19th Century Russian Literature

Apr18th

Anna Karenina

Tolstoi builds his novel on contrasts and comparisons, Anna and Kitty, Vronsky and Levin, Petersburg and Moscow and many more. By bringing his main characters into contact with one another he highlights them for us the reader. Choose one of the comparisons-contrasts and comment on who emerges in a more favorable light.

Comments

  1. Hannah Wilson
    April 19th, 2009 | 9:16 pm

    Check out our Anna K Blog!

    http://sites.middlebury.edu/tolstoi/

    love,
    the tolstoi group

  2. Adam Levine
    April 19th, 2009 | 9:38 pm

    While Professor Beyer’s prompt identifies the fascinating comparison and contrast between Vronsky and Levin, I find the relationship between Stepan Arkadyich and Levin also worthy of exploration. In Part One, the two men appear to be good friends. Levin only feels comfortable discussing his love for Kitty with Stepan, as he shows when he says, “‘I’ve never talked about it with anyone. And I can’t talk about it with anyone but you’” (38). However, he also realizes that they are “‘strangers in everything: different tastes, views, everything…’” (38). Clearly, their companionship is complex and multi-dimensional, allowing room for comparisons and contrasts.

    So far, I view Levin more favorably than I do Stepan, and this is largely due to their disparate perspectives of morality. Levin, who deeply desires Kitty’s requited affections, is very conscious of human transgressions and does not wish to commit any. He tells Stepan, “‘The terrible thing is that we older men, who already have a past…not of love, but of sins…suddenly become close with a pure, innocent being; it’s disgusting, and so you can’t help feeling yourself unworthy’” (39). He perceives indiscretions like they are incisions that accumulate and cause pain. However, unlike most incisions, he believes that these moral sins are avoidable and should be prevented – hence his straightforward, metaphorical advice: “‘Don’t steal sweet rolls’” (41).

    Stepan, on the other hand, is unconcerned with what is deemed “right” – he cares only about what personally feels “right.” This is his justification for cheating on Dolly, since “‘[s]ometimes a sweet roll is so fragrant that you can’t help yourself’” (40). While Stepan’s action of “helping oneself” is undoubtedly dependent upon his judgment and decision to act, he does not hold himself responsible for the governess’ “fragrance,” or degree of attraction, and thus believes himself to be faultless for what he would consider “necessary evils.” He calls Levin “‘a moralist’” (41) since his friend does not accept the possibility that one lacks certain agency in such circumstances. Stepan’s aim is the same as “‘the aim of civilization: to make everything an enjoyment’” (36).

    To me, Stepan’s approach appears selfish and uncompassionate. While I agree that “‘[a]ll the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life are made up of light and shade’” (42), we cannot always make decisions based on personal desire and benefit, or else humanity would lose the heart of its shared experience. Levin seems more considerate to his fellow beings and more willing to accept responsibility, and this is why I favor him more than his associate.

  3. Alexandra Boillot
    April 20th, 2009 | 1:35 pm

    Levin is a character completely built around his comparisons with other characters. When he is first introduced in the novel with Stepan Arkadyich he seems to be uptight, bitter, and even harsh. However, these attributes only come across to the readers when he is with Stepan Arkadyich because Stepan is so carefree and jovial. At first I saw Levin as vaguely reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s characters but once Levin leaves Stepan Arkadyich and is put into his primary contrast, that with Vronsky, his true character comes out. Levin now seems to be level headed, kind, and smart while Vronsky seems to be arrogant, imprudent, and ungrateful. Tolstoy creates Levin brilliantly by first associating him with Stepan Arkaydich, probably the most jovial character in the book, and after this associating him with Vronsky, the most evil of the characters.

    Vronsky seems heartless for what he does to Kitty and her ensuing illness leads readers to like him even less. Even though Vronsky does better in the public eye and can keep up with Moscow society unlike Levin can, readers are drawn to Levin’s compassion for Kitty. A direct contrast is brought between these two characters in how each reacts to Kitty’s illness. Levin is interested in the affair because it is “pleasing” to him, which sounds heartless at first, but when taken in context and in contrast with Vronsky’s reaction does not seem so bad. He is pleased to hear she is still single since that means there could be some hope left for him but rejoices slightly in the fact that the person who caused his suffering is now suffering himself. On the other hand, Levin dismisses her illness and does not ask the details of it past realizing he is the cause of it. Instead he tries to pass the blame over to Anna Karenina by saying “don’t I know I acted badly? But who was the cause of my acting so?” (139). Instead of taking any responsibility or even pretending to care he dismisses her illness completely and instead uses it as an opportunity to talk of his situation with Anna. Levin is a character who completely benefits from his contrast with Vronsky as he comes out as the more favorable choice for Kitty while Vronsky seems simply arrogant and without compassion or respect.

  4. Ashley Quisol
    April 20th, 2009 | 1:56 pm

    I think that a hysterical comparison that Tolstoy makes is that between the Prince and the Princess. He contrasts the Princes rational and noble concern for what is right and good to his wife’s irrational perspectives formed from societal expectations. This contrast is highlighted in relation to their intentions for their daughter’s suitor: the Prince encourages the love of the substantive and virtuous Levin, while the Princess encourages Vronsky because of his good position in society.
    These deliberations are illustrated through various private conversations between the prince and the princess where both quarrel, ending in the princess’s hysterical tantrums which the prince humbly comforts. Tolstoy clearly favors the prince in this comparison and continuously portrays him as a pillar of wisdom. The wife, on the other hand, portrays the naïve evils of society and the petty manners that perpetuate the aristocracy’s unhappiness.
    After Vronsky “scorns Kitty,” the princess is full of regret for her poorly founded actions, and as the reader sees more and more of Levin’s virtue and decency (especially in terms of running his estate), the prince’s philosophy is reaffirmed.
    I think that Tolstoy used the example of the prince and princess to portray the stereotypical outlooks of males and females; the males are thought to be more rational and methodical, while the females are thought to be emotional and irrational. Being a woman, I hope that it was not a gender specified comparison and would rather apply it to two groups of people with two sets of values, one valuing what is “good,” the other valuing “what appears to be good”; both exist in this world (perhaps on a spectrum). Though I don’t think that these two groups are divided into male and female, I do think that Tolstoy’s use of the Princess and Prince to illustrate these opposing ideologies is appealing.

  5. Ben Tabb
    April 20th, 2009 | 2:40 pm

    While I feel it’s a little early in the story to be judging characters that have so much more to prove, I find the contrast between Kitty and Anna to be an interesting one. On the one hand, both of them are attractive and well liked members of high society. But whereas Kitty is young, naive, and unsure, Anna Karenina is intelligent, confident, and capable of making difficult decisions. Anna is a captivating and charismatic character whom members of both sexes are drawn too. It appears that much of the reason people are drawn to her is because of the way she carries herself, whereas Kitty mostly attracts people with her looks and youth. Even Kitty looks up to and idolizes Anna.

    Early on in the story, it appears that Anna is shown in the better light. While Kitty’s indecisiveness has left her with neither Levin nor Vronsky, Anna has used her charisma to charm everyone and convince Dolly to give Stepan another opportunity. Her conversation with Dolly is an especially impressive one; she knows exactly what and what not to say. She does not try to console Dolly, but simply lets her understand that she can see how Dolly feels. Eventually Dolly agrees with Anna, and is very happy for her effort. Combined with how charming we hear she is from Vronsky’s mom and everyone else who encounters her, it seems to us that Anna is the ideal woman.

    Anna’s confidence, when contrasted with Kitty’s indecisiveness appears as a good thing that will help her get things done and reach her goals, but confidence can be a bad thing when one is confident but wrong. As the story continues we can see that Anna’s judgment may not be as good as we had expected. Shortly after Dolly forgives Stepan, they seem happy together, but later on we can see that their relationship is once again appearing to crumble. Anna doesn’t think that anything bad will come out of her dancing with Vronsky, and is certain that he will still ask Kitty for her hand in marriage, but she is wrong and ends up ruining Kitty’s chances with Vronsky after Kitty trusted her. Later on, *Warning, minor spoiler about the next part* she tells her husband about her and Vronsky’s affair, thinking she will be free to go off with him, but her husband will not let her off that easily. At first every action that she makes seems commendable and brave, but confidence in the wrong action is worse than indecision. Like I said at the beginning, there’s still a lot of story left for her to prove me wrong (and given her intelligence, she may), but so far it seems that she has just made trouble for everyone. Kitty may let her indecisiveness make her a victim, but at least she is not harming anyone.

    P.S. Sorry for reading ahead and the spoiler, but it’s nothing worse than what is written on the inside front cover of the book.

  6. Brett Basarab
    April 20th, 2009 | 2:42 pm

    Throughout my reading of the first two parts, I have continually been a fan of Levin. At first, I saw him as simple minded and perhaps not as intelligent or cunning as the other characters. However, as his character developed, I realized that Levin was the most realistic, pragmatic, and sensible character of the whole bunch. Through comparisons between him and several other characters, we see that while Levin has natural human desires and shortcomings, he puts them into the context of a realistic outlook on life. In other words, Levin is the best at maintaining control over his own affairs.

    Levin’s sensibility is put to the test with Kitty’s refusal of his marriage proposal. At first glance, he seems to botch the whole affair; he over thinks things leading up to the proposal and approaches Kitty awkwardly and ineloquently. However, Levin’s over thinking stems from a true love for Kitty and a realistic outlook on life. He wanted to make sure there was at least a chance of Kitty saying yes before he took a step he might regret. Unlike Vronsky, who terribly scorns Kitty, Levin has legitimate respect for her. Afterwards, he retires to the country to recover his spirits. Levin understands that things cannot always go his way and respectfully removes himself from the situation without acting impulsively. Both Stepan Arkadyich and Vronsky, in contrast, have affairs that threaten to ruin their lives; for Stepan, his family life comes to the brink of collapse. Both lack a realistic outlook on life and let their desires impede their wellbeing and that of others.

    Levin also exhibits his rationality both when Stepan Arkadyich and Sergei Ivanovich visit him. Through his superior knowledge of country affairs, Levin knows Stepan got ripped off with his deal on the wood. Stepan, a city-going intellectual who should be a better businessman than Levin, botches the affair. Also, Sergei Ivanovich, coming from the city, has an over glorified view of the country. Levin, who again is more realistic, knows that country life is tough and burdensome.

    Overall, Levin’s practical, down-to-earth attitude brings him success on the farm and while he has not yet had much social success, he at least avoids scandal. However, I get the sense that things will continue to improve for Levin.

  7. Patrick O'Neill
    April 20th, 2009 | 3:44 pm

    I think one of the most interesting comparisons that a reader can make between two characters in this novel is that of Levin and Karenin. Like just about everyone who has posted so far, I too am a fan of Levin (it’s always good to root for the underdog) and I like the fact that he is completely honest with himself in terms of his emotions. His dealings with Kitty and the ultimate proposal that went awry clearly test him as a person and I as a reader really respected the fact that he recognized his ‘all-or-nothing’ stance on the subject and afterwards tried to pour himself into his work on his farm/estate.

    Karenin on the other hand is just an odd character in my opinion. His cold and logical demeanor on the outside seems more German to me than Russian and even so, he does not conform to that stereotype either as the inner sentimentality that is so prevalent in the typical German soul of the time is clearly lacking. While Levin too is conflicted by his emotions, he at least makes an effort to sort things out inside himself and come to a definite conclusion whereas Karenin merely represses his feelings, dismissing them as illogical and in many ways a rather bothersome distraction to his bureaucratic life that centers around appearances and detached, systematic work. Tolstoy is clearly using Karenin to cast a bad light on the Russian bureaucracy, which draws its origins more from the West like the city of Saint Petersburg, rather than from traditional Russian character and thought. Already it is very clear that there is a huge difference in the characters from Saint Petersburg and those from Moscow and the surrounding countryside, the author clearly favoring the latter.

  8. Kara Shurmantine
    April 20th, 2009 | 4:00 pm

    This contrast is a bit more abstract than the others that have been mentioned so far, but I think it’s just as important: the contrast (perhaps complement) between passion and grief. I’m thinking specifically of Anna herself and her relationship with Vronsky. They’re supposedly lovers, and deeply and passionately in love with one another—but look carefully at every instance in the novel where they appear together, and that moment is enveloped in and permeated with sorrow, sadness, and despair. They claim their love is a joy to them, that it brings them happiness, but where exactly is that happiness? Their first encounter results in a gruesome death: the train that brings Anna to Vronsky in Moscow ends up killing a railroad worker. Their first dance, the first time they touch each other—which should be such a romantic and exciting event, like when Romeo first sees Juliet—gives Anna an uncomfortable feeling and results in Kitty’s despair and eventual serious illness, for which she has to retreat to a spa abroad. The moment in which they consummate their love is also quite grim. You’d think it would be a passionate, joyful, triumphant sexual experience, but no: Anna cries to God for forgiveness and sobs, falling to the ground. Vronsky likens himself to a murderer looking at its murdered victim. These are not exactly the images I would associate with two lovers’ first sexual experiences. Their relationship certainly contains a seemingly boundless passion and even tender love, but this passion is juxtaposed with a destructive kind of despair, sorrow, and horror.

  9. Harry Morgenthau
    April 20th, 2009 | 6:19 pm

    In the vein of almost everyone else who has posted so far, I have found Levin to be the most intriguing character so far. As Brett said, Levin feels natural and human, and we, as readers, can connect with him. I think that Levin plays to a side of each of us that is always there, but we do not always want to admit it; he is convinced that everything could go wrong and fall apart at any minute. Every person has this feeling (how could anyone ever like me!?) every once in a while, and so Levin’s plight particularly hits home with us. We can imagine ourselves being in Levin’s place, and we sympathize with him. It is, maybe, even a little bit nice to see someone else suffering from something that we thought only really affected us. Levin’s plight, in a way, lightens our own spirits, comforts us, and therefore makes us associate with him all the more. Because he has trusted us with his greatest pain, we feel like we can trust him too.

    Vronsky, on the other hand, is self-assured, and, it seems at first, unaffected by the painful second guessing that cripples our personal hero Levin. This lead me to take an immediate dislike to Vronsky, even though he really had done nothing wrong. He was a perfect gentleman and courtier, but I was angry at him for thwarting Levin, and, in turn, because I had associated with Levin, thwarting me personally. Vronsky, though, is in many ways the archetypal man; he is confident, brave, and striking. He does what each of us wish we could do – effortlessly make women fall in love with him. We despise him for not feeling the same apprehension and nervousness that Levin feels. In our minds it makes him an evil cheat.

    But do we really have the right to dislike Vronsky because he is bolder than we are? By creating the balance between Vronsky and Levin, Tolstoi contrasts what we are, with what we would like to be. I think, as the book goes on and we follow Vronsky and Levin, Tolstoi is suggesting that a little modesty and reserve is not always such a bad thing.

  10. Sophie Clarke
    April 20th, 2009 | 6:57 pm

    In Professor Beyer’s prompt, he suggests that the strength of Tolsoi’s novels lies in the stark contrasts between the characters, which are highlighted when they come into contact with eachother. I agree that comparisons hold together the novel, but I am wary to agree that direct contact is the catalyst. Instead, the strength of one of Tolsoi’s most important comparisons (between Levin and Anna) is highlighted by the lack of direct contact between the characters. So far in the novel, Anna and Levin have not yet even met.

    We join the lives of Anna and Levin at very different times- Anna has just won the love of Vronsky while Levin has been denied Kitty’s love. Anna’s life, which was previously dull and monotonous, becomes exciting after she submits to her infatuation. Levin enters this novel with this kind of excitement and infatuation, but his declaration of love stifles it immediately and he returns, dejected, to a dull and monotonous life in the country.

    Despite these different outcomes, the motivations and personalities of Levin and Anna are strikingly similar and serve to base the novel. They both choose to suffer for their true loves rather than settle for someone they do not love completely. Levin is not an undesirable man—Tolsoi suggests that he could get married if he wanted to. However, when Levin is refused Kitty, he does not settle for second best, but rather returns dejected to the country. And, just like Levin, Anna values love above everything. She cannot help but to give in completely to her infatuation and love for Vronsky, even though it means she will suffer (as Kara describes.) She refuses to settle for someone she does not love completely (her husband.)

    It is amazing that although the two characters have not even met in the book, Tolsoi manages to make the transitions between the two plots smooth and almost unnoticeable.

    Anna’s success in love makes Levin’s rejection even more heart wrenching. I look forward to seeing how the dynamics of the love lives of the two characters converge or diverge over the next million pages. And will they ever meet?

    WOOOOAHHH SPOILLLER: So I have already read Anna K, but am finding it really cool to read it the second time. I am noticing a lot of foreshadowing that I just glossed over on my first read. I didn’t want to write about this (because it would give stuff away,) but I thought the contrast between the way Vronsky treated the dying horse and the way Levin caringly looks after his animals was a case of pretty cool/subtle foreshadowing.

  11. Sophie Clarke
    April 20th, 2009 | 7:30 pm

    i know ashley is going to beat me with a stick in class for posting twice, but i never answered the last question, so ill risk it.

    i think Anna, for lack of a better alternative, comes out in a more favorable light. (Levin is too boring for my taste)

  12. Zachary Harris
    April 20th, 2009 | 8:53 pm

    I was interested in the comparison between Karenin and Vronsky and how Vronsky is so completely able to steal Anna away from her husband. Anna seems to only be interested in Vronsky because he is so totally devoted to her. He is certainly not a morally respectable character, as is shown by the fact that he completely abandons Kitty after falling in love with Anna, and by the way he treats his horse after he falls during the race. He also doesn’t appear to be particularly charming, but is actually incredibly creepy as he constantly stalks Anna wherever she goes.

    Karenin on the other hand, while not having any very noteworthy qualities, is a fairly respectable man. He doesn’t ever behave particularly badly at any point in the novel, however he does not pay his wife very much attention at all. Vronsky seems to me only appealing to Anna because of his incessant devotion to her

    Its hard to find either of these characters appealing as they both have moral flaws. Vronsky shows no guilt for hurting Kitty or breaking up the Karenin family, while Karenin is not at all devoted to his wife and son. I also don’t think that either of them have so far gain anything as Vronsky has by no means fully won Anna yet, while Karenin must deal with the awful situation that his wife is cheating on him.

  13. Catherine Ahearn
    April 20th, 2009 | 10:04 pm

    Disclaimer: If you’ve never read this book, you may not want to read my post.

    I think one of the best contrasts in this story exists not between Anna and Kitty, but between Anna and Dolly. Not only is this contrast significant due to each of the women’s relationship to Stiva, but also in terms of the significance of their conversations on adultery, which serves as a tool of foreshadowing as well. The book opens with Dolly already heartbroken and in despair. Anna is brought in almost as a deus ex machina to fix the situation at the Oblonsky household. From the first moment we encounter Anna we can tell she is very different from Dolly. Granted, we see her for the first time through the eyes of Vronsky, Anna is a luminous, young looking woman who has a certain air of strength and assurance about her. Dolly, on the other hand is withered away, both by her husband’s infidelity and her past. She even admits this herself in her conversation with Anna when she asks, “Who took my youth and beauty away form me? He and his children.”
    Later, Anna’s advice to Dolly becomes very ironic when Anna becomes involved with Vronsky. Anna contradicts most of what she says to comfort Dolly about the nature of a cheating spouse. The most glaring passage of foreshadowing in Anna and Dolly’s initial conversation is when Anna makes the case that home and wife is sacred to Stiva, and people like him, and therefore, a line is drawn between the family and their infidelity. Anna blatantly violates this “line” later in the novel with Vronsky and shames her husband in doing so. Yet, due to Dolly’s appreciation of Anna’s help, Dolly later becomes Anna’s only friend. Through this disparity two other elements of question and comparison arise; one being the difference between love and infatuation and a contrast between Anna and her brother Stiva. Although we have not read far enough to comment fully on the later, at this point in the novel, it appears as though what exists between Vronsky and Anna and what was present between Stiva and the governess was infatuation. Therefore, it is in Anna’s gradual deterioration as an upstanding, proper wife that we may judge her feelings for Vronsky. Already in Part I, the light in Anna’s eyes is described as having changed since the ball. Little do we know that this will be the first in a series of degenerations on Anna’s part, meanwhile Dolly improves from the beginning of the story onward. The two are definitely on contrasting courses, but where they cross is most important.

  14. Elise Hanks
    April 20th, 2009 | 10:09 pm

    Anna vs Stiva

    Tolstoi shows the reader two different attitudes regarding adultery. We have Stiva, who sees his wife as a woman with nothing more to satisfy him. She has fulfilled her wifely duties of bearing him children and running his household; he says that he respects her. However, I find that Tolstoi aims to show us that in fact he does not respect his wife. Despite a reconciliation and the evident pain his affair caused his wife, he continues to “steal sweet rolls” for what was the harm if no one knew? This shows that Stiva does not have a consciousness about his love and therefore cannot be pure of heart or possess a “true” or “deep” love. He is always described as cheerful, unextraordinary but pleasant and jovial and is always merry. He feels no true guilt- he radiates happiness and health when he visits his pale, pinched, and distraught wife Dolly. He loses no sleep but instead dreams of women and drinking. He sees the consequences of the affair as inconvenient, disharmonious to his way of life- his dressing gown is hanging not by his bed but by the sofa! We see that he is unable to feel guilt or remorse.

    Anna, on the other hand, does not take her liaison casually. She is constantly wracked with guilt and unhappiness. She knows that in her happiness she is sinning and therefore cannot truly be happy. She knows that without Vronsky she cannot but whole but also knows there is no escaping from her husband and reponsibilities as his wife. She longs to leave him and run away yet she cannot leave her son.

    Tolstoi has clearly tied Stiva’s love for Dolly to a sense of duty. One should love his wife, therefore he loves his wife. This is what is expected of him and he does it. Anna, however, dispises this releationship created from societal construct and duty. All she wants is someone to love her and love her passionately without the concerns of external appearances, propriety, rules, game playing, and constructing an identity.

  15. Anonymous
    April 20th, 2009 | 10:31 pm

    Yo People:

    Do not be so rude as to post a comment that RUINS parts of the book we haven’t read yet. No one cares that you may have read this before -big deal.

    Just don’t spoil others’ fun.

  16. Susanna Merrill
    April 20th, 2009 | 10:54 pm

    Zachary Harris, you stole my comparison. I agree that the contrast between Karenin and Vronsky is where it’s at. Anna is the central character in this book (Oblonsky and Levin, with the Shcherbatsky sisters, are foils, both sort of insufferable really), and the most interesting action involves the two men who have loved her. The comparison between Karenin and Vronsky makes clear Tolstoy’s moral position.
    This is not the first time I have read this book, but reading it this time I feel like I never thought much about Karenin before, except for the few moments when the plot his the reader over the head with him. I always took Anna’s speeches about her husband at face value, and saw him as she saw him after falling in love with Vronsky. There was certainly a moral difficulty in Anna’s position, but the two sides of the issue seemed clearly defined: on one side was Karenin, who was old, ugly, knew nothing of love, and was a boring, dried-up politician. His only claim lay in being her lawful (in Christian as well as civil law) husband. On the other side was Vronsky, who was dashing and in love with her, and at least sort of honorable and good, though not on par with Levin.

    This time, though, maybe because I already know what happens and am therefore not as concerned about the plot, or maybe just because I am older and wiser and therefore more sympathetic, Karenin seems to have a much more valid claim. Even before he undertakes certain admirable actions that are not in Pars I or II, it is clear that he is a real person with legitimate, human feelings. The information about him that is not reported by Anna, such as the fact that before taking up with Vronsky Anna had been in the habit of laying bare all her thoughts to him, the few sincere words he speaks to her when he picks her up from the train the first time, and the many references to how well he knows his wife and what he expressions mean, suggest a history of married life that is not narrated to us. He does not blindly expect love and faithfulness from his wife out of pure conceit, but as the natural expectation coming from years of companionship. From other information provided by the narrator, we know that Karenin’s unpleasant manner and awkwardness is generally caused by an inability to cope with the depths of his feelings, a position in strong contrast to that of the smooth, thoughtless Vronsky. Basically, I no longer believe Anna when she insists that her husband doesn’t know anything about love.
    I don’t think it is news to anyone that Tolstoy blames Anna for choosing Vronsky’s passion over Karenin’s inarticulate, boring companionship. But it is easy for the reader, as well as Anna, to be taken in by Vronsky’s glitter and to miss the barbs Tolstoy constantly throws at him, bot directly and by means of contrasting him with the pitiable Karenin.

  17. Anonymous
    April 20th, 2009 | 10:57 pm

    So far only Ben, I think, has compared Anna and Kitty, and I’m going to continue this. I agree that in the beginning Anna came across as the favorable character because she didn’t seem to contrive her actions around what others thought of her. She doesn’t disobey society at first because she has no reason to, but she also doesn’t seem burdened down by it because her personality and desires are refreshingly headstrong.

    However, as we move to Petersburg with her and see her in her own home, I began to feel some contempt for her. I came to realize the reason that she holds her own views above society’s rules is that she honestly does not seem to see much beyond herself at all. She’s not a very perspective or sympathetic person. No wonder she was only able to help Dolly’s marriage temporarily – she couldn’t really feel Dolly’s suffering, and didn’t try to understand the situation before applying a band-aid.

    Although I’m not a huge fan of Alexei, Tolstoy explains his character to be stubborn and stiff, but truly not supercilious on the inside. Anna doesn’t want to feel guilty, and instead she decides to view her husband’s actions as self-promoting and conceited. At the races, Alexei is anxious about the truth between his wife and her lover, and therefore “mental movement was necessary in order to stifle those thoughts about his wife…it was natural for him to speak well and intelligently.” But Anna doesn’t care to understand he is a bewildered loser right now, and thinks of him, “nothing but ambition – that’s all there is in his soul.” I think she’s lying to herself, or is too arrogant to discover his true feelings.

    Kitty, on the other hand, is very aware of society’s impressions of her, and does her best to please everyone at first. This seems un peu naïve and superficial, and she dresses up in cupcake dresses and dances around and giggles because she knows as a beautiful youngster in the city, all the men are watching and all the girls want to be her. However, we also learn that she has a sensitive heart and an open mind. Completely crushed both mentally and physically by Vronsky’s betrayal, she still finds a way to love other people at the springs. “By virtue of her character, Kitty always assumed the most beautiful things about people, especially those she did not know.” Were Anna in her place right now, you can bet she would either be whining or forcing everyone to admire her through her own self-indulgence.

  18. Kaylen Baker
    April 20th, 2009 | 10:57 pm

    above is mine

  19. Stewart Moore
    April 20th, 2009 | 11:18 pm

    Not all of these comparisons are set in stone, one side being good or favorable while the other is disagreeable. Some relationships, such as Petersburd and Moscow or Vronsky and Levin reflect the author’s own values (Tolstoi hated Petersburg and thought very highly of a simply and morally correct life). I also think in most of the relationships, we the readers find more favor in the side that exhibits qualities we agree with.

    Having said this, Levin, despite his love-sick despair at times, easily trumps Vronksy in my books. I find Levin favorable because he is relatively simple. He loves only one woman, and loses hope when he is rejected by her. Unlike Vronksy he does not play with anyone’s heart, (paraphasing) Levin finds it impossible to court or love any woman without the intention of marriage. Levin would not cross into other people’s marriages, even if he loved the wife. He does not care for any city life, but prefers the mud and manure of the country. Also when Levin realizes he has let his infatuation with Kitty rule his life, and when he thinks in his mind Vronksy surely is engaged to her, he tries to stop. He reasons with himself that it is not possible and accepts what he thinks is his fate as a bachelor.

    Vronksy on the other hand has no laws for himself and no fixed moral boundaries, or if he does have some, they are few and more flexible. Portrayed as a more modern man in Russian society (the type of man Tolstoi does not like), Vronksy is shown to the readers with bias, making most readers favor Levin. However I believe it is very possible to favor what Tolstoi hates, depending on the reader’s own tastes.

  20. Hannah Wilson
    April 21st, 2009 | 12:07 am

    So far, one of the biggest comparisons we have is between the city and the country. Not does describe the two in very different ways, the way people act depending on their locale changes drastically. The cities, St. Petersburg in particular, are very European, grandeous and over the top. Gossip is the focal part of their lives in cities, Anna, Vronsky and Betsey spend their times in the city attending the theater and having dinner parties. They all care strongly about their appearances and their place in society. Anna and Vronsky also use French, obviously a western influence introduced by Peter the Great. This is reflected in the architecture as well. It very much embodies the westernizer point of view.

    In Moscow, to a lesser extent, Tolstoi uses the physical city and the mood to contrast the traditional slavophiles with the westernizers. Dolly and Stiva appear to be more down to earth and less involved in high society gossip. Dolly is portrayed as a more traditional Russian wife, she stays at home and takes care of her many children. Kitty comes out at a traditional debutante ball in Moscow.

    Time in the country (at least what Tolstoi presents us with) is very calm and intellectual. The rolling hills, the fields, all add to the calm atmosphere. The interaction and connection between people and the land is very tangible in the countryside. Levin is enchanted by these connections is able to withdraw into his mind and pays no attention to anything other than what is immediately before him. So, only Stiva has visited Levin in the country and we don’t really have any first hand experiences to compare his demeanor in the country vs. the city. In the city we see the cheater, begging for forgiveness and having to deal with all of the judgments from the rest of society.

    Thus far, Tolstoi has not really showed any definate preference to any of the different locales. This early in the book he mostly presents them to us, allows us to get a feel for life in each and make up our own mind. While I think that Levin’s life in the country would be the most appealing, that is completely based on my personality and experiences. What Tolstoi does very well is he matches characters personalities to their location. I am interested to notice the subtle changes in their actions and demeanor as they visit one another.

  21. Matthew Lazarus
    April 21st, 2009 | 5:56 am

    I enjoyed the contrast in tone of the dialogues between Oblonsky and Levin first in Moscow in the restaurant, then at Levin’s house in the country. Both men are, as one might expect, creatures of their habitat, but seeing them interact in two different settings sheds light on their characters. In the restaurant scene, Oblonsky clearly dominated, as he ordered food for the two of them and addressed the waiter confidently, while Levin was in his own world thinking now about Kitty, now about white bread and cheese. Oblonksky is the kind of character who is much more at-ease in the role of host, since his entire profession seems to branch from the idea of trying to make people comfortable around him. I think Levin though takes refuge in the fact that he is Oblonsky’s guest during the scenes at Moscow, because that way he has an excuse for spacing out and not really paying full attention. In the restaurant, Levin begins a speech concerning Platonic love, but cuts himself off. It seems that Levin is the one who ends up deciding where the conversation really goes or doesn’t go, and that Levin ends up blocking out more of Oblonsky than Oblonsky of Levin — but don’t tell Oblonsky that. The two friends seem not so much proud but rather well-established in themselves to the point where it is acknowledged that their friendship and their communication only applies to a certain point. When the two are in Levin’s neck of the woods, Oblonsky seems to try to bring that Moscow vibe with him, which is not the most appropriate thing when you are a guest in the country, but Levin does not seem bothered; rather, he probably expected as much. The two seem to have a disagreement over the idea of “studying women” — something Oblonsky subscribes too but complains about, and Levin does not really relate to. Is Oblonsky just too used to the playful ironies of speech of Moscow society, or does he really study women as if it were an academic discipline? Levin thinks it is better not to study them, not to even aspire to “understand” them, as Oblonsky seems to want to do. On one hand the differences between the two men can be summed up by city boy country boy, but so far I would say that Levin is coming out on top, because he seems to be dealing with his rejection well, despite taking some pleasure at Kitty being sick, and Oblonsky, while of course pleased his wife forgave him, will always I think feel superior to his wife and in this way he remains the same man who once had an affair.

  22. Lisa Eppich
    April 21st, 2009 | 7:09 am

    I have a hard time thinking that anyone really comes out on top so far- everyone seems rather selfish and self-absorbed and does things on impulses, which as someone mentioned above is probably a critique of this class in general. It’s much easier to sympathize with Levin in contrast to Vronsky, as Levin is much more reasonable, though it really struck me in the beginning when it was said that Levin first loved the oldest of Kitty’s sisters, then the middle when he the oldest was married, and then Kitty when the middle was married. Tolstoy noted that Levin felt he was just “destined” to be in the Shtcherbatsky family and that he perhaps loved the family more than anything else, I found it hard to sympathize with Levin because I don’t think love can transfer that easily and that he didn’t love any of the Shtcher. sisters, he just loved the idea of that family. Levin and Vronsky is also a clear comparison of country vs. city, and for Tolstoy those from the country always hold the greater moral truths than those from the city, and Levin is certainly the more rational, understanding man of the two.

    I think Kaylen’s interpretation of Dolly is interesting with regards to Anna. Because she’s the heroine of the book, Anna comes off in a very favorable light: everybody just loves her, to the point where children will even just hang off of her. However, I think the idea of “love can’t transfer so easily” also applies to her. She was clearly bored of her own husband, so it’s not surprising that she falls for the dashing and exciting Vronsky. Tolstoy seems to paint this as almost something that should happen amongst the bourgeois: you get married, become bored with each other, you each get your own lover, and everyone’s happy again. However, what happens when you really love your spouse, like Dolly? Anna rushes to patch things up for her because she doesn’t yet understand what it’s like to be the one who’s left behind, nor does she really understand it when she leaves her husband. I was also struck by the comment that she was “disappointed” by her own child, leading me to believe that she’s just another Madame Bovary who gets disappointed when life doesn’t work out like it should in books. Thus, even though Anna is the heroine of the novel, she may be charismatic but I don’t think she’s necessarily “better” than anybody, and comes with her own biases and blindness to reality.

  23. Natalie Komrovsky
    April 21st, 2009 | 7:17 am

    I also have been very interested so far by the contrast between Levin and Oblonsky. Something that really struck me was a quote from Oblonsky when talking to Levin, on (my) page 57-“Well, you see, you are a thoroughly earnest and sincere man. This is your strength and your limitation. You are thoroughly earnest and sincere and you want all life to be earnest and sincere too, but it never is. You despise public service because you think its practice ought to be as single-minded as its aims, but that never happens. You want the activity of every single man always to have an aim, and love and family life always to be one and the same thing. But that doesn’t happen, either. All the diversity, all the charm, and all the beauty of life are made up of light and shade.”

    After that I was interested to see what Tolstoy does with these two characters for the remainder of the book. But some comparisons/contrasts-Levin and Oblonsky are quite opposite. Levin rejects high society to live in the countryside on his farm. He lives according to what he believes is right and doesn’t care what others say about him. He is confident in himself. Oblonsky, however, is caught up in this high society and doesn’t seem to have many morals (as he cheats on Dolly and doesn’t feel bad about it).

    In line with making Levin more of a black-and-white character (rather than a shades of gray character), he initially makes Levin a character that is very single minded and focused on marriage. It seems he will only be happy when he has a wife. However, later, after he is rejected by Kitty, Oblonsky comes to visit his farm and Levin says “Perhaps it’s because I appreciate all I have so much that I don’t worry about what I haven’t got.” (173). This leads us to believe that maybe he does believe there is more to life than marriage.

    I’m getting a little carried away here. Basically, I see Levin as the purer and more morally-conscious of the two, but I don’t find him to be a less dynamic character than Oblonsky. Even though Tolstoy wrote that Levin doesn’t like shades of gray, I don’t necessarily think that’s true and hopefully we’ll see more of that as the book progresses.

  24. Jennifer Ridder
    April 21st, 2009 | 7:55 am

    Perhaps because they are the two most prominent female characters I am instantly drawn to Kitty and Anna. They strike up such contrasts both in personality and the methods to which they go through life. Anna Karenina is one of the greatest of characters ever created. She cannot “fit in,” it just is not in her nature. Kitty is a much more conventional woman, with regular dreams and ambitions that society approves of and are easily fulfilled. But even she, like others, is baffled by yet drawn to Anna. She admires Anna’s confidence. Although, Kitty could never be a friend with someone like Anna, because Anna does not conform to tradition the way Kitty aspires. However, I get the sense that Anna could never be friends with another female anyway. Not just because she entraps any male around her – but because her interests lie outside the typical female realm. Although she loves being a mother she wants to engage in being something other then a wife. But by being a woman, however, whose human destiny is to raise children and be mistress of her household, Anna is more victimized by culture and society than her male counterpart and is more sensitive to the social restrictions on her quest for personal meaning. In this way, her own unconventional character and the choices she is willing to make put her into the realm of free will. And, I suppose, destiny. There is no other way that Anna Karenina could behave if she is to be true to herself. While Kitty is more apt follow social convention. She is docile in nature and seeks personal resolution in marriage. Kitty’s character lacks the interest of Anna’s because she is so willing to accept and enjoy her female destiny of wife and mother. In her quest for marriage, she is anxious for it to define her. Her womanliness is directed at the goals of family and happiness. She is content with this, and unlike Anna does not look to pursue more.
    Though in Anna’s quest for further fulfillment and as she falls more and more in love with Vronsky, the helpless and pathetic she becomes in my mind. While I see Kitty’s fallen love forcing her to grow and expand.

  25. Casey Mahoney
    April 21st, 2009 | 7:55 am

    “If ever at any moment she had been asked what she was thinking of, she could have answered truly: of the same thing, of her happiness and her unhappiness.” Part 2, Chapter XXII

    From the famous first line of the novel, Tolstoy sets up the theme of the split between happiness versus unhappiness. Already through the first two parts, however, his original statement about happy and unhappy families is shown to be less than a clearly divided schism, simply for the fact that the definitions of the labels “happy” and “unhappy” are blurred among numerous instances of deceit and betrayal.

    For Anna, she is pulled between the two men in her life, yet interestingly, neither of them represents any ensured happiness for her–her choosing either of them would not result in the “happy family” life that Tolstoy seems to set as the goal for the characters in the book. Caught in the middle of this dilemma, Anna, as the quote shows, cannot choose one man over the other, but has to play her cards right in order to avoid social or romantic ruin.

    Tolstoy gives Anna the capacity to deal with such complexity in a manner that at least minimally goes beyond the sentimental tendencies of the typical female character. While reading, I made note of one thing that I wanted to make sure I commented on here–although it is easy for us, 21st-century-feminism-aware readers to want to commiserate with Anna’s being trapped in her social and marital situation and to exalt her power and gutsiness in making an effort to change that, I don’t think we should spare her much mercy in our judgment of her actions’ effects on her child and husband (as spineless as he might be). In giving Anna a complex problem to solve–that is, in finding her happiness and unhappiness between two men–and the rationale with which to do it, I think Tolstoy wants to give us a real character with real moral capabilities to examine. Within the love triangle, then, no one emerges as more favorable (as much as I try to convince myself that Vronsky is a bad-a** rogue in love…)

  26. Alicia Wright
    April 21st, 2009 | 9:21 am

    Total bummer…Sophie got to my comparison before I did and pointed out the very insightful overarching connections between these two characters, and I agree that they serve a much larger purpose than the other characters in the book. Anna and Levin do oppose each other in terms of their love lives (and on that note I’d have to contrast with Sophie in that though I haven’t finished the book, I know what happens ((and it doesn’t bother me that I do…)) and Levin probably comes out better in the end, though perhaps his ending isn’t as dramatic). Tolstoy establishes a link between them (though it is true they never actually meet) often by association/progression of the plot, as in ending one chapter with Anna and beginning the next with Levin. Why?

    I think an interesting contrast in reference to that pair as well is the setting association with each, which Sophie touched upon. Perhaps Tolstoy is suggesting that the country is better than either city. I’m thinking of one of many such passages, a particularly pastoral one, in which Tolstoy says of Levin’s ride home “Everything was beautiful, everything was cheerful.” Not much in the city is as clear-cut as that.
    Present in the novel is this notion that were it not for the outside world, both Anna and Levin would have led very happy lives, left to do as they like. Perhaps they belong together more than the people who are trivialized by their love, like Vronsky, or Dolly, or any of the old married pairs. Kitty has the capacity to live like Anna, becoming fully herself (until she is pulled back…under the tracks…muaha…of the real world). I think Anna and Levin belong together. Each understands, or if they don’t fully understand it, act on a certain level of balance between rationality and passion. Rationality leads to arranged marriages, passion often spills itself and gets messy. Though, again, I haven’t finished the novel, Tolstoy sends each of them to opposite ends of their similar nature – overruling passion and stultifying rationality. That would be pretty convenient if it actually happened like that.

  27. Anonymous
    April 21st, 2009 | 11:04 am

    Tolstoy’s real genius is easily seen when he begins comparing and contrasting, and we see his great power for observation. In the first few chapters, we meet Oblonsky and Levin, two good friends from the city and country, respectively. Tolstoy’s sharp, clever contrasts and exchanges between these two characters goes far beyond a simple matter of city snob versus country bumpkin, however. Like all good friends who’ve taken different paths, he says, they both love each other, but felt that what the other was doing was absurd; Tolstoi’s use of their dialogue to convey a light condescension is masterful.

    Levin and Oblonsky are set up as opposites when it comes to residence, occupation, and comfort in high society (the scene at the hotel lunch being a good example,) but they also seem to contrast sharply in their sense of “good.” Levin seems to be, hands-down, the better person. Oblonsky is overly preoccupied with social appearance, and has appropriated a lax, Western, moral code. Levin, on the other hand, is interested in marrying Kitty, and, when he doesn’t get her, he returns to his farm, and is grateful! Can you imagine Oblonsky acting that way if he were jilted?

    I would say that Levin is portrayed in a better light than Oblonsky at the end of Part Two. This being so early in the book, however, I’m expecting some turn.

  28. Gabriel G Suarez
    April 21st, 2009 | 11:04 am

    That was me.

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