Anna Romantic heroine – or life force woman?
Anna and Levin • Like Levin, is caught in a struggle between her sexuality and moral imperatives. • “She is a tragic heroine, unlike the comic Stiva, because she inwardly acknowledges the choice between good and evil. This similarity between Anna and Levin sets up the contrast that Fet [a poet and friend of Tolstoy] observed. Both live morally: one chooses evil and dies, while the other chooses good and lives. This choice is possible only when both freedom and moral law exist.” (Orwin 178 – my italics.)
Her name • Anna – associated with Russia, a symbolic name • Do we have to do with a symbolic representation of Russia itself? • Note that she communicates with Vronsky in French, reads English novels, follows English fashions, is associated with St Petersburg, a “Westernized” city, but dies when she is in Moscow • Can her fate be read as the potential fate of Russia if it does not turn away from imported, Western values?
Her Surname • Karenin – suggests the verb karat’ – to punish • Subliminal echoes of Dostoevsky • Cf. “Vengeance is mine and I will repay”: another echo of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment • Echoed also in the scene of the seduction (2, X-XI, p. 149): the mention of an axe, a victim’s body • The clunk of metal in Anna’s nightmares. • The (unmentioned) wheel that will strike her.
Vronsky and Karenin • Both are limited, living to a rigid code: Vronsky the officer and Karenin the bureaucrat. • Vronsky’s attempted suicide is his answer to his dishonour (Nabokov) • Karenin refuses to consider a duel: therefore Vronsky turns the gun on himself. • Karenin is not a man: Anna cannot love him. • Why did he marry her? Is he at least partly responsible for her fate? • Is this a case of the evil of the arranged marriage?
Question • Is it Anna who is evil – or the society that hypocritically condemns her? • What destroys her: divine vengeance or her hypocritical husband’s refusal to divorce her and acknowledge her need to see her son?
Beauty of the picture • Question of painting: • the portrait of Anna by Mikhailov that hangs in the house in Moscow (7, IX, p. 696) • Anna as an object of visual beauty, to be adored by men – “gaze” • Tolstoy’s own adoration of her: men’s desire to view and possess • Is she destroyed by this desire (and by the hatred this invokes in other women)?
Suicide • Suicide as a theme: Anna is slowly drawn to self-destruction • Anna kills the “Dolly” side of herself: no feelings for Annie, her daughter. • NB the novel contradicts statistical reality: usually women attempt suicide, but men commit it. • Later Chekhov the doctor and clinician will show the real pattern.
Is Anna evil? • Tolstoy driven not by the demands of Romanticism to portray a “tragic victim of passion,” but a clinical and psychological observation of a woman trapped by her need for physical fulfilment. • Levin’s counterpart in her refusal to compromise, to accept second best • Unfortunate in that the person who arouses her physically (Vronsky) is mediocre and self-focussed.
Does Tolstoy try to condemn her? • Arguments that she is narcissistic. • Looks in mirrors • Her servant is Annushka, daughter Annie, takes care of English girl Hannah • Why are we left sympathizing with Anna and liking her? • Curious balance in Tolstoy between the judgemental moralist and the objective, dispassionate portrayer of human behaviour.
Forebodings of final blow • Death of railway worker (One, xviii, p. 64) • Anna’s dream on the train (One, xxix, pp. 100-101) • The snow-storm (pp. 101-102): echoes of Pushkin’s poem “The Devils” • Vronsky’s dream (Four, ii, p. 355) • Anna’s dream (Four, iii, pp. 361-362) • Anna’s suicide (Seven, xxxi, p. 768)
Anna’s final hours(7, XXX pp. 762-768) • Her agony of doubt and anger and jealousy • Insatiable need for reassurance beyond anything Vronsky can give • The disintegration of a relationship based on sexual passion faithfully rendered by the author • Irrational nervous crisis: is this God’s judgement, or the clinically carefully observed effect of hormonal imbalance and depression? • Tolstoy leaves us between a naturalistic explanation and a moralistic condemnation of an adulteress.