By Andrew Kaufman
Tolstoy's Guide to Everyday Living
During periods of confusion in my life, I often turn to my family for emotional support, to my God for faith, and to Tolstoy for insight and inspiration. I believe Anna Karenina is one of the greatest guidebooks to positive, everyday living I have encountered. Tolstoy doesn't simply give us the answers. Like any great teacher, he encourages us to seek out the answers on our own. Who am I? Why am I here? What will make me happy?
As a man who loves this book, I hope that when other men read this book, they might recognize themselves in at least one of the male characters, and take Levin's lessons to heart—it could lead to improvements in the quality of their intimate relationships for years to come. Tolstoy gives readers more than advice. He gives vivid and stirring portraits of individual human beings caught in specific, yet highly recognizable, life situations.
Men at Work
Take it from me that most men have great work ethics except when it comes to matters of love. When we do put work into building relationships, we tend to concentrate our energy on finding love rather than giving it. We focus on the qualities that we believe will make women love us—like Karenin, Vronsky and Stiva, who focus on power, popularity and success—rather than on the qualities that will make us truly loving partners—like Levin, Lvov and, to some extent, Prince Shcherbatsky, who are attentive, emotionally open and self-sacrificing. The situation was not so much different in Tolstoy's time. Most of Tolstoy's male characters, who work so hard at advancing their careers, upholding their social images and impressing their peers, are much less disciplined, even lazy, when it comes to working at love.
In holding up a mirror to his time, Tolstoy holds up a mirror to ours as well. Men today can probably discover themselves in at least one of the male characters. However, only Levin finds happiness, because—by nature and by choice—he has what it takes to build a loving, committed relationship. His many years of emotional and spiritual struggle have served him well. They have taught him the values of patience, openness, commitment and self-sacrifice. Throughout the novel, Levin seeks a higher meaning in his life, and that meaning is often bound up with his ideals of love and marriage.
The Good Husband
From the very beginning of the novel, as a woman and as a person, Kitty is sacred to Levin. When he sees her ice-skating early in Part One, he is overwhelmed by joy and fear: "The place where she stood seemed to him unapproachably holy and there was a moment he almost went away—he was so filled with awe." (p. 28) Levin never loses his belief in Kitty's sacredness. Though they argue and have daily struggles like all couples, Levin remains eternally grateful to be in such a deeply satisfying relationship with the woman of his dreams.
The hope of a man