This is my second time reading this novel, and what I remember about it, chiefly, was that Karenin was a horrible husband and Anna was entitled to love and passion. So it surprised me, this time around, to meet Karenin in Part 1 and think he wasn’t such a bad husband, after all. He didn’t seem so bad when he met her at the train station after her return from Moscow. Anna stayed in that first day and enjoyed being with her son and seemed quite content with her whole life. Karenin makes it clear that he trusts her completely and will always be faithful to her. When she tells him about her brother’s affair, he says he doesn’t “consider it possible to excuse a man like that, even though he is your brother.” He kissed her hand before going off to read and she describes him as “a good man, nonetheless – honest, kindhearted, and remarkable in his own profession.”
Yet when she goes to bed that night, “all her fire seemed altogether extinguised, or hidden somewhere far away.”
It surprised me too, to see how hard Anna tried, or seemed to at least, to avoid succumbing to Vronsky’s attentions. I was also kind of surprised that Anna fell so quickly for him after his declarations that “you are all of my life. For myself you and I are one.” She had had declarations of affection and love from other men. She had even told Karenin about them. Yet she had never fallen in love with them. Was Vronsky just more persistent than the others… or was there really a soulful connection right from the beginning? I wonder about that on my second reading, 20 years older and a mother myself now. I think when I was younger, I just accepted that they were soulmates and this was meant to be. I think this time I might be more critical of Anna.
I am definitely more sympathetic to Karenin, even though he is remote and cold. I don’t like him any more than I did the first time around. I just feel sorry for him, because I think, now, that he really does love Anna but is too repressed to show emotions.
And what’s with the separate beds in the same bedroom, like I Love Lucy? Even the night he first broached the subject with her, he goes to sleep in his separate bed while she is “eager” for him to say more. But he falls asleep. I wonder how they even have a son in the first place.
Tolstoy’s handling of their first sexual encounter was surprising. After they’ve waited A YEAR to finally sleep together, instead of a rapturous, joyous experience, the feel like murderers. The entire passage is the antithesis of erotica. “sinful, guilty, a murderer, deprived of life, horrifying, repulsive, shame, horror” “That body had to be cut in pieces and hidden away; the murderer had to make use of what he had gained by the murder.” Her face is “pathetic.” She speaks with “frigid despair.”
The problem with that scenario is that it makes me wonder how they could have faced each other again at all. And this is how Tolstoy convinces us that they really must be soulmates to suffer as they do. Even here, Anna wonders why this is so difficult for her when plenty of the other women have ‘lovers’ and aren’t bothered by it. Vronsky’s friends and family don’t mind that he’s having an affair with Anna until it crosses the line of ‘an acceptable affair’ and becomes something more intense.
Once again, in a society where such hypocritical behavior is the norm, Karenin, with his lofty morals, looks like a good husband. Except that those morals prevent passion, and Anna is a beautiful, sensual woman in an immoral society.