This is my second time reading Anna Karenina. Like Professor Herold, I viewed Anna's tryst with Vronsky as highly romantic in my first reading. However, this time, I am coming to despise this affair and romanticizing Levin's courtship with Kitty. I don't know if Tolstoy planned this, but I am sensing a reader's naivete during their first reading (especially -- and only? -- if they don't know the book's ending) changes abruptly upon finishing the novel. In other words, Tolstoy seems to brilliantly carry along young and innnocent readers in the romance of Vronsky and Anna before awaking them to the cruel reality of such an affair in late 19th century Russia. Once this innocence has been stripped, the second reading looks for the signs the innocent reader had overlooked in the first reading: signs of trouble, and other relationships to take solace in. To a large extent, and which I have rarely -- if ever -- encountered in another work, Tolstoy wrote this work to be read multiple times.
The above paragraph regarding romance could also be applied to the reader's view of Stepan Oblonksy. However, this man is much more difficult to hate or love wholeheartedly: he is neither tragically naive (as Pierre was in War and Peace?) nor absolutely loathsome (as Anatole or Karenin are?). Interestingly, I see more nuance in Stepan's character than in any of the romantic relations. For me, nuance signals humanity in its essence: does Stepan represent the reality of humanity? Are Levin and Karenin too diametrically opposed to be realistic men? Now I wonder if Stepan, as the man whose thoughts we get the least of in Anna Karenina, is the ideal: the other men's thoughts are not especially enviable or even interesting. The same pattern was arguably seen in War and Peace: Nicholas ended up as the protagonist, and he was the man whose thoughts we read the least.