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Discussion--Anna Karenina > Anna Karenina Part Eight and Entire Book

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message 1: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments There, now; that wasn't a difficult read at all, was it? Congratulations to all who finish the book, and thank you for a wonderful discussion.

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.
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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.


message 2: by Laurel (last edited Feb 22, 2010 05:37PM) (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Why is this book called Anna Karenina?

Why is there a Part 8?

How has your estimation of the characters changed by now? How have the characters changed?

What is the best film presentation of Anna Karenina?


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "Why is this book called Anna Karenina?"

What else would you have called it? Lenin and Kitty? Adultery and Death? If you don't like Anna Karenina, it seems appropriate to ask you to say what you think would have been a better title.

I can't speak to the whole book, since I haven't finished part 8 yet, but it seems to me that Anna K is the central figure around whom or with whom the rest of the other characters revolve or interact.

If, as is suggested by the opening sentence, a major theme of the book is families, Anna seems to have more to show us about families than other characters. She starts out perhaps saving Dolly's marriage. Then she destroys her own. She and Vronsky form a sort of marriage which she finds woefully inadequate, but which again demonstrates what can happen to a couple who have a child together but who aren't committed to the marital bond.

If adultery and its impact on families is also a major theme, much of the adultery of the book involves her in some way, from persuading Dolly to overlook her husband's adultery to being (am I remembering this right?) a sounding board for Mrs. Vronsky's talking of her adultery, to Anna's own adultery. Levin's and Kitty's marriage and relationship would have perhaps had less impact if it had not been given to us against the backdrop of Anna's behavior; white shows up much better against a black background than a grey one.

So I do see Anna as the primary figure in the novel, and therefore an appropriate title figure.


message 4: by Paula (new)

Paula | 63 comments Decadence and Despair


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Paula wrote: "Decadence and Despair"

Interesting. But that seems to leave Levin and Kitty totally out of the book, doesn't it?


message 6: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Did you notice that we begin this section in a railroad station again--The Last Station? What do you think of Tolstoy's imagery of the train station?

Here's a paragraph from Zeke that I lifted from the previous section:

"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?"

And one more setting: Abroad. The spa towns, and now a foreign war.

I don't have any coherent thoughts yet about all this, but we have seen people move apart and move together, move away from or back to the old vs. new....


message 7: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Everyman wrote: "Paula wrote: "Decadence and Despair"

Interesting. But that seems to leave Levin and Kitty totally out of the book, doesn't it?"


Levin had his decadence, and he is shown to be suicidal in this section. Kitty certainly had her time of despair. They dealt with it.


message 8: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "Did you notice that we begin this section in a railroad station again--The Last Station?"

It's hard for us today to realize the importance of trains in 19th Century Europe (including Western Russia). Few today, at least in the US, do much serious travel by train, but in the absence of cars, busses, airplanes, etc., trains were the only alternative to travel by foot or horse (whether horseback or carriage). They represented, I think, the best of the modern industrial era, much as air travel did in its heyday when it was still glamorous and somewhat exotic. I was much impressed, for example, by how when Anna arrived early in the book we saw people wandering in and out of the train, Vronsky gathering his mother, going out and coming back, Anna coming back into the carriage to say goodbye to Mrs. Vronsky, the railway carriage almost seen as a traveling drawing room.

I'm not sure how to interpret all this, but I think the railway station was much more imbued with meaning to Tolstoy's readers than it is to U.S. readers today.


message 9: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 42 comments Everyman wrote: "I think the railway station was much more imbued with meaning to Tolstoy's readers than it is to U.S. readers today"

Yeah, that seems right to me. An apt comparison might be airports about twenty or twenty-five years ago, when air travel was still kind of novel, communal, and special. And slightly dangerous.


message 10: by Paula (new)

Paula | 63 comments Laurele wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Paula wrote: "Decadence and Despair"

Interesting. But that seems to leave Levin and Kitty totally out of the book, doesn't it?"

Levin had his decadence, and he is shown to be su..."


Exactly - and Levin had his bit of despair earlier on as well. It wasn't meant to completely capture all characters throughout the full book, just toss out two of the themes that keep reappearing.


message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

I was struck by how little Anna is even mentioned in Book VIII. At most, a couple of glancing, discrete references. Of course, it impacted Vronsky a great deal. But his response --outfitting a regiment to go to the foreign war-- is disappointing to me; it shows he has learned nothing and does this as a way to get back in the good graces of the society folk. Yuk!

In a way this neglect of the title character seems fitting though. We all struggle through our lives thinking we are the center of the story. Yet, in reality, when we are gone, life will go on pretty much as it always has.


message 12: by toria (vikz writes) (last edited Feb 24, 2010 08:43AM) (new)

toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments Zeke wrote: "I was struck by how little Anna is even mentioned in Book VIII. At most, a couple of glancing, discrete references. Of course, it impacted Vronsky a great deal. But his response --outfitting a regi..."

very good point.


message 13: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Zeke wrote: "I was struck by how little Anna is even mentioned in Book VIII. At most, a couple of glancing, discrete references. Of course, it impacted Vronsky a great deal. But his response --outfitting a regi..."

The way Tolstoy describes the volunteers leaving for the war is almost comical -- a tall, drunken man with a sunken chest, a failed artillery man who expects to be sent to the infantry, an old man "who had tried everything." Vronsky is just another desperate man with nowhere to go, and apart from his wealth he fits in just fine with this sad lot.

The voice of Tolstoy comes booming through in this last section, and the fact that Anna is barely mentioned I take as Tolstoy's personal condemnation of her. Nabokov called Part 8 a "cumbersome machine," as Levin discovers and justifies his Christian faith "with directions from Tolstoy." The sermonizing is a little overbearing, I think, and I find it hard to believe that a man as wracked by doubt as Levin is can suddenly see the light.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Paula wrote: "Laurele wrote: "Everyman wrote: "Paula wrote: "Decadence and Despair"

Interesting. But that seems to leave Levin and Kitty totally out of the book, doesn't it?" [snip:]

Exactly - and Levin had his bit of despair earlier on as well. It wasn't meant to completely capture all characters throughout the full book, just toss out two of the themes that keep reappearing.
"


True enough.

Despair certainly those who are going through it understand.

I wonder whether those who go through periods of decadence understand at the time that they are doing so.

Reminds me of Barzun's book of the social, literary, and political history of the past five hundred years or so: From Dawn to Decadence. Fascinating book, whether one agrees entirely with its conclusions or not. But is there agreement today that ours is an age of decadence? Or is that a judgment only history can make (in the same way that the term Renaissance was only applied to that period long after it had passed)?

More specifically, would any of the characters in AnnaK have considered themselves decadent?


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "The way Tolstoy describes the volunteers leaving for the war is almost comical -- a tall, drunken man with a sunken chest, a failed artillery man who expects to be sent to the infantry, an old man "who had tried everything." Vronsky is just another desperate man with nowhere to go, and apart from his wealth he fits in just fine with this sad lot."

Isn't this the common perception of the old French Foreign Legion?


message 16: by [deleted user] (new)

Thomas: The way Tolstoy describes the volunteers leaving for the war is almost comical -- a tall, drunken man with a sunken chest, a failed artillery man who expects to be sent to the infantry, an old man "who had tried everything." Vronsky is just another desperate man with nowhere to go, and apart from his wealth he fits in just fine with this sad lot.

Amen to that Thomas. I had been starting to find some good things in Vronsky, but I leave him not really caring if he catches a bullet in the chest.

The comedy of the scene reminded me of Falstaff and the misfits he "outfits" in Henry IV Part 1. Except that Falstaff has a much firmer grasp of human nature than Vronsky ever could.


message 17: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Zeke wrote: "I was struck by how little Anna is even mentioned in Book VIII. At most, a couple of glancing, discrete references. Of course, it impacted Vronsky a great deal. But his response --outfitting a regi..."

Nice post, Zeke. I think Vronsky may have been hoping to die in the war. He is a broken man.


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "The comedy of the scene reminded me of Falstaff and the misfits he "outfits" in Henry IV Part 1. Except that Falstaff has a much firmer grasp of human nature than Vronsky ever could. "

Perfect! And, of course, Falstaff is much more comic than Vronsky, both in his person and in his personality.


message 19: by Paula (last edited Feb 24, 2010 08:41PM) (new)

Paula | 63 comments Everyman wrote: I wonder whether those who go through periods of decadence understand at the time that they are doing so...."

Good question. I would say typically not, but it seems that at least in this book some of the characters are aware of their good fortune will it is occurring.


message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 80 comments Laurele wrote: "Why is there a Part 8?"

So the novel would have a moral conclusion. If it ended with Part 7 it would be a sad statement on the meaning of life. Tolstoy compares the self-centered lifestyles of the wealthy city dwellers (for some living sinfully in the “ways of this world”) with the humble lifestyles of the country laborers (who at times Tolstoy depicts in idyllic pastoral scenes). As Fyodor states the Muzhiks “lives for the soul, by the truth, by God’s way.” It’s in these words that Levin discovers the meaning of life for himself and is transformed by those words. Levin realizes that to be happy is “to live not for one’s own needs but for God”. I think of Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2 (NIV) 1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

We’re all sinners. It’s only by the gift of God’s grace that we are saved. It’s interesting that the meaning of the name Anna is “grace.” And also that Anna named her daughter Annie and then tutored an English student named Hannah (in Hebrew literally means “God has graced me with a son” based on the biblical, barren mother of Samuel.)


message 21: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 80 comments The epigram from Romans 12:19 "Vengeance is mine, I will repay", whose voice is making the statement? Is it from Anna directed at Vronsky?

Regarding Anna’s plea for forgiveness just before she dies, to whom do you think she is asking? Vronsky? Or possibly God?

Anna is similar to Emma Bovary – both women are unhappy in their dismal relationship with their spouses so they commit adultery, and in the end, take their life. Was the “tormented, adulterous woman” a popular theme in 19th century realist literature?


message 22: by Darcy (new)

Darcy | 42 comments Yes, I'd say it was pretty popular, but certain writers were definitely more interested in the adulterous wife than others. Dickens, for example, is extremely uneasy in writing about "fallen" women. Unsurprisingly, sympathetic versions of adulterous wives show up more often in the second half of the century than in the first. There's a pretty wide range, too, of depictions of adulterous wives, all the way from Anna Karenina to Becky Sharpe (kind of?).

[Madame Bovary spoiler!:]

I've been thinking a lot about Emma Bovary during this discussion and while Emma and Anna definitely share a lot of traits, I think the differences between the two women are pretty revealing. For one thing, I think Emma really does commit adultery out of pure sexual desire, although it is a sexual desire that is framed (both by Emma and by the narrator) in terms of romantic love. Emma also goes from partner to partner, while Anna does not. The class difference is also pretty important; for Emma, sexual license is always connected to material wealth--she commits adultery as a way of making herself feel wealthy, which Anna definitely does not do, whatever her other motivations.


message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 26, 2010 02:58PM) (new)

I am so far beyond my pay grade when speaking of philosophers, that I probably shouldn't write this post. However, we have a number of really smart readers here and, also, individuals who have studied the philosophers and understand them. My hope is to simply raise a couple of questions and see if they prompt useful discussion.

A footnote in my edition says that "Before and during his work on Anna Karenina, Tolstoy assiduously studied philosophy, convinced that it gave the best answers to questions about the meaning of life and death. Like Levin, he was particularly interested in the works of Plato, Kant, Schopenhauer and Spinoza."

I noticed that, like Anna overhearing the woman on the train, Levin considers Reason only to dismiss it as inadequate to his spiritual crisis. However, he chooses a different response to its inadequacy by turning, ultimately, to Christianity.

Here is where I get onto thin ice. (Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "When skating on thin ice, skate fast.")

I wonder if it may not be possible to read the entire novel in the context of Kant's philosophy? It's loaded with issues about freedom, autonomy and what is morally imperative. But no character, including Levin, rises to the challenge of figuring out what is required. Even when they are behaving in moral ways, characters' actions seem closer to consequentialist or utilitarian motivations.

To mangle the thinking of another philosopher (why stop now?) I would say that Hegel might have a place in the discussion as well. Might it be that "every happy family is happy in the same way" because they manage to incorporate a dialectical process into navigating family life? As I read this book, much of the unhappiness of the characters comes from their insistence on an "all or nothing" approach in situations where neither choice can be fully satisfactory.

I'll close by saying that, while I don't fully understand the path by which Levin arrives at Christianity, I don't find it a satisfactory resolution for him. It feels to me like he has just bumbled into a version of "conventionality" that will work for him. I am not criticizing philosophical pragmatism (my last half understood term). Nor do I mean any disrespect to believers. Just for me, I am not sure Levin's resolution is that much more admirable than Vronsky...

Until the last two paragraphs, where he seems to finally look himself squarely in the eye, acknowledge that life isn't about philosophy or religion, but about living.

The book's first sentence is justly famous. Its long final sentence will never be as celebrated --if only because it has many specific references that keep it from being aphoristic. But it is certainly as powerful. Levin will no longer seek meaning; he will make it through the good that is in his power to do. So it is not "conventionality" after all.

In a post intended to raise questions, I will end with an assertion. For me, that last sentence redeems Levin, who has annoyed me the whole time, and justifies slogging through 800 pages with generally unlikable people.


toria (vikz writes) (victoriavikzwrites) | 186 comments Zeke wrote: "I am so far beyond my pay grade when speaking of philosophers, that I probably shouldn't write this post. However, we have a number of really smart readers here and, also, individuals who have stud..."

I agree I love the ending to the book.


message 25: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "I am so far beyond my pay grade when speaking of philosophers, that I probably shouldn't write this post. However, we have a number of really smart readers here and, also, individuals who have stud..."

You're going to send me back to school -- I'm not sure I'll have time to think enough about this great post to have an intelligent comment before our time with AK ends, but I'll try. You certainly raise fascinating issues!


message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zeke wrote: "...slogging through 800 pages with generally unlikable people.
"


I understand that in his early drafts (he went through at least five drafts, I believe) his Anna (not named Anna initially) was a character nobody would have liked or sympathized with, and Karenin was presented as a noble, good, honorable and also likable man. But Tolstoy apparently recognized that this combination of traits wouldn't make for a very powerful or interesting novel, so as the drafts moved forward he gradually made Anna more sympathetic and Karenin less sympathetic.

Frankly, I think he went too far with Karenin. I think the novel would have been more powerful if it weren't so easy to understand why she would leave Karenin and almost think she was justified in doing so. It's too easy, I think, to say of course she was right to leave a self-righteous emotionally cold prig like that. But if he had been, say, a Stiva, wouldn't there have been much more drama in her decision to choose Vronsky over him?


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

Everyman: Frankly, I think he went too far with Karen. I think the novel would have been more powerful if it weren't so easy to understand why she would leave Karenin and almost think she was justified in doing so.

I agree. I was disappointed when Karenin went to the fortune teller. I was just starting to find admirable qualities in him, and the book would have been stronger had that been the last impression of him.


message 28: by Suzann (new)

Suzann | 358 comments Laurele wrote: "Why is this book called Anna Karenina?

Why is there a Part 8?

I read that the publisher who serialized Anna didn't like Tolstoy's position on the slav issue and refused to publish part VIII as written. Tolstoy refused to change it so Part VIII was returned to Tolstoy and the publisher provided a cursory ending. It was in later publications that Part VIII was included.



message 29: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Everyman wrote: Frankly, I think he went too far with Karenin. I think the novel would have been more powerful if it weren't so easy to understand why she would leave Karenin and almost think she was justified in doing so. It's too easy, I think, to say of course she was right to leave a self-righteous emotionally cold prig like that. But if he had been, say, a Stiva, wouldn't there have been much more drama in her decision to choose Vronsky over him?

I don't think the book is about whether we like Karenin or not. It's about a woman leaving her husband for another man and trying to live as though it will all work out fine. It was not written in modern America; it was written in nineteenth century Russia. I know I'm just a sweet old-fashioned girl, but I think that even here today it is wrong to have an affair with someone and break your wedding vows to a living spouse, no matter what color his ears are. Some don't think that today, I know, but the book is about nineteenth century Russian society. Leaving a spouse is one thing and is sometimes necessary because of safety matters, but leaving with another man is another.


message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

For those who don't know, Temple Grandin is a remarkable woman who is autistic. She is also a Phd, an expert on animal behavior, who has caused innovations in the treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, and the subject of a recent HBO film starring Claire Danes.

Having been "spanked" for my suggestion that perhaps Anna became clinically, mentally ill, I hesitate to suggest that Levin shows many signs of Asperger's syndrome during this book. It's not necessary to make the point.

In a profile of Grandin, in the Wall Street Journal, she describes what is important to her. It struck me that it resonated with where Levin ends up. And that has nothing to do with labels, which I have found always diminish the full humanity of people.

Ms. Grandin lives in a simple apartment in Fort Collins, Colo., and has used the profits from her books to put students through school. "Four PhDs I've already done, I'm working on my fifth right now. I have graduate students at Colorado State—some of them I let in the back door, like me: older, nontraditional students. And I've gotten them good jobs."

"You know what working at the slaughterhouses does to you? It makes you look at your own mortality."

"When I was younger I was looking for this magic meaning of life. It's very simple now," she says. Making the lives of others better, doing "something of lasting value, that's the meaning of life, it's that simple."

How about meaning, I ask. What's the picture for that word? "Ok, now I'm seeing a mother saying your book helped my kid go to college—that's meaning. Or my kid got a job because of one of your lectures—that's meaning. Or a rancher comes up and says that piece of equipment works really well—that's meaning. Concrete, real stuff. On. The. Ground."



message 31: by Suzann (new)

Suzann | 358 comments Everyman wrote: "I think the novel would have been more powerful if it weren't so easy to understand why she would leave Karenin and almost think she was justified in doing so. It's too easy, I think, to say of course she was right to leave a self-righteous emotionally cold prig like that."

The fact that the bureaucratic and emotionally cold Karenin is such a poor match the the lively and beautiful Anna makes her impractical and self-destructive commitment to Vronsky all the more poignant. Her choice is to suffer either in marriage or out. Had Anna been less conflicted about her actions, as was her brother, she might have lived happily either in marriage or out. I think Anna desperately wants to make a decision that works for her son, Vronksy, Karenin, and herself, but her (perhaps) overactive sense of integrity forces her to test her options. Finding none of them sustainable, she must choose death.


message 32: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Zeke wrote: "I am so far beyond my pay grade when speaking of philosophers, that I probably shouldn't write this post. However, we have a number of really smart readers here and, also, individuals who have stud..."

Perhaps it would be helpful to look at Levin (and Anna, I think) in terms of idealism. Plato, Kant, and Hegel were all idealists, with Kant building on Plato, and Hegel building on Kant to create new ways of thinking.

I thought it was strange that at several points in the book Anna yearns for what she calls "definition." Her social position is vague, and her relationship with Vronsky is unsanctioned. She does not know where she stands, and as it turns out, this feeling extends beyond just her relationship with Vronsky. The word "definition" just seems a little formal to ignore.

And I think much of Levin's waffling nature comes from this failure to find definition as well. He seems to want an absolute, definitive answer to his questions and problems, and when he doesn't get it he crumbles a bit. The final resolution for him is to more or less abandon his desire for certainty, at least philosophical and scientific certainty.

I don't want to run with this too far, but I think idealism and the notion of perfection plays a role in AK that could be discussed in terms of those philosophers. (I've never read Spinoza, unfortunately, but that's my take on the other three.)


message 33: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks Thomas. Your summation of Levin is better, and briefer, than mine.

I spend a lot of time with the American Transcendentalists, who were, in their own way, grappling with the German idealists at about this same time. I wonder if what you might be suggesting is that the Russian character is,ultimately, more pragmatic than the American about certainty?


message 34: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Was listening to a commentator on Tolstoy today who put forward the idea that Vronsky's relationship with his horse, Frou-Frou, was parallel to his relationship with Anna. This, he posits, is why Tolstoy goes to such lengths in discussing how much Vronsky loves Frou-Frou, and describing the race in such detail.

Frou-Frou had to be carefully managed around the course, being led in exactly the right way to and over each obstacle, in the same way that Vronsky led Anna to and over each obstacle, from falling in love with him to sleeping with him to leaving her husband and son for him. But in the race, Vronsky misjudged one obstacle slightly, and it led to Frou-Frou's death. Similarly, Vronsky misjudged how his living his life with Anna was causing her concerns, which led to her death.

It's an interesting theory. I wonder how others here respond to it.


message 35: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laurele wrote: "I don't think the book is about whether we like Karenin or not. It's about a woman leaving her husband for another man and trying to live as though it will all work out fine. It was not written in modern America; it was written in nineteenth century Russia. I know I'm just a sweet old-fashioned girl, but I think that even here today it is wrong to have an affair with someone and break your wedding vows to a living spouse, no matter what color his ears are."

I agree, but I think it makes it more powerful in a literary sense if the person she leaves is as desirable as the person she goes to, so that there is no way even to try to defend the choice as rational, but one must recognize it purely as emotional.

In today's sense, it would be the matter of the wife of a struggling steelworker leaving him for a Rockefeller who can squire her around Europe and fete her at the finest hotels and restaurants, vs. leaving her upper East Side brownstone investment banker husband for an upper West Side high powered lawyer.


message 36: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Another interesting comment by the lecturer on Tolstoy. Up to Tolstoy, adultery was not treated as a matter to be handled seriously in literature, but was most frequently presented in French farce or perhaps in penny dreadfuls.

I'm trying to think of a serious novel before AK which treats adultery as a the central dramatic element of a serious novel, and I'm not coming up with one.


message 37: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 80 comments Laurele wrote: "It's about a woman leaving her husband for another man and trying to live as though it will all work out fine. It was not written in modern America; it was written in nineteenth century Russia. I know I'm just a sweet old-fashioned girl, but I think that even here today it is wrong to have an affair with someone and break your wedding vows to a living spouse, no matter what color his ears are. Some don't think that today."

I believe that it is about self-centered living versus God-centered living.

Marriage has changed over the years. Today, people have “contract” marriages where before marriages were based on a “covenant.” Contract marriages protect one person’s rights and limit their responsibilities (self-centered). Covenant marriage is the exact opposite -- where we give up our rights and pick up responsibilities. In covenant marriages a spouse . . .

. . . gives up 3 rights:
1. right of priority -- Not you but your spouse becomes #1 in your life.
2. right of possession-- There is no more "mine" but now "ours".
3. right of privacy-- There are no secrets between you & your spouse.

. . . picks up 3 rights:
1. love -- You give unconditional love just as God and Jesus have given you (regardless of your behavior/ actions).
2. honor-- You do everything possible so your spouse can achieve their highest potential to fulfill God's will in their life.
3. submission-- an attitude developed in your heart

Anna left her husband AND son in order to have this "passionate love" with Vronsky and satisfy her self-centered "desires". Did she make every effort in her marriage to make it work? No. I think the first time she ever honestly expressed her feelings to Karenin was when she told him that she leaving him. What she lacked in both relationships was honest intimacy.


message 38: by Grace Tjan (last edited Feb 26, 2010 08:24PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Zeke wrote: "I was struck by how little Anna is even mentioned in Book VIII. At most, a couple of glancing, discrete references. Of course, it impacted Vronsky a great deal. But his response --outfitting a regi..."

Vronsky is going to fight against the Turks for a pan-Slavic cause --- Tolstoy at this period of his life might have held pacifist/ anarchist beliefs and was skeptical about Pan-Slavism. Therefore, in his eyes Vronsky is throwing his life away for a futile, and even immoral, cause. Him going to war is equivalent to Anna throwing herself before the train.


message 39: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Laurele wrote: "Everyman wrote: Frankly, I think he went too far with Karenin. I think the novel would have been more powerful if it weren't so easy to understand why she would leave Karenin and almost think she w..."

Tolstoy stated somewhere that he wrote AK as a defense of the institution of marriage in the face of the casual disregard for it among the Russians. Even though Anna is not a totally unsympathetic character, I think we know how Tolstoy wants us to think of her. In a way, I think AK is a very judgmental argument for marriage. We are given plausible reasons for Anna's desertion of her marriage, but at the end we are asked to judge her. I suppose that it's irrelevant to Tolstoy's purposes whether the husband is a wholly sympathetic character or not. Karenin might have his flaws, but he is a decent husband by the the average standards of the day.


message 40: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Everyman wrote: "Was listening to a commentator on Tolstoy today who put forward the idea that Vronsky's relationship with his horse, Frou-Frou, was parallel to his relationship with Anna. This, he posits, is why ..."

I definitely think Frou-Frou is a metaphor for Anna.


message 41: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Sandybanks wrote: We are given plausible reasons for Anna's desertion of her marriage, but at the end we are asked to judge her.

That's the part that I'm not sure of. Is Tolstoy asking us to judge her, or is he simply telling her story as it worked out on paper? The aphorism says, if its origin is considered, that God is the judged. And if Anna plea for forgiveness at the end was to God, then He said, "Forgiven." There's nothing left to judge.

Something else: Zeke and others have mentioned the last sentence of the book. I think Levin is saying, "I now believe, but I keep on sinning. That doesn't mean I stop believing. I confess and ask forgiveness and go on from there."

"I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it."


message 42: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Laurele wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: We are given plausible reasons for Anna's desertion of her marriage, but at the end we are asked to judge her.

That's the part that I'm not sure of. Is Tolstoy asking us to judg..."


That was my initial impression. God might forgive her later, but I think that we are asked to morally evaluate her actions and derive ethical lessons from them. AK is a didactic novel, like many 19th century works. It's complex, sure, but we are meant to draw a certain conclusion from it.

At least that's what I thought after my first reading. Perhaps I missed something.


message 43: by Yrinsyde (new)

Yrinsyde Susan wrote: "Everyman wrote: "I think the novel would have been more powerful if it weren't so easy to understand why she would leave Karenin and almost think she was justified in doing so. It's too easy, I thi..."

My feelings about Anna is that she was extremely bored. She was bored with her life with Karenin and the only thing that sustained her was her son. And even her son wasn't enough. Vronsky held the promise of an exciting and passionate life if she went to live with him. She didn't think deeply about the consequences. However, life did not end up exciting and passionate with Vronsky - she was still stuck in a life of being a mistress of a house and mother. She was bored out of her skull! She wanted intellectual discussion, read lots of books and wanted to take part in administration, the building projects on Vronsky's property ... but the architect always refers to Vronsky and all other businessmen consult with Vronsky and when she was living with her husband, men would consult with Karenin. She gives the impression of being very clever, she knows how to play situations and she can read people like a book. If she knew about the Canadian scheme of recruiting women to be trained as surgeons, she might have abandoned Russia for good. She was born in the wrong century. I think in the end, it isn't about a woman leaving her husband and the resulting mess, it is the consequences of not allowing women to have a formal education and have the freedom to develop intellectually as they wish and to use their skills as they desire.


message 44: by Yrinsyde (new)

Yrinsyde Here I go sticking in my oar again. More thinking about AK makes me think that it is anti-marriage. Tolstoy includes a passage earlier in the novel from the Bible which states that motherhood is a curse laid on women by God. Anna rejects this curse in her abandonment of her son, her lack of love for her daughter and refusal to have more children. Tolstoy contrasts Anna with Dolly, who has lost her looks though bearing many children and is worn out. Anna is bright, vibrant and alive. Dolly is wan and consumed with small household cares. Dolly wanted to leave her no-good husband. She still wants to and that is why she still stays in touch with Anna. Tolstoy doesn't have a high opinion of mothers or marriage. Was he a feminist? He was certainly concerned about the education of women and peasants.


message 45: by Grace Tjan (last edited Feb 27, 2010 04:32AM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Yrinsyde wrote: "Here I go sticking in my oar again. More thinking about AK makes me think that it is anti-marriage. Tolstoy includes a passage earlier in the novel from the Bible which states that motherhood is a ..."

From Tolstoy's essay To Women :

"Women of the wealthy classes who are mothers, the salvation of the men of our world from the evils from which they are suffering, lies in your hands.

Not those women who are occupied with their dainty figures, with their bustles, their hair-dressing, and their attraction for men, and who bear children against their will, with despair, and hand them over to nurses; nor those who attend various courses of lectures, and discourse of psychometric centres and differentiation, and who also endeavor to escape bearing children, in order that it may not interfere with their folly which they call culture: but those women and mothers, who, possessing the power to refuse to bear children, consciously and in a straightforward way submit to this eternal, unchangeable law, knowing that the burden and the difficulty of such submission is their appointed lot in life,--these are the women and mothers of our wealthy classes, in whose hands, more than in those of any one else, lies the salvation of the men of our sphere in society from the miseries that oppress them."

Link : http://www.online-literature.com/tols...

Isn't Anna, according to Tolstoy's view, one of those women who refuses to submit to their appointed lot in life, i.e. to bear children (and care for them) for their husbands? Tolstoy's views on marriage and the role of women are quite complex, and sometimes even seem contradictory. On the one hand, he recognized the legal and social inequality of men and women (compare how differently Stiva and Anna, both adulterers, are treated by society) while on the other hand, he believed that motherhood (in the context of marriage) should be a woman's sole purpose of life. Therefore, although he sympathizes with Anna and acknowledges the injustices that she has suffered, she has to be killed at the end to atone for her transgressions against moral law.

Some people have interpreted AK as as a feminist novel, but I'm not convinced of it, judging from Tolstoy's known views on the 'woman question'. He didn't believe in advanced education for women, or for women to enter the professions, because those opportunities might distract them from their primary purpose in life.

The mature Natasha at the end of War and Peace, a sloppy matron who is entirely absorbed with her brood with no interest whatsoever in the outside world is Tolstoy's ideal woman. AK is punished by society, and ultimately by God, for refusing to undertake her role as wife and mother.

"Vengeance is mine", indeed.


message 46: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Sandybanks wrote: That was my initial impression. God might forgive her later, but I think that we are asked to morally evaluate her actions and derive ethical lessons from them. AK is a didactic novel, like many 19th century works. It's complex, sure, but we are meant to draw a certain conclusion from it.

At least that's what I thought after my first reading. Perhaps I missed something.


I think that's right. The next step after condemning her action, though, is to forgive her and accept her. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone." Perhaps that's the same as Levin's condemning his own sins but being able to forgive himself and go on.


message 47: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sandybanks wrote: "That was my initial impression. God might forgive her later, but I think that we are asked to morally evaluate her actions and derive ethical lessons from them. AK is a didactic novel, like many 19th century works. It's complex, sure, but we are meant to draw a certain conclusion from it."

I agree. Vengeance is the Lord's, but observing the decisions of others and their consequences, learning from that and perhaps finding the hope of making better decisions for our own lives, is very much a human activity. If we don't -- maybe judge isn't the best word, but observe, evaluate, analyze, understand -- and learn from what we see in these works, what is the point of reading them? Not every book may speak to every person, but shouldn't we be at least a bit changed after a long trip through Anna's world? Don't we come out of that experience at least a slightly different person than we were when we went in?


message 48: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Yrinsyde wrote: "Susan wrote: "My feelings about Anna is that she was extremely bored. She was bored with her life with Karenin and the only thing that sustained her was her son."

Well, yes, to a degree, though it's interesting that she doesn't, as far as I recall, ever say that to herself specifically.

But boredom is a choice, isn't it? Nobody can be bored against their will.


message 49: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments I think it would be interesting to read or write a book about Anna's children and/or the next generation of these families. Hopefully her daughter would not be stuck in such a dire situation as having to chose between the stifling boredom of living with a man who lacks creativity and passion and austricism from society for going against the grain. I guess I can't help but see this from a femminist perspective. No matter what, it seems to me that her son (like Dolly's husband) will get to have his cake and eat it too because that society favors men.

I am coming to the conclusion that everything I read analyzes and trys to resolve conflict between society and the individual. Maybe that is because this is where I am at the moment. I'm sorry I wasn't more involved in this discussion. I did try to keep up with the reading and there was some interesting dialogue.

The analogy between Vronsky's horse and Anna was something I had never thought about and seems reasonable to me.


message 50: by Carol (new)

Carol (goodreadscomcarolann) | 80 comments Everyman wrote: "But boredom is a choice, isn't it? Nobody can be bored against their will."

Was it a choice for women in the 19th century?
It seems that their only option was marriage (or become a financial burden to their family).

What did intelligent women who had no money & no desire to give birth or raise children do? If they married into a relationship that was not based on love or intellectually satisfying then I would think that they would be bored.


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