Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Part Three)

Trying to read Tolstoy’s tome on a bus at 1 a.m. was not my brightest idea and thus I fell off the read-a-long bandwagon back in November at Week Five. When I fall behind, I fall behind. I spent this past weekend catching up and I am now at the start of Part Six, which was supposed to be the check-in point for Week Eight. I need to read through Part Six and twenty-nine chapters of Part Seven to get caught up by the end of week but while I may not make that particular deadline, I am hopeful that I will reach the very last page by midnight on December 31st.

Part Four begins with the reader being informed that the Karenins are living together as husband and wife but Anna is still seeing Vronsky with her husband’s knowledge. Oddly enough, Vronksy’s feelings towards Anna seemed to be fading and he considers following her from Moscow to be the opposite of happiness.

“He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered, with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty from which he picked and ruined it.  And in spite of this he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he could, if he had greatly wished it, have that love out of his heart; but now, when as at that moment it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that what bound him to her could not be broken.” (pg. 639)

The section also includes the marriage of Kitty and Levin, which I was quite thrilled to see happen as I felt badly for Levin upon Kitty’s rejection of his marriage proposal. I agree with Jackie that one of my favorite parts of this section was Levin being late for the wedding because of a shirt. In the midst of this, though, Vronsky and Anna ran off together to live abroad with their baby girl named Anna without Anna receiving a divorce from Karenin.

This leads to me to a discussion of one of the more interesting themes in these two parts – the Russian elite women, particularly in the context of role religion and marriage. According to Karenin, an inequality in marriage exists in the “fact that the infidelity of the wife and the infidelity of the husband are punished unequally, both by the law and by public opinion” (pg. 695). If Karenin divorced Anna, he knew that she would immediately align herself to Vronsky. However, this tie would be considered illegitimate and criminal “since a wife, by the interpretation of the ecclesiastical law, could not marry while her husband was living” (pg. 765). Not only would Anna leave without obtaining a divorce from Karenin but she would also decline the idea of one and leave her son with her husband in Petersburg.

I know a lot of people expressed unhappiness and disgust at Anna leaving her son behind but this is something I expected based on earlier swings in her feelings towards her son. Even at first introductions to the characters, I noticed that Vronsky’s attention towards Anna manipulated her feelings for her son.

There is also an interesting discussion about women crusading for their rights or, according to the prince, crusading for the right to complete the duties that men complete such as juryman or witness.

“Woman desires to have rights, to be independent, educated. She is oppressed, humiliated by the consciousness of her disabilities.” (pg. 690)

Religious restrictions don’t only apply to women; Levin and Kitty could not be married without a certificate saying they had received communion. His, and the majority of the elite’s, ambivalence about religion was interesting considering how intertwined religion and the law was, according to Tolstoy.

“Levin found himself, like the majority of his contemporaries, in the vaguest position in regard to religion. But he could not, and at the same time he had no firm conviction that it was all wrong. And consequently, not being able to believe in the significance of what he was doing nor to regard it with indifference as an empty formality, during the while period of preparing for the sacrament he was conscious of a feeling of discomfort and shame at doing what he did not himself understand, and what, as an inner voice told him, was therefore false and wrong.” (pg. 777)

But then you have Kitty believing Levin to be more truly religious than explicitly religious people. In other words, Levin has a spiritual foundation without belonging to a specific thought process. Interesting how people view one another. The blurb on my copy of this book briefly mentions that Levin’s doubt about the meaning of life was a mirror of Tolstoy’s own spiritual crisis. Knowing nothing about Tolstoy’s life, I’m intrigued to see how this will play out.

Finally, I would like to say that I am firmly in Stiva’s camp. He goes from hating Anna and wanting to make her life miserable to falling in love with her and Vronsky’s daughter and being willing to grant her a divorce. The moment when he tells Dolly that he cannot follow her example and ignoring Anna’s infidelity is heartbreaking.

“I would give a great deal for doubt to be still possible. When I doubt, I was miserable, but it was better than now. When I doubted, I had hope; but now there is no hope, and still I doubt of everything. I am in such doubt of everything that I even hate my son, and sometimes do not believe he is my son. I am very unhappy.” (pg. 698)

I am much more sympathetic to him than I was earlier in the novel. His “solution” to save face for his career and keeping the children with him and Anna was not entirely selfless but I feel for his pain.

Book Mentioned:

  • Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. Translated from Russian by Constance Garnett. Salt Lake City, UT: Project Gutenberg, 2010. Originally published 1877. eBook. 1441 pgs. ISBN: XXXXXXXXXXXXX. Source: Free download.

Book Cover © iBooks. Retrieved: October 25, 2011.

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