  I also had no idea that there were no pews in Orthodox churches.  Everyone stood during the entire service!  I wonder if this is still being done nowadays...

Meanwhile, Anna and Vronsky are abroad, visiting various European countries.  She has left her husband and son behind, taking her newborn baby girl with her.  Interestingly, Vronsky has taken up painting, although his talent is questionable.  He feels restless and not entirely happy.  He had thought that being with Anna would make him entirely happy and thus, satisfied, but discovers that it's not so....

In this section, we can see into Anna's mind as she ponders all the circumstances that have brought her to her current situation.  She even makes herself believe that she was somehow 'destined' to make Karenin unhappy!  She also pleasantly dwells on her love for Vronsky.  She loves everything about him, as she detests everything about Karenin. 

I think that the main theme in Part 5 is the contrast between the two couples -- Kitty/Levin and Anna/Vronsky.  The first is entering into marriage with the blessings of the Church, while the second is entering into...what?  A union not sanctioned by society, nor blessed by the Church.  They have had to leave Russia because they are not welcome in high society circles.  Well, at least Anna isn't.  Paradoxically enough, even her close friend Princess Betsy, who has had several affairs herself, now avoids her. 

This brings me to another theme in the novel -- that of social hypocrisy.   Vronsky can still move around freely in social circles, while Anna is excluded from them.  Vronsky is just as guilty as Anna; indeed, he is even more so, since he was the interloper.  Yet, it is only Anna who receives the punishment of becoming a social outcast.  This is the type of attitude that, in an extreme form, is part and parcel of the Islamic religion. 

Sadly, I think it's woven into the very fabric of any society to uphold hypocritical attitudes, whether this is done in an extreme manner or not. 

Vronsky and Anna eventually move to his country estate.  Anna had insisted on attending a play in a St. Petersburg theater, in spite of Vronsky's attempts to dissuade her.  She was devastated to find herself snubbed by people whom she had considered friends.  One of them even made a scene, just before leaving the theater.

Again, no such thing ever happens to Vronsky. 

It was wonderful to see how Kitty helped her husband deal with his brother Nikolai's illness.  The man had consumption, and Kitty nursed him through his final days.  Levin realized, yet again, just how much he loved and admired her. 

I was shocked to see that Countess Ivanovna, who had meanwhile fallen in love with Karenin and insisted on being his housekeeper, told Seryozha that his mother was dead.  But Anna shows up announced on her son's ninth birthday, taking even Karenin by surprise.  I was glad to see that Anna's conscience poked her enough that she went to see her son.  She had not entirely forgotten him.  In fact, she really missed being with him.  Not that I'm now taking her side, though.  After all, she didn't see him for five long years!

Now here are a couple of Steph's questions (from the hosting blog, Five Alarm Book Reviews):

1.)   Discuss the way Kitty and Levin fight.  How is their way of communicating different from the way Anna and Vronsky or Stiva and Dolly disagree?

Kitty and Levin are simply going through an adjustment period, which is what every couple goes through when they begin married life.  Levin's thoughts on their very first quarrel after their marriage are very revealing, since they point to what I'm sure must be a common experience to those who marry for love: the realization that, once you are married, you are no longer entirely your own person.  Whatever impacts your spouse also impacts you. 

One of Anna and Vronsky's quarrels takes place when she insists on going to the theater, while he tries to prevent her from doing so.  She leaves with Princess Varvara.  Vronsky follows her to the theater, and hears about a scene caused by Madame Kartasov, a member of high society, who insulted Anna by saying that it was a disgrace for her to sit next to Anna in the theater.  (Well, Anna got no more than she deserved, I think, but Vronsky should have gotten it, too.)  When Anna returns to their hotel room, she and Vronsky quarrel again.  They do reconcile afterward, though.

I see Anna and Vronsky's fights as being a direct result of their illicit relationship.  Living with a lover is not the same as living with a spouse.   It would have been especially so in the high society of that time, whether it was in Russia or any other country.  Even though the people involved share everything, including living space, just as a married couple would, I don't think there's the same sense of bonding that marriage brings.  Somehow, in their subconscious minds, the couple probably feel that the back door is always open.  I don't know...this is what I feel must be the case.  So, in Anna and Vronsky's fights, I see a certain sense of insecurity.  Anna fears that Vronsky will stop loving her, while Vronsky at times finds her beauty irritating, even though he still loves her.  It seems that he's starting to feel trapped by her.

As for Dolly and Stiva, their own disagreements are marked, I think, by a certain sense of detachment and formality, although Stiva will put on an act if the situation is really desperate, as he did when Dolly found out about his affair.  Otherwise, their marriage seems too calm.  There's not enough healthy disagreement between them.  That's because Stiva feels disconnected to her.  I think she feels this subconsciously, but doesn't want to admit it to herself.  So, in this particular marriage, the sense of bonding has weakened considerably. 

2.)   What did you think when Anna and Vronsky took off to live together?  Now that they have, what do you think of them as a couple?

Well, of course, in their eyes, they were simply 'following their hearts'.  I see nothing wrong with doing such a thing, as long as you don't hurt others in the process!  This just doesn't seem to concern either Anna or Vronsky, at least, not on the surface.  They go about their business as if everything were as it should be, as if they were a regular married couple, which they're not.  Subconsciously, however, they are aware that their actions are totally wrong.  This, too, fuels their disagreements.  And Anna feels resentful toward Vronsky at times, because she feels she has given up everything for him.  At other times, though, she remembers that he set aside his own political ambitions in order to be with her. 

Although I can now see that Vronsky is better suited for Anna than her husband ever was, I can't go as far as to say that I approve of their actions.  It seems that they felt there was no other option for them, due to the strict divorce laws of the time.  Still, they both could have fought their growing attraction to each other, at the very beginning.  Then they wouldn't have fallen in love.  Once a person falls in love, things get very hard, as well as complicated.  That's why I find Jane Eyre's actions so admirable and courageous.  She was able to do the right thing, in spite of her great love for Rochester.


  1. hola Maria! another wonderful post you have here. i like how you dissect everything and point out things that i missed myself. i look forward to reading the continuation. que tengas una buena semana amiga!

  2. Hi Maria - While I have not read this book I find that your commentary is so very enlightening and detailed that it is prompting me to around to doing so! This is a work that has certainly prompted much thought on your part. I believe that these works that make us think about life, both our own as well as others lives, are really the most enjoyable.

  3. You mention Jane Eyre and it is a great reminder to read it. I know, it is shocking that I haven't, but there are so many books, both new and old, that I can't get to them all.
    I completely agree with you that Anna and Vronsky have no regard to if they are hurting anyone. They simply carry on as though they are married. Their entire relationship is driven by fantasy.
    You have made a good point in mentioning that they could have stopped things before they got out of hand. True. There is this moment that we have in situations like this where we are given doors to get out of a situation, and when we don't take them, the doors begin to close and we are trapped. For instance, there are many signs and ways out between the time that a couple works late at work together before an affair and the time that they get a hotel room.

  4. Regarding your posting problems: have you cleaned out your cache?

  5. I don't see any resemblance to Jane Eyre. I agree with you on Anna though... she does irk me so.

  6. Hi, Ao!

    Thank you so much for your compliment!! You're so sweet! I'll be sure to go check out your post!!

    Muchas gracias por el comentario, amigo!! : )

  7. Hey, Brian!

    Oh, thank you!! that's so nice of you!!

    Yes, it's true -- these works that make us think about life are indeed the most enjoyable. And this one not only has made me think, but has also infuriated me!! In spite of this, I do recommend it to you, because it is indeed a masterpiece. Not an easy read, though. Not only is the immorality of these two characters something that would make most of us uncomfortable, but the book also contains rather long sections dedicated to agricultural or political discussions. I wish Tolstoy had cut these sections down considerably, since the novel would flow better, and the plot would also be more focused. But well, who am I to say? Lol.

    Thank you so much for the comment!! : )

  8. Hi, Steph!

    Oh, you'll LOVE "Jane Eyre"!!! She's the complete opposite of Anna Karenina, believe me. Hope you get to read it soon! If you decide to do a read-along for this novel, please let me know. This is my favorite book of all time, so I wouldn't mind re-reading it!!!

    This statement of yours is SO true: "Their entire relationship is driven by fantasy," You know, I hadn't really thought of this, but, now that I've read this statement, I totally agree!! This means that both of them are pretty immature.

    Have you ever heard the sorry excuse put out by adulterers (both male and female) that "the affair just happened"? I've always CRINGED in the past, whenever I've heard this!!!! Affairs DON'T "just happen".. There's a definite series of events that keep escalating the involvement of the two people. All it takes is the willingness to say "no". Such a simple little word, and yet SO powerful!!!

    "No, I will NOT go have a cup of coffee with you. I'm a married women." "Oh, c'mon! There's no harm in just grabbing some coffee together! I don't bite!" "Nevertheless, I am refusing to go have one with you. I don't care what you think. Here at work, we are colleagues. Nothing more, nothing less. See you at the meeting this afternoon!" And then she turned on her heel and walked away, leaving him standing there, frustration and anger written all over his face. And his friends had told him it would be SO easy to bag her...

    (I just made this up, by the way.)

    Hey, that's all it takes -- a willingness to not let things go too far. But people are selfish, immature, and too interested in "going for what I want", regardless of consequences.

    Thanks for the great comment!! : )

  9. Steph, about the cache...I'm no tech. I'll go ask hubby about this! Lol.

    Thanks for the comment!! : )

  10. Hi, Freda!

    You know, I think you read the post a little too quickly. I was comparing Jane and Anna, and stated that they are very different. And yes, Anna definitely irks me, too!!!

    Thanks for commenting!! : )


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