Study Guide

Anna Karenina Love

By Leo Tolstoy

Love

No, no, reconciliation is impossible. Even if we remain in the same house, we are strangers – strangers forever!" She repeated again with special significance the word so dreadful to her. "And how I loved him! my God, how I loved him!.... How I loved him! And now don't I love him? Don't I love him more than before? The most horrible thing is," she began, but did not finish her thought, because Matrona Philimonovna put her head in at the door. (1.4.41)

In her confusion of trying to evaluate whether or not she still loves her unfaithful husband, Dolly shows that love is a contradictory emotion. Here, Dolly also serves as a foil for Karenin – when he finds out that Anna has been cheating on him, he will also have to decide how he feels about his wife.

One would have thought that nothing could be simpler than for him, a man of good family, rather rich than poor, and thirty-two years old, to make the young Princess Shtcherbatskaya an offer of marriage; in all likelihood he would at once have been looked upon as a good match. But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her. (1.6.4)

Levin's love puts Kitty on an impossibly high pedestal and also leads him to think irrationally.

[Kitty] expected [Vronsky] to ask her for a waltz, but he did not, and she glanced wonderingly at him. He flushed slightly, and hurriedly asked her to waltz, but he had only just put his arm round her waist and taken the first step when the music suddenly stopped. Kitty looked into his face, which was so close to her own, and long afterwards – for several years after – that look, full of love, to which he made no response, cut her to the heart with an agony of shame. (1.22.24)

It is not only Vronsky's lack of response that breaks Kitty's heart at the ball, but her sense of embarrassment at her own misjudgment. She let herself fall in love with a man who, ultimately, wasn't equally interested in her.

"I wonder at the parents! They say it's a marriage for love."

"For love? What antediluvian notions you have! Can one talk of love in these days?" said the ambassador's wife.

"What's to be done? It's a foolish old fashion that's kept up still," said Vronsky.

"So much the worse for those who keep up the fashion. The only happy marriages I know are marriages of prudence." (2.7.10-13)

In Russian society depicted here, people often choose not to marry for societal position and wealth rather than love. Anna seems to be among this number. The society members here are of the opinion that the best marriages are not ones created on the basis of love. However, Tolstoy seems to be of the opposite opinion. The happiest marriage we see in the novel is the loving marriage between Levin and Kitty, which stands in stark contrast to Anna's "prudent" marriage to Karenin.

He was angry with all of them for their interference just because he felt in his soul that they, all these people, were right. He felt that the love that bound him to Anna was not a momentary impulse, which would pass, as worldly intrigues do pass, leaving no other traces in the life of either but pleasant or unpleasant memories. He felt all the torture of his own and her position, all the difficulty there was for them, conspicuous as they were in the eye of all the world, in concealing their love, in lying and deceiving; and in lying, deceiving, feigning, and continually thinking of others, when the passion that united them was so intense that they were both oblivious of everything else but their love. (2.21.34)

Even though the world is against their affair, Vronsky believes that all he and Anna need is their love for each other. Over the course of the novel, we see how he underestimated the impact social isolation could have on Anna.

Levin looked more attentively at Ivan Parmenov and his wife. They were loading a haycock onto the cart not far from him. Ivan Parmenov was standing on the cart, taking, laying in place, and stamping down the huge bundles of hay, which his pretty young wife deftly handed up to him, at first in armfuls, and then on the pitchfork. The young wife worked easily, merrily, and dexterously. The close-packed hay did not once break away off her fork. First she gathered it together, stuck the fork into it, then with a rapid, supple movement leaned the whole weight of her body on it, and at once with a bend of her back under the red belt she drew herself up, and arching her full bosom under the white smock, with a smart turn swung the fork in her arms, and flung the bundle of hay high onto the cart. Ivan, obviously doing his best to save her every minute of unnecessary labor, made haste, opening his arms to clutch the bundle and lay it in the cart. As she raked together what was left of the hay, the young wife shook off the bits of hay that had fallen on her neck, and straightening the red kerchief that had dropped forward over her white brow, not browned like her face by the sun, she crept under the cart to tie up the load. Ivan directed her how to fasten the cord to the cross-piece, and at something she said he laughed aloud. In the expressions of both faces was to be seen vigorous, young, freshly awakened love. (3.11.15)

For Levin, the ideal of love he observes in the peasant couple is not passion alone but shared work.

"He's right!" she said; "of course, he's always right; he's a Christian, he's generous! Yes, vile, base creature! And no one understands it except me, and no one ever will; and I can't explain it. They say he's so religious, so high-principled, so upright, so clever; but they don't see what I've seen. They don't know how he has crushed my life for eight years, crushed everything that was living in me – he has not once even thought that I'm a live woman who must have love. They don't know how at every step he's humiliated me, and been just as pleased with himself. Haven't I striven, striven with all my strength, to find something to give meaning to my life? Haven't I struggled to love him, to love my son when I could not love my husband? But the time came when I knew that I couldn't cheat myself any longer, that I was alive, that I was not to blame, that God has made me so that I must love and live. And now what does he do? If he'd killed me, if he'd killed him, I could have borne anything, I could have forgiven anything; but, no, he.... How was it I didn't guess what he would do? He's doing just what's characteristic of his mean character. He'll keep himself in the right, while me, in my ruin, he'll drive still lower to worse ruin yet..." (3.16.6)

Anna argues that Karenin has never once given her love. She has tried to find other means of obtaining love, but ultimately, she must love in order to be fulfilled. And that means a life with Vronsky. Later in the novel, Dolly sympathizes with Anna's situation. She says, "How is she to blame, then? She wants to live. God has put that into our souls" (6.61.17). Though Dolly (and Tolstoy!) doesn't approve of Anna's affair, she can still understand and sympathize with Anna's need for love. Notice how both Anna and Dolly claim humans require love – God made people that way.

She was an honorable woman who had bestowed her love upon him, and he loved her, and therefore she was in his eyes a woman who had a right to the same, or even more, respect than a lawful wife. He would have had his hand chopped off before he would have allowed himself by a word, by a hint, to humiliate her, or even to fall short of the fullest respect a woman could look for. (3.20.3)

In Vronsky's eyes, love legitimizes all. He refuses to disrespect Anna for cheating on her husband.

But he could not at once recall what he had been going to say. These fits of jealousy, which of late had been more and more frequent with her, horrified him, and however much he tried to disguise the fact, made him feel cold to her, although he knew the cause of her jealousy was her love for him. How often he had told himself that her love was happiness; and now she loved him as a woman can love when love has outweighed for her all the good things of life – and he was much further from happiness than when he had followed her from Moscow. Then he had thought himself unhappy, but happiness was before him; now he felt that the best happiness was already left behind. She was utterly unlike what she had been when he first saw her. Both morally and physically she had changed for the worse. She had broadened out all over, and in her face at the time when she was speaking of the actress there was an evil expression of hatred that distorted it. He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered, with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty for which he picked and ruined it. And in spite of this he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he could, if he had greatly wished it, have torn that love out of his heart; but now, when as at that moment it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that what bound him to her could not be broken. (4.3.17)

Vronsky thought he would find happiness with Anna through his love. Even when he learns that his love has nothing to do with happiness, and even when his love for Anna is fading, he feels inextricably bound to her. After all, he believes it's his fault that she has "changed for the worse." In convincing Anna to have an affair with him, he destroyed the woman he loved. After "ruining" her, he feels he can't abandon her. You can find more evidence for this perspective in the scene when Vronsky and Anna first sleep together – he is described as a murder, and she the corpse of his victim.

"Not at all," he said. "Listen to me. You can't see your own position as I can. Let me tell you candidly my opinion." Again he smiled discreetly his almond-oil smile. "I'll begin from the beginning. You married a man twenty years older than yourself. You married him without love and not knowing what love was. It was a mistake, let's admit." (4.21.24)

Anna has never known romantic love until Vronsky appeared in her life. Both Anna and Vronsky see this as a sort of justification for their affair.

As a bachelor, when he had watched other people's married life, seen the petty cares, the squabbles, the jealousy, he had only smiled contemptuously in his heart. In his future married life there could be, he was convinced, nothing of that sort; even the external forms, indeed, he fancied, must be utterly unlike the life of others in everything. And all of a sudden, instead of his life with his wife being made on an individual pattern, it was, on the contrary, entirely made up of the pettiest details, which he had so despised before, but which now, by no will of his own, had gained an extraordinary importance that it was useless to contend against. And Levin saw that the organization of all these details was by no means so easy as he had fancied before. Although Levin believed himself to have the most exact conceptions of domestic life, unconsciously, like all men, he pictured domestic life as the happiest enjoyment of love, with nothing to hinder and no petty cares to distract. He ought, as he conceived the position, to do his work, and to find repose from it in the happiness of love. She ought to be beloved, and nothing more. But, like all men, he forgot that she too would want work. And he was surprised that she, his poetic, exquisite Kitty, could, not merely in the first weeks, but even in the first days of their married life, think, remember, and busy herself about tablecloths, and furniture, about mattresses for visitors, about a tray, about the cook, and the dinner, and so on. While they were still engaged, he had been struck by the definiteness with which she had declined the tour abroad and decided to go into the country, as though she knew of something she wanted, and could still think of something outside her love. This had jarred upon him then, and now her trivial cares and anxieties jarred upon him several times. But he saw that this was essential for her. And, loving her as he did, though he did not understand the reason of them, and jeered at these domestic pursuits, he could not help admiring them. He jeered at the way in which she arranged the furniture they had brought from Moscow; rearranged their room; hung up curtains; prepared rooms for visitors; a room for Dolly; saw after an abode for her new maid; ordered dinner of the old cook; came into collision with Agafea Mihalovna, taking from her the charge of the stores. He saw how the old cook smiled, admiring her, and listening to her inexperienced, impossible orders, how mournfully and tenderly Agafea Mihalovna shook her head over the young mistress's new arrangements. He saw that Kitty was extraordinarily sweet when, laughing and crying, she came to tell him that her maid, Masha, was used to looking upon her as her young lady, and so no one obeyed her. It seemed to him sweet, but strange, and he thought it would have been better without this. (5.14.2)

Levin is astonished to see that Kitty isn't consumed by love, but has practical considerations. He also learns that married life isn't always smooth sailing. While Levin does not understand the importance of Kitty's domestic focus, he tries to respect her concerns anyway.

"Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. And if you don't love me any more, it would be better and more honest to say so." (7.24.31)

Anna finds the idea of Vronsky's respect abhorrent – she wants his love. She's been in a loveless relationship before (with Karenin), and is terrified of losing Vronsky. She's also bitter because she gave up everything – her reputation, her son, etc. – for love of Vronsky. Without him, she feels she'd have nothing left.

"My love keeps growing more passionate and egoistic, while his is waning and waning, and that's why we're drifting apart." She went on musing. "And there's no help for it. He is everything for me, and I want him more and more to give himself up to me entirely. And he wants more and more to get away from me. We walked to meet each other up to the time of our love, and then we have been irresistibly drifting in different directions. And there's no altering that. He tells me I'm insanely jealous, and I have told myself that I am insanely jealous; but it's not true. I'm not jealous, but I'm unsatisfied. But..." she opened her lips, and shifted her place in the carriage in the excitement, aroused by the thought that suddenly struck her. "If I could be anything but a mistress, passionately caring for nothing but his caresses; but I can't and I don't care to be anything else. And by that desire I rouse aversion in him, and he rouses fury in me, and it cannot be different. Don't I know that he wouldn't deceive me, that he has no schemes about Princess Sorokina, that he's not in love with Kitty, that he won't desert me! I know all that, but it makes it no better for me. If without loving me, from duty, he'll be good and kind to me, without what I want, that's a thousand times worse than unkindness! That's – hell! And that's just how it is. For a long while now he hasn't loved me. And where love ends, hate begins." (7.30.4)

Anna vows that she will not accept love born out of a sense of duty. Do you think this is what Vronsky really feels toward her? Is she accurately assessing her situation?

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