Friday, March 2, 2012

Frou Frou and the Fate of Women

We talked in class about the role of Frou Frou the horse being symbolic of Anna and Vronsky's relationship, and we've come to the point where I doubt any of us are expecting a happy ending to the novel. Frou Frou was a young, nervous, but beautiful horse, and Vronsky led it to a violent death. I see this horse representing not only Anna, but other women in the novel like Dolly and Kitty. Race horses are used vigorously for a short time, then retired to a life in the pasture. This reads to me like a frenzied courtship and marriage, then the sort of anticlimax of family life. Dolly and Stiva, who married for love, certainly now have a relationship of entrapment, of having no way out, but also of complacency. Dolly is very much described as sort of a used-up race horse, she's a "worn-out, aged, no longer beautiful woman, not remarkable for anything, simple, merely a kind mother of a family." (3) Anna and Kitty are in the throes of such courtships. Kitty, we see after Vronsky leaves her, is ill and hollow, recovering slowly, and Anna is becoming ruined in society. The race of courtship is running them down, and even should they succeed in marriage, they have only fading beauty and usefulness to look forward to. Levin is not the same sort of courter as Stiva and Vronsky surely were, but we have no evidence of his love of Kitty being any more than a desire based on physical attraction. Frou Frou the horse would have had a complacent life after her racing days were over, but are we meant to see that future, Dolly's life, as desirable? Or was it better for Frou Frou to be cut down in her prime of life rather than suffer the slow degradation of time? What do you think lies in store for Anna and Kitty?


  1. I really like that this post relates not only to Vronsky and Anna, but to all of the women in Anna Karenina. I think that showing that the women are cut down in their prime is important, but I think it is also important to note Vronsky's role in the scene. He loses the race; he is a defeated man. He feels miserable about Frou Frou but does not stay with the horse; he instead leaves immediately. What is Tolstoy trying to say about Vronsky's reaction to the fall of Anna?

  2. Lane, I really like the ideas you bring up in your post, I wouldn't have thought about Frou-Frou being more than a symbol for Vronsky's and Anna's relationship. The only thing I don't agree with is that Levin might be attracted to Kitty solely in a physical way. I think that Levin wants to be married and idealizes women way too much for him to only consider a relationship with Kitty without caring about her enormously. Other men, the ones in the higher circles of society in Petresburg, like Stiva or Vronsky, could do that, but not Levin. I might be a bit biased because I am on Levin's side but I really think he is described as morally incapable of being infatuated due to physical attraction.

  3. Iulia, I agree that I don't want to view Levin in such a shallow light in his relationship with Kitty. However, I feel that there are two issues that lend themselves to the unhappy race horse fate that I described above. The first is the idea of marriage for love. We read early in the novel that Kitty's sisters married for love, which means that at some time Stiva was as enthrallled with Dolly as Levin now is with Kitty. The second issue is Levin's constant shifting of ideas and practices, which makes me doubt his capability of loving forever. I do think Kitty is meant to act as a balance for Levin's life, but I think that human nature is working against them. Stiva and Dolly were once in love, but people change over time, and I think that these changes look at the deeper tensions of love and marriage. Can love last a lifetime, or is it only a short race? If love can't last but marriage is rather permanent, then how are we to view the institution of marriage? Is it really just a legal engagement, as karenin sees it? Or is Anna correct in saying that Vronsky is her true husband, regardless of law?