Reading 1001 discussion

12 views
PAST Quarterly reads > 3rd Quarter - Anna Karenina: Questions for 3rd Installment

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Diane (new)

Diane  | 2047 comments CAUTION: SPOILERS AHEAD!!

Questions for parts 7 & 8

Part 7

1. What did you think when you learned Levin was a writer? Discuss the similarities between his character and what you know of Tolstoy.

2. When Levin and Anna finally meet, what did you think of their interaction? Is it as you expected it might be, or different? How do you feel about the fact that Levin pities Anna?

3. Why, as she later admits to herself, did Anna want Levin to fall in love with her when she met him?

4. Talk about the way that Levin's life seems to lose purpose when he goes to Moscow. How does this relate to his happiness at other times? What messages does the author seem to be sending about city life?

5. Discuss Levin's fascination with Kitty's process of childbirth. Does this seem like a normal reaction to you?

6. Stiva's financial circumstances worsen as the novel progresses. How do you feel his choices with money mirror his other choices or his morality?

7. What do you think about the fact that Seryozha has grown to consider his memories of his mother "shameful?" What impact do you expect this has on Karenin and Anna?

8. At the beginning of Chapter XXIII, Tolstoy writes: "In order to undertake anything in family life, it is necessary that there be either complete discord between the spouses or loving harmony." Do you agree?

9. Talk about Anna's extreme jealousy. Do you feel it is founded, or is it a reflection of other things going on in her life?

10. Why are the consequences of Stiva's adultery so insignificant relative to those Anna faces?

11. Is it Anna herself or the society in which she lives that is more responsible for her unhappiness?

12. Discuss, with as much candor as possible, your feelings about Anna's death. Talk about her reasons for doing it, her choices surrounding it, and what you expect the reaction to her death to be.

13. Why do you think everyone and everything seem so ugly to Anna just before her death?

14. Think about the way Tolstoy framed Anna's death, and the actual passage in which she dies. What strikes you about them?


Part 8
15. Were you surprised this part began talking about Sergei's book, after the dramatic conclusion of Part Seven? Talk about why you think the author made this choice.

16. Do you agree that even the death Anna chose was "mean and low?" What were your initial thoughts about how Vronsky's mother says he reacted to it? Did anything he says to Sergei change your opinion?

17. Why does Vronsky go to war as a volunteer after Anna's suicide?

18. Vronsky says, "As a man, I am good in that life has no value for me." Do you believe this statement from him? Do you feel life ever held value for him—even while Anna and he were happy?

19. Talk about Levin's return to his land and his struggles to find meaning in his life. Was this something you could relate to? If so, in what ways?

20. Of all the novel's characters, why is it only Anna and Levin who contemplate suicide?

21. How do you feel about the fact that Dolly and her children are now also in Levin's charge? How does Dolly's example as a mother affect Kitty and Levin's choices as parents?

22. As the book closes, war looms. Trace the ways each male character seems to use this impending crisis, and the new responsibilities he has in the face of it, to his advantage.

23. In the end, how do you feel about Levin's relationship with Kitty? Are they a happily married couple? Thinking back on the passage that opens the novel, would you think they are an example of a happy or unhappy family?

24. What do you think about the final passage, where Levin's ultimate life philosophy is revealed? Why does Tolstoy end the novel with Levin's musings about the nature of faith and his embrace of morally justifiable actions as the basis for the meaning of life?

25. Go back through the book and find your three favorite passages—the ones you remember the most clearly. How did they touch you? How do you feel Tolstoy's writing relates to who you are and how you live?

26. Now that you've experienced each character's journey fully, which character do you feel you identify with most...and why?


message 2: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Dawn | 1126 comments Okay, on to part 3 questions. I finished this book in mid-late July so it’s been a hot minute since I’ve actually read the book, but I’ve chosen the questions here that I still have an immediate answer for. Overall, I really liked the novel, and found the way it explored themes of societal alienation, mercy, hypocrisy, redemption, marriage, family, and hopelessness really interesting. I also thought the prose was visual in a lush way that helped me imagine the old Russian aristocratic house/ball scene. My favorite movie as a child was the animated Anastasia movie in large part because I was obsessed with the aesthetics of the ball scenes, so that was a big nostalgic plus for me, even though most of the story itself is tragic. I didn’t necessarily agree with every conclusion Tolstoy was seeming to make, and there were parts of the book I felt were over emphasized to the extent of glossing over other things I wanted to spend time on, but overall I was impressed with it more so than any of his other works I’ve read. I gave it 4 stars.

Part 7

4. Levin really is a country boy at heart, and life at Moscow really seems to deplete his spirit. It really seems to play into this sense of pretension and fake amiability in the city scene that helps contribute to Anna’s downfall throughout the story.

8. I kind of agree with this quote? I don’t know that anyone is ever always in loving harmony without some degree of repression, but you can deal with conflict in healthy and proportional ways. This reminds me of something my counselling professor once said about trauma within families, that it comes from complicated feelings because we can let go and walk away without internal conflict if it’s only negative, and there’s no trauma if it’s just good. The trauma comes from the complicated mixture of the two. I always thought that made sense, so I mostly agree with what Tolstoy is getting at here.

9. I didn’t feel like her responses were founded in reality or justified at all, but were understandable given she is experiencing a lot trauma from being alienated from society in at least 2 countries, losing her family, and then having no happy home to go home to even after what she lost for it. It seems like she’s just generally unravelling, and maybe also has this anxiety of losing Vronsky because he’s all she has left to show for what’s happened so her jealousy is this ironic counterproductive paranoia response to that.

10. I mean, it’s the misogyny lol. Maybe other things go into it, but I feel like that’s what’s at the root of it.

11. I feel like Anna is responsible for her actions and the strife it causes to her family, but society is responsible for the degree to which she is punished for her actions, so both contribute to her unhappiness. I think there is a real theme her about how shame and a lack of forgiveness culture breed disproportionate consequences.

12. Her death is tragic, but I did feel like it was weirdly one of the best parts of the book in that it is a perfect dramatic culmination of everything that has happened leading up to it. Because of implicit social punishment and divorce laws at the time, her options do seem to be fairly limited. But, I was hoping the whole time she would snap out of the delusional jealousy and her and Vronsky could at least be happy together, that aspect is frustrating, but people can’t always control how they respond to rejection and turmoil.

13. I think this pretty accurately reflects the hopeless aspect of suicidal ideation.

Part 8
15. Yeah, this was an interesting creative decision. I feel like it sadly kind of adds tragedy to Anna’s death as the world just goes on without her, even in her own family.

16. I don’t agree that her death is “mean and low”, although this is a common reaction to suicide. Since I research the gene-environment interactions of suicide for my thesis, I have done some education and action workshops for identifying risk and how to best respond to people confiding their risk level. I’ve heard from a lot of people that have been touched by other’s suicides that they are left angry and feel like it’s “selfish” to die by suicide: which is an understandable human reaction when you’ve lost someone you felt you needed. But, we always teach that suicide isn’t wrong. I’ve met people that take issue with that, but that stigma does increase risk of not confiding while people are in crisis, and increasing the death rate. Everyone I’ve also ever interviewed or talked to who has attempted is not thinking of themselves when they attempt: they genuinely think that they are making things better for everyone else by dying, even if that is not true. We try to emphasize decreasing people’s hopelessness and suffering in the hopes that they will not attempt or (more importantly) wish to attempt, as opposed to shaming the idea of attempting. I definitely thought about the experiences I’ve had with stories of suicide while reading this, and while I can’t support that viewpoint, it is one that realistically many people have.


24. I thought it was interesting, but a bit odd. I guess the last minute conversion/rediscovery of faith is part of the times, but…eh. Also his choice not to tell Kitty was bizarre. But, I did like that there is no magical moment of complete enlightenment and transformation and Levin notes this. I broadly agree that trying to do good is a valid basis for a meaningful life, and like that he acknowledged that this doesn’t mean he is suddenly perfect or will not make mistakes.

25. 3 favorite passages: the skating scene near the beginning (loved the imagery), Anna’s death (peak drama and a great climax for the other drama of the book)…and then maybe Levin’s realization about his love for his family and moral philosophy on his estate at the end (I liked how it came together for them and he gets his farmboy life).

I mean I live in a working class community as an academic atheist in French Canada in the 21st century so my experience is….very far from what Tolstoy was writing about lol. But, there are common themes about living a moral life based on trying to do acts of goodness, having an emotionally healthy family, cultivating a forgiveness culture, etc. that I still relate to and find meaningful.

26. Probably Levin? I’m from the country and although I do love my city, I’m not a “society” person, and think I could be very happy setting in the country again at some point. Every pretentious upper class cocktail party I’ve ever been to has been my personal hell. Societal propriety just…escapes me sometimes. I also tend to not be the person doing scandalous things, and I do share his point of view that even though I’m imperfect I always try to think about how I can act in a way that is morally justifiable.


message 3: by Gail (last edited Sep 29, 2020 12:01PM) (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1421 comments Part 7
1. What did you think when you learned Levin was a writer? Discuss the similarities between his character and what you know of Tolstoy.

I believe that Tolstoy invested a great deal of himself into Levin, including his being a writer but more importantly, his struggle with faith and religion, and his desire to see Russia through an agricultural reform. Tolstoy was evidently happiest when he was in the country.

2. When Levin and Anna finally meet, what did you think of their interaction? Is it as you expected it might be, or different? How do you feel about the fact that Levin pities Anna?

Anna pulled out all the stops to prove that she was still a powerfully beautiful woman and that she could "have" Levin if she wanted to. She was gracious, charming and beautiful for him. Levin was drunk, but nevertheless, he did fall under her influence and did see her as a remarkable woman.

3. Why, as she later admits to herself, did Anna want Levin to fall in love with her when she met him?

Anna did not seem to want Kitty to have someone she herself could not have, as if having stolen Kitty's first love, she had to prove that she could steal any love from Kitty and demonstrate to herself and perhaps to Vronsky that she still could charm anyone and was therefore worthy of his love.

4. Talk about the way that Levin's life seems to lose purpose when he goes to Moscow. How does this relate to his happiness at other times? What messages does the author seem to be sending about city life?

Tolstoy does not seem to care for city life. He shows us social interactions in dining rooms, parlors, clubs and the opera but he does not really give us insight into city living at its broadest view. There is some detail around cabs and owning horses in the city but that is one of the few topics that he dwells on there other than what the characters are doing. Tolstoy clearly feels he is not at home in the city and he makes his characters not at home there.

5. Discuss Levin's fascination with Kitty's process of childbirth. Does this seem like a normal reaction to you?

Levin is painted as someone with almost no understanding of birth at all. Obviously a farmer would have a very well developed knowledge about birth but he is unable to remove himself from his love for Kitty and like he was during his brother Nikolai's death, he is very caring but completely unhelpful. Everyone else seems to find him amusing but he is actually fearful of Kitty's life, which is not all that strange given the times.

6. Stiva's financial circumstances worsen as the novel progresses. How do you feel his choices with money mirror his other choices or his morality?

Stiva is our comic relief and his unfortunate circumstances when it comes to money is not comic but rather tragic so it is unsettling. He repeatedly has made choices that are about his pleasure and giving pleasure to others but he has wasted not only his salary, but his wife's inheritance.

7. What do you think about the fact that Seryozha has grown to consider his memories of his mother "shameful?" What impact do you expect this has on Karenin and Anna?

To love someone that has betrayed you is very difficult. Seryozha prefers to see himself as one of the boys or young men who does not have emotional vulnerabilities due to his mother's failings. His father is too strict for this sensitive boy but his mother's love is not something he can understand any more. If she really loved him, she would not have left him.

8. At the beginning of Chapter XXIII, Tolstoy writes: "In order to undertake anything in family life, it is necessary that there be either complete discord between the spouses or loving harmony." Do you agree?

Actually Tolstoy seems to show us that in any family and in any couple there is both....discord resides along with loving harmony. It is simply human to have conflict, jealousies, miscommunications and different opinions about the right course of action. However, if there is a foundation in the relationship built on "loving harmony" than the discord is just some noise that can be gotten through.

9. Talk about Anna's extreme jealousy. Do you feel it is founded, or is it a reflection of other things going on in her life?

It is both really. She knows her only leverage over Vronksy is her charm and beauty and yet she knows that her constant squabbles with him makes her ugly in his eyes. He attempts to calm her down but his makes it worse as she can see in his eyes a woman that needs to be calmed down. She is jealous of any other woman that she thinks he is interested in which is not founded, as he has no other interest, but she is also terribly jealous of his ability to go about having a relatively normal life while she is totally shunned. This jealously is very well founded.

10. Why are the consequences of Stiva's adultery so insignificant relative to those Anna faces?

He is a upper class man, living in a upper class man's world. As long as he does not abandon his wife and she does not do anything in society to disgrace him regarding his adultery, society is completely okay with this arrangement.

11. Is it Anna herself or the society in which she lives that is more responsible for her unhappiness?

How do you remove one from the other? She was in a very unhappy marriage with a man that could not make her feel deep emotions and she elected to do exactly what she wanted to do to have a true love. It was an honest act in her book. She knew that it would have consequences and yet she acted anyway. Tolstoy also wants us to condemn society for having different rules for different people in society. Anna should have been able to exit an unhappy marriage without such consequences. However, Anna's jealousy, her egotism, her use of morphine are all things that are not strictly speaking the direct result of society's rules.

12. Discuss, with as much candor as possible, your feelings about Anna's death. Talk about her reasons for doing it, her choices surrounding it, and what you expect the reaction to her death to be.
13. Why do you think everyone and everything seem so ugly to Anna just before her death?

Anna found herself surrounded by all things ugly in the world and she must have felt that there was no way out other than to throw herself away. However, the death scene itself is framed as a way to punish Vronsky rather than as an escape. She wants to be rid of everyone including herself because everyone is a torture to her. It isn't until the very last moment that we see that she would have wanted to live, would have wanted to lift her head but the little Muzhik playing with candles was the last thought she had...

14. Think about the way Tolstoy framed Anna's death, and the actual passage in which she dies. What strikes you about them?

At this point in the book we are rather sick of Anna and her ugliness, for Tolstoy has made her ugly not physically but emotionally. However, by framing the death as a choice about punishment and then speaking to "a book about anxieties, deceptions, grief and evil..." we are once again reminded of her power and beauty and all that she could have been and we are more sympathetic towards her.


message 4: by Gail (last edited Sep 29, 2020 01:10PM) (new)

Gail (gailifer) | 1421 comments Part 8
15. Were you surprised this part began talking about Sergei's book, after the dramatic conclusion of Part Seven? Talk about why you think the author made this choice.

By now, I have come to be living in the book and so this was a good transition away from heightened drama into the more mundane. It was a very simple way of saying that for most of the people that Anna knew, life would simply go on.

16. Do you agree that even the death Anna chose was "mean and low?" What were your initial thoughts about how Vronsky's mother says he reacted to it? Did anything he says to Sergei change your opinion?

Her desire to punish Vronsky was rather mean and low, but Anna wasn't thinking clearly nor in those terms. She just saw that the relationship had to come to an end and this was a good ending in which she perceived she had some control. Of course Vronsky was destroyed by it. He did love her and he must have felt that somehow he had betrayed their love by not being able to keep the relationship on a high pitch of adoration.

17. Why does Vronsky go to war as a volunteer after Anna's suicide?

He was trained as a soldier and he felt it was a way in which ending his life would have positive meaning outside of his own cares. He fully intends to die there but nevertheless it will be perceived as a bit of a redemption rather than wasting his life.

18. Vronsky says, "As a man, I am good in that life has no value for me." Do you believe this statement from him? Do you feel life ever held value for him—even while Anna and he were happy?

I think he valued Anna, his daughter, his horses. I don't think he was a deeply philosophical man the way that Levin is and therefore he has come to see that as he no longer values life, he is capable of using what little life he has left to good purpose rather than for purely egotistical pleasures.

19. Talk about Levin's return to his land and his struggles to find meaning in his life. Was this something you could relate to? If so, in what ways?

Here I believe that Tolstoy is searching for a way to illustrate his own struggles with faith and religion. Having had a close encounter with death when Nikolai passes, and then having that coupled with the birth of his son, Levin is trying to find what the deep meaning, or guiding principles of life are when all, even the baby's life, will be a forward march to death.

20. Of all the novel's characters, why is it only Anna and Levin who contemplate suicide?

Vronsky actually sees his volunteering for war as a possible death although it is not suicide by his own hand. Both Anna and Levin struggle with why we are here at all. Anna believed in beauty, grace and her all consuming love but they could not sustain her. What possible use could they be in an ugly world. Levin can love his son and his wife and still realize that he can not truly protect them from all the world is capable of doing to them.

21. How do you feel about the fact that Dolly and her children are now also in Levin's charge? How does Dolly's example as a mother affect Kitty and Levin's choices as parents?

It puts even more pressure on Levin to make money from the farm but in general Dolly and her children, as chaotic as they seem, give new hopeful life to the farm.

23. In the end, how do you feel about Levin's relationship with Kitty? Are they a happily married couple? Thinking back on the passage that opens the novel, would you think they are an example of a happy or unhappy family?

I answered this one earlier....they are as happily married as any couple with a strong foundation of love. That does not mean that they will not have further conflicts, traumas and struggles. That is the nature of family. This reframes the opening statement...all families are alike, each is happy or unhappy in its own way...

24. What do you think about the final passage, where Levin's ultimate life philosophy is revealed? Why does Tolstoy end the novel with Levin's musings about the nature of faith and his embrace of morally justifiable actions as the basis for the meaning of life?

Levin has been searching for meaning throughout the novel and it is a good ending to have him find something that he can depend on to sustain him. He does not have to have a faith based on religious dogma, rather he can build a faith that is the essence of what he has learned from Kitty and what he has had in his soul all along....that of a morally good person doing what he can.

26. Now that you've experienced each character's journey fully, which character do you feel you identify with most...and why?

I believe that Tolstoy identified most with Levin and therefore it is difficult not to parallel that identification. However, I also felt close to Anna often in her conflicted decision making, although not in her ugly manipulation. There are even times when I felt that Dolly was simply a good character, trying her hardest and that was very likable.


back to top