19th Century Russian Literature


Forgive and forget?

There is lots of forgiving going around, but also haymowing, death anxiety, moth killing divorce lawyers, kids running wild, and the contrast of one family dissolving while another gets ready to tie the knot. And what about Vronsky’s suicide attempt-Anna being pregnant-and so much more? Can anyone sum up this chaos in 250-300 words?


  1. Kara Shurmantine
    April 22nd, 2009 | 11:51 am

    “…and the contrast of one family dissolving while another gets ready to tie the knot.”

    I think this description sums up Parts III and IV best. When I envision the two central lines of plot in this section of Anna Karenina—Anna’s plot and Levin’s plot—I see the narratives splitting away from any similarity they might have had and proceeding in opposite directions; though the directness of the lines falters occasionally, wavering with ambiguity and uncertainty, the overall trend is unmistakable: Anna proceeds towards the utter dissolution of her legal marriage and a total plunge into her destructive, obsessive passion for Vronsky, while Levin goes from solitude and the renouncement of family life to a complete acceptance of it, symbolized ultimately in his engagement to Kitty.

    They falter a bit on the path. Anna grouches at Vronsky and seems displeased with their relations; at one point she even seems to abandon him for her former relationship with Karenin. Levin falters too: he becomes obsessed with the idea of mortality upon seeing his dying brother, he tries to commit himself one hundred percent to his agricultural work and abandon forever the idea of Kitty and familial happiness, and he purposefully avoids meeting Kitty.

    But by the end of Part IV, Anna has abandoned conventionality and stability (along with the object of her truest love, Seryozha) for a self-absorbed, destructive passion, while Levin has forsaken the uncertainty and misery of his solitary existence for a solid, tranquil, but powerful union with Kitty. Though there are a few movements in the opposite direction (Anna’s, when she tries to forsake Vronsky and stay with her son and Karenin; Levin’s, when he tries to devote himself to his agricultural theory and abandon the hope of Kitty), the overall trend and the ultimate conclusion is final. They move in opposite directions: Anna, from union to solitude; Levin, from solitude to union.

  2. Elise Hanks
    April 22nd, 2009 | 12:30 pm

    do you really just want a summary?

  3. Harry Morgenthau
    April 22nd, 2009 | 12:37 pm

    The movement in opposite directions that Kara explains goes on beyond simply Anna and Levin as well. Every character, it seems, has reached an opposite state from the one in which they began by the end of book IV. Dolly began the book in pieces, and was saved only by long talks with Anna. Now, in a wonderful reversal of roles, it is Dolly who tries to console a distraught and cuckolded Karenin. Just as she was certain that she could never forgive Stiva, now Karenin is convinced that he can never forgive Anna. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

    Vronsky, too, began the book strong and self-assured, an object of all the ladies’ desires, and a respected man. Everything seems to be going well for him; we can predict nothing less than immense success. But his infatuation with Anna corrupts and defocuses him. In his headlong pursuit of her, Vronsky ignores everything else, and consequently loses so much. He has put all of his eggs in one basket, so to speak, and it has come back to bite him. Losing her would mean losing all that he had left, and that frightening thought leads him to the suicide attempt.

    I think that the chaos that has occurred so far in the first four books is actually fairly directed by Tolstoi; He wants to let us know that no persons status can remain consistent for long. Life is always changing and people are always evolving, and not always how we expect they will. Furthermore, he is showing us that even the strongest appearing people have many demons and are subject to the same disasters that occur to the rest of us. Nobody is above the pull of desire.

  4. Elise Hanks
    April 22nd, 2009 | 12:55 pm

    here is my summary in 230 words:

    Levin continues to cultivate: his relationship with the land, his plots, relationships with brothers and friends. Levin visits Dolly and Co. at their country estate to pick up Stiva’s slack and is urged by Dolly to propose to Kitty again. Although overwhelmed with pain by memories of her, when he her arrive in the country he realizes there can be no one else.
    Using Seryozha for leverage, Karenin keeps Anna on lockdown. However, after finding Vronsky at their home, Karenin (who was morally opposed to divorce via mutual adultery) decides to turn over Anna’s letters from Vronsky to a lawyer and divorce her. The Oblonsky’s fail to change his mind; only news of Anna’s feared death after child birth brings him back. He grants Anna’s seemingly dying wish for forgiveness; transformed by this act Karenin falls in love with Anna, Seryozha, and the baby. Vronsky, devastated, attempts suicide but fails.
    Although Anna regains her health, the Karenin’s cannot continue. Vronsky is set to leave town, but Karenin decides to grant his wife the happiness he cannot give her and allows her to leave with Vronsky and the baby sans divorce.
    Meanwhile, Levin and Kitty meet at a dinner party at the Oblonsky’s. After an evening of shy and happy conversation it is determined through acronyms that they are in love and will wed. The family is thrilled, the lovers overjoyed.

  5. Alexandra Boillot
    April 22nd, 2009 | 4:27 pm

    The two main plot lines, those of Anna and Levin, are both deeply affected by death, which takes on the most meaningful contrast in the book and through which this chaos can be summed up. Anna’s and Nikolai Levin’s illnesses make death a reality for Anna, Vronsky, Alexei Alexandrovich, Konstantin Levin, and Nikolai Levin. For Anna, death clarifies things and leaves life extremely simple while for Levin thoughts of death only complicate matters.

    When Anna thinks she is dying repents, for the first time, and begs Alexei’s forgiveness and he accepts this and reasserts his role as her husband and head of the household. Meanwhile, Vronsky is pushed into the “superfluous” role that Alexei previously held. However, once death ceases to threaten Anna, relations are complicated again as Anna fears Alexei, Alexei feels he is inhibited from acting on his forgiveness and love by another external force, and Vronsky turns to death in an attempt to simplify matters for himself. In Anna’s plot line, death certainly clarified everyone’s roles and feelings but once death leaves this plot, the messy relations start again and Anna ends up running away with Vronsky, avoiding her husband and divorce.

    For Levin, even though he feels his brother’s love for him only in their last moment together before his passing, death ultimately affects him negatively and he only gets out of this negativity by truly living again through his love for Kitty. After seeing his brother so sickly, he realizes that everyone dies and that people try to refute this fact by leaving their mark on society. However, Levin sees this as pointless because he believes no one can change anything significantly because of life’s timetable. He gives up on life and thinks that whatever he does has no meaning. However, once he rediscovers love these thoughts disappear from his mind because for him love conquers death and he feels all the worth of life once again. In contrast with Anna’s situation, Levin’s fears of death had to be overcome so that he could return to his clear state of mind and happy, simple life.

  6. Zachary Harris
    April 22nd, 2009 | 6:23 pm

    I think that the chaos that runs rampant in Parts III and IV fits in perfectly with what we have read before. I see this novel as a very realistic novel (or at least way more realistic than anything else we have read before) depiction of upper class people in Russia in this time period. While Levin deals with the main issue in his life, his love for Kitty, he must also deal with many other things, such as his struggle to get his peasants to work properly, and the horrible fact that his brother is dying.

    I feel that the chaos that occurs in the novel is present because these characters are complex like real people. Vronsky continuously changes his mind about how he feels about Anna, and his emotions towards her are constantly in flux. At points he worries about how she may ruin his career and ambitions, but then he decides to shoot himself when he realizes she might be dying.

    Karenin, who seemed so far to be an unrealistically emotionless person, shows himself to be incredibly complex. His feelings about his marriage and towards Anna are incredibly complex. At one point he thinks of her as an awful woman and himself as a victim of her horrible deeds, but then later devotes himself greatly to her. Even though he is an incredibly ambitious man who greatly values his public opinion, he eventually is willing to sacrifice his reputation for Anna. I was totally shocked that he would be willing to be known as an adulterer to preserve Anna’s reputation.

    There doesn’t seem to be any core theme to the novel or any supernatural or incredulous events that lead the novel on. This “chaos” just shows the novel to be a lot like real life.

  7. Ben Tabb
    April 22nd, 2009 | 8:21 pm

    While I can’t say whether this book is an accurate depiction of Russia’s upper class in the second half of 19th century or not, I would agree with Zachary that its characters feel just as real or more real than any other book I’ve read. The chaos in this book is a result of the chaos in these characters’ lives, and the chaos in these characters’ lives is a result of the chaos in their minds.

    In the first two parts of the story, the characters seem pretty straightforward. Levin is a kind and simple farmer who is in love with a woman who is out of his league and can’t manage his farmland. Kitty is a confused young lady who’s unsure and a bit overwhelmed by the attention she’s getting from suitor’s. Vronsky is a playboy. Anna knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to go for it. And Karenin is a heartless uncaring husband whom no one could love.

    As we progress in the story though, we begin to see that these are more than just characters, they are people. Levin goes out and finds better ways to increase productivity, and then wins over Kitty. Kitty figures out what she wants (Levin) and takes it. Vronsky wants nothing more than to settle down with Anna and tries to kill himself when it seems an impossibility, and scorns the Prince who reminds him of his former self. Anna is uncertain of what she wants and fears her death. And Karenin provides us with what appears to be the most selfless act of the story thus far.

    I’ll admit, at first I was a little frustrated by some of the contradictory actions and decisions each character makes. I wanted everything to make sense, to follow a pattern, but that’s not what life is like. Like the Underground Man said, sometimes people do things that will not profit them, and sometimes people’s views of what will profit them can change. People can change from month to month, but also from minute to minute, as their mood or situation changes. In my mind, what’s most realistic about this novel is the chaos. The only thing I feel isn’t realistic is the clear control that Tolstoi has over the chaos. Beneath it all there are clear patterns emerging.

  8. Alicia Wright
    April 22nd, 2009 | 9:52 pm

    Though my reaction initially is to discuss the actual language used throughout the novel as cues to each character’s particular transformations (the flagrant exceptions tending to be more like oscillations), the obvious roadblock to that point of analysis is translation. I’m apt to pick through the occurrences and usages of some images and words and create links that I’m not even sure spring from Tolstoy’s authorial intention or the choice of P&V. That said, what is interesting is that each character has particular associations, be it in language, image, tone, that are indicative not simply of idiosyncrasies fostered realistically by Tolstoy but point to the fact of the novel creating its own vocabulary, beginning to reference itself (I suppose if one writes a long enough novel at some point one ends up referencing oneself…)

    Along the lines of the novel creating its own framework, or simply, a believable reality, what large framework that governs the movement of this novel is its dialectical nature. Anna and Levin oppose each other, and in this they are related. In order for an understandable resolution to the unordered chaos that each creates in his/her own life, the symmetrically pleasing switch of one pole to another must occur. Tolstoy does this with nearly all the pairs we identified in the previous assignment, and I think the concept of a dialectical force propelling plot in Anna Karenina explains the novel quite succinctly.

  9. Hannah Wilson
    April 22nd, 2009 | 9:54 pm

    Throughout the 3rd and 4th parts Anna becomes more than just a pregnant adulterous b*****, Levin deepens his understanding of agriculture and how to live in conjunction with peasants off of the land, Alexi has a religious experience, Kitty realizes that happiness is not fully dependent upon money nor social status (nor good lucks), and Dolly becomes a more sympathetic figure, having to hold her family together while remaining fairly level headed.

    As Ben articulated, the characters become more and more real, human… almost. However Tolstoi also begins to plant seeds of their ridiculousness. It really is a masterful balance that when examined up close resembles real life while at a distance appears to be nothing more than a bad soap opera, kind of like a reverse impressionist painting…) He also begins to show their faults. Stiva and Dolly are having money problems, there is some disconnect in Levin’s mind between what he thinks and what they actually want, and Anna is clearly a mess and mentally unstable from her affair. Tolstoi is slowly preparing us for the ultimate ending, the culmination of all of their actions, but while doing so he offers us almost perfect glimpses into real life.

    He is also slowly bringing together all of these different chaotic parts of the novel. Tolstoi brings the countryside (Levin) and St. Petersburg (Alexi) society together in Moscow. He continues to reinforce stereotypes of the different locales and the societies that live within them. As Anna and Vronsky leave for the country, it will be interesting to watch how their relationship changes when not constantly in contact with high society.

  10. Brett Basarab
    April 22nd, 2009 | 10:28 pm

    Of the many themes that pervade the chaos throughout parts III and IV, the most striking one is the collapse of the Karenin family in contrast to the unification of the Levin-Shcherbatsky family. By juxtaposing the two families, Tolstoi seems to heighten the overall tension of the novel. It is almost contradictory and unnatural that such extreme happiness can exist alongside such grief and anxiety. Perhaps the juxtaposition serves to highlight what seems to be Tolstoi’s main point: the contrast between happy and unhappy families.

    The differences between the two families stem from their perceptions of the ideal and what occurs in reality. In parts I and II, Vronsky and Anna live the idealized life. At the beginning of the affair, the two are madly in love; their dangerous tryst seems overly romanticized, like something outside of real life. Both think the affair will ensure their happiness and easily ignore reality. Meanwhile, Levin came face to face with the realistic disappointments of life. Refused by Kitty, he withdraws into the country, cares for his farm, and temporarily abandons his pursuit of his ideal life.

    In the next two sections, the roles of Levin/Vronsky and Anna are reversed. For Anna and Vronsky, the walls of reality come crashing in. As Alexei Alexandrovich also gets drawn deep into the awful events, all three suffer immensely. Unable to deal with the shock of reality, Anna falls deeply ill and can only think of death while Vronsky actually attempts suicide. Meanwhile, Levin finally runs into Kitty, and the two quickly discover that they are madly in love. Now, Levin’s previous life that was deeply entrenched in reality has completely changed. Fortunately for Levin, though, his ideal lifestyle is sustainable and was achieved genuinely. Levin, who at one point contemplated death, is now overcome with uncontrollable happiness.

    If we were to examine these events through the scope of Tolstoi’s first line, we would see that Levin and Kitty are happy because they have achieved what all families need to be stable and happy. Meanwhile, Vronsky, Anna, and Alexei Alexandrovich have strayed from this single path to happiness and thus are unhappy.

  11. Patrick O'Neill
    April 22nd, 2009 | 10:31 pm

    I really like the way Kara summed up the diverging narratives in these two parts although I disagree somewhat in her last statement. A brief summary is in order first, as requested by the prompt. Note: Going back, I tried to summarize these two parts by focusing on the two different story lines but even with that attempt at simplicity, I couldn’t keep it shorter so I will post what I have for Levin (the one I completed first) and expound on my question to Kara.

    Part III begins with his half brother paying a visit, during which there is much discussion most notably about agriculture, the countryside, and the local government. Dolly and Kitty move into the picture and come to stay in a country estate only 20 or so miles away. Levin visits Dolly, who talks to him about Kitty and encourages him but he has none of it. Levin later grows tired of his farmwork and goes to visit his friend Sviyazhsky (whom I really liked) and on the way makes a stop at a wealthy peasants home which has quite an impression on him. After discussing agriculture and the state of the workers, Levin returns home and is visited by his dying brother, which in turn brings him to reflect on his own life. Later on, Levin attends a party at the Oblonsky’s in which forgiveness is achieved. Their love is reconfirmed and he proposes to Kitty again, this time getting a positive response. He goes all but insane with love and can’t sleep and ultimately wanders to Kitty’s house, where he admits being agnostic and not having been pure, points which she accepts and forgives.

    Considering Kara’s final sentence (“Anna, from union to solitude; Levin, from solitude to union”) I am a uneasy with completely saying that Anna is moving from union to solitude. Although she is in fact abandoning traditional marriage and convention, I do not think it in reality amounted to what I would define as a real “union” because its only existence at this point was under the law. At least now that she has taken off with the object of that “self-absorbed, destructive” passion of hers, although I can see too that one could definitely make that argument based on the fact that all other past connections, her legal husband, her son, have been abandoned.

  12. Elise Hanks
    April 22nd, 2009 | 10:38 pm

    okay I feel really lame for just posting a summary.

    I am fascinated by Karenin. Although it is so easy to condemn him as a man who is austere, concerned only with reputation, and is incapable of love, I feel like everything changes in part four. We see that the act of forgiveness transforms him completely and he has an outpouring of latent emotion. i would argue that this has been there all along- that Karenin has simply repressed so much of his emotion (product of his environment, a strategy that helped him advance in his career, a habit, who knows?). To see this man through forgiveness- what I see as the most difficult of Christian doctrines- fall in love with a baby, with his son, and with his wife is remarkable. I am so enthralled with the evolution of his character that I want to do a close reading of all of his inner monologues (but I feel that in translation it would almost be futile). I think it is important that it is through a Christian act that Karenin finds love, peace, happiness, and salvation- it relates with Tolstoi’s theme of searching for God, Religion, and Meaning that we see Levin and Anna struggle with as well.

  13. Stewart Moore
    April 22nd, 2009 | 10:51 pm

    Summary? Going for conciseness here…

    Levin replaces Kitty by falling in love with the simple life, then realizes he can’t have it, sees his destiny to be with Kitty one night, creates a theory about peasants and land, goes to the city, keeps some idle conversation and proposes while bursting with joy.

    Meanwhile in the cities…

    Vronkys visits Anna at home so Karenin keeps his word and iniciates a divorce. Dolly can’t believe Anna has been unfaithful. After a bit Anna gives birth, and is delirious. Karenin ‘forgives’ her during this time and one side of Anaa seems to still love Karenin so Vronsky, seeing that Karenin is a classier that he, tries to kill himself. He fails but feels that he has some how redeemed his manhood but putting some iron in his chest.

    Things are on track for about a page, Karenin cares for the children and such. Then Anna continues to feel guilty and to say to her husband, “I hate you…” Karenin doesn’t want a divorce because he has forgiven her and wants to try a new start, but Stepan and Anna’s circumstances convince him to ‘turn the other cheek’ and get a divorce because thats what Anna secretly wants. Vronksy and Anna go abroad.

    1 sentence analyzation: Tolstoi shows that the landowners and peasants can never be equal and that ‘old fashioned’ one man-one woman marriages bring more happiness than sleeping around.

  14. Susanna Merrill
    April 22nd, 2009 | 10:54 pm

    I think this book, and maybe life, is summed up by the moment at Levin’s house when Levin wishes he could tell his brother, “You’re dying, you’re dying,” and Nikolai could answer, “I know I’m dying, but I’m afraid, I’m afraid!”

    Everyone could say that to each other. But they have to think of other things to say, and a way to live without constantly saying that, so they created culture and philosophy and economics and such. It has often been said that man is the most unfortunate animal because he is the only one conscious of his own mortality. The question is how to live a consciously mortal life, and the characters in this book have to deal with this problem, just as we all do.

    The issue strikes Levin very forcibly when he sees his own brother dying, and he spends the next months informing everyone he is going to die, reversing the conversation he had wanted to have with Nikolai. His recognition that all his work, all the things that seem important to him, isn’t really important at all compared to the finality of death, is true. But then he comes to the same conclusion most people seem to: he dives back into the vanity of existence with enthusiasm, falling in love with Kitty again and experiencing his love and wedding as deeply meaningful events. This comes about not as a conscious decision or the result of a logical rebuttal of his previous realization, but because he is a human being like any other, with a human need to find meaning and embody it in his life.

    But the issue is no less important, even if less consciously realized, for the other characters. Anna knows that she is mortal, she fears death, and so she craves life; with passionate love life seems stronger and more abundant. Then she almost actually dies, and her fear shifts form: she is afraid she will die outside the religious and cultural structures that would give her life and death value. Then she isn’t going to die after all, and once again she wants to reach out and grab the one life that she has.

  15. Sophie Clarke
    April 22nd, 2009 | 11:30 pm

    FINALLY!!! Everyone in class on Tuesday was raving about how great the book was. They gushed over the realism, the accurate portrayals of women, and the eloquent writing. What I noticed, however, was how “un-russian” the book seemed. The scenes of fancy balls and calling hours reminded me of Catherine the Great’s Potemkin villages. It seemed like Tolstoy was putting a veil over the soul of the Russian people. Levin, although an interesting character, is not truely Russian, rather he is a perfected version of Tolstoy himself. Anna, Karenin, Kitty, and the other characters seem like hero’s our of a french novel.

    I was promised this class was about pistols, prostitutes, and paedophiles!

    Part 2, obviously , satisfied me. The sluggish, never-ending, and slightly intolerable descriptions of the details of maritial problems were replaced by action. Anna became pregnant (as a result of her semi-self-PROSTITUTION), Vronsky attempted suicide (with a PISTOL), and Levin proposed in a truly romantic fashion (to a very young girl… PAEDOPHILE?).

    And, these truly Russian “3-P’s” help to provide more layers to the chaos.
    1. Vronsky attempts suicide with the one thing Karenin is afriad of: a pistol (Karenin is frightened to dual).
    2. It is the paedophiliactic nature of Levin’s relationship with Kitty that helps Levin overcome his previous facination and fear of death. Kitty is the farthest from a dying person as Levin can find. Not only has she just overcome a sickness, but she is young and far from old age (and, far from Levins age.)
    3. And, just how Sonya’s prostitution in Crime and Punishment highlighted the personaliities of the male character’s around her, Karenin’s discovery of Anna’s semi-self-prostitution allows us to underand his character much more. In fact, it is only after Karenin finds out about Anna’s prostitution that we read Karenin’s own thoughts. Her “prostitution,” then, is the catalyst for Karenin’s transformation into a more complex, 3-dimentional character.

    311. I win

  16. Ashley Quisol
    April 22nd, 2009 | 11:32 pm

    I can’t sum this up in 250-300 words, and even if I could, at this point I think it would be pointless since there are 14 summaries preceding mine.
    Rather than the summary of events, I think it is important to focus on the progression of the actual characters, the most interesting of which is that of Levin.
    To begin with, Levin’s whole attitude in terms of the common good is completely transformed. At the first mention of working towards the common good, Levin clearly expresses his disbelief in the concept; he believes that people (or at least he) cannot be interested in the good of all and are only self interested. It is for this reason that he does not buy into the idea of hospitals, peasant education, etc. As he works in his own fields, speaks with the rich muzhik and other land owners, he comes to the realization that one must improve labor in order to improve output, rather than solely improving technology. He deduces that the best way to improve labor would be to give the workers a stake in their profits. After experimenting with this concept, he realizes that the workers must be educated in order to operate and buy into such a system. This leads him full circle and he is eventually convinced that social services would indeed be beneficial. Though he has changed his mind, he has done it in such a gradual way that it takes a visit from his sick brother to call it what it is: communism. Levin refuses to accept his new theory as communism, but his brother, made honest by his approaching death, tells him otherwise.
    Seeing his brother so close to death also has a striking affect on Levin; he realizes that he had only been thinking about the best way to live and it hadn’t, until this point, occurred to him that he would eventually die. The concept of death consumes him and the reason for living, rather than the method, became his highest priority. Acquiring this “reason” to live prompts him to seriously pursue marriage, since having a family would be the only acceptable reason for Levin to life.

  17. Kaylen Baker
    April 23rd, 2009 | 12:01 am

    Near the end of book 4 I suddenly discovered a concept that sums up a chunk of the world Tolstoy created. The book is all about layers, starting with the innermost layer of each character – what they desire, love, and believe. When Anna is near death and speaking without inhibition, we realize in her heart she values moral goodness and wants to repent her ways, which is why she chooses Kerenin over Vronsky. “Now I’m real, now I’m whole…go away, you’re too good!” Heart-to-heart conversations rarely occur, but this one was so powerful it moved Karenin to tears for the first time. Once Anna is healthy and self-possessed, she reverts to detesting him. “Anna was afraid of him, felt burdened by him.” This second layer that every character possesses – Dostoevsky would call it “consciousness” – interferes. Her mind takes over when her heart isn’t falling out of her broken body.

    Levin also has a moment at his innermost layer, when he is so overcome by happiness with Kitty that he starts to see everyone as good, finding in them something wonderful… Levin’s always been compassionate; this is simply an extreme version. It seems the innermost layer only appears in life-altering moments like death and marriage.

    This next character layer is the lies people give to each other. Anna says of Karenin, “he swims and delights in lies,” but the next page we read, “Anna, for whom lying, foreign to her nature, had not only become simple and natural in society, but even gave her pleasure.” Most people lie in this story. Levin honestly hates it though; when his brother comes he can’t acknowledge Nikolai’s dying, and feels like all other talk is a lie. The only difference between lying and “consciousness” is that lying is voluntary.

    The last layer I found is between a person and his expectations, usually made by society. Karenin discovers this layer himself: Three times we hear of “that crude force which was to guide his life in the eyes of the world and which prevented him from giving himself to his feelings of love and forgiveness.” Overall, I think these layers are pretty realistic and are a large part of what makes Tolstoy’s simple events complex.

  18. Natalie Komrovsky
    April 23rd, 2009 | 12:09 am

    Two things:
    a) This book is so fabulous. Some of the earlier posts (or maybe just one of the earlier posts?) discussed how realistic and true-to-life this story is. I think that’s true. If you take any family, or even two families (related through marriage or whatever) and look at their lives, I’m sure it would be just as “chaotic”. Maybe not everyone’s lives, but many. I think we could apply the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction” here. I don’t think that everything that went on in parts III and IV is haphazard chaos (I won’t go through the trouble of summarizing as the people above me have done that multiple times). This is a real human story about trials and tribulations, anger and forgiveness. Life is complicated and crazy things are thrown at you. Dealing with these things is not always easy, and things get messy. But you just have to do it. I love this story because these characters are so real, and how they react to things is real. Their lives are complicated, and they are only human.
    b) This is not a fully developed thought, but someone mentioned Karenin as just undimensional (NOT a word, but go with it), emotionless, and just a bad, boring person (for the most part). I very much disagree with this. We saw in parts I and II (maybe just part II? I don’t remember) that Karenin cares for and loves Anna very much. The way he greets her at the train station, and the way he tried to talk to her after he first witnessed her interacting with Vronsky is a testament to this. Yes, he becomes angry and mean later when he refuses to divorce Anna and tries to take her son, but this doesn’t last long. Also, if you really cared for someone and loved someone as much as Karenin loved Anna, and you were hurt that badly, you would probably be a little bit bitter and vengeful too. But he doesn’t let these negative feelings overwhelm him for long. While Anna is (pseudo) dying he realizes that he really loves her and forgives her. That is incredibly powerful.

    I love this book so much.

  19. Lisa Eppich
    April 23rd, 2009 | 5:57 am

    As Sophie mentioned, one of the thing that strikes and perhaps disappoints me the most about this book is how un-Russian it is. If we replaced all of the names with French or English names, I doubt we’d notice a difference. Perhaps it’s good in a way, because it shows us the universality of life’s chaos, and chaos is really the only word to describe what’s going on here. Every character here knows exactly what they want, but everybody falters in taking it because of how much it will change them and those around them. I think the relationship between Anna and Karenin is most interesting in this respect: Anna seems rather unconcerned with her husband all along, yet with the threat from her dream of death in childbirth she takes solace in Karenin’s relative familiarity. Leaving him again seems rather cold and heartless, but this is just what people do. For Karenin, we’ve already given him a lot of grief for being too boring and concerned about appearances and reputation, but considering the time period I don’t think he’s that in the wrong. Even today divorce is not always easy, and nobody likes to hear people talk about them, especially about infidelity when you’re the one who was left behind. He forgives her because he truly does love her and has all along, even if he’s not as flashy as Vronsky. As I mentioned in my last post, I think this book deals a lot with the “left behinds”, those who are greatly affected by the actions of another person. Especially in times of crisis, people falter and go back on their words, and they get confused over whether to chose what they want verses what they should be doing. Life is all about the building and re-building of relationships, but for the left-behinds it’s harder because they didn’t expect to have to rebuild their lives. We’ve seen Dolly and Levin being rebuilding, so it will be interesting to see where Karenin goes from here.

  20. Jennifer Ridder
    April 23rd, 2009 | 7:55 am

    Levin’s half brother, Sergel Koznyshev, visits Levin at his country estate. Koznyshev sees the countryside as place of leisure, while Levin sees it as place of hard labor (he even goes to the fields and works himself). They talk about their various views on the peasantry and the general affairs of the area. This is relevant because it shows Levins struggle with the dilemma of how to establish a relationship with the land. He loves the natural world but he realizes nature is always threatened. Like Anna and Vronsky, Anna and Vronsky’s love is true and natural but it is unstable and threatened by the actions and thoughts of others. This is clear through Karenin, who after hearing of Anna’s adultery, at first attempts to live as if nothing changed and does not permit divorce. But he continually wavers on this issue, forcing Anna and Levin in precarious positions of uncertain love. Hovevever, the love of Anna and Vronsky seems to be fading. Anna tells Vronsky of her confession to Kernin. He asks her to leave her son and get a divorce to avoid further humiliation. Furthermore he is unable to tell her of his conversation with Serpukhovskoy and his warning about the dangerous effects of women on men’s ambition. Vronsky’s limited conversation with Anna the first hint at a decline in the intimacy of their relations.

    Death also links Anna and Levin. Levin continually thinks about mortality and his own death despite being healthy. This creates him to be an empathetic character, who has a grip on the realities of life. Anna also becomes obsessed with death after dreaming that she will die. Prior to this point in the novel, Anna has been linked to death only symbolically, through the death of the workman at the train station. When Anna announces that she is convinced she will die in childbirth, the connection between her illicit love and her death is cemented. Anna does fall quite ill and on her “deathbed” she pleas for forgiveness for herself and Vronsky, and Karenin’s surprising assent, raise important questions about the moral and theological importance of forgiveness. However, we are jolted from death to a new forgiveness. Levin forgives Kitty for her prior refusal and is led into an irrational joy for he and Kitty’s love and marriage. Between death and marriage, Tolstoy’s interest in exploring the relationship between reason and instinct in human life is evident.

  21. Catherine Ahearn
    April 23rd, 2009 | 7:59 am

    Summary: you live, you love, you lose, you die.

    What I think about it: The presence of death as we progress through the book is overwhelming. In Tuesday’s reading, Anna’s arrival is accompanied by the death of a man by a train (dare I say foreshadowing?). In Part III, Levin’s becomes very aware of the immanency of death due to his dieing brother. Although Levin’s verbose rants may go on for what seems like a very, very long time in the novel, they actually prove to be important in developing Levin’s sentimentality and empathy, which places him in stark contrast with Karenin and even Vronsky and later comes into play when he meets Kitty once again. Anna’s dream that she is going to die in childbirth links her death with her child, or her love affair (mind the reference to iron in Anna’s dream). Anna’s illness nearly kills Vronsky as well when he unsuccessfully tries to commit suicide. By the end of the section, both Anna and Vronsky have come very close to death as a result of their relations together and yet they decide to run away together without a divorce from Karenin.
    Karenin’s character is also one who goes through huge changed in Parts III and IV. Earlier in the novel, the reader takes Anna’s word for it and assumes that Karenin is unfeeling and cold. Although the importance he places upon appearance, social propriety and honor are apparent, Karenin is shown to be mush more emotionally three-dimensional as the novel progresses. He cares for Anna’s illegitimate child and saves her life in doing so, he cries, which is jarringly out of character for him, and even forgives Anna when she is gravely ill. In doing this, Tolstoy is slowly building upon the facets of these characters. Just as you slowly get to know people in real life, the more time we spend reading about Tolstoy’s characters, the more we see of who they really are. In this way they take on a very realistic nature and make the intricacies of the novel the most important parts.

  22. Matthew Lazarus
    April 23rd, 2009 | 8:01 am

    The moment between Stiva and Anna when he makes an effort to consolidate her anguish and hopelessness into a healthy solution (divorce) caught my attention for the shift in roles Tolstoy presents us. In the beginning it was Anna who provided Stiva with support when he was helpless (although, to be fair, it was really Dolly who needed the proper support from Anna). Now Anna seems to become exactly the woman Dolly was in her desperate state of mind. She says she is unhappy and could never be more unhappy and she doesn’t know what to do nothing to do everything is terrible… STOP. Enter Stiva, who tells it like it is, which is what Anna was great for in her conversation with Dolly in which she motivated her to forgive Stiva. Similar to Dostoevsky’s toothache theory, the women in this novel tend to take refuge in their suffering, while consequently being in denial of the reality Stiva is so quick to provide context for. He summarizes the situation so bluntly, telling Anna she simply married an older man, got tired of him, and fell in love with someone else. Why is the situation not clear enough to Anna at this point? It is obvious that she still feels attached to Karenin, but her suffering is causing her to temporarily suppress the feelings she has towards Vronsky. She insists that she “doesn’t understand anything,” when really she has no choice but to understand but chooses to say she doesn’t because that’s a “safer” place to be in.

  23. Adam Levine
    April 23rd, 2009 | 9:52 am

    On the first day of class this year, Professor Beyer mentioned one of the two main principles of Tolstoi’s works: to simply live life without overanalyzing it. It seems to me that Parts Three and Four are very representative of this idea. After weeks of considering himself doomed to be a bachelor while still madly in love, Levin finally decides to break the awkwardness between him and Kitty by finally seeing her at Stepan’s and quickly proposing to her once he realizes her wishes. During their little word game, she writes, “t, y, c, f, a, f, w, h…‘that you could forgive and forget what happened’,” to which Levin answers, “‘I have nothing to forgive and forget, I have never stopped loving you’” (398). After the earlier unpleasant circumstances between the two, this willingness and ability to reconnect and disregard past problems echoes the Tolstoi principle; instead of sorting through the drama of what occurred, taking the time to consider and mull over their relationship, the two are ready to let bygones be bygones and immediately take advantage of their mutual wishes. Levin’s embracing of life can be traced back to the end of Part Three, where the narrator says, “He had to live his life to the end, until death came. Darkness covered everything for him; but precisely because of this darkness he felt that his undertaking was the only guiding thread in this darkness, and he seized it and held on to it with all his remaining strength” (352). His brother’s imminent death causes him to see the benefit of using time to live rather than to constantly evaluate.

    It seems that Anna and Vronsky also realize the need to live life rather than waste time deliberating about it. By the end of Part Four, the title character decides to go “abroad with Vronsky without obtaining a divorce and resolutely abandoning the idea” (435). Instead of spending time with minute details of their marriage, when Karenin is being the most flexible that we have seen him, she chooses to just pursue her desires and forget about the formalities that might prevent immediate gratification. Vronsky clearly thinks the same way, for he even tells her (regarding her familial concerns), “‘Don’t talk about it, don’t think’” (435). He, too, wants to enjoy their revived affair and wring every drop of pleasure from it that he can before they both are no longer able or interested. Thus, we begin to see how Tolstoi’s philosophy of living life envelops the characters and the plot of Anna Karenina.

  24. Casey Mahoney
    April 23rd, 2009 | 9:57 am

    By the last sentence of Part 4, there are two blissfully happy couples who have yet to get married. Tolstoy’s thesis that happy families are happy in the same way seems to hold true: happy relationships MUST involve a certain level of bliss–that is, bliss to societal judgments, bliss to the faults of one’s partner, bliss to realistic considerations, etc.

    Levin and Kitty have yet to spend quality time with each other, and although Kitty’s initial dislikes of Levin from Part One were probably just excuses she made to convince herself to choose Vronsky, she was able enough to allow Levin’s “impurities” to slip by without judgment, but only tears, which I imagine indicate her true feelings slightly more than her words (although in Tolstoy’s world, I might argue, actions don’t necessarily speak louder than words as in Dostoevsky’s). Additionally, Levin still seems at a loss as to his identity as a philosopher or farmer, a man of the country or a gentleman of Petersburg–an identity which will indubitably affect his relationship with Kitty. So basically: there are a few potential problems here.

    As for Vronsky and Anna, let me first say that by the middle of Part 3, I was more or less fed up with the idiocy of the situation. One chapter (I couldn’t find it) opens with a quote (I’m paraphrasing:) “All three of them [Vronsky, Karenin, and Anna] were miserable in their situation” –their inaction and unwillingness to actually, finally rectify the situation frustrated me. I suppose that by the end, I was a little more pleased at the fact that at least two of them were happy for the time being in Italy; however, the fact that the noblest (though most naive) player in this triangle (Karenin) had finished last puzzled me as to what Tolstoy is trying to say about nice guys and where they finish. Personally, I’m pulling for some hope that it won’t be last.

  25. Gabriel G Suarez
    April 23rd, 2009 | 11:54 am

    Well, Levin is living on his estate again, and Koznyshev visits him. While his brother is enchanted by the nature and the peasantry, and the leisure, Levin sees the countryside as a place of hard work and cheating peasants. He visits Dolly, who urges him to propose to Kitty again. He doesn’t think he will, until he sees her pass by him in a carriage for whatever reason, and is suddenly in love again. He begins growing tired of farm work, and avoids Dolly at all costs, knowing that she will try to make him and Kitty meet. He begins to research new agricultural methods that will make his resistant peasants more productive. His deadbeat brother, Nikolai, is dying and comes to visit him. After he leaves, Levin decides to live his life more fully, while he still can.

    Karenin knows about Anna’s adultery, but refuses to divorce her, keeping her trapped. Vronsky finds out that Anna’s pregnant, and thinks about resigning from the military to be with her. Anna visits Petersburg, where Karenin is, and tells him about her plans to leave him, with or without a divorce. She continues to live in Karenin’s house, on the condition that Vronsky not visit. But, one day, of course, Vronsky does visit. He finds Anna unpleasant and fat. She cries, and says she’ll die soon. Karenin is furious, and tells her he is filing for divorce. She begs to keep Seryozha, but he refuses, even though he admits he no longer loves him.

    Karenin goes to the country, and meets Levin, Kitty, Stiva, and Dolly for dinner. At dinner, Levin proposes to Kitty, who accepts this time. Karenin rushes back to the city, where Anna is dying after giving birth. He forgives her, and, upon her urging, Vronsky. Speaking of Vronsky, he is so sad about Anna’s potential death, he tries to kill himself. But he survives, and is transferred to Tashkent.

    Anna also survives, and begins to hate Karenin again. Karenin still loves Anna, it seems. So much, in fact, that he is willing to grant her divorce. But wait! Vronsky has resigned and returned, and Anna decides that Karenin is being too good to her. She rejects the offer for a clean divorce, and instead her and Vronsky go on a trip.

    Tolstoi is definitely a good observer, but I remain unimpressed by the weight of this novel. It is a very comfortable, very pleasant, VERY well-written book, but so far, it has not transcended soap opera.

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