Anna Karenina Summary and Analysis
by Leo Tolstoy
Whirlwinds of preparations ensue for Levin and Kitty's wedding. To fulfill the Church's requirements for marriage, Levin goes through the motions of fasting and taking communion. The priest's insistence on the existence of God disturbs him, even to the point of making a last-ditch attempt at talking Kitty out of marrying him, but the wedding goes ahead in all its elaborate glory. Levin is overwhelmed with joy and love at the ceremony. Both Levin and Kitty are overwhelmed with love, but a number of other guests inject a note of seriousness into the scene by musing on failed marriagestheir own included.
Anna and Vronsky travel in Italy for three months before settling in a small town. There, Vronsky meets an old friend, a Russian intellectual named Golenishchev. Golenishchev is writing a book called Two Principles, in which he claims that Russia's secret heritage is Byzantium. He also encourages Vronsky's new interest in painting. Vronsky has begun painting a portrait of Anna. Vronsky and Anna also meet a famous painter named Mikhailov. Though Golenishchev disapproves of his work, Vronsky and Anna are impressed, although both of them turn their heads away from Mikhailov's masterpiece, Pilate's Admonition, in favor of a bucolic study of two handsome young boys fishing. Mikhailov agrees to do Anna's portrait. But when Mikhailov's portrait is superior to Vronsky's, he decides to give up painting. They will leave Italy and return to spend the summer on Vronsky's country estate. They plan a stop in Petersburg for Vronsky to handle some property business and Anna to see her son.
After three months of marriage, Levin and Kitty are still struggling to get used to sharing a household. Levin is happy, but disillusioned that his marriage seems to consist of petty quarrels that he had once laughed at in other married couples. They are at the whim of each other's moods and remain passionately involved with each other, yet fail to understand each other's roles and demands. Things do not begin to go smoothly until Levin receives news that his brother, Nicholas, is on the verge of death in Moscow. Distraught, he leaves at once, and Kitty insists on going along. At first annoyed that Kitty will witness the depravity in which his brother lives, Levin comes to gain an incredible appreciation for Kitty after watching her make Nicholas comfortable during the agonizing days it takes him to die. Nicholas responds to Kitty as he will not respond to Levin or anyone else. Seeing Kitty in this light helps Levin to understand what Kitty's future role contains. And that role opens up right after Nicholas' death: Kitty announces that she is pregnant.
As Karenin suffers under the humiliations of public opinion and a stagnated career, he falls prey to the ecstatic seduction of a socialite, Countess Lydia Ivanovna. Lydia believes in a fashionable sort of emotional Christianity, and although he senses the foolishness behind her posing, Karenin finds a kind of solace in her words and her attentions. But Lydia is also vindictively hateful towards Anna: she tells Seryozha that his father is a saint and his mother is dead, and when Anna sends a message asking for permission to see Seryozha, she convinces Karenin to refuse.
Despite this injunction, Anna slips into the house to see her son on the morning of his birthday. Seryozha has been suffering dreadfully in Anna's absencehe is doing badly in his schoolwork, understands unconsciously the strained nature of his father's feeling for him, and misses his mother. They have an emotional reunion, interrupted by the arrival of Karenin. Though he had refused to let her see the child, he too is overwhelmed by the scene and merely bows his head and allows her to pass. In a passion, Anna leaves her son behind. She returns to her hotel and her daughter, whom she has been unable to love with the same passion she feels for her son.
Vronsky makes social rounds to feel out how Petersburg Society will accept him and Anna. He receives a cold reception, and is assured that Anna is especially outcast. Though Vronsky can still enjoy the company of men, such as his old friend Yashvin, Anna is confined to her rooms and Vronsky's company. Jealous and irritated at this lack of freedom, she decides to commit social suicide by attending the opera. The scene is shown through Vronsky's eyes as he gazes up at her box: Anna creates a scene and is insulted by members of society. Though Vronsky had advised her against it, Anna blames him for her social position, making it necessary for him to soothe her with constant assurance of his love. They leave the very next day for the country.
Part Five Analysis:
Part Five is purposely arranged to demonstrate the contrast between the lawful, Christian love of Levin and Kitty and the illicit passion of Anna and Vronsky. The slow growth of love between Levin and Kitty blossoms while the love of Anna and Vronsky slowly collapses into jealousy and hate. We also see the important role of society in this: Levin and Kitty are able to grow into love, at least in part, because they have been accepted in their roles as husband and wife by all of High Society. Anna and Vronsky, however, forced to sustain a highly individualized romantic relationship in a vacuum and deprived of their roles in society, begin to falter. This contrast serves to underline Tolstoy's thematic warning about the destructiveness of all-consuming passion.
This deprivation of role, of occupation, is shown clearly by the example of Vronsky's interest in painting while he and Anna spend a honeymoon period in Italy. Tolstoy makes it immediately clear that while Anna is content merely possessing Vronsky, Vronsky is restless and needs stimulationhe needs, in effect, something to do. He dabbles in painting, but the introduction of the spartan painter Mikhailov shows the futility of Vronsky's vague ambitions. Art is a stern mistress, and Vronsky would never have the emotional resources to please both art and Anna.
The scene wherein Vronsky and Anna miss Mikhailov's masterpiece in order to admire a brief sketch of two handsome young boys is a telling example of Tolstoy's brilliance. Though a brief scene, it is rendered so skillfully that there have been multiple critical readings of its meaning. They turn away from a painting of Pilate condemning Jesus to the cross. This can be interpreted to mean that they, like those who condemned Jesus, are unaware of the moral impact of their actions upon innocents. Then again, it can also be interpreted to mean that Tolstoy is suggesting Anna must cease gazing at an imaginary summer and stop denying the assumption of her own cross. Finally, it can be interpreted to mean that society must stop judging innocents like Anna, and leave the final judgment to God. The reason for these multiple judgments consists in the quiet subtlety of the scene and Tolstoy's skill in handling it with a detached eye.
The full wrath of society's judgment is rendered with a heavy hand in this section. The hypocrisy of people like Princess Betsy, who initially encouraged the affair between Anna and Vronsky but now refuses to see Anna in company, is shown in all of its ugliness. Tolstoy rails against hypocrisy in general throughout this section of the book; his portrait of Countess Lydia (who is practically a caricature) also shows disdain for Christian posturing. Though Anna's actions are never condoned by anything in this book, it is clear that her actions, if not honorable, are at least free of contradictions. She follows her emotions out of a loveless marriage and feels the full force of hypocritical society. The Marxist critic Engels used Anna Karenina as an example of how the "deceits, failings, and miseries" of bourgeois marriages are less the fault of individuals than of the ways societies organize sexuality. Anna's rejection of this organization proves her downfall.
But while it is tempting to champion Anna's self-possession, readers can never lose sight of the devastating effect of her actions. Anna's brief reunion with Seroyzha is a fine example of this. This highly emotional scene shows how traumatized Seroyzha has been by the breakup of his family; and it hints at the long-term loss the boy will struggle with for the rest of his life. It is difficult, as well, not to feel sorry for Karenin, who hangs by a thread both in society and in his career.
Kitty's kind, thoughtful behavior towards the dying Nicholas foreshadows the care and attention she will bring to her role as a mother. The narrative is purposely arranged to place Nicholas' death right before Kitty's pregnancy, so that Levin might notice how Kitty will function in the other important role that follows marriage. Armed with this knowledge, he is able to understand both her and his own vision of marriage better. Levin grows more realistic in this section: he stops idealizing marriage as a potentially perfect institution and begins subjecting it to natural rules of compromise and change.
Anna Karenina Essays and Related Content
- Anna Karenina: Major Themes
- Anna Karenina: Essays
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- Anna Karenina: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Leo Tolstoy: Biography
- Anna Karenina Summary
- About Anna Karenina
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Part One
- Summary and Analysis of Part Two
- Summary and Analysis of Part Three
- Summary and Analysis of Part Four
- Summary and Analysis of Part Five
- Summary and Analysis of Part Six
- Summary and Analysis of Part Seven
- Summary and Analysis of Part Eight
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