Thursday, June 10, 2010

Anna Karenina Read Along: Part Five

Mari at Bookworm with a View is hosting a Read Along of Anna Karenina.  We are reading one of the novel's eight parts each month.  Here are the links to my thoughts on Parts One, Two, Three and Four.

Mari has posted discussion questions for Part Five on her site.  Feel free to jump in with us and participate in the Read Along!

Part Five Synopsis (Wikipedia):
Levin and Kitty marry and immediately go to start their new life together on Levin's country estate. The couple are happy but do not have a very smooth start to their married life and take some time to get used to each other. Levin feels some dissatisfaction at the amount of time Kitty wants to spend with him and is slightly scornful of her preoccupation with domestic matters, which he feels are too prosaic and not compatible with his romantic ideas of love.

A few months later, Levin learns that his brother Nikolai is dying of consumption. Levin wants to go to him, and is initially angry and put out that Kitty wishes to accompany him. Levin feels that Kitty, whom he has placed on a pedestal, should not come down to earth and should not mix with people from a lower class. Levin assumes her insistence on coming must relate to a fear of boredom from being left alone, despite her true desire to support her husband in a difficult time. Kitty persuades him to take her with him after much discussion, where she proves a great help nursing Nikolai for weeks over his slow death. She also discovers she is pregnant.

In Europe, Vronsky and Anna struggle to find friends who will accept their situation. Whilst Anna is happy to be finally alone with Vronsky, he feels suffocated. They cannot socialize with Russians of their own social set and find it difficult to amuse themselves. Vronsky, who believed that being with Anna in freedom was the key to his happiness, finds himself increasingly bored and unsatisfied. He takes up painting, and makes an attempt to patronize an émigré Russian artist of genius. Vronsky cannot see that his own art lacks talent and passion, and that his clever conversation about art is an empty shell. Bored and restless, Anna and Vronsky decide to return to Russia.

In Petersburg, Anna and Vronsky stay in one of the best hotels but take separate suites. It becomes clear that whilst Vronsky is able to move in Society, Anna is barred from it. Even her old friend, Princess Betsy - who has had affairs herself - evades her company. Anna starts to become very jealous and anxious that Vronsky no longer loves her.

Karenin is comforted – and influenced – by the strong-willed Countess Lidia Ivanovna, an enthusiast of religious and mystic ideas fashionable with the upper classes. She counsels him to keep Seryozha away from Anna and to make him believe that his mother is dead. However, Seryozha refuses to believe that this is true. Anna manages to visit Seryozha unannounced and uninvited on his ninth birthday, but is discovered by Karenin.

Anna, desperate to resume at least in part her former position in Society, attends a show at the theatre at which all of Petersburg's high society are present. Vronsky begs her not to go, but is unable to bring himself to explain to her why she cannot go. At the theatre, Anna is openly snubbed by her former friends, one of whom makes a deliberate scene and leaves the theatre. Anna is devastated.

Unable to find a place for themselves in Petersburg, Anna and Vronsky leave for Vronsky's country estate

My Thoughts:
I adore the storyline of Kitty and Levin. Descriptions of their wedding were lovely, and I think that their time together as newlyweds transcend time (I could totally relate).  To me, they were the people who deserved to end up together - their love and almost innocence have been beautifully told.  Anna and Vronsky, in contrast, have challenged me quite a bit.  Their lust for one another in the first few parts were entertaining, but I do not believe that they had a foundation on which to build a love for the future.  In the questions below we discuss Anna's relationship with her children, which has challenged me the most in this book.  Even though I read Anna Karenina years back, I do not remember the plot, and I am hoping that Anna can find her way back to her children in the end.

Discussion Questions (from
1. In Part Five, both Vronsky and Levin are described as being "not as happy as they expected to be." From what you know of them, do you think their expectations were realistic?
Levin's expectations, I'm sure, could only be described as naive new love.  Most newlyweds dream of the perfect life that they will have together - free from fights and disagreements and full of love.  So Levin's expectations were not realistic maybe, but they were understandable.  On the other hand, I cannot see how Vronsky's hope for happiness could be realistic.  Having left her son behind, and living without the honor and respect that she had become accustomed to, Anna would most likely become miserable.  In this sense, Vronsky, despite his deep love for Anna would also be naive to think that they could be happy.

2. Preparations for death play a big role in Part Five. Who do you feel handles Nikolai's final days well and who, if anyone, does not?
Kitty is a wonderful help to Nikolai in his final days, and assumes the caretaker role naturally.  She is nurturing and anticipates Nikolai's needs, and the needs of the family.  Levin is in shock, and is unaccustomed to caring for a sick person.  He does not know how to give his brother comfort, but I did not see his reaction as cold - it was just characteristic of his personality.

3. The more you learn of Anna as a mother, what are your thoughts? What do you think about her attitude towards the baby, and how do you feel about her reunion with her son? If you are a parent, can you imagine making the choices Anna has?
Early in the story, I was quite taken with Anna and I loved the story of Anna and Vronsky.  Anna's husband is not a likable character, so their tryst was a good literary diversion.  When the story turned to choosing a life with Vronsky over her son, my opinion turned as well.  I can't imagine leaving my daughter behind under any circumstance.  Even her visit with her son on his birthday was not enough to bring me back.  The fact that she left him was unexplainable to me.  I would like to see how the last three parts of the book address Anna's relationship with her children - and want very much for Anna to redeem herself.

On to Part Six!

1 comment:

  1. I like you answer to question 3 - a literary diversion :) - I too am struggling with Anna's decision making process.

    I'm going to start part 6 this weekend (my goal is to have it read before moving day, one less thing to worry about). :)

    Have a wonderful weekend!