Our Anna Karenina adventure has begun! Are you moving right along? As I finish Part One, I must say...I'm not that scared anymore! It's a big, sprawling saga—but I'm starting to feel like 19th century Russia can be mastered!
From Stiva's debts and infidelity to Levin's idealized dream of a wife and family—from Nikolai's drunken Communist rants to Kitty's naive and passionate heart—Tolstoy weaves an extravagant web. Complex social mores are entwined with deeply personal struggles. Right vs. wrong...honor vs. hypocrisy...relevance vs. obsolescence—who are the victims, the villains, the heroes? So much to think about as we explore this foreign land!
People told me the love triangle between Kitty, Vronsky and Anna was going to be juicy, but I had no idea! Kitty has turned down Levin's marriage proposal, certain that Vronsky's own proposal is imminent. Yet her world is shattered in the moment she realizes that she's lost Vronsky's ardor:
"Kitty looked into his face, which was a short distance from hers, and long afterwards, for several years, that look, so full of love, which she gave him then, and to which he did not respond, cut her heart with tormenting shame." (p. 80)
Kitty is powerless to halt the mounting passion between Vronsky and the older, married, captivating Anna. It is even more crushing since she herself had been so drawn to Anna. Kitty is heartbroken and humiliated. Crumpled in a chair, "she felt destroyed." (p. 82)
Like Kitty, I'm not sure I know if Anna is enchanting...or somehow "terrible and cruel."
Anna leaves Moscow to avoid the rapture she feels for Vronsky—but she can't escape her own feverish excitement. On the train back to St. Petersburg, even the English novel she tries to read leads her back to guilt and agitation over Vronsky. "She felt her nerves tighten more and more. ... 'What am I? Myself or someone else?' ... Anna felt as if she was falling through the floor. But all this was not frightening but exhilarating." (p. 101)
I love the symbolism as Anna steps off the train to get a breath of cold air. Is Tolstoy talking about the weather outside...or the dark passion to come when he writes: "The storm would subside for a moment, but then return again in such gusts that it seemed impossible to withstand it." (p. 102) Were you surprised that Vronsky followed Anna to St. Petersburg? His love is stormy and stubborn...romantic and scandalous! There's no denying what his intentions are: "You know I am going in order to be where you are. I cannot do otherwise." (p. 103) Are you cheering for Anna to learn from her brother's mistakes and stay faithful to her husband? Or are you secretly hoping that Vronsky will find a way to steal Anna away from Karenin?
I'm headed outdoors right now to sit under the trees and see what further rules will be broken. Which ideals will stand—family and honor, or the heat of the heart?
Let's keep reading, y'all!