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Friday, March 24, 2017

TOLSTOY: Anna Karenina (Part 7)

There’s an old country song that goes: “We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout, We've been talkin' 'bout Jackson, ever since the fire went out.  I'm goin' to Jackson…”  Anna and Vronsky didn’t get married in a fever because Anna was already married to another man.  But they were both “hotter than a pepper sprout” for a while.  Then in Part 7 that fire of desire starts cooling off.  Anna wants to go back; not to Jackson, but to Vronsky’s country estate at Vozdvizhenskoe.  That way they can be alone, away from the harsh judgments of Petersburg and Moscow.  Anna was battered by social scandal and Vronsky was defiant.  In Part 6 Dolly admits that Anna’s “position in the world is difficult.”  Vronsky replies, “In the world it is hell!  You can’t imagine moral sufferings greater than what she went through in Petersburg.”  But it’s not just the critique of society putting pressure on their relationship.  They’re also plagued by their own domestic problems.  In one scene Anna says “let me tell you that a heartless woman, whether she’s old or not old, your mother or anyone else, is of no consequence to me, and I would not consent to know her.”  Vronsky’s reply is blunt.  “Anna, I beg you not to speak disrespectfully of my mother.”  But Anna persists.  “A woman whose heart does not tell her where her son’s happiness and honor lie has no heart.”  Vronsky’s response is stern.  “I repeat my request that you will not speak disrespectfully of my mother, whom I respect.”  That’s not really true.  Earlier in the novel we learn that Vronsky did, in fact, love his mother; but he did not respect her.  Her promiscuous lifestyle troubled him.  Underneath the love Vronsky and Anna felt toward one another was another troubling fact.  Polite society considered their love affair an illicit relationship, which it was.  Anna was not one of those heartless women.  When she protests that the opinions of “your mother or anyone else, is of no consequence to me” she’s being as dishonest as Vronsky.  They do care what people think.  Anna’s heart is deeply wounded by her position in society and despite what Vronsky says in public, so is his.  All they have is each other and this arrangement puts tremendous pressure on their relationship.  At one point Anna says “if you don’t love me anymore, it would be better and more honest to say so.”  Vronsky feels stifled by Anna’s constant need to be reassured of his love for her.  He replies “no, this is becoming unbearable!  What do you try my patience for?  It has limits.”  This should be a warning to Anna to back off but instead she keeps pushing those limits.  Something has to give.  What finally gives is Anna’s mind.  Earlier in the novel the reader sees a troubled mind going into free fall.  In Part 4 Vronsky is despondent and begins talking to himself.  That’s bad.  Then he begins answering himself.  That’s worse.  “What’s this?  Am I going out of my mind?  Perhaps.  What makes men go out of their minds; what makes men shoot themselves?

…This is how people go mad and how they shoot themselves; to escape humiliation.”  Vronsky did not kill himself.  But he tried.  Anna’s descent into madness and suicide was more serious.  Tolstoy shows the relentless logic of madness by revealing what was going through Anna’s mind.  “Now nothing mattered… the one thing that mattered was punishing him… she began musing with enjoyment on how he would suffer, and repent and love her memory when it would be too late.”  In calmer moments she’s aware of what’s happening to her.  “What am I going to do?  Yes, I’m going to Dolly’s, that’s true or else I shall go out of my mind.”  So she goes to Dolly’s.  But the logic of madness pursues her there too.  Dolly saw “it was obvious that nothing interested Anna” and “Anna got into the carriage again in an even worse frame of mind than when she set out from home.”  Then the logic of suicide sets in.  “We are all created to be miserable, and we all know it, and we all invent means to deceiving each other.  When one knows the truth, what is one to do?”  For Anna there’s only one answer.  Somehow the fever of love went wrong.  Love Gone Wrong is a theme for a great country song.  Or a great novel.


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