It took a tad longer than expected, two weeks to be precise, but last night I finished Part 2 of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Much has changed in the storyline since my original post, but my opinions on the characters have not changed too drastically.
Stiva and Dolly are hardly even mentioned in this section of the novel. Stiva is in one, brief scene towards the beginning, where he visits Levin’s estate in the country. While this portrayal of Stiva did not change my original impressions, it did make his character slightly more appealing because he was obviously concerned with Levin’s unhappiness. Now, this concern may have grown from a selfish desire to keep his visit pleasant, but a mediator is always likeable for their ability to stay calm and their inclination to keep everyone in a situation happy (regardless of their motives for doing so). However, Stiva’s stubborn and emotional thought process was again made evident by his inability to listen to Levin’s advice about the business deal he was making. He wants to do what feels good in the moment, not always thinking of the long-term consequences.
I was certainly right about Levin, at least so far. Nothing has changed my opinion of him in the slightest throughout the 116 pages of Part 2. I love him for his virtues, I love him for his flaws. This is most likely because my kindred soul understands him on a higher level than I do the other characters. I understand his every motivation and can justify his mistakes because of this. While with the other characters I can also find justification for their faults, the justification never seems to be enough for me to stop criticizing their behavior because its not a mode of operation that I understand on an emotional level. I only understand their characters on an intellectual level.
My opinion of Vronsky, like most of the characters, also remains unchanged. In my last post, I said that “I don’t have much of an opinion on Vronsky yet,” and that is the one thing that has certainly changed throughout this section. My suspicions of Vronsky’s character were confirmed; he is impulsive and oblivious to societal obligations. This is apparent in his pursuit of Anna in which he disregards any illusion of propriety. However, what I’ve come to decide is that I like Vronsky for this. In my last post, I was unsure whether these traits would prove to be positive or negative, but I believe they are ultimately for the best. While I’m aware many would disagree with me, I believe that society is the biggest farce of all. Vronsky, although not quite understanding this, agrees. Unlike Levin, Vronsky does not consciously reject society from an intellectual standpoint. However, his actions and his belief that love and happiness are the most important thing drive him to reject society. He is in love with Anna, and for this he will run away into the wilderness with her and live his life removed from all the societal righteousness. Being who I am, I have to respect this; it’s what I would want if I were him. So, although I cannot love him because of his stupidity, I can quite admire his decision to run away from it all.
Anna is one of the few characters for whom my opinion has changed. I believed after Part 1 that she was going to be “master of the difference” between impulsiveness and following one’s heart. She could still play out this way in the end, but, after Part 2, I have my doubts. Although she tries harder than many would have, she yields to Vronsky’s advances. She cannot stop herself, which is what I believed she would have done. I believed, at the end of Part 1, that Anna was going to have an affair with Vronsky. But, I also believed that she would make this choice rationally with her head and heart simultaneously because she was “master of the difference.” However, after the revelation that she is going to have Vronsky’s child, she does not want to leave her life with her husband. This is mostly due to the presence of her son, which I empathize with completely. My question is why she cannot take her son if she were to run away. Is this because she wants to give him the best chance? Or because she does not think Vronsky is fit to be a father? Either way, it is unmistakable that her ideal would be to continue this affair with Vronsky while remaining in the home and marriage created with her husband, which indicates to me that she does not know what her heart wants and is merely following her emotional impulses. So, I like Anna’s character far less than I did previously. Additionally, Tolstoy seems to water her character down in the section. She becomes obsessed with obligations, her husband, and her family. While she would obviously be preoccupied with such things in her situation, Tolstoy gives her little of the substance which any woman would have in this situation. It’s a lot more complicated for the woman than Tolstoy, so far, has made it out to be.
I had no opinion whatsoever on Alexei Karenin before, but that has changed remarkably. In fact, I loathe his character entirely. I still believe all the things I said about him in my original post; he’s “one, big ball of dogma” and “does exactly what society tells him to do.” However, he consciously makes the decision to ignore Anna’s affair with and affection for Vronsky. He tries to have conversations with Anna about it, but does not want to address either the situation or his emotions directly. He will not look at Anna’s face or read into her words anymore because he does not want to see what he knows is there. He reduces himself to witnessing only the surface of any situation. It is exactly this that I loathe about him. I believe that relationships require honest communication — I mean, can anyone disagree? I myself have become quite adept at this skill. So for the life of me, I cannot understand how someone could not be clear about their emotions in a relationship. Given, I also don’t understand marrying for wealth or status, so I can’t fully comprehend the complexities of his situation. But Tolstoy portrays Karenin to truly respect and admire his wife — perhaps not love, but it’s something. In this situation, if he was jealous, then why not speak up? I just don’t understand why one wouldn’t do that even when the marriage wasn’t for love. I understand that he hates himself for feeling jealousy, but it’s your wife! If you can’t share your deepest, foulest inclinations with your partner, then who can you? Especially since during this time period, it was the wife’s job to keep her mouth shut about such matters. I hate him for his inability to think for himself, express emotion, and think rationally. He is a machine.
Lastly, my opinion on Kitty has changed somewhat. Before, I thought Kitty was a “casing.” She had no depth. While she still has little depth, her character has grown. Her time at the spa was a delight to read. She is still emotionally impulsive and can’t quite think for herself, but I believe she’s on the cusp of changing that. In Part 1, she attached herself to her parents and Vronsky, held onto their words for dear life because she had no original thoughts of her own. At the spa, she breaks away, but then attaches again to Varenka and the Princess. Her attachment to them is so strong, in fact, that she begins to walk, talk, even blink like they do. She imitates not just their opinions, but their whole ways of being. She starts reading French nightly and working with sick patients in an attempt to be a kind, calm, thoughtful, and religious individual. Ultimately, though, she feels that she has only been playing a role; this is not who she is. This leads me to believe that perhaps, after her experience at the spa, she will forge her own identity. The only thing that leads me to believe otherwise was her reaction to her father’s arrival at the spa. His opinions tainted all her own opinions of the people she had come to love. So, she might also reattach herself to her parents. It’s anybody’s guess at this moment.