Book #06. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

After finishing the epic volume by Leo Tolstoy, I pondered for a moment what lessons could have been derived from the tragic story of the beautiful Russian aristocrat who destroyed herself for an extramarital relationship for a young reader like myself still in fairytale fantasies of marriage and love. What could marriage mean? Is ‘love’ imperative in this permanent union?

Apparently, Anna had not known about love in her marriage with Karenin. Even if her husband was cold and passionless, it’s hard to say that he did not love her; he was, after all, a devoted spouse who ensured her happiness in every way he can. While Anna has been playing the role of Karenin’s wife faithfully and respectably for many years, there is no evidence that she clearly suffered from the lovelessness of their relationship before she meets and madly falls in love with the young and handsome Vronsky like she has never been in love before. I was somewhat stricken by her total vulnerability towards the feelings of ‘love’ after years of stable marriage. If she hadn’t invested the least affection for her companion, where could she have derived the power to appear respectable and admirable to everyone as a wife? I couldn’t shake off the feeling that Anna was solidly pretentious in her former positive qualities–intellectual, graceful, appreciative, charismatic– when she completely lost herself in the feelings that later prove to be only temporary.

I am sympathetic towards Anna in her womanly desire to be passionately loved by a man. Her blind obsession in ‘love’ was ambitious and empowering at first, but later becomes reckless and extremely self-centred when she attempts to allow everything in sole excuse of love. While everyone in St. Petersburg disdains her for abandoning her family, she decides to go to the Opera nonetheless as to plainly maintain the pleasure in her life, while Vronsky, fearing all the hurtful gazes, begs her not to go.

“…Do I repent of what I have done? No! No! No! If it had to begin again from the beginning, I should do the same. For us, for you and me, only one thing is important: whether we love each other. No other considerations exist. Why do we live here, separated and not seeing one another? Why can’t I go? I love you, and it’s all the same to me.”

In later chapters Vronsky proves himself falling short of Anna’s unbound passion when he returns to his unrestrained routines as a young bachelor, that resulted in the tremendous isolation of his lover from the entire world. Anna is also crushingly disappointed to find out that she was not the only one in his concerns, after having sacrificed everything for him. But I did not particularly blame Vronsky for their crumbling relationship when he never ceased in his care for her happiness and his remarkable patience to endure her hysterical explosions that intentionally seek to harm him. Despite his imperfections, Vronsky deserves pity as much as Anna. There was no way he can relive pleasure in his life as nobody could rescue Anna from the tragic end of her life that has never been commanded successfully and independently on her own.

It’s as depressing as any other tragedy, but the novel also presents a reversal of happy marriage in the subplot of Levin and Kitty. Modeled after the author’s personal experiences, Constantin Levin is an amazing character to read for his incredible depths of honesty and independence that totally set him apart from conventions.

Anna Karenina certainly deserves more than one read for its incredible cast of characters and its broad depiction of the 19th century Russian society that was undergoing tumultuous changes. I shall certainly go back to Tolstoy but not anytime soon after I’m done with Anna Karenina for the first time.  So much can be said about the novel and its characters (especially Levin) but I want to save another discussion until I re-read the novel with more attention on details. After all, I’m delighted to welcome Tolstoy on my shelf 😉

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