Friday, September 12, 2014

Anna Karenina: Intro

Not everyone knows this about me, but I love to read. In the past couple years I've started reading some of the "greats" of literature. Most recently I finished Anna Karenina. In the next several posts I share my thoughts on the book and the overall point Tolstoy is trying to make. I'm sure much of this has been written on before, and much better, but these were my impressions.

In Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy vividly and thoroughly asserts that living for oneself instead of for God leads down the path of destruction. The novel touches on many topics, jealousy, infidelity, rejection, death, faith, and politics as it realistically portrays the intertwined lives of two contemporaries, Anna and Levin. At the beginning Anna Karenina is a well-married fairly young socialite whose marriage is less than satisfying. At the same time, Levin is a well-to-do, if somewhat backwards, bachelor with romantic intentions towards the woman of his dreams. The novel traces the story of their lives as Anna unwittingly does Levin a favor by attracting his love's leading suitor, the playboy Vronsky.

Vronsky upon meeting Anna is infatuated with her at a feverish level. He pursues her even though she is married, and finally succeeds in seducing her. For a brief moment Anna tries to resist Vronsky's advances, but ends up falling into a passionate love affair with him despite her original intentions. One of the most arresting scenes is immediately following the consummation of their affair. Tolstoy's description conveys the guilt and shame Anna feels because of her betrayal of her wedding vows. (Also it should be noted that this novel steers clear of portraying this scene in a graphic way.)
"She felt so sinful, so guilty, that nothing was left her but to humiliate herself and beg forgiveness; and as now there was no one in her life but him, to him she addressed her prayer for forgiveness. Looking at him, she had a physical sense of her humiliation, and she could say nothing more...Shame at their spiritual nakedness crushed her and infected him."
This chapter delves into the guilt and shame felt by Anna, and to a point Vronsky, because of their affair. Though they had satisfied a deep down longing, they did not find satisfaction. In spite of this, Anna and Vronsky continue down the passionate path of their love affair mostly unconcerned for the consequences to themselves or to others. By the end of the book Tolstoy has made a strong argument about the danger inherent in such an unfettered pursuit of passion fulfillment and the lack of fulfillment which it brings.

In the next four posts I will explore how Tolstoy uses the characters of Vronsky, Anna, and Levin to make his point of where the two ways of living: living for oneself versus living for God ultimately lead. 

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