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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

"Anna Karenina" and "Madame Bovary"

I do not think Tolstoy hated Anna Karenina. Nor do I interpret the novel, like some people say, as his condemnation of adultery. 
1st, Anna is ashamed of and tormented by her lies and deceit- her uncertain, complex emotions show that she has a conscience and knows that deceit is wrong, but can't help it, unlike Emma Bovary.
2nd, it's impossible to love and be happy with a man like Karenin, rigid, emotionless, duty-bound, cruel, a man who speaks of love yet knows nothing about love, a man who cares about nothing but duties, public opinion, his own reputation and honour, and propriety. That's why one feels sorry for and sympathises with Anna, whereas one can't help thinking that Emma is idiotic for losing herself and pursuing men that treat her badly while she has a very good, honest, reliable, loving husband whose only flaws are his weakness and insipidity.
3rd, Anna's tragedy is a result of public pressure, of the hypocrisy, inquisitiveness and meanness of the aristocrats as well as Karenin's rigid, cruel decision not to accept a divorce and not to let her see her son. Emma's fatalistic, right from the beginning one can see that she will cause her own downfall. 
I am aware that there are people who think "What makes the novel so deeply satisfying, though, is how Tolstoy balances the story of Anna’s passion with a second semiautobiographical story of Levin’s spirituality and domesticity. Levin commits his life to simple human values: his marriage to Kitty, his faith in God, and his farming. Tolstoy enchants us with Anna’s sin, then proceeds to educate us with Levin’s virtue", but I interpret it differently. Levin's story and Anna's story are put next to each other to highlight another contrast: Kitty is happy in her marriage with Levin because she gets married to someone she loves, whereas there is no love between Anna and her husband Karenin and she can't officially be with the person she loves. I do see that Levin, who is often seen as Tolstoy himself, tells Oblonsky not to steal rolls (= not to have extramarital affairs), but Oblonsky also makes this speech in part 1 chapter 11: "Well, you see you are very consistent. It is both a virtue and a fault in you. You have a consistent character yourself and you wish all the facts of life to be consistent, but they never are... All the variety, charm and beauty of life are made up of light and shade." I believe, if Tolstoy indeed started writing this novel as a cautionary tale about adultery, as he went along with the story and got to understand her position and emotions, he came to realise that "All the variety, charm and beauty of life are made up of light and shade" and sympathised with Anna. 


But then I may change my mind. Who knows. Haven't even read half of it. 

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