Anna Karenina Read-a-Long :: Week Nine

Jackie is taking over leading this particular Read-a-Long because I am swamped right now (and behind in AK reading). I will, however, join the conversation as much as I can. And if I have anything profound (or not) to say I will share it at the bottom of Jackie’s wonderful posts).

Welcome to the Anna Karenina read-a-long! We’re reading this book through October, November, and December. You can see the reading schedule and guidelines on the Starting Post Page. If you are choosing to join us from now onward, please sign up in the current week’s comments section (please make sure you are checking to make sure it is the MOST CURRENT update) or it is very likely I will miss you and not add you to the list. If this should happen, please just let me know in the comment section of the most current week, thanks! Also… here is a link to a printable bookmark that has a character guide for Anna Karenina (thanks Oprah!). Believe me, you’ll probably want it.

Week Nine: reading to Part 6 Chapter XX

Discussion Points:

Welcome to Week Nine of the Unputdownables Anna Karenina Read-a-long! This week we take a little holiday into the country. I think that another one of Tolstoy’s dual/duels is city vs. country. If you have any thoughts about that, I’d love to hear them.

Melody (Fingers & Prose) had a really great comment last week that I’d like to turn into a question. She said (about Kitty/Levin compared to Anna/Vronsky) “It’s an excellent comparison, I think, of how we define “love”. Is it passion and feelings and desire that cannot be dictated? Is it companionship and consideration–a choice we make that blossoms into something fuller? Perhaps a combination of the two?” The question I have for you all is how do you think Tolstoy defines love in Anna Karenina? (so far) Are there many definitions? Does any one relationship represent his ideals (or do none of them?)?

I loved the section on jam making. Tolstoy not only captures the sweeping epic picture, but all of the little details of life. I just had a similar experience over Thanksgiving. I’m Italian American, and we make escarole soup to start dinner (also known as Italian Wedding soup – the soup with “the little meatballs”). The amount of controversy over if one cooks the little meatballs IN the soup or in a separate pot THEN puts them in the soup was ASTONISHING! I cook them in the soup (it gives it more flavor) but my grandmother didn’t. My mother proceeded to call her friends to see if they cooked them in the soup, and would report back to me (Mariann doesn’t cook them in the soup! Eileen doesn’t cook them in the soup!). Then when my in-laws came over, it was the same thing (oh yes, I cook them in the soup! It gives it more flavor. Oh no, never in the soup! You cook them in the soup?). I was hysterical when I read this section about the jam with the water or no water. Sorry about that digression, but it amused me so much how perfectly Tolstoy captured these sort of tug of wars about ways of doing things, which are certainly subtext for much more, yes? Have you had a situation like this one in your life?

Oh, Varenka and Sergey Ivanovitch! Again, I found the writing heartwrenching in this section. I thought the way Tolstoy had them talk about mushrooms at this pivot point was just so brilliant and gutting.

Levin is being silly again in this section. What do you make of his fuss over Veslovsky’s attention to Kitty? The way he loses his cool whilst hunting with Veslovsky and Stiva? How he asks Veslovsky to leave? What do you think Tolstoy is trying to say about Levin in this section?

I don’t think any of us have yet exclaimed “Kitty is having a baby!!!” So let me :)

Were you surprised by Dolly’s thoughts about marriage and motherhood? Her thoughts about Anna’s way of life being preferable to her own? This was pretty intense. Not something you usually hear discussed frankly. Tolstoy was such an incredible student of human nature – sometimes I can’t believe he isn’t a woman! Do you know what I mean?

Anything else?

P.S. Are any of you interested in doing a guest post for the penultimate week of the Read-a long? When Wallace runs them, I usually do a post on something that caught my fancy about the book, but isn’t directly about the book. Examples are here and here and here! Email me at jmanni AT uarts DOT edu if you are interested!

Who’s Reading Along:

** Please don’t forget to come to this blog each Friday and share your thoughts in the comments section of my weekly Anna Karenina review (see below for more information).**

Melissa Caldwell
Walkie Talkie Book Club
Jillian ♣
Reese M.
Susan E
Jo M
Sarah B.
Quien Sabe
nancy hensch
Sarah L.

(If you are participating and I don’t have you on this list, please let me know in the comments section. I did not include people who said ‘maybe’ so if you have changed your mind and are definitely reading along with us, let me know so I can add you. Also, if you are not going to be able to join us anymore please let me know and I will take you off the list. If you go for two weeks without commenting in my weekly update comments section, I will assume you are no longer participating and will take you off of the list. This is in no way to be discouraging, but helps to keep the read-a-long organized (and helps me remember who’s completed what read-a-long…there (ahem) might be something fun for different levels of participants at the end of the year! Thanks!)

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20 thoughts on “Anna Karenina Read-a-Long :: Week Nine

  1. I am really behind and really stressed out about it :( I think I’ll get a good deal of reading in next week, as I am taking a six-hour flight and this is the only thing I am bringing with me, but I’m starting to worry I may not finish the read-a-long in time. :(

  2. Oh my, what a section. What a book! (btw Jackie, I loved your story about the soup, so funny!)

    When Varenka and Sergey somehow didn’t pull it together I was SO disappointed! I actually had to stop reading for a while so that I could fume. I don’t know why if affected me so much, but I felt like I was jerked into reality as quickly and brutally as the characters themselves. WHY???! Can’t we let one couple be perfectly lovely and fairytale-happy?? I guess that wouldn’t exactly be realistic, would it?

    The other part that really affected me in this section was Dolly’s thoughts about marriage and life. (And I completely agree about being repeatedly shocked that a guy wrote all this. Impressive.) Dolly says: “And they all fall upon Anna. What for? Am I any better? I at least have a husband I love. Not as I’d have wanted to love, but I do love him, and Anna did not love hers. How is she to blame, then? She wants to live. God has put that into our souls. […] I might have loved and been loved in a real way.” This realization that she has love, but not the kind of love she’d always hoped/wanted/needed is so sad to me (and yet so real…maybe be sad because it’s real?).

    One last thing. Later, Dolly tells Anna: “When you love someone, you love the whole person, as they are, and not as you’d like them to be.” This struck me as one of those thoughts that is modern and timeless all at the same time. And possibly one of those things that is easier to say than do? Anna later says: “I don’t want to prove anything, I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself. I have that right, haven’t I?” This statement struck me, because hasn’t she chosen against her own hurt and caused evil to Karenin instead? to Seryozha? even to little Annie? Not that she meant to, not that it was her desire, not that she wouldn’t somehow do it differently if given the chance, but it illuminates the complexity of decisions like these. Is it ever really possible, in such a situation, to simply, yet fully, live? causing no harm to anyone but yourself?

    My, but Tolstoy sure gets me thinking.

    • Melody, I was thinking all of the same things as you! I was also thinking about what Dolly said about motherhood when she was remembering the woman she saw that had a child who died. Not at all the words of the “cult of motherhood.”

      I agree with what you said about Anna, too – complex. I think part of this is her on some level consciousness of…punishment – for “living.” I think a question of the book is not only what does it mean to love, but what does it mean to live. Hmm!

  3. This week’s reading was something else, wasn’t it? Definitely a little thick on the cultural side with some smatterings of morality included.

    Let’s talk about Varenka and Sergei for a minute. Here’s what I get out of that section… While Sergei, who’s obviously still suffering from the loss of his beloved Marie, is strongly contemplating a union with Varenka, but he can’t seal the deal. Varenka seems to be piteous woman. However, with that being said, is either really living? Sure, they’re physically alive, but what about emotionally and psychologically? Are they capable of actually being able to love one another in a manner that say Levin and Kitty are? Neither Varenka nor Sergei have truly moved on from their experiences, and hence, they’re dead.

    That leads to your question Jackie about what love is and how Tolstoy defines it. Love, from what I can gather from Tolstoy, is something pure, something that overpowers all other emotions and vanquishes them. A type of armor that is pure. That’s something that he’s describing with Levin and Kitty’s marriage. The other relationships, such as Anna/Vronsky, Stiva/Dolly, aren’t love in a sense, they seem to be more infatuation than anything else. Definitely not the love that Tolstoy is preaching.

    Dolly’s thoughts on motherhood and children seem to be religious in nature. That’s one of the first thoughts that came to mind. I’m not quite sure exactly how religious Tolstoy was, but with me being a rather religious person, having children is very much part of a religious based marriage. So I wasn’t necessarily shocked with Dolly’s thoughts on marriage and children.

    You can read some of my other thoughts on my blog here.

    • I just posted a reply to Melody stating “I think a question of the book is not only what does it mean to love, but what does it mean to live.” and was gladdened to see that you were ruminating on the same thing regarding Varenka and Sergei. Neat! I love when that happens!

    • I like your observations about Varenka and Sergei. It’s true that they both suffered a disappointment and then proceeded to build a non-relationship based, less “alive” sort of life for themselves. They seemed to recognize in each other the chance to live again, but perhaps they’d forgotten how, or perhaps it was too much work & risk. What’s interesting, is that they seem to be the characters that Tolstoy holds in high esteem–almost as if they are better/purer than everyone else precisely because they act altruistically instead of emotionally.

  4. Ugh and Yikes! I haven’t started this week’s reading yet! Book club met Tuesday and I didn’t finish my book for that either and need to finish that by Monday (due at the library) and then will tackle TWO weeks of AK! Thanks for your posts! Looking forward to reading them when I’m done!!

  5. In this part, I started to feel that Dolly is my favorite person in this book so far! She is very kind and down to earth, and is a worthy friend!

    Levin’s behaviors just remind me that a man like him would surely drive me crazy, although I think he is a very good and truthful person.

  6. Alright, I vow that now that I have graduated, I’m somehow going to get caught up with this book! I keep seeing how much everyone is loving it and I’m eager to get back into it!

  7. What I loved most about this section was Dolly’s honesty about motherhood. I found myself nodding my head in agreement with so many things she said. They may not be the prettiest, fluffiest thoughts but they were definitely real and easy to relate to!

    I thought Levin was ridiculous. The way he couldn’t get a hold of himself during the hunting section, and how his jealousy led him to send Veslovsky away. I would be livid if my husband acted that way! Kind of embarrassing behavior for adults in a secure marriage. I’m excited about their baby though!

    Varenka and Sergey! Awe :( I was bummed he didn’t pull it off. I would like to read about him more, he is an interesting character to me.

  8. I’m loving the reading and enjoying everyone’s comments–just behind in commenting myself. Oh, that scene with Varenka and Sergey Ivanovitch–I felt sorry for them both, but wondered if the failure of the matchmaking was due to them missing the moment or if they only felt they missed the moment because of others’ expectations. Their relationship seems insubstantial compared to the relationship between Kitty and Levin or Anna and Vronsky.

    I love the soup story, Jackie! and the jam episode. And I love how we see more of Dolly’s thoughts and strengths, including her trip to see Anna. Although Anna seems so happy, I’m not sure about that hospital Vronsky is building with the marble floors, etc. It seems like a well-intentioned plaything that won’t hold up to actual use. And Dolly and Anna’s visit to see Anna’s daughter made me sad for both Anna’s children–neither one seems to have their mother’s attention.

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