From the moment Anna stepped off the train and into Vronsky's life, whether we agree with Anna's choices to abandon her marriage and her son, one thing is certain: Anna is a passionate woman. Unfortunately, the same passion that allows her to break out of the conventional norms in the name of love also proves to be her undoing.
There's Something About Anna
Anna is used to being admired. Her family adores her, young men fall in love with her, and people are struck by her natural beauty as much as her elegance and grace. Even the high-society Princess Miagky defends her, saying, "She's so dear, so sweet. What can she do if they're all in love with her and follow her like shadows?" (p. 136) But the most alluring thing about Anna is something that lies just beneath the surface. "It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile." (p. 61) Anna is conscious of the effect she has on people, but wonders "why people have all decided to spoil me. What have I done? Each of us has skeletons in his soul." (p. 97)
And Anna's own skeletons start to rattle when Vronsky enters her life. He opens a world of passionate love that her marriage is lacking, and an exciting life, both frightening and happy, born from the pages of the novels she reads. Anna stubbornly pursues her right to live and love freely. "Karenin never thought that I was a living woman who needed love. God has made me so I must love and live. I cannot repent that I breathe, that I love." (p. 292) When she tells Vronsky she has told Karenin about their love, she hopes he will save her from the humiliation of living as a criminal wife. "If at this news he should say to her resolutely, passionately, without a moment's hesitation: Abandon everything and fly away with me! — she would leave her son and go with him." (p. 315) But life is not as neat as fiction and Anna's emotions swing from extremes as she reels from one disappointment to the next.
In the Name of Love
Anna's greatest happiness is the source of her greatest self imposed shame. From the moment she enters into her relationship with Vronsky, Anna seems to be the only one who knows she will have to sacrifice her son. She tells Stiva, "I feel I'm flying headlong into some abyss but I mustn't try to save myself." (p. 427) Her words became a self-fulfilling prophecy. When Karenin agrees to a divorce, she says she doesn't want it and flees to Italy. She reproaches herself, saying, "I did a bad thing and therefore I do not want happiness, I do not want a divorce, and will suffer from my disgrace and my separation from my son." (p. 464) However sincerely Anna wants to suffer, she does not. In Italy, she doesn't think of Seryozha at all and falls more in love with Vronsky.
Like a mother's mantra, Anna says over and over again that she can't live without her son, but in the end, Anna realizes that it was all supposition. "I thought I loved [Seryozha] and used to be moved by my own tenderness. But I did live without him, exchanged him for another love, and didn't complain of the exchange as long as I was satisfied by that love." (p. 764)
Anna comes undone