What kind of advice?

02 Nov

Anna Karenina Part III, chapter 21

Vronsky’s catching up with his friend Serpuhovskoy, a man who’s had great success in the military.  The two have an interesting conversation about women, love, and marriage.  Really Serpuhovskoy does most of the talking, and he has some interesting things to say.

Serpuhovskoy admits that Vronsky’s “known a greater number of women”,

“But I’m married, and believe me, in getting to know thorougly one’s wife, if one loves her, as someone has said, one gets to know all women better than if one knew thousands of them.”

My notes: “Interesting.  Yes, I can agree with that.  Sounds good–loving one’s wife.  Knowing her as a person.  Getting insight into the other sex through understanding one’s wife.”

Vronsky is listening attentively to the words of his experienced, married comrade.

“And here’s my opinion for you.  Women are the chief stumbling block in a man’s career.  It’s hard to love a woman and do anything.  There’s only one way of having love conveniently without its being a hindrance–that’s marriage.

My notes: “convenient love?  as in readily available?  as in ‘this way I won’t get into trouble with another man’s wife’?  How about… Marriage is good.  Affairs are bad.”

The Serpuhovskoy goes on to compare love with carrying a fardeau in his hands.  He says marriage is when the fardeau is tied on one’s back and his hands are free.

My notes: “What’s a fardeau?  (I look it up) Oh, a burden.  Loving a woman is a burden?  So being married is still a burden, but a conveninet one?”

Help me, readers.  Did Serpuhovskoy give Vronsky good advice or not?


Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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3 responses to “What kind of advice?

  1. Christina Joy

    November 2, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    I struggled with this section too. In some ways I thought it embodied the “It isn’t love that keeps your marriage going, but marriage that keeps your love going” motto that I find so right and fitting, and yet it came off with such a negative spin.

  2. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    November 3, 2012 at 6:20 am

    I think Tolstoy is giving us the uncensored version of how a lot of men think. Perhaps if one read his novels, “it would be better than if one knew thousands of them.”

    He might describe men pretty well — since I’m not a man, I can’t say for sure. I do recall that Alison at Experimental Wifery pointed out that a woman should read Anna Karenina to understand how men think, but then Alison is not a man either.

    Now I’m going to say something shocking: I don’t think he always describes women very well. Any of you other ladies had this thought?

    — A visit from SIL Anna and — POOF! — Dolly’s all better! She comes to the dinner table and Anna is relieved to observe by Dolly and Oblonsky’s demeanor that there has been a COMPLETE reunion.

    — Anna doesn’t seem to care much for her son, and then she does, and then she doesn’t and then she does . . .

    p.s Maybe this is why Herman Melville steered clear of women altogether in MD.

  3. smokeyr

    April 10, 2016 at 2:45 am


    Serpuhovskoy is giving Vronsky, what I believe to be good advice. A man will find it extremely difficult to focus on his individual growth, his career if his superfluously attached to a woman. Serpuhovskoy, is right in saying that marriage provides a man and a woman with that stability that allows both parties to pursue their individual careers, yet be in love and enjoy the intimacy of it.

    For, being in a intimate relationship outside of marriage a man’s energy is dissipated through encounters that he really ought to keep under some control and temperance. Marriage provides that stability and security to do so, most other relationships fail to do this, it causes him to go hither and thither. One minute his working hard, the next his fooling around town. A slow, but incremental decaying of his energy and focus on something that might be of use to himself or society. Instead a good marriage allows him to focus inwards, 1) towards his development 2) in love which is external but it’s energy returns internally back into the marriage towards himself and his wife and family.

    If we look at how Vronsky career ended we get an idea of what I believe Tolstoy meant. I don’t believe Vronsky got anywhere in the army. He and Anna toured around Europe and Tolstoy showed that these pleasures soon get tedious. She killed herself and he probably met his death in Serbia.


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