Sunday, April 13, 2014

To love or not to love Anna

This is my third time reading Anna Karenina and I have seen this woman at different times in my life, I have accepted and hated her more or less at different points in time, but this is the first time I am reading this book I am not even trying to like her anymore and I sympathize with Karenin more than I ever have previously.

My dislike from Anna comes partly from appreciating underdogs more than I like people who are in the spotlight. Anna enters the story and steals the show. Her first action in the book is reconciling her brother and Dolly, although her brother had made a bad choice. Then she proceeds to dance with Vronsky at a ball where Kitty should have been the shining star. She then allows Vronsky to be a part of her life. While I understand how constricted Anna feels in her daily life, living in the same universe with Karenin, I find it hard to justify her behavior towards other people. I find it even more problematic that her actions do not even bring her happiness and she ends up ruining multiple lives, including her own - her son is taken away from her, her life with Vronsky does not bring her as much joy as she hoped it would and her general selfishness is detrimental to everyone. The more time I spend reading this book, the less I am able to see how she could be the victim of society and of the people around her.

Do you think Anna is redeemable? Do you still like her and find her easy to empathize as we make our way towards the end of the book?


  1. So far, I've also found it difficult to sympathize with Anna or approve of her actions. I definitely agree with you that her actions seem largely to be destructive of her self and those close to her. However, given Tolstoy's intricate characterization of Anna, I think that perhaps the "point" is not to judge her as an egoistic, morally reprehensible, or overly hedonistic person, but to observe her development and her reactions to her desires. Certainly, her seemingly selfish actions starkly contrast with Karenin's magnanimity, but it seems to me that, rather than express a moral lesson, Tolstoy is simply attempting to show us two contrasting ways of life through this juxtaposition.

  2. I have conflicting feelings about Anna; at times I find her behavior to be frustrating and almost childlike, but at the same time, she has a genuine quality about her (similar to Natasha) that endears her to the reader. I find Tolstoy's treatment of Anna as a mother to be very interesting. On the one hand, Anna basically forfeits her relationship with Seryozha in favor of her capricious affair with Vronsky. Knowing how devoted Tolstoy was to the idea of family and to children especially, I am surprised that he does not condemn her more harshly for this. Instead, we see a loving reunion between mother and son when Anna sneaks in to visit on Seryozha's birthday, and we see that Anna herself suffers because of the guilt she feels about abandoning him. Is a guilty conscience punishment enough?

  3. I'm not sure how I feel about Anna. I liked her much more when she was first introduced but the closer she gets to Vronsky the more frustrated I get with her. Part of this impression might be that I don't find Anna and Vronsky's affair very romantic- it was like watching an acquaintance you like falling in love with someone you hate. In a way, it reminds me slightly of how I felt about Pierre towards the end of War and Peace, wishing that he would quit being quite so foolish and just find his path in life already.
    Alosha, in terms of punishment, Anna's self-destructiveness could be her way of subconsciously punishing herself along with her guilt. She has cut herself off from her old life and is uncertain about her new one; she does not see any way to improve things, even if she really loves her son, so she may as well dig herself deeper into the mess she's created. That may be part of why Tolstoy is not as harsh as we might expect in his treatment of her as a mother.