Anna Karenina – Part 7
I knew this segment was going to be difficult for me. In fact, part of me really didn’t want to read it. I don’t know when I found out that Anna herself was committing suicide during the course of the novel, or how I knew it was in part 7, but I knew this and was dreading reading it. It was difficult, and it still is.
Reading guide questions from Oprah.com…
1. What did you think when you learned Levin was a writer? Discuss the similarities between his character and what you know of Tolstoy.
I primarily consider Levin to be a bit boring, so I wasn’t exactly impressed by him being a writer. I don’t actually know anything of Tolstoy personally, which means I haven’t drawn any comparisons between the two of them. I like Levin, but he’s just kind of dull.
2. When Levin and Anna finally meet, what did you think of their interaction? Is it as you expected it might be, or different? How do you feel about the fact that Levin pities Anna?
Although Levin and Anna have people in common family wise, it never really occurred to me that they would meet. But it wasn’t surprising that Levin was somehow drawn to Anna, as she just seems like that sort of woman. I understand Levin pitying Anna, I pity her myself in some way. I have mixed feelings about it, because I’m a supporter of women being able to do what they want, but Anna doesn’t live in a time where that’s really an option, so the situation is of her own making.
3. Talk about the way that Levin’s life seems to lose purpose when he goes to Moscow. How does this relate to his happiness at other times? What messages does the author seem to be sending about city life?
Levin is very clearly not a city person. He’s always happier when he’s away from the city, it’s been the case from the very beginning of the novel. City life as described by Tolstoy seems corrupt and mostly pointless. To get ahead, you have to attend bunches of parties and events, rub elbows with other important people, and get into debates with them. With that in mind, I’d be bored and unhappy too!
4. Discuss Levin’s fascination with Kitty’s process of childbirth. Does this seem like a normal reaction to you?
I was really struck by Levin being so worried that Kitty was going to die in childbirth. Although it was a much more dangerous time than the one we live in, it seemed like a bad idea to be so focused on the worst possible outcome. Levin is a strange man, however, so while his reaction wasn’t normal in my mind, it seems pretty typical for him.
5. Stiva’s financial circumstances worsen as the novel progresses. How do you feel his choices with money mirror his other choices or his morality?
Oooooh Stiva. He’s so charming, yet so irresponsible. I never really know what to think of him, I feel like Stiva is a stereotype that even now, we all know some version of. His choices with money are horrible, he spends far too much of it and not nearly enough time at home with his family, which contributes to other problems in his life. Stiva is like that guy who never really grew out of the college mindset, and conveniently forgets he has a whole adult life going on.
6. What do you think about the fact that Seryozha has grown to consider his memories of his mother “shameful?” What impact do you expect this has on Karenin and Anna?
It strikes me as very sad, I don’t really feel like it’s appropriate at all, but undoubtedly Karenin and his lady friend do nothing to discourage Seryozha’s new opinion and memories of his mother. In fact, the Countess probably encourages it as another weapon to use against Anna. I would expect that this has a mixed effect on Karenin, as he doesn’t really seem to want to remember Anna fondly, but he’s not an evil man and I don’t think he necessarily wishes her ill either.
7. At the beginning of Chapter XXIII, Tolstoy writes: “In order to undertake anything in family life, it is necessary that there be either complete discord between the spouses or loving harmony.” (p. 739) Do you agree?
Maybe things were different back when Tolstoy wrote this, but I definitely don’t agree at this point in our society. Obviously it would be awesome if there was complete loving harmony in a marriage, but I think we all realize that’s not realistic. But to insist that there be complete discord? That’s just insane! That’s recipe for divorce in my book.
8. Talk about Anna’s extreme jealousy. Do you feel it is founded, or is it a reflection of other things going on in her life?
Anna totally drove me nuts in this section. She was so over the top and ridiculous. Vronsky seems annoyed for sure, but there wasn’t really any evidence that he was going to take off with another woman, and if he did, undoubtedly Anna’s behavior would have contributed to it. I think Anna is just unhappy, and not really for any good reason, which is a very large problem in her life.
9. Discuss, with as much candor as possible, your feelings about Anna’s death. Talk about her reasons for doing it, her choices surrounding it, and what you expect the reaction to her death to be.
Anna’s death was a hard thing for me to read. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier. Given my personal experience with suicide, I cannot support Anna’s decision in any way. She definitely made some poor choices along the way that contributed to her unhappiness, but all she really needed to do was go back to the country to get away from a lot of those problems. Or really, being on the European continent and having already left Russia once, they could have simply left again and gone to a country where her marriage situation didn’t matter. I think everyone is going to be sad about her death, although I suspect Vronsky will rebound from it relatively quickly.
10. Think about the way Tolstoy framed Anna’s death, and the actual passage in which she dies. What strikes you about them?
The thing I noticed the most about Anna’s death was how right after making the final plunge, which she didn’t seem entirely committed to, she regretted what she was doing. It made the passage harder to read. Anna seemed somewhat out of her own body already, and reading this makes me wonder how familiar Tolstoy was with suicide and depression. If nothing else, I’m not recovered enough from my own grief resulting from suicide to have read about this, it was very difficult for me and I honestly couldn’t wait to get past it in the book.