19th Century Russian Literature


It’s a dog’s world!

Tolstoi gets into everyone’s mind, even Laska’s-the dog. Yet each sees the world and events in a different light. Tolstoi sees the irony, hypocrisy, and superficiality of conventions-societal, religious, legal. He also employs a technigue called “defamiliarization” in which a common occurrence is presented from a unigue perspective so that we the readers can experience the old and familiar in a refreshingly new way.  What have you learned from Books 5 and 6?


  1. Kara Shurmantine
    April 27th, 2009 | 11:28 am

    It’s interesting that this blog prompt has to do with Tolstoy’s use of different perspectives, because it first occurred to me while reading Parts V and VI that Anna Karenina is, indeed, written using a remarkably unlimited third-person omniscient. Every major character gets an interior monologue: Levin and Anna, certainly, but also Vronsky, Kitty, Dolly, Karenin, Countess Lydia Ivanovna, Stiva, Sergei Ivanovich, Varenka, Seryozha, and, yes, even Laska, the dog. Every character is imbued with not just a distinct personality, but with complex and unique inner thoughts. Every action of the novel’s many plotlines, every incident in each character’s life, can be seen from a variety of different perspectives. Unlike most novels, where there are perhaps two or three “round” characters—that is, possessing multi-faceted, complex, and not clean-cut personalities—and a majority of “flat” characters—that is, characters with distinct and unwavering personality traits, whose emotions and actions make them more like caricatures—Tolstoy has created a world of complex individuals who live and breathe in their reality. Tolstoy is a realist, and real people think and have feelings, so Tolstoy’s characters therefore think and have feelings.

    I think this technique, of employing a wide-ranging third-person omniscient, aligns effectively with what is perhaps Tolstoy’s main purpose: to present life in all its grandeur, heartbreak, and complexity, to construct a saga that equals life in its depth and range. He simplifies nothing: to the contrary, he even actively complicates his novel, as if to say, “Life is complicated, so my novel about life will be complicated too.”

  2. Jennifer Ridder
    April 27th, 2009 | 4:09 pm

    Perhaps the most obvious example of “defamiliarization” is the mowing scene. Here the mundane and hard labor of mowing becomes romanticized with the swishing of the blades and the methodical nature of the work. Indeed, once looked upon as dreaded labor of the poor, it now seems like fruitful endeavor. We are suddenly defamiliarized with the typical mowing scene and Levin is even defamiliarized with himself; he has transcended into a new consciousness.
    A defamiliarization also occurs in how people perceive each other. For example, in a short-lived moment between Kerinin and Anna, in a flash of anger Kerinin mispronounces the word “experimented” with “experimenced”. Anna stifles a laugh, and then looks at him with new pity, “for the first time, momentarily, she put herself in his place and pitied him”. She suddenly, if only for a instant, sees him as a man to whom she has done harm. This defamiliarization between characters occurs throughout the novel and increasingly happens to Anna. Those who once loved, respected and envied her, now begin to look at her with pity and disgust. Dolly, always holding Anna up to esteem, particularly because she is an independent woman, now sees her now as increasingly fallen, and even a bit too submissive to Vronsky.
    Indeed, Anna even becomes estranged or “defamiliarized” with herself, which my account for her gradual self-destruction. She is no longer a mother, once her primary duty and fulfillment, or the center of society; therefore she is unfamiliar with her own being and is unable to control herself.

  3. Sophie Clarke
    April 27th, 2009 | 6:59 pm

    I particularly liked the first scene of Part five when Tolstoy described Levin’s reaction to confessing before marriage. Tolstoy could have easily said in a sentence that Levin, in a state of bliss, attended confession before the wedding. Instead, Tolstoy turned this mundane event into a five-page affair that exposed some of the irony, hypocrisy, and absurdness of religious confessions.

    I have never been to confession. My impression of it was that people feel overwrought with guilt and are compelled to confess any sins they may have committed to a priest behind a little door who proceeds to forgive them. I then imagine that a sort of spiritual weight has been lifted off the confessor’s shoulders and he leaves the church feeling better, calmer, and more religious.

    Tolstoy’s description of Levin’s confession, however, pinpointed exactly how many people feel in church. The forefront of the narrative was Levin’s inner thoughts. First he attempted to recreate the most religious feelings he had ever experienced, but unable to, he “felt awkwardness and shame at doing what he himself did not understand.” So as hard as he tried to ascribe meaning to the services, he could not, so instead let his mind wander.

    As we are led through Levin’s thoughts about Kitty’s beautiful hand, we are occasionally reminded that Levin is still at confession by the mumbling of the deacon, who’s words jumble together to sound like Lordamerse. After Levin finishes thinking about Kitty’s hand, he focuses on the physicality of the deacon- the strange sound of his voice (lordamerse), his coarse, stubbly hands, and his bowing back.

    Tolstoy highlights the actual un-inspiring, and often un-spiritual nature of confession by only describing the deacon by his physical attributes. He never describes the deacon’s own thoughts, but rather calls his responses to Levin’s doubts as “habitual, hurried, and repetitive.” The deacon makes no attempt beyond his rehearsed script to help Levin, who in the eyes of God, is obviously a lost, doubting, soul. Instead, the deacon just takes a bribe and gives Levin his certificate.

    Tolstoy put into words emotions that I, and many people must feel in church– doubtful of not only our faith, but of the religious construction. But I still dont like this book.

  4. Ben Tabb
    April 27th, 2009 | 7:17 pm

    In chapter six, I feel that I’ve learned a lot about Tolstoi’s view towards women, children and family. Between Dolly and Anna, there’s a lot of reflection regarding their own and each others’ children, husbands, and families. In the end, I couldn’t help but feel that he comes out favoring Dolly.

    When dealing with her children, Dolly gets stressed out and at times doesn’t want to deal with them. It is clear, however, that she is devoted to the care and upbringing of her children, and she works hard to make sure they are brought up well. When she is away from her children, she laments that she now misses the things that she used to dread, regarding taking care of her children. Anna is the opposite. She abandons Seryozha, who she claims to love more than herself. She openly admits to not loving Annie, and doesn’t seem to care at all about her upbringing. Even Dolly is concerned about who Anna has hired to look after her daughter. The only defense that Tolstoi offers her is the possibility that anyone capable of bringing up a young girl wouldn’t want to work for Anna after all her scandals.

    Whether it’s fair to take this story and assume it represents Tolstoi’s feelings about women I’m not sure, but if it is, I feel there’s only one way to interpret it. Anna is the independent woman of the two of them. From the beginning, she is clearly more decisive. Her decision to leave Karenin is something Dolly was clearly not capable of. We even see her riding on horseback, which Tolstoi tells us is not to be expected of women. Dolly on the other hand is completely reliant on her husband. Even knowing of his transgressions

  5. Ben Tabb
    April 27th, 2009 | 7:20 pm

    Oops, I accidentally submitted. Continued:

    she is unable to leave him and stays dedicated to the family. She can see Stepan is losing his attraction to her, but can do nothing to help it (While Anna makes sure she continually gets more attractive). It appears that Tolstoi is making his case clear: a woman cannot be both independent and a good mother. Either a mother must sacrifice herself for her family or sacrifice her family for herself.

  6. Zachary Harris
    April 27th, 2009 | 8:35 pm

    I found the scene surrounding Nikolai’s death to be incredibly interesting in the context of Tolstoi’s defamiliarization technique. Tolstoi depicts the scene mostly through the eyes of Levin and his brother. He gives an incredibly complex account of how Levin feels. He is totally shocked by the appearance of his brother, and is in such a state of anxiety that is awful when he is in the room with his brother but even worse when not there. He is almost entirely focused on the shocking fact that his brother is dying in front of him, and is only slightly distracted by Kitty. He notices and is extremely appreciative that Kitty is taking care of his brother so well and is still able to connect with her. This is his only real concrete thought at the time however. He is fully absorbed in his brother’s death, yet at the same time is almost unable to process anything about it. He is thinking almost only in emotions, and is only able at the end to really think about his brother’s death, when he is almost overwhelmed (Kitty’s love prevents him from being totally overwhelmed) by the fear and recognition of his own mortality. I was particularly struck by how he felt when his brother kisses his hand and Levin is unable to do anything but cry.

    Even more interesting to me is Tolstoi’s attempt to depict Nikolai’s thoughts as he is dying. He attributes Nikolai with extreme hope until he is overcome with so much pain that he does not want to live anymore. Nikolai is also depicted as at one point thinking that he is about to die, but then doesn’t, as being annoyed and angry yet at the same time envious of the living, and as finally being almost too weak to do anything. The emotions that a person goes through on their deathbed, and especially right before one dies, are a mystery to all of us as none of us can experience this and live to give an explanation of that experience afterwards. Language in fact does not have the words to describe this experience anyway as it is not an experience that one can recount, being dead. However, Tolstoi gives a fantastic account of this mysterious experience that seems very realistic (although none can know if it is). The single seemingly unrealistic and somewhat hopeful aspect of Tolstoi’s description is the fact that Nikolai smiles when he finally dies.

  7. Casey Mahoney
    April 27th, 2009 | 9:04 pm

    Throughout these two sections, Vronsky’s and Anna’s relationship slowly becomes void of much hope for their mutual satisfaction, most notably because of their inability to escape their problems even in Europe. Apart from their passion, Tolstoy reveals them more and more to be but a couple defined by the society around them, and as that definition crumbles upon their return to Petersburg and as that definition withers away in their life outside the city, I find it hard to imagine how Tolstoy might turn it around and have them live happily ever after.

    In the midst of all this stupidity (sorry–I’m really sick of reading about such a pathetic couple…), I had a hard time finding much that was portrayed in a way different from what I expected, i.e. defamiliarized. However, Tolstoy’s insertion of the one “foil” (that’s probably not the exactly proper literary label to use, but it’ll do) to the disorder of Anna’s life with Vronsky, that is, his insertion of the young Sergei on his birthday, was somewhat unexpected for me. His “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” attitude towards his father’s and mother’s quarrel, although similar to many of the other unspoken (and sometimes spoken) taboos with which the novel deals, indicates a maturity that I would go so far as to call a moral maturity.

    While being at once socially sensitive to both parents, even though in reality he does not have the information or experience to actually evaluate anyone’s “rightness” or “wrongness” in the situation, his childish bliss to such faults and his simple love (which I think is what Tolstoy, or at least his later-in-life-religious-self, would advocate) represent a maturity that goes beyond the pettiness of the rest of the characters in society which is really refreshing. So the real surprise for me, then, was the fact that such a little guy is turning out to be my hero in the novel–and the moral or lesson I take away from that, I guess, is that everyone else in the novel/world and all their messed-up-ness is justified simply from the fact that it’s purty durn hard to forgive without literally being a child.

    …A dog’s world, really.

  8. Harry Morgenthau
    April 27th, 2009 | 9:42 pm

    At the end of book four, the two main relationships in this book (Anna/Vronsky and Kitty/Levin) seemed to have drifted to in completely opposite directions. Kitty and Levin, just married, were as happy as could be and readily accepted into society. Everything seemed positive and warm; their goals had been achieved. Meanwhile, Anna and Vronsky, while claiming to be deeply in love, seemed on a crash course for utter disaster. But now, at the end of book six, these two relationships seem suddenly very similar. The love that each couple shared for each other, which seemed so incorruptible earlier on, has grown sour. The couples have each been corroded by jealousy, and an inner fear by one of the participants that they are unworthy or will be unable to hold on to their partner.

    The main perpetrators of this jealousy are Levin and Anna. Levin constantly finds himself unworthy of Kitty’s love, and, consequently, is certain that she might decide to leave him at any moment. Any flirtation on her part makes him feel that the world could end, and he breaks down. Anna meanwhile, cannot help thinking to herself that Vronsky has run out of love for her, and that he is tired of the secluded life that they must live. Unsure of how to rekindle their partners admiration, Levin and Anna pull them closer to themselves, and farther from society. The overbearing control that Levin and Anna try to hold over their partners to keep them from leaving only makes matters worse. Kitty feels bossed around while Vronsky feels suffocated. Rather than solve the problem, Levin and Anna exacerbate it (you could even argue create it) by their actions.

    It is interesting that Levin and Anna, as arguably the two main characters of this book, are both struck by the same curse; they cannot trust their partners. They have taken completely opposite routes, but now, six hundred seventy pages in, they are in virtually the same place. Life has a strange way of repeating itself. I think that one of the biggest things to watch over the final one hundred fifty pages of the book will be how these two characters cope with the situation they have been placed in. The way they deal with this crisis will, I think, define them as characters in our minds, and, in turn, define the way that we understand the novel.

  9. Ashley Quisol
    April 27th, 2009 | 9:45 pm

    Though the story is a bit long and drawn out, I like that we get to see Levin and Kitty living after their happily-ever-after wedding as they struggles through the growing pains of newly wedded-ness. The mundane events of everyday life are painfully realistic here and in some way relatable to ever couple. The way that Tolstoi writes the arguments between Levin and Kitty are priceless; his description of the arguments from both Levin’s perspective and Kitty’s are so on target that I found myself laughing a loud at each dispute. Showing the inner thoughts of both characters alongside their actions makes the reader understand and sympathize with each.
    A prime example of these disputes (and one that probably every couple has or will experience at one point) was when Kitty became angry with Levin for returning home late. Though Levin was indeed late, the situation had been unavoidable and, additionally, he had been thinking about her the whole way home. The reader understands Kitty’s vexation and the thoughts and assumptions that are running through her head pertaining to the whereabouts to her husband, but at the same time it is clear to the reader that Levin has not done anything really wrong.
    Knowing both sides of the argument (as they have been equally represented by Tolstoy) the reader sees that the conflict stems from the insecurity of a relationship in which each have so much invested and their reconciliation is equally touching.
    The way that the perspectives of both husband and wife are represented in every event of mundane married life (hosting guests, birthing children, the first jealousy, etc.) allows for an unusual look into the minds of both sexes. This simultaneous observation of both husband and wife makes the tedious, detailed, and drawn out story of Levin and Kitty more bearable, and at times, enjoyable.

  10. Brett Basarab
    April 27th, 2009 | 10:06 pm

    The different perspectives Tolstoy uses in parts V and VI deepens our understanding of several major characters. First of all, my views on Levin are most strikingly altered: I still regard him as one of the most sensible characters, but clearly marriage has either changed him or brought out his faults. Levin acts reasonably when his life proceeds uneventfully and smoothly. However, add a new, foreign factor, and Levin goes bananas. He becomes absurdly jealous when Veslovsky stops in. Clearly, Veslovsky is just a flirtatious guy, as he acts the same way towards Anna with Vronsky around as he does towards Kitty. Also, we see from how Levin behaves during the elections that he is truly a country boy. He is awkward around the noblemen, unable to understand the elections and casts his ballot incorrectly. He also has trouble handling his brother’s slow and painful death. It seems that the grief gets to him. He acts angrily towards Kitty and cannot contain his emotion. Finally, even during his leisurely hunting trip, he becomes agitated, competitive, and fails to hunt well. Even Laska fails to understand Levin’s commands and realizes that Levin often doesn’t know what he is doing. All in all, we see that Levin is a bit immature, and his previous image as a calm, rational man has crumbled a bit.

    I have also changed my views on Dolly; her character has developed greatly as Tolstoy employs an interesting role reversal. In the beginning, Anna comes to Dolly’s house to resolve her marital problems and puts her at peace. Anna seems sensible and rational, while Dolly seems weak and helpless. Now, Dolly takes a rational look at Anna’s situation. Anna seems irrational and helpless, and Dolly looks upon her with pity but also hopelessness. Dolly is clearly a realistic, reasonable woman, in stark contrast to Anna, who is on the brink of ruining her life. The image of both Anna and Vronsky as strong, resolute characters is weakening and seems about to come crashing down.

  11. Alexandra Boillot
    April 27th, 2009 | 10:40 pm

    I found the defamiliarization technique introduced in these two parts to be especially intriguing because these two parts seem to be characterized by this technique and the earlier parts were not significantly influenced by it at all. Tolstoy backtracks several times in the novel to repeat events that have been already described simply to present them from another person’s point of view. Doing this gives readers the fullest possible picture of these characters’ lives but at the same time blurs the attitudes readers have towards each character. Before these two parts I felt that I had pretty distinct attitudes towards each character as a result of Tolstoy’s hints and underlying tone throughout the novel as to what characters were good and bad. He did this in part by only presenting some character’s point of views on events while leaving others out so that the readers were deliberately given only one side of the story so as to persuade them to sympathize with that side. However, after reading parts five and six I find myself having very conflicting attitudes towards each character, depending on whose eyes I am seeing them through at that moment. In these parts Tolstoy completely opens up the narrative to include absolutely everyone, even giving Laska a couple pages of glory.

    For example, the situation surrounding Vronsky’s short trip to the elections and Anna’s ensuing reaction and letter calling him back are seen through both of their perspectives, separately. When seen through Vronsky’s eyes, readers completely understand his position, sympathize with him, and even feel their own irritation at Anna’s behavior of creating false pretenses calling him back home. However, once the perspective changes and readers see Anna’s inner thoughts and feelings, readers at once sympathize with her and feel all the uncertainty of her situation, especially because of the not so subtle hints Tolstoy drops throughout the novel as to how her situation with Vronsky will end. This technique of defamiliarization is very interesting in that it gives every character a voice and allows readers to get the full picture and come to their own conclusions about characters in the book without being persuaded by the normally one sided point of view.

  12. Matthew Lazarus
    April 27th, 2009 | 11:48 pm

    I found the scene with the artist friend Mikhailov to be quite loaded with potential reflective material, particularly when the couple plus third-wheeling Golenishchev is observing and commenting on the painting of the admonition of Pilate. Never mind the swirling taste of betrayal and admonition hanging over the scene thanks to the themes of the painting — so much alone can be drawn from the literal reactions of Anna and Vronsky. Anna comments on “how astonishing Christ’s expression is” and that he (Christ) pities Pilate. I interpreted this reaction to be out of genuine sentiment from Anna, who centers on the expression — the most humanistic aspect of the painting. We know Anna is sensitive, we know she is perceptive, and her observation is consistent with these characteristics. It objectively may have just been a follow-up to Golenishchev’s creamy intellectual nugget of observation, when he refers to Pilate as a “functionary,” which is dead-on yes, but I mean, who’s not but a functionary standing next to Jesus? That’s beside the point though. And then you have Vronsky, ever the politician, ever the alpha male, closeted insecurities and all, who deems it appropriate to add that the characters in the back stand out. Great, they “stand out.” I’m sure the artist appreciates hearing that. Also I’m sure he appreciates being told that his painting is “technique.” Talk about what not to say. And Mikhailov, who was bubbling at the seams after the first two comments, suddenly becomes angry as a result. This confirms Mikhailov’s earlier thought, supplied by the narrator, that all wealthy Russians think they know art but really don’t. Whenever an author creates characters, we have discussed already, it is impossible to not put a little bit of yourself in now and again, but I got the feeling that Mikhailov was Tolstoy himself just as a painter. He emphasizes the fact that when it comes to art, there are thousands of possible interpretations and all of them sound as right as the next one. I think as members of a Lit class we can agree on this point. Rather, the importance of art Tolstoy seems to suggest lies in the feeling of the art. Golenishchev and Anna both were affected by the painting, but Vronsky, the van wielder of rationalization, killed the buzz by trying to sound like he felt it. Same goes for when Mikhailov is painting Anna’s portrait: Vronsky, surprised that someone who does not know and love Anna as he does can manage to capture her essence so to speak, gets so excited because he’s doing such a good job! But Mikhailov shrugs it off, uninterested, unwilling to accept this empty praise. Vronsky just dun’t get it.

  13. Patrick O'Neill
    April 27th, 2009 | 11:55 pm

    Like Ben, I also found Tolstoy’s indirect discussion of women and the relationship between their freedoms and their maternal roles intriguing. I agree wholeheartedly with Ben when he says he believes that Tolstoy clearly favors Dolly in the debate. However, this assertion made me think of a conversation I was having the other day with Professor Katz about the book. We were talking about the stark contrasts within the numerous characters in the novel and came to the conclusion that although Dolly clearly is one of the most moral and socially responsible characters (I don’t know if those are the best words), she is as a result also one of the most boring characters. On the other hand, Anna is obviously flawed in many ways, especially when it comes to her ability to balance her passions and desire for a greater freedom with her maternal responsibility. Although Tolstoy is making an example of her, and again is favoring Dolly in this debate, she is beyond any doubt the more interesting and captivating character, if not the most, and so it comes as no surprise that the book bears her name instead of Dolly’s. On a similar note, Professor Katz mentioned that Tolstoy said that at one point he himself even fell in love with Anna (although I haven’t looked this up yet to make sure) and so I think that provides a neat contrast on a broader scale, that although the author is utilizing his character in the subject of numerous debates on many contemporary sensitive social issues, in many of which he casts her down, he nonetheless cannot help getting swept up with her either himself.

  14. Hannah Wilson
    April 28th, 2009 | 12:12 am

    5 lessons we learn in Parts V/VI:
    1. Death is not so bad.
    2. Even cheating gets boring.
    3. Children rule.
    4. Never doubt your faith
    5. Luxury does not solve your problems

    Tolstoi throughout Anna Karenina provides us with these “tolstoisms” at every turn. He hides them at the ends of paragraphs, buries them deep in the middle on long inner monologues, and concludes chapters with them. There is no shortage of Tolstoism. While they are interesting, useful pieces of advice, unlike Dostoevsky’s bold claims about the meaning of life and faith, Tolstoi’s claims do not seem absurd nor are they difficult to agree with.

    The question that keeps popping into my head while reading Tolstoi again is why does it stay with us? It doesn’t challenge us, it doesn’t force us to change our beliefs, merely look at situations in a new and different way. He gets inside everyone’s head and as the reader we become more than just a fly on the wall. The conclusion I have reached is that we all would like to live like the narrator and completely understand everything around us. Tolstoi provides us with an opportunity to experience that.
    However, in doing so he does not glorify the narrator’s position, make judgments about the characters, nor does he make us wish we were the narrator.

    What Tolstoi has taught me is to appreciate my life. And to appreciate the unique view I have on life. No matter how often I wish I could get inside the minds of everyone around me, Tolstoi makes me realize that not only would it be unproductive, but it would be BORING!

    He takes all the guess work out of human emotions. Sure we don’t have everyone’s back stories, nor do we know exactly why they do what they do, but there are no surprises. Tolstoi is the king of foreshadowing; Anna’s death, ect, and his characters are fairly predictable.

  15. Elise Hanks
    April 28th, 2009 | 12:38 am

    Two things in books five and six strike me:

    The first thing is Tolstoi’s deliberate art metaphor. It is painfully obvious to the reader that Vronsky does not understand the difference between technique and talent- that he does not understand the difference between replication and emulation and creation. He imagines himself an artist who, because he has learned technique, “should” be able to learn anything about art and be successful. However, it becomes apparent that his artwork is flawed and that he fails to really bring his subjects to live. This is clearly a metaphor for love. If art is symbolic of Truth and in this case truth is directly related to love, the heart, and relationships, it stands to reason that Vronsky is unable to have a true love or heart. He cannot create- he can only replicate or imitate. His opinion of his technical abilities is related to his sense of duty in love.

    Also, I am struck by the situation Anna is in. She is a woman who has allegedly achieved the “True” love of her life. According to our romantic mythology that we are brought up to place stock in, she should be happy: she has discovered her former life was a sham without love and has been swept of her feet by a younger, charming, handsome, and rich man who has foresaken society, his job, and the protests of his family for her- claiming that only she and her love matter. We are taught to idealize a love in which the partners are each others’ worlds: we are supposed to find completion and an identity within a relationship or marriage. Nothing else is supposed to matter- everything else is secondary.
    However, it is just this social conditioning, just this mentality, that helps to imprison Anna. Vronsky is at first her entire world in that he is everything that lay dormant within her. He is love, affection, devotion, excitement, and understanding. Later in the novel, once she has renounced her name, her position in society, and her husband, he literally becomes her world. Without the love of Vronsky she has no where to go. I find it so tragic that this is what condemns her.

    It condems her because it cannot be a mutual arrangement. The very society that created the mythology that she has bought into ties her noose; it is not the same for Vronsky. She is not his entire world. Although she is when he loves her and sacrifices a great deal for her (petty in comparison, however) she can never be his entire world in the way that he is for her because he can’t possess her. She is the wife of another man.

    This is all very tragic and makes me question the social construct of love: making another person your entire world does not actually free you from society and concerns- it only makes you conscious of what constrains you, what defines you, and how you relate to one another.

  16. Stewart Moore
    April 28th, 2009 | 6:48 am

    Tolstoi’s attempts to put a scene or two through a dog’s eyes or present a scene in some new way do not appear abnormal at all but necessary. I feel that this novel is extremely repetitive up to this point, hopefully something will change or solidify for Thursday’s reading, and Tolstoi has to mix it up a little to keep even himself going.

    All of books 5 & 6 are people worrying wether they are loved or not, getting into a little quarrel, then being reconciled with they’re lover and remaining happy for three chapters before it starts over again. At this point it’s rather ridiculous how insecure of themselves and how faithless in their wives/husbands/lovers they are. While Levin claims to love Kitty, and Kitty him, both of them are so worried about the other, and the same goes for Anna.

    Tolstoi has to throw in some dog perspective, peasants, or hunting to keep the readers from vomiting over the indecisiveness of his characters. I must confess I did enjoy the whole painting period Vronsky went through, and the artist’s disgust when Vronksy said he had ‘technique. I also read this section as a comment on Vronsky’s lack of ability to be truly ‘good’ at anything, almost similar to Karenin who is always courteous but never passionate.

    -having a relationship with someone you claim to love but don’t trust sucks
    -few people are ever satisfied with what they have
    -artistic genius in not the possession of every artist
    -don’t hunt with fat, annoying people
    -people are sometimes most alone when they are with someone

  17. Lisa Eppich
    April 28th, 2009 | 7:31 am

    One of my initial gripes in the beginning of the novel is how Anna mentioned that she was “disappointed” by her own son. This was furthered by parts 5 and 6- when she has Annie the narrator says that she barely thinks about Seryozha anymore and instead lavishes attention on her daughter, yet when she gets back to Petersburg she suddenly has to see her son again, and later admits that she no longer even loves Annie. Parts 5 and 6 have cemented for me the fact that Anna is somewhat of an unreasonable person- she wants everything and everyone tailored to her needs and ideals or else she thinks life is a disaster. I’ve come to understand and appreciate more that she deserves credit for being a decisive character, for staking everything on a decision that ends up being absolutely devastating, and that women in this time still had little choice other than being bound to a husband. Again, I feel that this part of the novel reinforces what Tolstoy seems to be saying about these relationship: it seems as though the optimal relationship can only be that two people fall in love, get married, get bored with each other, and then each take another lover. However, this often becomes one sided, and Anna is now the one who has to struggle with the weight of her own life falling apart before her eyes. I think Elise said it really well, that Anna thought love was more important than anything, yet love is ultimately what constrains her. This to me defines parts 5 and 6: Anna’s fate is sealed.

  18. Natalie Komrovsky
    April 28th, 2009 | 8:29 am

    I really enjoyed when Tolstoy used his “defamiliarization” technique when Dolly went out to visit Anna. Before this, Dolly had been somewhat envious of Anna’s life and her freedom. She found herself resenting her children and feeling constrained by the circumstances of her life. But then once she’s actually with Anna and Vronsky and all of the others, she finds this lifestyle to be less than what she expected. Yes, their lifestyles are luxurious and free, but also empty and unfulfilling. Dolly finds that Anna’s life isn’t everything she believed that it was, and that likely isn’t all that Anna had hoped for.

    During this chapter (or two), two specific examples stuck out to me.
    1) When they were all sitting at dinner, and Vronsky said something in a very self-assured way, and we see Dolly’s reflections on that. His self-assurance displeases her initially. Then she thinks about how Levin too can be very self-assured about certain things, but that since she agrees with Levin, she doesn’t find it to be distasteful. It is so interesting because I’m sure this is something we all do without even realizing it (or going through the sort of reflection process that Dolly did). The same quality-self-assurance-can be either admirable or revolting based on whether or not we agree with what the person is saying. This one quality alone can’t necessarily be good or bad, the other qualities and opinions of a person have to be there to complement it (or destroy it).
    2) When they are playing lawn tennis, and Dolly finds it “unnatural”. She finds it to be a children’s game that adults are overly involved in, especially considering the lack of children. This also strikes me, because I’m sure we all look at people that are expected to be adults and are caught off-guard when they don’t act as such. I know it happens to me ALL THE TIME.

    Unrelated, but I also find Anna’s predicament interesting. She wants both her son and Vronsky and can’t have both. It’s also interesting to see her begin to wonder what she is going to have to do to keep Vronsky (as in, he’ll only love her if she is “loveable,” so to speak). This is a little sad because the beginning of the book had us believing that their love was solid and unwavering, but in fact, it’s just as vulnerable to everyday life as others’.

  19. Susanna Merrill
    April 28th, 2009 | 8:34 am

    The main thing I learned from books 5 and 6 is that Russian church weddings sound so, so awesome. But even aside from the awesomeness of the wedding itself, with the crowns and candle wax and all, the scene was very touching, due mainly to the technique described in the prompt of presenting it from multiple angles. Levin’s point of view (not understanding anything, radiant happiness, etc.) is sweet but expected of him and not that interesting, and we don’t hear all that much from Kitty, but the best part is when the narrator sweeps through the congregation, stopping for a few seconds at a time to listen in on thoughts and conversations. The middle-aged high-class women make critical remarks their acquaintances’ dresses and complexions, but are also transported back to their own weddings, smiling at how sweet they and their husbands were, but also regretting the changes wrought by time. Younger guests see their future selves in the places of Kitty and Levin, with varying valuations on the situation. The couple’s families see the event as a happy step in the lives of people they love, though one that will probably change all their relationships to each other. Dolly thinks of Anna. Strangers, seemingly of a lower class, gossip curiously, seeing only a playing out of the interesting possibilities of various personalities and situations. For everyone (except for Kitty and Levin), the wedding is more than the marking of the marriage of two specific people: it represents a universally relevant moment of transition, in which every spectator inserts his or her own experiences and expectations, while still seeing it as a moment specific to Kitty and Levin.

  20. Kaylen Baker
    April 28th, 2009 | 9:02 am

    By giving many different viewpoints of scenes and themes in this story, Tolstoi reminds his readers that everyone in the world has their own story going on, and that’s what makes his world so charming even in simplistic scenarios. It’s so refreshing to think that each set of eyes perceives uniquely and that sometimes your own vision may remain a secret, or pass to someone else, or cause great repercussions. When Levin attends the elections we understand how trite it all is and how much Vronsky offends him. But from Vronsky we see how the elections are a grand new hobby, and how he remembers Levin only as a “crack-brained gentleman.” Being in everyone’s mind makes his story complex, fascinating, touching, and ultimately is why many years later we still read this beautiful story.

    From books 5 and 6 the biggest message to me was the difference in happiness between the Levins versus Anna and Vronsky. Both spend a great deal of time in the country, but have completely different ways of living their and of dealing with their problems. While manual labor provides the Levins with a fulfilled sensation, Vronsky and Anna do easy, grand work that constantly leads to boredom.

    Levin and Kitty make such a perfect fit and love each other so much that often they don’t need many words to communicate. Tolstoi explains, “Levin was used now to speaking his thought boldly, without troubling to put it into precise words; he knew that his wife, in such a loving moments as this, would understand what he wanted to say from a hint, and she did understand him.”

    Vronsky and Anna on the other hand hardly seem to follow each other in conversation, often because they know there is something they can’t say to the other because it will offend or anger them. For example, Vronsky believes, “I can give her everything, but not my male independence,” while Anna despairs, “he has the right to go off but to abandon me. He has all the rights and I have none.” Vronsky is so worried in the country about getting bored and not being happy himself he launches himself into impractical and uselessly fancy hospital building, meanwhile not understanding that Anna is just putting up a happy face to please him, and that she suffers much more than he, both for losing her dignity and losing his love.

  21. Catherine Ahearn
    April 28th, 2009 | 9:04 am

    Tolstoy’s technique of defamiliarization is most useful in that, in a book where such mundane details of everyday life are described, it enables the reader to stay interested in the minute details of the novel. This is important because it is in these particulars that the novel truly blossoms as a time-favored classic. Without the beautiful monotony of life, Anna Karenina becomes another soap opera in text. My favorite subtle moment is between Anna and Vronsky, in chapter VII of book 5. Here, Vronsky looks at Anna and simply replies to her previous question and Tolstoy tells us, “And it seemed to her [Anna] that she understood everything, above all that he was please with her; and, smiling at him, she went out with he quick step.” In this small passage it is as if Tolstoy slows down time. Golenishchev may have witnessed this as a quick, normal transaction and yet Tolstoy takes it apart for his reader, moving into the intricacies of the single moment. Another great moment when Tolstoy does something similarly is in describing the scene of Dolly’s carriage ride to see Anna. The meeting of the two women is significant in the novel because it represents a coming of two perspectives and two very different lifestyles. Despite these differences, Dolly still sympathizes with Anna, and in this scene the reader is brought to a perfect understanding of how this could be; of how Dolly feels about her life now, her children, husband, and freedoms (or lack there of).
    Furthermore, Anna’s moment with her son, Seryozha, adds another facet to Anna’s character. With Annie, Anna says herself that she feels superfluous, yet with Seryozha, Anna’s maternal instincts are irrepressible. Here, the reader is able to see the flaws in Anna’s life, and how she will never be happy because her loves are mutually exclusive; she cannot have Vronsky and Annie and have her son as well. She is very much a torn woman looking for a solution to her unhappiness…

  22. Adam Levine
    April 28th, 2009 | 9:46 am

    Matthew Lazarus and Elise Hanks both touch upon the interactions between Anna, Vronsky, and Mikhailov, the painter. While they both produce good analyses of these chapters, I think both of their observations can delve even farther.

    Matthew cleverly identifies the difference between artistic interpretation (which focuses more on the painter) and artistic effect and feeling (which focuses more on the viewer). He rightly points out that people will have separate understandings of a work, but that ultimately the most important element is the “feeling” that the painting extracts. I agree with this statement to a certain degree, but I wish to ask Matthew a few questions. First of all, must art be only and solely the object of the viewer or reader, for whom the piece is produced? Do artists and writers intentionally surrender their works away to others, making it no longer theirs? I think this problematic, since most art is created with a motive that cannot be overlooked. As a reader, we have freedom of interpretation, bt not unlimited freedom. Secondly, I think it is significant to examine the interpretative differences between Vronsky’s painting and Mikhailov’s painting despite Matthew’s claim that “all of them sound as right as the next one.” Clearly there are variations between the two portraits, and even Tolstoi agrees that close inspection of these deviations would help to show more about the two characters; the narrator says, “Anna’s portrait, the same subject painted from nature by [Vronsky] and by Mikhailov, ought to have shown Vronsky the difference between himself and Mikhailov. But he did not see it” (478). Thus, Tolstoi does not undermine the importance of interpretation, but instead disables Vronsky to recognize the contrasts between him and the painter.

    Elise’s observation about Vronsky’s ability to love and the connection between art and truth is also very astute, but also can be expanded. While I agree that technique, talent, affections, and perception are all vital to understanding this metaphoric situation, I do not think one can state undoubtedly that “Vronsky is unable to have a true love or heart.” Just because he cannot paint as well as Mikhailov does not make him a worse lover than Mikhailov; the link between love and painting which Elise uncovers works within the sphere of Vronsky’s relationship with Anna, but not necessarily outside this sphere.

    I think the distinction between the two portraits is the motivation and idea behind both works. Vronsky paints Anna because he needs something to commit himself to, and “as a hungry animal seizes upon every object it comes across, hoping to find food in it, so Vronsky quite unconsciously seized now upon politics, now upon new books, now upon painting” (465). He wishes to receive something from painting his lover. Mikhailov, on the other hand, who is commissioned to paint Anna, accurately reveals her beauty and prowess because that is his motive: he wishes to provide the viewer and Anna with a glorious and glorified picture. It appears that Mikhailov succeeds because his aims are toward the audience and not the painter, unlike Vronsky, who seems to be picking up a paintbrush for his own enjoyment and merit. Vronsky’s failed artistic endeavor does not necessarily mean that he has no heart; he just sees visual art as a personal activity rather than a publicized property.

  23. Gabriel G Suarez
    April 28th, 2009 | 10:41 am

    Tolstoi seems to have a knack for knocking conventions. I like this. In an earlier post, I commented on my growing disappointment with “Anna Karenina” as a novel. I thought it was a well-written, sharply observant and biting soap opera, but nothing more than a soap opera. Another 200-odd pages have gone a long way in reversing that embryo of a conclusion. What I’ve noticed–and enjoyed–most has been the way that the story’s principle marriages (that is, Anna and Vronsky, and Kitty and Levin,) are finally reaching what I think can be called an equilibrium. I doubt we’ll ever see Kitty and Levin as happy as they once were again (of course, I’m expecting a scene where they “reconcile,” à la Karenin and Anna much earlier, but I don’t expect much to come of it.) These once beautiful, dangerous, poignant loves have been turned into sour routines that are our characters go through every day. The convention of love as something beautiful and eternal, that thing we shouldn’t, that we won’t doubt, is falling apart. It is a victim to jealousy, second-guessing, and passion. That’s right, not even passion can save these people! Vronsky and Anna can escape to Europe if they like, but that won’t stop their marriage from crippling before their eyes.

    Tolstoi is getting to me, and in a good way. What before seemed like a story about the fancies of high society is becoming (in a perfectly written way, let’s not forget that,) a story about what comes after that. What comes next after clean and soft high society, after the infinity of bright choices you grew up with starts withering? Every character has become tragic, from Levin to Seryozha. Will there be any respite? I hope not.

  24. Hannah Wilson
    April 28th, 2009 | 10:59 am


    Your comment about never hunting with fat annoying people….


    it made us laugh out loud.

    Hannah and Cathy

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Sites DOT MiddleburyThe Middlebury site network.