Study Guide

Anna Karenina Gender

By Leo Tolstoy

Gender

She, his Dolly, forever fussing and worrying over household details, and limited in her ideas, as he considered, was sitting perfectly still with the letter in her hand, looking at him with an expression of horror, despair, and indignation. (1.1.9)

Oblonsky views his wife as constantly engaged in mysterious female occupations; when there is a problem he finds her sitting absolutely still.

Stepan Arkadyevitch was a truthful man in his relations with himself. He was incapable of deceiving himself and persuading himself that he repented of his conduct. He could not at this date repent of the fact that he, a handsome, susceptible man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, and only a year younger than himself. All he repented of was that he had not succeeded better in hiding it from his wife. But he felt all the difficulty of his position and was sorry for his wife, his children, and himself. Possibly he might have managed to conceal his sins better from his wife if he had anticipated that the knowledge of them would have had such an effect on her. He had never clearly thought out the subject, but he had vaguely conceived that his wife must long ago have suspected him of being unfaithful to her, and shut her eyes to the fact. He had even supposed that she, a worn-out woman no longer young or good-looking, and in no way remarkable or interesting, merely a good mother, ought from a sense of fairness to take an indulgent view. It had turned out quite the other way. (1.2.1)

Not only is Oblonsky unrepentant regarding his infidelity, but he also thought that Dolly would condone it because he lets her manage the household affairs. The fact that Dolly is no longer attractive to Oblonsky serves another justification for his infidelity. He finds it difficult to believe that a man in his position would not commit adultery.

Darya Alexandrovna meanwhile having pacified the child, and knowing from the sound of the carriage that he had gone off, went back again to her bedroom. It was her solitary refuge from the household cares which crowded upon her directly she went out from it. Even now, in the short time she had been in the nursery, the English governess and Matrona Philimonovna had succeeded in putting several questions to her, which did not admit of delay, and which only she could answer: "What were the children to put on for their walk? Should they have any milk? Should not a new cook be sent for?" (1.4.40)

Dolly carries sole responsibility for the running of the Oblonsky household. Tolstoy consider the home to be a woman's domain, and Dolly is a "good" woman because she attends to her family. Check out Dolly's "Character Analysis" for more on this topic.

In those days Levin used often to be in the Shcherbatskys' house, and he was in love with the Shcherbatsky household. Strange as it may appear, it was with the household, the family, that Konstantin Levin was in love, especially with the feminine half of the household. Levin did not remember his own mother, and his only sister was older than he was, so that it was in the Shcherbatskys' house that he saw for the first time that inner life of an old, noble, cultivated, and honorable family of which he had been deprived by the death of his father and mother. All the members of that family, especially the feminine half, were pictured by him, as it were, wrapped about with a mysterious poetical veil, and he not only perceived no defects whatever in them, but under the poetical veil that shrouded them he assumed the existence of the loftiest sentiments and every possible perfection. Why it was the three young ladies had one day to speak French, and the next English; why it was that at certain hours they played by turns on the piano, the sounds of which were audible in their brother's room above, where the students used to work; why they were visited by those professors of French literature, of music, of drawing, of dancing; why at certain hours all the three young ladies, with Mademoiselle Linon, drove in the coach to the Tversky boulevard, dressed in their satin cloaks, Dolly in a long one, Natalia in a half-long one, and Kitty in one so short that her shapely legs in tightly-drawn red stockings were visible to all beholders; why it was they had to walk about the Tversky boulevard escorted by a footman with a gold cockade in his hat–all this and much more that was done in their mysterious world he did not understand, but he was sure that everything that was done there was very good, and he was in love precisely with the mystery of the proceedings. (1.6.2)

Women are mysterious, heavenly creatures for Levin. Beyond this idealization, females are essential components to his vision of a proper home. He loves Kitty in part because she comes from his idea of the perfect family. For more on Levin's ideas about women and family, check out his "Character Analysis."

Bowing to right and left to the people he met, and here as everywhere joyously greeting acquaintances, he went up to the sideboard for a preliminary appetizer of fish and vodka, and said to the painted Frenchwoman decked in ribbons, lace, and ringlets, behind the counter, something so amusing that even that Frenchwoman was moved to genuine laughter. Levin for his part refrained from taking any vodka simply because he felt such a loathing of that Frenchwoman, all made up, it seemed, of false hair, poudre de riz, and vinaigre de toilette. He made haste to move away from her, as from a dirty place. His whole soul was filled with memories of Kitty, and there was a smile of triumph and happiness shining in his eyes. (1.10.1)

For Levin, it seems, women are either pure (like Kitty) or completely loathsome, like the French women in this scene. Is he putting Kitty on too high a pedestal? And maybe judging these French women too severely?

On the drive home, as Darya [Dolly] Alexandrovna, with all her children round her, their heads still wet from their bath, and a kerchief tied over her own head, was getting near the house, the coachman said, "There's some gentleman coming: the master of Pokrovskoe, I do believe."

Darya Alexandrovna peeped out in front, and was delighted when she recognized in the gray hat and gray coat the familiar figure of Levin walking to meet them. She was glad to see him at any time, but at this moment she was specially glad he should see her in all her glory. No one was better able to appreciate her grandeur than Levin.

Seeing her, he found himself face to face with one of the pictures of his daydream of family life. (3.9.1-3)

Dolly embodies an idealized mother, and particularly so in this moment. Levin longs for this kind of woman to be part of his life and help him build a family. For more on Dolly as a mother, check out her "Character Analysis." You can also visit Anna's "Character Analysis" to learn more about Tolstoy's views on women as mothers.

"No; if so, I should have felt a little, apart from my feeling" (he could not say love before them) "and happiness, a certain regret at losing my freedom.... On the contrary, I am glad at the very loss of my freedom."

"Awful! It's a hopeless case!" said Katavasov. "Well, let's drink to his recovery, or wish that a hundredth part of his dreams may be realized – and that would be happiness such as never has been seen on earth!"

[…]

When he was left alone, and recalled the conversation of these bachelor friends, Levin asked himself: had he in his heart that regret for his freedom of which they had spoken? He smiled at the question. "Freedom! What is freedom for? Happiness is only in loving and wishing her wishes, thinking her thoughts, that is to say, not freedom at all–that's happiness!" (5.2.25-29)

During his "bachelor party," Levin's friends warn him of a loss of masculine freedom that comes with marriage, but Levin is so happy to be getting married that he disregards their warnings. He's eager to start a family, thinking that will cure all of his angst. For more on Levin and family, check out his "Character Analysis."

Levin thought of the text, not because he considered himself "wise and prudent." He did not so consider himself, but he could not help knowing that he had more intellect than his wife and Agafea Mihalovna, and he could not help knowing that when he thought of death, he thought with all the force of his intellect. He knew too that the brains of many great men, whose thoughts he had read, had brooded over death and yet knew not a hundredth part of what his wife and Agafea Mihalovna knew about it. Different as those two women were, Agafea Mihalovna and Katya, as his brother Nikolay had called her, and as Levin particularly liked to call her now, they were quite alike in this. Both knew, without a shade of doubt, what sort of thing life was and what was death, and though neither of them could have answered, and would even not have understood the questions that presented themselves to Levin, both had no doubt of the significance of this event, and were precisely alike in their way of looking at it, which they shared with millions of people. The proof that they knew for a certainty the nature of death lay in the fact that they knew without a second of hesitation how to deal with the dying, and were not frightened of them. Levin and other men like him, though they could have said a great deal about death, obviously did not know this since they were afraid of death, and were absolutely at a loss what to do when people were dying. If Levin had been alone now with his brother Nikolay, he would have looked at him with terror, and with still greater terror waited, and would not have known what else to do. (5.19.2)

Levin is astonished that women, whom he considers to be less intelligent, are infinitely better at coping with death and dying. Tolstoy's portrayals of women, and particularly Kitty, seem to indicate that women naturally are care takers, and better at dealing with death, sickness, and children, too. For more on this topic, check out Kitty's "Character Analysis."

Kitty felt a peculiar pleasure in being able now to talk to her mother on equal terms about those questions of such paramount interest in a woman's life. (6.2.30)

During this scene Kitty is asking her mom about how her dad proposed marriage. Now that Kitty is a married woman, she can speak with her mother on more equal footing, and feels as though she has reached another milestone in her womanhood.

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