Friday, April 18, 2014

Forms of Life

One motif which has been repeated throughout the novel so far is the desire "to live." We see this with Anna throughout her affair with Vronsky, from the beginning when she wants an actual life containing passion and love, and also when she is living with Vronsky, in a conversation with Dolly (616). Dolly likewise expresses an understanding of Anna's desire "to live" and to "love and be loved in a real way" in her reflections on the way to visit Anna and Vronsky in Book VI (608). Similarly, we see Vronsky pursuing a "life" through attempts at independence and activity outside of his relationship with Anna; Karenin, also, finds a "life" in his work. Likewise, Levin forms a life out of reflection, intellectual and physical work, and family life with Kitty.

Hence, it seems that Anna Karenina presents us with an assortment, a display, as it were, of "forms of life": Anna's life of passion, Vronsky's life of indolence, Karenin's work-dictated life, Levin's thoughtful, reflective, life, Dolly's life, dedicated to aiding others, Stiva's life of pleasant hedonism, Nikolai's life of asceticism followed by extreme excess and squalor, etc. (The list goes on...) What are we to make of the variety of ways of life with which Tolstoy presents us? To reference Alosha's post earlier this week, which ways of life are "real" for Tolstoy; what is "a real life"? Should we look to Levin's life as a model, or at least as a closer approximation to the actual model (if, indeed, there is one) than others, in spite of Levin's own shortcomings (given that, of all the characters, Levin seems to most resemble the introspective heroes which Tolstoy presented in War and Peace)? How do these ways of life "stand up" or fare, respectively, in the face of the novel's deaths and near-deaths, in particular that of Nikolai?


  1. Well now we can also consider this in light of Anna's death. I think you're right in pointing to Levin as what we ought to consider the model for life. I think what makes this very true is Tolstoy's protection of Levin. I do not believe I can recall a single instance of anger or dislike towards Levin. With other characters, such as Anna, Karenin, Vronksy, Kitty, and Stiva, I'm constantly fluctuating between love and hate. But I consistently like Levin. Even his struggles are admirable and forgivable. If I was forced to live the life of one of the characters in this novel, I'm confident I would be the happiest as Levin. I think Tolstoy purposefully shaped these feelings in me. That's why I agree that Levin is what Tolstoy considers a "real life."

  2. I definitely agree that Tolstoy seems to be advocating, or at least privileging, a life resembling Levin's. I think that your expression "Tolstoy's protection of Levin" captures this phenomenon especially well; Tolstoy protects Levin from the reader's dislike, for the most part, it seems like. Now, though, I kind of question the notion of a "real life." Is Tolstoy really setting up Levin as leading an objectively more meaningful life than, say, Anna? And what about Dolly--certainly, she is one of the most morally upright, long-suffering characters in the novel; I'm not sure that Tolstoy would believe that Dolly's life is objectively "less meaningful" than Levin's. Perhaps Levin's life is the most "real" in the sense that, for someone who, like Tolstoy or Levin, is tormented by existential worries, Levin's life would seem more "real". But I'm not sure, now, that we can really pick out one way of life as objectively "better" within the framework of the novel.