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Book Club: Anna Karenina

I finished Anna Karenina just in time for this discussion and managed to snag a viewing of the new movie yesterday. Despite some of the heavy material within Anna Karenina, I thought it would be nice to keep our first book club discussion rather light. Did you like the novel? How'd you manage with the Russian names?
If you'd like to engage in a deeper discussion:
-We read that it is unpleasant for Anna to read about other people's lives because she "wanted too much to live herself." Why are reading and living placed in opposition to one another?
-What effect does society have on limiting and fulfilling individual desires/satisfaction within the novel?
-What effect would removing Levin/Kitty's story from the novel have?
-Tolstoy originally meant the story as a cuat
Feel free to share your thoughts here or on my Facebook (if people find that an easier mode of conversation).

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I haven't finished the book yet, but I'll make sure to come back and join the discussion when I do. I hope you continue the book club, I can't wait to hear what the next book will be!

-Hannah

triskelos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
triskelos said...

I've read Anna Karenina at school, and then a few times after that. I don;t have problems with Russian names or anything, because I'm Ukrainian)
To tell the truth, my opinion on Anna's decision to leave Russia vith Vronsky haven't change. I still think that it was a very selfish and desperate thing to do. She left her son, she let him grew up without a mother or even a good memory of her. To me it's a terrible thing to do. Love for a man is one thing, but love for your child and responcibilities you have - it's different. I still think she was able to resolve all of her problems ad issues in more civilized and responsible way, if she only put some work into it.
On the other hand it's terrible that divorse was such a hard and ugly thing back then. Desire for freedom can make anyone desperate and selfish.

Maryna
http://tri-skelos.blogspot.com/

Bevin Valentine said...

Unfortunately I was delayed starting the book since I was out of the country, and when I returned I went a little library crazy instead of buckling down with Anna Karenina...I'm still slogging through the first 100 pages, but I would love to discuss it when I do finish!

Bevin
magnoliareverie.blogspot.com

Ashley C said...

Anna Karenina is one of the most heartbreaking books I've ever read. I'll be honest and admit that I did not reread it to take part in this discussion but I've read it twice in the past and remember it well.

Anna Karenina is an excellent novel but my gosh does it depress me! What really tears me up is Anna's relationship with Vronsky. I don't know if this will make sense but it's that inevitable doom of many (all?) relationships... in the beginning Vronsky is incredibly passionate, ready to sully his name and give up anything to be with Anna even though it is against his family's wishes and the social norms of late 19th century Russia. But by the end he has become bored with her. The excitement is gone and all that's left for Vronsky is this dull feeling of responsibility towards Anna because he is the one that ruined her (or encouraged her to ruin herself). Anna can sense that his feelings towards her have changed and that she is now more of a burden than an indispensable part of Vronsky's existence. I think that that creeping feeling inside Anna and the hopelessness and powerlessness that she felt because of it is why she does what she does in the end.

I think that a lot of people are likely to immediately take offense and disagree with Anna's choices and actions. She had a son who she claims over and over again to love so dearly - why does she just run off with the first dashing young man to make an overture towards her? I think what we should consider before judging her is the social constraints that a woman in her position would be dealing with at this time. Anna didn't get to choose her husband. She probably didn't get to choose anything for herself besides maybe her dresses. Anna was a free spirit who was full of passion and wanted to experience life but she was forced to obey the strict decorum and social mores of Russia during the Victorian Era. That would be suffocating for any woman! Her choices weren't always rational but when I try to put myself in her place and try to imagine how overwhelming it must have been to feel all of those pressures constraining your every thought and action... who knows what any of us would do in her place.

I'm going to stop myself before I write an entire essay here! How did you like the movie?

Rebecca, The Clothes Horse said...

@Ashley C, I agree with your points. I also get upset when people just Anna so harshly, yeah she did wrong--but so did a lot of other characters in the novel? Why do we point so much of our anger (like the society in the book) at her?
The movie was just ok. It was pretty oddly cast when you compare the descriptions of the characters to the actors we see onscreen. The biggest problem for me though wasn't the actors but just the overall direction/editing. It started strong (even with the creative interpretation) and was quite stylistic, but towards the end a lot of that style was gone and yet the story dragged. It could have been improved with tighter editing--just cutting or shortening a few scenes would have made the film much more enjoyable to watch.

Ashley C said...

I wonder if people are apt to judge Anna more harshly than other characters because she is a woman? Maybe not just due to the fact that she is female but possibly because of the motherly and family-centric qualities people like to associate with and encourage in women? Yes, Anna abandoned her arranged marriage and first born child for a love affair and a child out of wedlock but let's compare Anna with Stiva for a moment - the novel opens with us finding out that Stiva cheated on his wife with his children's governess. He betrayed his wife and his children in this way multiple times throughout the novel but it seems to me that other characters and possibly readers just view his behavior as the totally acceptable male impulses of a pleasure seeking aristocrat. Does Stiva lose his social position because of his recurring affairs? Nope! Everyone just seems to think, "Oh that's Stiva for you! He should have been more discreet about it but he's charming so let's forgive him." Granted Anna did take her affair to another level by deciding to leave Karenin for Vronsky but I think that the mere fact that we're dealing with a woman who would even think of putting love before her child and family obligations is what really riles people.

I loved the preview that I saw for the Anna Karenina movie but I was kind of disappointed once I saw the whole thing. I felt like it jumped around too much and was a bit too disorderly for anyone to understand if they didn't already have a general grasp on what the book was about. But oh well, it was still very pretty to watch! Oh and the man who played the Stiva character looked SO much like Robin Williams - I found it very distracting, haha!

Kartunista Wannabe said...

Gee, so sorry for the late comment. I read Anna Karenina just so that I could participate in the book club but wasn't able to go back to this post until now! Anyway, here are my thoughts:

Anna Karenina is not a book I particularly enjoyed since it’s too tragic and depressing. I agree with the comments above that Anna was judged too harshly; I actually thought she tried to do the best she could under the circumstances and in the end thought of not just her welfare but of others, too. I know some readers would have questioned her going away with Vronsky and her leaving her child behind – but what could one do within a loveless marriage? She felt chained with her marriage with Alexey Alexandrovitch and Vronsky was just a trigger to her wanting out. Of course, circumstances could have been better (e.g. she wanting to have a divorce without a third party involved) but haven’t we all been under circumtances wherein we wouldn’t leap out unless there is too much of a good reason to do so? Like I said, Vronsky was just a trigger. Also, I don’t believe Anna left her child voluntarily. Given the choice, she would have taken her son along but it is Alexey’s decree that their son stay with him. And she, knowing she has done Alexey wrong, consented. She knew Alexey was being generous when he let her go; the trade-off was her son and it broke her heart like any mother would. Would it have been better if she stayed with Alexey and cut everything off with Vronsky? I doubt it, she would have died bit by bit knowing she’s staying only out of obligation towards the sanctity of marriage and her son. Personally, I believe separation (or in modern times, some really, really intense counseling) is the only way around this; unfortunately, their decisions lead to tragic results.

I don’t agree with the comment above that Vronsky was getting bored with Anna towards the end. This is just Anna’s thinking; Vronsky’s thoughts didn’t confirm this. What I like about the book is it shows everybody’s thoughts and interpretation of the things happening to them. Their interpretation are vastly different from each other but they all make sense and are more or less realistically portrayed. We have to remember that Anna and Vronky are under stressful circumstances. They couldn’t love and be a family completely because Anna is still legally married to Alexey. That is enough to make both parties upset and wanting some time to “cool off”, bicker and even blame each other.

On a lighter note, I loved the side story between Kitty and Levin. I loved both characters and am glad the author threw those two along. I found myself wanting to skip the Anna chapters and going straight to the Kitty-Levin chapters!