Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Women's Emancipation and Marriage

In chapter 10 of part 4, a group of male characters discusses the issue of women's rights and women's emancipation. Among them are Stepan Arkadyich and Alexei Alexandrovich. These characters each express opposing views on the subject. While Alexei Alexandrovich appears to believe that the question of women's emancipation is pernicious, Stepan Arkadyich expresses the contrasting opinion that women's emancipation might be a good thing and he suggests that women will most likely be very capable of doing many of the jobs that men typically do.

It is interesting these characters hold these competing views on women's emancipation when we consider each of their conduct with regard to their wives. Stepan Arkadyich, who cheated on his own wife, holds the more progressive view and Alexei Alexandrovich whose wife left him for another man holds a more conservative opinion about women's emancipation.

It seems as though each character's personal experience with their wives must somehow influence their opinion the issue of women's emancipation. In the case of Alexei Alexandrovich, the conservative position seems pretty natural. He feels deceived and quite possibly threatened by his wife and other women so he would want to maintain women's subjection.

How Stepan Arkadyich's experience with his wife has influenced his views on emancipation is less clear. His decision to have an affair with another woman doesn't really seem to bear at all on his idea that women would serve just as well in traditionally male roles. Maybe, then, these two character's difference in opinion lies not in their personal experience with women but in a generational difference. Stepan is supposed to be around 30 and is described as a liberal at numerous points throughout the book and Alexei is supposed to be around 50 (I believe). It is possible that this difference in age accounts for their difference in opinion. Regardless, I still think it it is interesting to relate their ideas on emancipation to their own actions...


  1. Stiva and Alexei also have very different goals from their lives. Alexei is a high ranking state official while Stiva just seems to be a social butterfly. Alexei has political motivation towards having conservative views; he isn't likely to keep his job if he has radical views. Stiva, on the other hand, just wants to have fun, and has no obligations to have an opinion one way or the other on any subject. One of the first things that Tolstoy tells us is that Stiva reads liberal newspapers because he "firmly held the same views on all these subjects as the majority." Does that mean that the majority believed that women were perfectly capable of doing a man's job? Is Stiva a representative of the majority in all things?

  2. I don't think it's fair to judge these two men's opinions and views on women's emancipation due to their own personal experiences with their respective wives. True, they've both had a less than normal experience in their relationship, but I think their wive's or their own decisions didn't matter that much in this particular case. If we would though want to connect Stepan's view on women's rights to his infidelity to his wife, I think it, in a way, makes perfect sense. If he thought her to be his equal (in every way), then he could assume she would take the same position as him regarding the cheating situation - it's not too bad if you do it discreetly, and not too frequently.

    1. Your point about Oblonsky perhaps seeing his wife as an equal (an implication of his liberal views on the emancipation of women) is actually really interesting after reading part six of the novel. In part six we see Dolly's interest in Vasenka, the dandy of a man who accompanies Oblonksy to Levin's estate. I very much got the sense that Dolly seemed at least a little interested in the prospect of an affair with this man, someone she viewed similarly to Karenin. As it turns out she is too loyal to her family, particularly her children, and nothing happens - but interesting nonetheless!

  3. The important thing seems to be that there is recognition within the group that education and women’s emancipation are causally linked, as Pestsov suggested: “'Woman is deprived of rights from lack of education, and the lack of education results from the absence of rights. We must not forget that the subjection of women is so complete, and dates from such ages back that we are often unwilling to recognize the gulf that separates them from us,' said he….‘Duties are bound up with rights—power, money, honor; those are what women are seeking,’ said Pestsov." But it is also quite possible that recognition of objective factors is clouded by subjective experiences in case of Alexey and Stepan. We, as humans, typically do not put personal experiences into the set of all or many experiences by many people and then independently analyze the whole set. Normally we put much more weight on our own experience since that is what we are most familiar with. It is likely that these two do exactly the same, a point nicely observed by Chris.