Classics and the Western Canon discussion

85 views
Discussion--Anna Karenina > Anna Karenina Part Seven

Comments Showing 1-50 of 59 (59 new)    post a comment »
« previous 1

message 1: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Thus we reach the end of Anna Karenina, but not the end of Anna Karenina. Is anyone surprised? I think Tolstoy's psychological study is astounding here.

You are here:

1/06/2010 Part One 1-34 134pp.
1/13/2010 Part Two 1-35 141 pp.
1/20/2010 Part Three 1-32 136 pp.
1/27/2010 Part Four 1-23 94 pp.
--------------------------
2/03/2010 Part Five 1-33 130 pp.
2/10/2010 Part Six 1-32 134 pp.
2/17/2010 Part Seven 1-31 112 pp.
2/24/2010 Part Eight 1-19 55 pp.


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments can't believe we've reached this point in the book. This year sure is going fast. Will post some thoughts later on today.


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I was stunned that, even on my second reading, and knowing her fate, it never occurred to me that Anna might be mentally ill. Although my assessments of her behavior may have been more charitable than those of the novel's other characters, I was still seduced into viewing her the same way they did: by conventional social standards.

However, in Book Seven, Tolstoy masterfully paints a portrait of insanity. He does this by skillfully interweaving the omniscient observer's voice with Anna's internal voice, and with things she actually speaks out loud. Sometimes he shows her genuinely believing things that the reader knows are not true. And, of course, he shares her dreams and forebodings.

This mental illness is the "evil spirit" Anna discovers is inside her, and which she refers to on several occasions.

In these various chapters Tolstoy undresses emotional layers with an intimacy that is almost excruciating to read. At the end I felt as I would if I were to walk into the gym this morning and hear news that one of the guys I clown around with in the weight room every day had committed suicide.

It cannot be accidental that Tolstoy closes the chapter with the image of a candle going out. Anna actually uses it first. After she dismisses the idea that Reason is the weapon with which we can cope with life's difficulties, she says: "Why not put out the candle if there's nothing more to look at, if it's vile to look at it all?" The use of "candle" prompted me to Macbeth whose words following the death of Lady Macbeth could serve as Anna's elegy:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.


In the past couple of weeks, I have begun to conclude that the plight of several characters in Anna Karenina is similar to that of the Macbeths. The tragedy results not from desire that is thwarted, but from desire that is fulfilled.


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments Zeke wrote: "I was stunned that, even on my second reading, and knowing her fate, it never occurred to me that Anna might be mentally ill. Although my assessments of her behavior may have been more charitable t..."

Some very good points, zeke




message 5: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Zeke wrote: "I was stunned that, even on my second reading, and knowing her fate, it never occurred to me that Anna might be mentally ill. Although my assessments of her behavior may have been more charitable t..."

Zeke, that is beautiful. I kept thinking of Othello: "Put out the light, and then put out the light." Can anyone conjecture where the insanity begins? We are definitely in the presence of a great writer.


message 6: by Dawn (new)

Dawn | 28 comments Zeke wrote: "I was stunned that, even on my second reading, and knowing her fate, it never occurred to me that Anna might be mentally ill.

Zeke, you raise a very good point. Anna swings between reason and paranoia at the most trivial stimuli. Tolstoy walks a very fine line here: her internal conversation is at times recognizable to anyone who has ever been selfish or annoyed with a loved one; then it turns into an unreasonable excess of suspicion and loathing.

Tolstoy also does a masterful job of depicting two people hopelessly estranged while living under the same roof. He shows the vast gulf between what spouses think and what they say. He shows how impulsive emotions repeatedly derail the best intentions at reconciliation. Only Kitty and Levin are able to lovingly talk through their differences. Then there are Anna and Vronksy, who remain tragically separated from nearly the beginning of their relationship.


message 7: by Andrea (new)

Andrea | 113 comments Good insights, Zeke. Anna has arrived at an impossible situation. Vronsky, much as I have disliked him, seems to see the need to move forward and develop some kind of plan for developing as normal a life as possible. However, given what a "normal" marriage sometimes represented in this time, as represented by Stiva and Dolly, I think Anna is actually somewhat justified in being afraid of the future. She has only Vronsky's assurances of his continued love as security. There is a point in the book I'm unable to find, in which Anna carefully attends to her toilette and the narrator points out that beauty will not hold Vronsky if he becomes interested elsewhere. I think this emphasizes the idea that a relationship built mainly on romantic sensibility and physical attraction is fragile, esp. when we know how "flexible" Vronsky's moral principles are. What I'm trying to say is that Anna's situation is truly terrible. Her only security is trust in Vronsky, and Vronsky is essentially untrustworthy, as she knows very well.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Andrea and Dawn add to my thinking on what happens to Anna. I've been carrying around Laurele's friendly challenge to try to identify when Anna becomes fully mentally disabled.

A case could probably be made for her reckless visit to her son. A clue might be the devastating final sentence of the chapter telling us she has forgotten to leave the toys she brought.

But I think her bizarre visit at bedtime to Dolly in Book VI is the spot for me. We've been assuming that she has been acting "selfishly." Comments have been made that she "abandoned" her son, and left Karenin for "sensual" love. But during this visit, the crux is something she says: "You must understand that I love two beings--equally, I think, but both more than myself--Seryozha and Alexei...I love only these two beings, and the one excludes the other. I can't unite them, yet I need only that. And if there isn't that the rest makes no difference. It all makes no difference." (Book VI.24)

Because this is a direct quote, the reader must decide if s/he believes Anna. If not, she is delusional. But if we take her at her word, she is self-abnegating; and trapped in an irresolvable position. In either case, she is no longer capable of functioning in her society or acting as a self directed mature individual.

Dolly, of course, with her own neuroses and shortcomings has no way to help her. One wonders how a good therapist might have responded to the statement quoted above.


message 9: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Zeke wrote: But I think her bizarre visit at bedtime to Dolly in Book VI is the spot for me. We've been assuming that she has been acting "selfishly." Comments have been made that she "abandoned" her son, and left Karenin for "sensual" love. But during this visit, the crux is something she says: "You must understand that I love two beings--equally, I think, but both more than myself--Seryozha and Alexei...I love only these two beings, and the one excludes the other. I can't unite them, yet I need only that. And if there isn't that the rest makes no difference. It all makes no difference." (Book VI.24)

There was also the time earlier when she dreamed or spoke of having two husbands. "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways."




message 10: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 80 comments Laurele wrote: "There was also the time earlier when she dreamed or spoke of having two husbands. "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.""

James 1:6-8 (NIV)
6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

In the trials and temptations passage above, a double-minded man is like the waves of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed about. He may seem to be dependable, but then again he’s not. In fact, you cannot tell just what he is. This speaks of Vronsky’s character and, after reading this chapter, I would also say Karenins’. I was saddened to see this rational man who had been transformed by grace become a shell of man with no conviction. A man who would let a psychic determine his future on whether or not he should divorce his wife.

This phrase is also in James 4 and it seems to be talking about what Anna is going through before her suicide.

James 4:1-8 (NIV)
1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive; because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. 4 You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.




message 11: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 80 comments Zeke wrote: " it never occurred to me that Anna might be mentally ill."

Or could Anna’s behavior have been a result of taking the Opium drug?

This was a tough chapter for me to read since I lost someone very dear to me last July in the same way. She was 29, married and had a baby girl. She was on Dilaudid, which is a hydromorphine. Opium contains alkaloids such as morphine. In the past my doctors had put me on Dilaudid. My memories of my time on it were terribly disturbing, but my family said that I acted very sedated. But I have no memories of being with them that week. All I remember is that I was somewhere else that was horrendous.



message 12: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments I love the scene in 7.9 where Levin enters the shade of Anna's study and sees in the light of a lamp (a reflector) the portrait of Anna. He is entranced by the portrait "looking at him triumphantly and tenderly with troubling eyes. Only, because she was not alive, she was more beautiful than a living woman can be." And then in the next chapter, he is entranced by the other Anna, the living Anna. Her bipolar nature is reflected in this scene perfectly, even before we get to the interior monologue in the last scenes.

But Levin has his own bipolar moments as well when his son is born -- he oscillates from fear and hatred to joy, and then to pity and feelings of vulnerability. In 7.14 he compares the birth of his son to the death of his brother, saying

"But that grief and this joy were equally outside all ordinary circumstances of life, were like holes in this ordinary life, through which something higher showed. ... and just as inconceivably, in contemplating this higher thing, the soul rose to such heights as it had never known before, where reason was no longer able to overtake it."

In a similar sense, I think, Anna's soul descends to such depths that reason cannot overtake it. I see a kind of symmetry between Levin's emotional oscillation while Kitty is in labor and Anna's bipolar ideation -- both are out of control, both are in some sense "mentally ill." But Levin's torment ends with a "strange feeling of senseless joy" when the baby sneezes, and Anna's ends with a little muzhik "working over some iron" and a candle sputtering out.

Wow -- what a book!




message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

Great comment Thomas. Really helped me understand the connection between Levin and Anna better. It's no spoiler to say that your comment helps me make sense of Book VIII as well.

I had wondered why Tolstoy even included the scene with Levin and Anna since he never follows it up very much except for Kitty's somewhat juvenile jealousy.

Telling the story of the birth from Levin's point of view was an interesting narrative technique and your comment made me understand why he may have done it.



message 14: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 42 comments For me, their meeting is really important, even if it is brief and doesn't really have much of an impact on the novel's plot. Tolstoy has had the two stories running parallel for so long that they need to intersect at some point. And besides that, he's positioned Levin as the great moralist of the novel and Anna as the great sinner. (Vronsky and Kitty are kind of secondary versions of their partners: Vronsky also commits adultery but he breaks no marriage vow; Kitty is also morally pure, but more out of habit than reflection). Levin spends much of the novel judging Stiva, judging Dolly, and judging himself (not to mention practically everyone else) and so it is really important that he come face-to-face with the central character in the novel who faces judgment from everyone.

That Levin becomes completely beguiled by her is, I think, a moment where Tolstoy is playing with what it means to read Anna Karenina rather than what it means for the plot or individual characters that they should meet. Specifically, I think he's making a point here about readerly sympathy. Anna appears here as a terrible person--she deliberately tries to make Levin fall in love with her for no other reasons than boredom and jealousy, and she admits it. But for all that, I think Tolstoy would argue that the reader has a moral imperative to empathize with Anna. I can't say for sure, of course--I don't know anything about Tolstoy's theories of literature and its effects--but I think this scene really points more to what it means to be a reader than what it means for Anna or Levin.


message 15: by [deleted user] (new)

Really cool comment Darcy. As with Thomas' comment this makes perfect sense to me and, as I said earlier, I think your point is really borne out in the last section of the book. These comments have helped me understand that better. I can't wait until we get there, and also until I hear some of the summary comments that so many sharp readers have to make.

This is definitely a book I appreciate much better thanks to others' readings.


message 16: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Thomas wrote: "I love the scene in 7.9 where Levin enters the shade of Anna's study and sees in the light of a lamp (a reflector) the portrait of Anna. He is entranced by the portrait "looking at him triumphantly..."

Fascinating comparison, Thomas. Thanks!


message 17: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Darcy wrote: "For me, their meeting is really important, even if it is brief and doesn't really have much of an impact on the novel's plot. Tolstoy has had the two stories running parallel for so long that they ..."

Great points, Darcy. 'Way back in, I think, Part One, in the restaurant with Stiva, Levin even judges the words of Christ about the woman taken in adultery: "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."


message 18: by [deleted user] (new)

With Anna dead, I found myself wondering why I was not familiar with any operas based on the novel. Certainly, many far less promising stories have been turned into librettos.

Checking Wikipedia, I was surprised to find that, while there are a good number of film and TV adaptations, there have only been two operas, and the first of these was only written in 1978.

Does this surprise others? Which composer, living or dead, would you wish had set this to music?


message 19: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Zeke wrote: "Checking Wikipedia, I was surprised to find that, while there are a good number of film and TV adaptations, there have only been two operas, and the first of these was only written in 1978.

Does this surprise others? Which composer, living or dead, would you wish had set this to music? ."


Rodgers and Hammerstein.




message 20: by Laurel (last edited Feb 21, 2010 05:06PM) (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Zeke wrote: "With Anna dead, I found myself wondering why I was not familiar with any operas based on the novel. Certainly, many far less promising stories have been turned into librettos.

Checking Wikipedia,..."



That's a tough one, Zeke. I was going to say Benjamin Britten, and now I see that he started one that never got off the ground. I think it's almost too complicated and intellectual for opera.

Of course, Prokofiev did a wonderful job of War and Peace, in my opinion, but he had battles and Napoleon and a dying Nathan Gunn.

It could be done, though. Puccini, maybe, but it would certainly have to be reduced. I just don't know. It might be too well written to make good opera.


message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I agree with Puccini for the "operatic" treatment. Or Britten for the intellectual (Levin as outsider?). But I doubt Britten could catch the essential Russian nature of the book. How about Strauss for the domestic struggles-- though again, not very Russian though he did do Arabella. This will really sound odd, but Thomas might agree, how about Leonard Bernstein?


message 22: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Zeke wrote: This will really sound odd, but Thomas might agree, how about Leonard Bernstein?

He might have been able to pull it off, with a little bit of "West Side Story" and a lot of "Kaddish."


message 23: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 42 comments Really interesting question, Zeke. If this were an opera, what would you keep? And what would you get rid of?

This novel moves through the perspectives of so many different characters that it seems particularly well suited to opera, as opposed to film. Even more so than theater, I think.


message 24: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Carol wrote: "Zeke wrote: " it never occurred to me that Anna might be mentally ill."

Or could Anna’s behavior have been a result of taking the Opium drug?


I didn't see any evidence for this in the text, but maybe I missed something.

But I think her suicide is consistent with her deteriorating mental state. I think that her rejection of social mores finally caught up with her. She was, I think, raised to need positive social interaction; she could bravado it out the first months with Vronsky, but he wasn't enough in the long run, as I read her character, to overcome her feeling of failure.

I don't see any fault in Vronsky for the way he treated her. I don't think there's any rational basis for her feeling that his love for her was cooling. Her problem, I think, is that she needed almost constant attention, support, and presence to keep self-justifying her actions, and she didn't get it.

From the bravado moments of her riding horseback to show her disdain of the rules of society she went downhill, and like so many rocks rolling down a hill, she didn't find a place to stop until it was too late.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Darcy: Really interesting question, Zeke. If this were an opera, what would you keep? And what would you get rid of?

Anna: mezzo soprano
Kitty: soprano
Vronsky: tenor
Levin: tenor or baritone
Dolly: contralto
Karenin: baritone
Prince and Princess: comprimaro roles

I'd keep the love stories with comic relief from the Prince and Princess. With due respects to Everyman, the high point of the opera would be Anna's "mad scene." There would be some nice Russian choruses by the peasants at the farm. Good love duets, angry trios and, confused ensemble possibilities. Parent-daughter duets.


message 26: by Suzann (new)

Suzann | 358 comments That we are reading and are fascinated by Anna Karenina after 100 years of progress for women only supports the contention that Tolstoy is "the greatest writer of all time." According to his diaries, he took great pride in disguising his personal beliefs in the discussions of the role of women, peasants, education, or government. His effort to present a balanced view of an issue and to create multifaceted characters gives the book a complexity that allows for many interpretations even given the century of social experience since. That said, for me it is Anna who is the character of courage, boldness and life. At the outset, the aphorism "happy families are all alike" identifies the path of the Levin plot. There is a right way to live. The model of the Levin marriage achieves what is natural, right, and good. Anna, on the other hand, follows her passion, bucks the narrow conventions of society, embraces the advances of science and education on an equal footing with Vronsky as they modernize the farm and build a hospital. Anna, like many others who stray from the narrow path of social convention and religion, finds herself isolated, insecure, and unable to achieve the love she believes is the source of happiness. Anna sees the abyss, but even that walk to the precipice was a bold move for her time. Although Levin's follow-the-rules happiness is a respite to the darkness of the world, Anna behavior represents the human condition which, for me, need not be explained as either sin or insanity. She made choices and chose death to deal with the consequences. Others made different or even similar choices and found different ways to live with the consequences. If we judge Anna harshly have we not been convinced by the novel's moral authority that "happy families are all alike"?


message 27: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Everyman wrote: Carol wrote: "Or could Anna’s behavior have been a result of taking the Opium drug?"

I didn't see any evidence for this in the text, but maybe I missed something.


She was definitely taking drugs. Whether the drugs caused the mental condition is what you are questioning, I guess. I think what you say later--basically, that she was addicted to getting constant attention--seems more likely to me to be what drove her to drugs. She was double-minded, and thus unstable in all her ways.


message 28: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Everyman wrote: I don't see any fault in Vronsky for the way he treated her. I don't think there's any rational basis for her feeling that his love for her was cooling. Her problem, I think, is that she needed almost constant attention, support, and presence to keep self-justifying her actions, and she didn't get it.

From the bravado moments of her riding horseback to show her disdain of the rules of society she went downhill, and like so many rocks rolling down a hill, she didn't find a place to stop until it was too late.


Well said! I agree.


message 29: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Zeke wrote: "Darcy: Really interesting question, Zeke. If this were an opera, what would you keep? And what would you get rid of?

Anna: mezzo soprano
Kitty: soprano
Vronsky: tenor
Levin: tenor or baritone
Dolly: contralto
Karenin: baritone
Prince and Princess: comprimaro roles


No, Karenin is a high tenor. Levin has to be a baritone or bass, and since this is a Russian opera, so does Vronsky.




message 30: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Susan wrote: "His effort to present a balanced view of an issue and to create multifaceted characters gives the book a complexity that allows for many interpretations even given the century of social experience since. That said, for me it is Anna who is the character of courage, boldness and life."

Boldness, yes. But I'm not sure that I consider suicide a measure of courage and life.

I'm also not at all convinced that leaving Karenin for Vrosky was an act of courage. At least, not the good kind of courage.

It was bold, certainly. It was in some sense brave, or perhaps bravado would be a bit more accurate.

But I think the real act of courage would have been to overcome her sexual passion, reject her lust (personally, I think it was more that than love, though lust partly driven, I think, by a failure by Karenin to fulfill her sexual needs), and fully commit herself to her marriage and motherhood. IMO, it takes a lot more courage to do that which is right in opposition to that which is desirable.


message 31: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "No, Karenin is a high tenor. Levin has to be a baritone or bass, and since this is a Russian opera, so does Vronsky."

I'm no opera buff, as Laurel knows well, but I agree that Karenin is a reedy, thin tenor, possibly with a hint of falsetto, and Levin a baritone. Not a bass, he doesn't have the physical presence in my mind to carry off a full bass. I would have Vronsky be a baritone also, though about a fifth higher than Levin's baritone.

Anna? A sultry alto.



message 32: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments If we judge Anna harshly have we not been convinced by the novel's moral authority that "happy families are all alike"?

I don't judge Anna harshly, but I also do think she made many poor choices, more driven by impulse-based emotion than by deliberation on the consequences of her action.


message 33: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Everyman wrote: I'm not sure that I consider suicide a measure of courage and life.

I'm also not at all convinced that leaving Karenin for Vrosky was an act of courage. At least, not the good kind of courage.

It was bold, certainly. It was in some sense brave, or perhaps bravado would be a bit more accurate.

But I think the real act of courage would have been to overcome her sexual passion, reject her lust (personally, I think it was more that than love, though lust partly driven, I think, by a failure by Karenin to fulfill her sexual needs), and fully commit herself to her marriage and motherhood. IMO, it takes a lot more courage to do that which is right in opposition to that which is desirable.


Well said, Everyman. That is exactly how I view it.


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "
Well said, Everyman. That is exactly how I view it."


However, just because the group moderators happen to agree, that does NOT necessarily make this the only legitimate, or even correct (whatever that may mean in interpreting a great book) point of view, so I hope those who disagree with us will bring forward their points of view.

A "discussion" where everyone agrees is a pretty boring exercise. So don't be shy, bring on the contrary opinions if you think there is another way of looking at the situation!


message 35: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 22, 2010 06:00PM) (new)

Everyman says, "it takes a lot more courage to do that which is right in opposition to that which is desirable."

Fair enough in the abstract; but the devil is in the details.

Are there places you can cite that show that Anna doesn't truly "love" Vronsky? (I've already shared one that shows that, at least in her own mind, she loves both her son and Vronsky more than herself.)

If Karenin can't satisfy her sexually (never explicitly presented as a source of contention) why is Anna obliged to stay chaste, while the men are allowed (even encouraged) in their own discreet affairs when the roles are reversed?

It could also be argued that the liaison with Vronsky is hardly "desirable" since she fights it every step of the way and it brings her society's scorn. It's more as if she can't help herself.

Lastly, as Susan (I believe) pointed out, in many ways Anna is at her best when living with Vronsky. She supports him as he builds hospitals etc.


message 36: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 42 comments Well, I agree with Laurele and Everyman that Anna is far from perfect--she makes a lot of decisions that I have a hard time understanding. She tries to make men fall in love with her for no good reason, she chooses her lover over her son, she doesn't accept a divorce, and she belittles other women to make herself feel important. Those aren't easy things to forget. But for all that, I find her to be a far braver person, in many respects, than any other character in the book, including Levin, Vronsky, and Karenin. The scene that anchors so much of Anna's character, for me, is the bedroom scene the evening after she arrives back home from visiting Stiva and Dolly. Tolstoy is very subtle there, but that scene is so devastating in terms of revealing the artificiality of Anna and Karenin's marriage--a marriage we learn later that both Karenins stumble into more than anything else. For me, and I'm sure others will disagree, people who find themselves in marriages where they must constantly pretend to be something they are not must be living in a very private, personal kind of hell. It is a hell made worse, I think, in the nineteenth century since while men were allowed to formulate independent identities, women were conditioned to ground their whole being in the family. Basing your identity, as Anna tries to do, off of a sophisticated charade is probably not so good for the psyche.

Anna's socially acceptable choices are to reject Vronsky and pretend a little bit more each day by lying to herself and to others, or to take a lover openly and eventually cast him off as a fling. I think either option is incredibly self-destructive, even if the consequences aren't always visible. That she chooses a third option (rejecting also the possibility of tricking Karenin into raising Vronsky's child as his own), is to me a mark of the strength of her character. Were she to do anything else, she would be Dolly or Betsy. And, moreover, she goes into the situation knowing what it will cost her--her son, her position, the respect of others, any kind of social life, all legal protections, etc. etc. I don't know if it is bravery, exactly, but I do think Anna possesses a willingness to risk that others lack. And, perhaps most importantly, she possesses a willingness to be judged--to be judged by everyone without any defense of victimhood to fall back on, that to me is, if not courage, definitely not cowardice or mere boldness.


message 37: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "Are there places you can cite that show that Anna doesn't truly "love" Vronsky? (I've already shared one that shows that, at least in her own mind, she loves both her son and Vronsky more than herself.)"

I feel a bit guilty about not going back through the novel to find specific passages -- I should, but I just don't have the wellness or the time to, for which I apologize as bad discussion technique.

But my sense of Anna is that her "love" for Vronsky isn't agape, but eros. If "love is that quality that endures when another person's happiness is essential to your own," I don't see in Anna the concern for Vronsky's happiness that that definition requires. She resents his spending a quite reasonable amount of time away from her in quite reasonable activities. I think she knows she's being unreasonable, but can't help herself. It thus seems a primarily egocentric form of "love."


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments What I find interesting is that while Anna and Karenin are together they seem to be able to hold things together. He has his official business which he seems to run competently; when we first see her, in her interactions with Mrs. Vronsky and with Dolly, she seems fine. But when they part, they both fall apart, in very different ways. It seems sort of like two skaters performing a spin move together. As long as they have tight hold of each other, they are both in control and the unit is under control. But when they let go, each one spirals off and out of control.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

I didn't mean to imply, E-man, that your post was deficient for lack of citations. Rather, that I couldn't recall any definitive evidence that she is selfishly taking advantage of him. You and Darcy, in different ways, return us to the difficulty we discussed earlier about how to define "love."

Darcy's point about the private hell of living as an imposter in a marriage is poignant. And your point about how the couple seems to fare better together than apart is intriguing to me.

It's odd: after weeks of being quite frustrated with the shallowness, and callowness, of these characters, I now find myself thinking of them and rather moved by their plights.


message 40: by Frances (new)

Frances | 36 comments Anna Karenina is one of my favorite Russian books; I confess I did not just reread it as I only just found this group, but I've read quite a lot of Russian authors (and studied Russia/Russian), and I do not believe Anna is ever meant to be "insane." The internal fighting she does, which we might consider obsessive, is not unusual at all in Russian literature. (Raskolnikov in Crime & Punishment goes back and forth endlessly, but is not meant to be nuts, just deep-thinking). Considering brooding, or obsessing, a mental illness is (I hope you don't mind my saying this), Western thinking. Even in "real life", Russians consider this type of behavior simply "thinking" and admire it very much as a sign of depth. I had a Russian friend who would often explain, with great contempt, that he didn't like this or that person because they didn't "think." He meant they don't spend hours alone, going over every aspect of something or other in their head before (and after!) making a decision/choice.
By the same token, Anna's abandonment of "reason" is in no way meant to be considered a flaw or fall into madeness--to the contrary, this is the first step to redemption, and the only possible one at that.
I am coming to this discussion quite late obviously, as I found this group as you all reach the end of the book, but I did wonder how Tolstoy would be included in a Western Canon group--not complaining, mind you, I loved AK, just that Tolstoy (like Dostoevski) would most certainly turn in his grave if he knew he was being considered "Western" in any way. (Raskolnikov famously chooses to go to Siberia rather than be sent "there," which all Russian readers know means the West.)
Sorry if my first post is a bit lectury...


message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

Hi Frances! As the person who first floated the notion of mental illness, I was delighted to read your informative post. My original post was intended to show a sudden compassion and revelation about her humanity that I developed for Anna; not meant as either an excuse nor a diagnosis.

Your timing is wonderful. As we are nearing the end of our discussion there is something I am curious about, but don't have the background to discuss in the book. Perhaps you can help:

There seem to be three main settings: Moscow, St. Petersburg and the countryside. Beyond the plot's requirements, do these represent something more? And related, in War and Peace, Russia itself could be considered a character. Is that the case in this book too? And, if so, how?

You first post alludes to this in describing the brooding nature of Anna and others.

Welcome.


message 42: by Suzann (last edited Feb 23, 2010 08:54AM) (new)

Suzann | 358 comments Everyman wrote: "Susan wrote: "His effort to present a balanced view of an issue and to create multifaceted characters gives the book a complexity that allows for many interpretations even given the century of soci..."

Everyman said: "But I think the real act of courage would have been to overcome her sexual passion, reject her lust (personally, I think it was more that than love, though lust partly driven, I think, by a failure by Karenin to fulfill her sexual needs), and fully commit herself to her marriage and motherhood. IMO, it takes a lot more courage to do that which is right in opposition to that which is desirable."

In Russian society, and in our own until the 60's, women's only choice "to do that which is right" was marriage and motherhood. For Anna conforming to societal expectations would have been a subjugation of will to which her passionate and emotional nature was incapable. I believe she did understand that the consequences of her love for Vronsky would be loss of her child, social rejection, and isolation, but she was powerless to will herself to the safety of social conformity. I'm not sure why women should have been denied self-expression then. I believe it is women like Anna who have expressed themselves despite the narrow boundaries defining women's roles who have expanded opportunities for all women.


message 43: by Frances (new)

Frances | 36 comments Zeke wrote: "Hi Frances! As the person who first floated the notion of mental illness, I was delighted to read your informative post. My original post was intended to show a sudden compassion and revelation abo..."
Zeke--Thanks for the welcome. Regarding locations, well, as I said, I didn't just reread AK since I just found the group, but, in general, Tolstoy considers country good, city bad. Cities are the source of corruption--and Western influence--and the Russian countryside is the only place to be at peace and close to God. The "ideal" man here is Levin, who is only happy in the countryside.
In terms of Moscow vs. St. Petersburg, I don't remember if they are treated differently in AK but, in general, Moscow is usually considered more "Russian" than St. Petersburg, which is much more Westernized (indeed, it was created to bring Russia closer to Europe).


message 44: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Frances wrote: "Anna Karenina is one of my favorite Russian books; I confess I did not just reread it as I only just found this group, but I've read quite a lot of Russian authors (and studied Russia/Russian), and..."

Good post, Frances, and welcome. Interesting that you mention Raskolnikov. I'm struggling with him right now for the first time in fifty years. You're probably right that it's not insanity. I would say it is wrong thinking, even sin that gets these people all twisted up. The ones who may have some mental deficiency or abnormality are often revered as holy fools in Russian culture.

West or East? That's a great question. I think of Tolstoy as more Western than Dostoevsky, but possibly not.


message 45: by Frances (new)

Frances | 36 comments "Everyman wrote: In Russian society, and in our own until the 60's, women's only choice "to do that which is right" was marriage and motherhood. "

Tolstoy famously had trouble with his women characters, and most of them are either angels or temptresses. AK is, I believe, his only rounded female character, neither slavishly devoted to her husband nor dedicated to man's ruination.
However, I think you do Tolstoy an injustice by suggesting this story is just about a woman breaking out of her societal confines; he places the same societal confines and religious judgments/condemnation on his male characters as he does his women but, in just this one case, the central character is a woman.

In addition, your last sentence seems to imply that Tolstoy somehow approved of Anna's breaking out of the "narrow boundaries defining women's roles," as Jane Austen might. I do not believe this is the case at all. Tolstoy was extremely religious and would not have approved of adultery under ANY circumstances--not just for Anna but for anyone.


message 46: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Darcy wrote: "For me, and I'm sure others will disagree, people who find themselves in marriages where they must constantly pretend to be something they are not must be living in a very private, personal kind of hell. It is a hell made worse, I think, in the nineteenth century since while men were allowed to formulate independent identities, women were conditioned to ground their whole being in the family. Basing your identity, as Anna tries to do, off of a sophisticated charade is probably not so good for the psyche. "

That's a nice analysis. However, I wonder how much of it is rooted in the expectations and beliefs of Tolstoy's original audience, and how much is a represents a layering of modern perceptions on top of 19th Century Russian expectations.

I'm not saying we can't do the latter, but I do think we need to know when we are, and realize that we may be understanding Anna quite differently than Tolstoy and his readers would have.

We are accustomed to thinking of marriages as primarily legal and social agreements which are transitory and impermanent (though that attitude seems to be moderating somewhat, witness the trend toward covenant marriage, though that's all beyond my point). But Tolstoy and Anna and Karenin would not have been looking at their marriage in that manner, but would have been viewing it in the context of an expectation, both social and religious, of rock-solid permanence. I that is what you expect and intend of a marriage, I'm not sure it's accurate to suggest that the people living that way would have viewed it as hell, as you suggest, but might rather have accepted that happiness was not a normal expectation of their lives but rather was a fortunate state to be desired but not necessarily achieved (sort of the way we view winning the lottery today?)

Sorry if I'm not making sense -- this dratted sickness is still diminishing my ability to think as clearly as I would like to.


message 47: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Frances wrote: "I do not believe Anna is ever meant to be "insane." The internal fighting she does, which we might consider obsessive, is not unusual at all in Russian literature. (Raskolnikov in Crime & Punishment goes back and forth endlessly, but is not meant to be nuts, just deep-thinking). Considering brooding, or obsessing, a mental illness is (I hope you don't mind my saying this), Western thinking. Even in "real life", Russians consider this type of behavior simply "thinking" and admire it very much as a sign of depth."

That's a fascinating point, Frances. This book is rewarding and challenging not only because it was written and intended for an audience living in a quite different age (think how our lives would be different without cars, telephones, airplanes, washing machines, computers, etc.,) but also written by and for a culture which is somewhat mysterious to most of us.

Yet for all that, we find the book rewarding and well worth reading and discussing. Your post is a good reminder that in looking at the motives and behaviors of the characters, we have to consider them not only in terms of universal human values (honor, nationalism, love, paternity and maternity) but also of the social and cultural expectations under which the characters operated.


message 48: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments In following up a few things in that astonishing last chapter I was led back to Part One, where Anna is on the train heading back to Petersburg. The tone of that scene is eerily similar to the suicide chapter, as Anna gets wound up emotionally, her nerves like "strings on winding pegs." As the train comes to a stop, she experiences what to me sounds almost like a seizure.

She felt her eyes open wider and wider, her fingers and toes move nervously; something inside her stopped her breath, and all images and sounds in that wavering semi-darkness impressed themselves on her with extraordinary vividness. She kept having moments of doubt whether the carriage was moving forwards or backwards, or standing still. Was that Annushka beside her, or some stranger? 'What is that on the armest -- a fur coat or some animal? And what am I? Myself or someone else?'

She sees the skinny muzhik, the stoker, checking the thermometer, but with the wind and snow blowing in she becomes confused. She sees the muzhik begin to "gnaw at something on the wall," and she sees the old woman passenger stretch her legs out the whole length of the carriage. And all this is not frightening, but exhilarating for her.

The diagnosis of "mental illness" bothers me because it is tantamount to dismissal, but at the same time I think what Anna experiences is more than garden-variety depression, and certainly more than brooding. Right before she throws herself on the tracks she is horrified by what she is doing but feels "something huge and implacable" pushing at her head. Is that thing mental illness? In part, possibly, but I think it's much more complicated than that.


message 49: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Frances wrote: "I did wonder how Tolstoy would be included in a Western Canon group--not complaining, mind you, I loved AK, just that Tolstoy (like Dostoevski) would most certainly turn in his grave if he knew he was being considered "Western" in any way."

Nice question! I see the point that Tolstoy might have seen himself somewhat outside the Greek > Roman > European train of thought development, but he was, after all, much affected by English and French thought and culture, as we see throughout both AK and War and Peace, and of course he was much affected by Christian thought, which pervades much of Western thought of the past 2 millennia, and he has certainly affected traditional Western thinking and writing, so I think it's reasonable to consider him in the broader stream of the Western Canonical thought.

Adler certainly thought so; he included Tolstoy in his series "Great Books of the Western World." Harold Bloom also includes Tolstoy very significantly in his The Western Canon. So though Tolstoy may not have thought of himself as Western, he would find serious minds disagreeing with him!


message 50: by Suzann (new)

Suzann | 358 comments Frances wrote: " "Everyman wrote: In Russian society, and in our own until the 60's, women's only choice "to do that which is right" was marriage and motherhood. "

Tolstoy famously had trouble with his women char..."


Frances, I think your disagreement is with me rather than Everyman. Although I can appreciate many of the qualities that earn Tolstoy acclaim, I personally am not interested in a story dominated by Christian moralism. It is Anna, whose guts or inability to do otherwise, if not courage, offers the most authentic voice against societal norms and for individual freedom. Tolstoy did not approve of Anna or champion any of the ideas she represents for me, but he did create a character who attempts to stand free against his moralistic message a century later.


« previous 1
back to top