Sunday, February 21, 2010

Anna Karenina Read Along: Part One

I'm participating in a read along of Anna Karenina, hosted by Mari at Bookworm with a View.  This is my second read of the novel, but as I've mentioned before, I had forgotten more about the storyline than I remembered. 

I finished Part One yesterday and have answered a few discussion questions below.  Discussion questions have been based upon the Oprah's Book Club discussion of Anna Karenina, as well as a few from Mari's friend Ellen.  I am truly enjoying this book - the beautiful writing, the intersection of families and characters, love, betrayal, everything.  Tolstoy has me hooked.

Part One Synopsis:
Anna Karenina begins with the famous quote:  "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."  Part One introduces the readers to the families.  First, we are introduced to the Oblonsky family, where Stiva has been unfaithful to his wife, Dolly, and is trying desperately to gain her forgiveness.  Dolly's sister Kitty is torn between two suitors - the practical and faithful Levin, who is madly in love with her, and Vronsky who is exciting and respected, but seems to think of Kitty as more of a pursuit, than marriage material.

Levin has returned to Moscow from his country home due to his love for Kitty.  He has decided, despite his shyness, to declare his love for Kitty and propose marriage.  When he does, she refuses even though she feels strongly for Lenin, partly because she feels that Vronsky would be the more exciting option.  Levin returns to his country home, devastated, and decides to throw himself into his work.

And then, Anna arrives in Moscow from St. Petersburg.  As Stiva's sister, she has come to persuade Dolly to forgive him, and reconcile the marriage.  Anna has an amazing presence.  At the train station, Vronsky is immediately drawn to her, despite the fact that Anna is already married.  Kitty meets Anna at Dolly's home, and seems to idolize her immediately, not knowing that Anna may have already stolen Vronsky's heart.

At a ball, Kitty hopes to be the center of attention, to win Vronsky's affection once and for all.  However, she is defeated when Vronsky asks Anna to dance, and Kitty sees for herself the spark between them.  The next day, Dolly tells Anna of Kitty's jealousy, and having fulfilled her purpose of reuniting Dolly and Stiva, Anna decides to return home. 

At the close of Part One, Anna learns that Vronsky has followed her back to St. Petersburg.  The reader is given a brief glimpse of the seemingly distant relationship between Anna and her husband, and is left wondering whether Anna and Vronsky will act upon their feelings for one another.

Discussion Questions from Ellen:
1. The book begins with the fallout from Oblonsky's affair. Both Dolly and Oblonsky have difficulty knowing how to proceed once the affair is in the open. Do you think that Anna's advice to Dolly to "forgive it as utterly as if it had never happened at all," is good advice?

I think that Dolly knows that she has no choice but to reconcile with Stiva, so Anna's advice is well suited.  She replies to Anna that "naturally" she must forgive as "if it had never happened at all."  In Dolly's view, "otherwise, it wouldn't be forgiveness."  Most certainly Anna is concerned for her brother, but I think that Anna genuinely feels love for her sister-in-law, and wants to see them both together.  Anna's advice, in my opinion, is only helping to facilitate something that would have happened anyway.

2. How well do you think either Vronsky or Levin know Kitty? What are the differences and similarities in their feelings towards her?

Levin knows Kitty much better than Vronsky knows her.  Levin has a strong history with her, has spent time with her family, and has fallen in love with her because of that history and their time together.  Vronsky has come to know Kitty only recently.  Vronsky's attraction seems to be one of pursuit of a well-respected girl, and attraction to her family.  Despite his kindness toward her, the story does not show that Vronsky has long-term plans to be with Kitty.
3. Is Vronsky's attraction to Anna 'love at first sight'? What is Anna's attraction to Vronsky?

Vronsky is immediately drawn to Anna, even before he is introduced to her at the train station.  His attraction is instantaneous and it seems as if there is nothing on his mind but Anna from that point forward.  Anna's attraction to Vronsky is likewise an obsession, but it does not yet feel like love.  She thinks, and dreams, of him, but in my opinion, her feelings are different than the love that he feels for her.
Oprah Discussion Questions:
1. In Chapter V, we are given background into Stiva's character—he is described as "liked by all who knew him." Does he seem likable to you? Why or why not?

To me, he seems like a typical frat boy.  Loved by all, in the right place at the right time, good family, and good money - almost untouchable.  I like him.  I don't know why I like him, and I don't like that I like him. 
Typically, I would be turned off by someone who was unfaithful to his wife.  His character has this interesting innocence, something that you can't help but cheer for. 
2. Talk about the ball and the way Tolstoy writes about the interactions between Kitty and Vronsky, and Anna and Vronsky.

At the ball, Kitty seems so young and innocent.  She is ready for her life to begin and for Vronsky to declare his love for her.  Vronsky's time with Kitty at the ball seems like it is out of obligation to her, and she feels defeated.  Anna and Vronsky are drawn to each other at the ball.  I think that Vronsky knows that he is in love, and again Anna has some type of obsession with him.  It is as if they cannot help but be together.

3. What do you learn about Anna's family life at the end of Part One that seems significant? How is that reinforced by the details the author chooses to show you about her marriage and home?

Anna's husband and his initial interaction with her at the train station seemed almost obligatory.  He seemed to be trying to get credit for being "tender" to her, instead of having wanted to be with her out of love.  Their home life seemed routine.  Her husband did the same things every day; they had the same number of people over to dinner every night.  It made me feel like Anna may be attracted to Vronsky because it is so different and uncharacteristic of the monotony of her life in St. Petersburg.

I'm looking forward to diving into Part Two...  If Anna Karenina interests you, it's not too late to catch up!  I'll be back to discuss Part Two in mid-March.


  1. Kristi, I installed a new comment system tonight. I did copy/paste your comment. You will not receive emails if you had signed up for them though. FYI

    Glad you are enjoying Anna.

    I agree with your view (question 1) - given the traditions of the late 1800's Dolly's options were limited.

  2. Just hopping by and have become a new follower. Please feel free to visit me and do the same here .

    I just bought Anna Karenina last week and I'm very excited to finally read it. I will definitely have to come back and consult your read-a-long entries once I'm reading it.