Anna Karenina : Leo Tolstoy :
Petersburg, reflecting on her infatuation with Vronsky, but when she arrives home she dismisses it as a fleeting crush. Vronsky, however, follows Anna to St. Karenin goes home from the party alone, sensing that something is amiss. He speaks to Anna later that night about his suspicions regarding her and Vronsky, but she curtly dismisses his concerns.
He confronts Anna afterward, and she candidly admits to Karenin that she is having an affair and that she loves Vronsky. Karenin is stunned. Levin explains that he resigned because he found the work bureaucratic and useless. Levin works enthusiastically with the peasants on his estate but is frustrated by their resistance to agricultural innovations.
He visits Dolly, who tempts him with talk of reviving a relationship with Kitty. Later, Levin meets Kitty at a dinner party at the Oblonsky household, and the two feel their mutual love. They become engaged and marry. He insists that they maintain outward appearances by staying together. She encounters Vronsky often, but their relationship becomes clouded after Anna reveals she is pregnant. Vronsky considers resigning his military post, but his old ambitions prevent him.
Karenin, catching Vronsky at the Karenin country home one day, finally agrees to divorce. He leaves the divorce decision in her hands, but she resents his generosity and does not ask for a divorce. Instead, Anna and Vronsky go to Italy, where they lead an aimless existence. Eventually, the two return to Russia, where Anna is spurned by society, which considers her adultery disgraceful. She begins to feel great jealousy for Vronsky, resenting the fact that he is free to participate in society while she is housebound and scorned.
Married life brings surprises for Levin, including his sudden lack of freedom. When Levin is called away to visit his dying brother Nikolai, Kitty sparks a quarrel by insisting on accompanying him.
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Levin finally allows her to join him. Ironically, Kitty is more helpful to the dying Nikolai than Levin is, greatly comforting him in his final days. Kitty discovers she is pregnant. At one point, Stiva visits, bringing along a friend, Veslovsky, who irks Levin by flirting with Kitty. Levin finally asks Veslovsky to leave.
Why Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina transcends the ages
Dolly decides to visit Anna, and finds her radiant and seemingly very happy. Anna still awaits a divorce. Levin and Kitty move to Moscow to await the birth of their baby, and they are astonished at the expenses of city life. Levin makes a trip to the provinces to take part in important local elections, in which the vote brings a victory for the young liberals.
One day, Stiva takes Levin to visit Anna, whom Levin has never met.
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Anna enchants Levin, but her success in pleasing Levin only fuels her resentment toward Vronsky. She grows paranoid that Vronsky no longer loves her. There are limits to what we can do out there in the world, and there are also limits to what we can feel, endure, know, and imagine within ourselves. These inner limits may be just as permanent as the outer ones. Or, she may have made an unwise choice, giving into desires she could have resisted because she underestimated how unyielding the world would be. We will never know what happened, exactly, just as Anna could not know.
In life, we sometimes relinquish our freedom too easily, while, at other times, we struggle unwisely against laws that will not change. Give in too easily, and you drift through life; struggle too much, and you suffer for it. After Anna dies, much of the end of the novel is devoted to Levin, who struggles to come to terms with the very small role he has played in his own happiness. Levin is likable, thoughtful, and sincere, but he is not particularly wise, experienced, or brilliant.
Or should he submit to one of the pre-determined possibilities his world offers him and become a completely conventional gentleman farmer? The thing about Levin is that, through some accident of temperament and circumstances, he ends up figuring things out. He struggles and shapes his own destiny just enough to be happy, while never going out of bounds, and ending up like Anna, or like his brother Nikolai, a political radical, who dies impoverished and angry. Somehow, over the course of the book, Levin achieves everything he wants: he is married to Kitty, and they have a beautiful family.
And yet, he senses, he has not really improved himself in his soul, and he has done nothing to deserve his happiness. He still feels powerless, pointless, useless. He finds his way to a diffuse kind of faith. There will be no radical transformations, he realizes, either romantic or religious. He will try his best to be a good person, within the constraints that his circumstances and nature have placed upon him, and that will be good enough:. The novel leaves us with an answer that is also a riddle.
Why was Levin able to find this peace, while Anna was not? You have to feel your way, learning through experience and suffering.
Francine Prose, author of Blue Angel and My New American Life
And there is a risk in experimenting with what will and will not work in life, which is that it might not work. You might move to New York to pursue your dreams, and end up with no career to speak of. You might think you can wait to find the perfect spouse, but wait too long, and end up alone. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Let love be without dissimulation.
Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good…Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Should Anna be applauded for her passion, or condemned for her foolhardiness? Is she to be admired, or spurned? In its final minutes, their film asks you to contemplate the injustice and unknowability of it all.
Even so, the movie can never quite escape its love-story roots. It can rise above the very human questions of admiration and condemnation, above the might-have-beens and should-have-dones, and simply say: this is the way things are. Be thankful for your happiness. Illustration by Andy Rementer.
Everything for love
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