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					Marina Ristic
ENG102.8416
Prof. Jon Saul
Research Paper

                                       Anna Karenina


       “Anna Karenina”, followed by “War and Peace”, is one of the most popular novels

of Lav Nikolaevich Tolstoy. Contrary to the popular impression, Tolstoy did not try to

show that Anna was punished because of her sin of adultery. She was destroyed, due to a

fact that she was unable to cope with the social and psychological consequences of her

adulterous relationship with Vronski. “Anna Karenina” is magnificent as a psychological

study of the deterioration of a woman who loves and who fears compulsively that her

lover will leave her.

       The two stories into which Anna Karenina is divided are obviously intended to

contradict each other. The story of Kitty and Levin, whose marriage, except of its minor

and insignificant difficulties, is a happy one, is meant to be a sharp contrast to the tragic

liaison of Anna and Vronsky, whose love, for all its ecstasy, is doomed to failure. The

adulterous love of Anna and Vronsky, culminating in Anna’s suicide, is contrasted to the

matrimonial love match of Kitty and Levin, based on Tolstoy’s own experience of

marriage. Tolstoy has a tendency to measure all values : moral, social and ethical by the

purposes they serve. When during the wedding ceremony, Levin experienced a sudden

revelation of its profundity, he is discovering Tolstoy’s conviction that the well-known

religious ritual is the embodiment and the sanction of a law of nature. “It is the necessity

of men and animals to reproduce and preserve their kind”. The family serves this law of

conservation and is for this reason sanctified by the church. The union of Kitty and Levin
is approved by man, nature and God. But Anna and Vronsky’s secret relationship, which

only feeds their passion and has no other purposes, opposes nature’s fundamental law

and, therefore, is unsanctioned and steeped in quilt. The love of Anna and Vronsky is

magnificent, outstanding, unconditional, essential, towering above the understanding and

the emotional capacities of everyone else including Kitty and Levin who, with all their

depth and goodness, are flat and dull by comparison. Their position is secondary. As in

“War and Peace”, Tolstoy’s picture of ideal family life on the estate may seem a little bit

boring. The two couples are artistically unequal and the contrast between them is

lopsided.

            At the beginning of the novel Anna is a highly respected member of society.

She entered into a love affair and finds herself unable to conduct it discreetly. She

hates and rejects hypocrisy and deceit. She can not be content with the stolen moments of

passion in which so many women and men, that she knows, indulge. Anna is caught

between the power of the passionate “aliveness” within her and the equally pressing

demands of society to which she belongs. She finds herself in the position of serving two

masters: her individuality, with its striving for freedom and self expression through love,

and her social self, with its need to belong to an authentic group context. As she said, she

is, in her affair, “guilty, and yet not to blame.” Anna commits suicide when she becomes

convinced that Vronsky, the only remnant of social context remaining to her, wishes to

leave her. According to Helen Muchnic;

                The famous episode of the steeplechase is a subtle, elaborate image of this
                theme, a little masterpiece of concentration, a reproduction in miniature of
                the novel’s large design. There is another incident that is something like it,
                Anna and Vronsky’s visit to the artist Mikhailov, a kind of parable that
                illustrates Tolstoy’s theory of art and hints at the main theme of the work.
               But the steeplechase is more intricate and more inclusive, and is, I believe,
               in function and structure, unique in Tolstoy’s work. ( Muchnic 127)

      For Vronsky, the most important things are his devotion to his regiment and his

two passions: his passion for Anna and his passion for horses. “These two passions did

not interfere with one another. On the contrary, he needed occupation and discretion apart

from his love, to refresh himself and find rest from the violent emotions that agitated

him.” ( Tolstoy) If outside world did not intrude upon his private life, judging him,

Vronsky would be at peace. He is aware of the fact that people are gossiping about his

affair and most of the young men are envious of him. At the beginning his mother

approved his affair, since nothing “gave such a finishing touch to a brilliant young man as

an affair in the highest society”. Later when she realized, that her son’s relationship with

Anna became very serious and it interfered with his career, she disapproved it. The

people who talked about Vronsky did not care whether his love was deep or superficial,

genuine or mere fancy. All they cared was what “the world” thought.

       David Holbrook emphasized that: “Tolstoy’s central theme is an existentialist one-

an urge to find whether life can have any meaning, and , if so, how one can seek this

meaning and organize one’s life to find it. He is the novelist of devotion to solving the

problem of existence, a stance that makes nearly all the literature of the present time

appear trivial and worthless.”(Holbrook 270) Levin’s course is the reverse from Anna’s.

He begins as an acknowledged outsider, an independent individualist, and gradually

becomes more trapped in the web of social and family constraints. Similarly as Anna, he

senses the tension between the forces of his individual ideals and the obstruction of

unmanageable social reality. Unlike her, he finds a middle course which allows him to

function with the social group, while yet retaining a part of himself, what he calls, his
soul’s “holy of holies” under his absolute control. In this hidden part of himself he is

neither constrained nor obstructed by his continuing attachment to the group. At the end

Levin stated:
                I’ll get angry in the same way with the coachman Ivan, argue in the
                same way, speak my mind inappropriately, there will be the same wall
                between my soul’s holy of holies and other people, even my wife, I’ll
                accuse her in the same way of my own fear and then regret it, I’ll fail in
                the same way to understand with my reason why I pray, and yet I will
                pray- but my life now, my whole life, regardless of all that may happen to
                me, every minute of it, is not only not meaningless, as it was before, but
                has the unquestionable meaning of the good which it is in my power to put
                into it! ( Tolstoy 817)

                In this respect the stories of Anna and Levin are truly comparable. They

both experience difficulties and frustrations in expressing themselves as individuals in

unmanageable social reality. Tolstoy had shown the powerlessness of individuals to force

historical reality to conform to their own ambitious and plans. He explores their inability

to realize the ideals of the free imagination in the context of society and family. The

question is: where and when is person free? The implications of “War and Peace” that

people are at least relatively free in the context of their personal and family affairs is

replaced in “Anna Karenina” by the suggestion that they are really free only within

themselves, in that “holy of holies” which they alone may enter. William Z.Harkins

stated that : “The end of Anna Karenina depicts, in Levin’s conflict and his search for the

meaning of life, the spiritual crisis through which Tolstoy himself was passing, and

which came to a head in the years 1878-1879.” (Harkins 396) Tolstoy’s work on the

second part of his novel was disturbed by his frequent emotional crisis and distress.

According to Henryk Baran : “This condition was brought on by his inability to find an

acceptable answer to the question: What meaning can a person’s life have which would
not be annihilated by the awful inevitability of death? Tolstoy became more and more

convinced that the bitter truth was that life is meaningless, that there is no escape from

the power of death.( Baran 478) In the 1870s, Tolstoy was so depressed that occasionally

he would think about suicide. By the 1878, however, his crisis had culminated in what is

customarily referred as a conversion to the ideals of human life, which he found in

teaching of Jesus. His “Confessions”, written in these years, records in a concentrated

and highly expressive form the experience of this religious conflict. In the “Confession”,

Tolstoy describes his successive disillusionment with a life of pleasure, conventional

religion, science and philosophy. None of these provided him with any answer to his

quest for the meaning of life. In all his searches, he had looked in the upper classes to

provide an answer. The true solution, he finally discovered, by observing the life of the

peasants. He realized that they did not fear death, which they regarded as the natural and

inevitable consequence of life. Therefore, he decided that their life itself must be good

and natural. In their toil as well as their generous and cooperative spirit, he found the key

to their happiness. D.S.Mirsky emphasized that: “Anna Karenina leads up to the moral

and religious crisis that was so profoundly to revolutionize Tolstoy. Before he began it,

he had already begun to cast his eyes on new artistic methods-abandoning the

psychological and analytical manner of superfluous detail and discovering a simpler

narrative style that could be applied not only to the sophisticated and corrupt educated

classes, but to the undeveloped mind of the people.( Mirsky 275)

       In the life beyond the racetrack everybody is involved in an intricate relationship.

And all these different points of view, this network of experiences and interpretations,

serve to show how difficult is to understand any complex event and how impossible is to
judge truthfully any major, individual experience. All eyes are on Vronsky during the

race, and society intrudes upon his relationship with Anna. That increase difficulties,

but do not cause the disaster. The cause is incomprehensible, inexplicable and the

outcome is ironic. Where is the truth? And who will judge? Tolstoy’s answer is the

epigraph of the book: “Judgment is mine. I will repay.” Anna Karenina is the drama of a

trial. Unlike “War and Peace”, it is not focused on spiritual discovery but on the

experience of guilt. It is a trial in which witnesses and jury are all disqualified. No man

has the capacity to judge another. Judgment and sentence are left to the God.

				
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