Tag Archives: Anna Karenina

Mr and Mrs. Levin…and Elizabeth

I think Elizabeth Dalloway should go visit Anna Karenina’s Kitty and Levin.

People were beginning to compare her to poplar trees, early dawn, hyacinths, fawns, running water, and garden lilies; and it made her life a burden to her, for she so much preferred being left alone to do what she liked in the country, but they would compare her to lilies, and she had to go to parties, and London was so dreary compared with being alone in the country with her father and the dogs.   (Mrs. Dalloway)

I think a stay at the happy couple’s countryside home is just what Elizabeth needs: a little Arbeitskür

Hay-cutting is the perfect prescription for unhappy, unfulfilled socialites.


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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Mrs. Dalloway


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Lily’s Russian Cousin

I mentioned in this week’s check-in that I was seeing a few similarities between
Lily Bart and Anna Karenina.

Chapter 2 Lily uses a paper knife to “cut the pages of a novel, tranquilly studying her prey through downcast lashes while she organized a method of attack.  It was with Anna K that we first learned about paper knives.

Later in the same chapter Lily does a little clever maneuvering on the train to get Percy Gryce’s attention. On several occasions Anna Karenina manipulated men with her attentive ear and lovely looks.  Sometimes she did it to get something she wanted and other times it seemed she did it for her own amusement.  Hmmm…There are times when Lily does the same thing.

In chapter 12 Lily steals the show at the Brys home.  The women are doing the artistic tableaux  Remember what she wears?

Her pale draperies, and the background of foliage against which she stood served only to relieve the long dryad-like curves that sept upward from her poised foot to her lifted arm.

Anna’s dress was black, but she also knew exactly what to wear to make herself shine.

Have you noticed other similarities between these two characters?

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Posted by on May 4, 2013 in Anna Karenina, The House of Mirth


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The eye(lids) have it.

Anna Karenina and Eustacia Vye don’t seem to have much in common.  There is that “grass is always greener” thing they have going.  Yes, yes… that “looking for love in all the wrong places” thing.  The desire for happiness that causes them to make poor decisions, but other than that…

Russian socialite.  Hater of the Heath.  Not much in common.

I did notice a similarity in their eyes.  Particularly their eyelids.  Did you notice it too?

Anna Karenina:

Kitty gazed at her in dismay as she went up.  Anna looked at her with drooping eyelids, and smiled, pressing her hand.  But, noticing that Kitty only responded to her smile by a look of despair and amazement, she turned away from her, and began gaily talking to the other lady.

Anna, taking her eyes off her friend’s face and dropping her eyelids (this was a new habit Dolly had not seen in her before), pondered, trying to penetrate the full significance of the words.

Eustacia Vye

Well it is what I call no water,” she said, blushing, and lifting her long-lashed eyelids as if to lift them were a work requiring consideration.

One touch on that mouth again!  there, and there, and there.  Your eyes seem heavy, Eustacia.”

So if the eyes are the windows to the soul, what are our leading ladies trying to hide?  Perhaps Eustacia tells us the answer:

“No, it is my general way of looking.  I think it arises from my feeling sometimes an agonizing pity for myself that I ever was born.”

Or maybe Dolly Oblonsky knows why Anna picked up this habit:

And she remembered that Anna drooped her eyelids just when the deeper questions of life were touched upon.  “Just as though she half-shut her eyes to her own life, so as not to see everything.” thought Dolly


PS.  Just out of curiosity, I used the kindle to check Madame Bovary for references to eyelids.

And, according to what she was saying, her voice was clear, sharp, or, on a sudden all languor, drawn out in modulations that ended almost in murmurs as she spoke to herself, now joyous, opening big naive eyes, then with her eyelids half-closed, her look full of boredom, her thoughts wandering.


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Thumbs Up and Down

Anna Karenina movie imageCCOM went on a field trip!  It was all in the name of literature of course.  We (and our classy friend Norma) went to the theater and saw Anna Karenina.  Yes, we were prepared to blush and flush at the R rated adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic.  As we waited for the film to start Christina asked who was going to write the blog post about the movie.  She looked at Jeannette who then turned to look at me.  I may have pouted and whined a little about being the one that would have to describe the movie to all of you.  How could one little post convey the experience of watching Anna on the big screen?  Christina solved my dilemma when she suggested that we each list our three favorite and least favorite parts of the film.

So for the next few days each of us will take our turn as Roger Ebert and do a little movie reviewing.

Christine’s thumbs up

1. The artistry:  Oh, the eye candy!  the costumes, the scenery, the dancing,  the close-ups.  Everything was beautiful.

2. Scenes with Oblonsky: I think we were the only people in the theater who laughed at the “roll” references, but that was okay.  Oblonsky added needed comic relief.

3. Clever staging: Having the actors on-stage, off-stage, backstage, in the catwalks… It was a fascinating way of telling the tale.  Just try to imagine how the director pulled off the horse racing scene with the horses and riders on stage!  A few times the director lingered in one location for a longer period, but I still appreciated the creative perspective.  The movie is 130 minutes long, and I never looked at my watch.

Christine’s thumbs down

1. Condensation:  Attention college students: do not think you can watch this movie and pass your Anna Karenina final exam.  As with any 900 page book, things must be left out for the sake of time.  Anna and Vronsky never went to Italy.  Kitty never spent time at the spa.  Levin’s brother was terribly sick, but we didn’t see him die.  These and other omitted scenes added to Tolstoy’s character development in the book.  I know they can’t make a five-hour long movie, but perhaps there were other ways to give the audience deeper insight into the characters.

2. Angst:  I didn’t believe from the movie that Anna was disturbed enough to end her own life.  A few shots of her drinking morphine were not enough for me to believe that she was in enough despair to dive onto the rails.  And was Levin troubled by anything after his marriage to Kitty?  Not that I could tell from the film.

3.  Anna’s death:  After Anna’s death there is a brief scene with Levin and a shot of Karenin with the two children in a field.  The audience does not get to see how Anna’s death affected Vronsky.  In fact the scenes leading up to Anna’s suicide are not nearly as frantic as in the book.

Have you gone to see the movie?  What did you think about the adaptation?
Stay tuned for Christina and Jeannette’s reviews.


Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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Russians in Minnesota

I’ve been a Prairie Home Companion fan for years, so back in August when fellow reader Sandy shared that APHC had done a fun version of Anna Karenina, I let out a, “Yea!” and promptly bookmarked the site.  I then forbid myself from listening to the radio skit.  “Avoid spoilers at all costs!” I said.  But now I’ve finished the novel, the questions, and the wrap-up, so I’m listening to it for the first time today.

APHC: Anna Karenina


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Posted by on November 28, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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Not so surprised

When you started reading Anna Karenina did you know what was going to happen to our main character in the end?

If you haven’t finished the novel, back away slowly.  This post gives it all away.

I knew.  Before we ever started reading Tolstoy, I knew.  If taking a GRE had been a prerequisite to starting this DIY master’s degree program, I would have aced the question, “How does Anna Karenina die?”

It’s not because I’m a smarty-pants.  It was simply a part of my general knowledge.  Random literary stuff I’d heard at one point or another.  Like how I knew there was a guy named Ishmael in Moby-Dick , or that Hester had to wear an “A” for adultery, or that Oliver Twist would say, “Please sir, may I have some more?”

So? Why all the rambling?

I felt cheated out of the end of Anna Karenina.  I knew she was going to commit suicide a lá train, and it was just a matter of when it was going to happen.

When it did finally happen (and I do mean finally–when do editors come on the scene?), I wasn’t moved by the act at all.  My thoughts were more of, “Yep.  Anna’s dead.  That’s a bummer.  Wonder what’s going to happen to Vronsky now.”

I realize I’m avoiding all sorts of issues with Anna’s death: Was she suffering from mental illness?  Would Vronsky have eventually tired of her jealousy and left her?  Was she remorseful in the moment before she died?  Why did Tolstoy kill her off?  Had it come to the point of logical exhaustion for the character?  Is her death the fulfillment of the Scripture passage at the beginning of the book?
Oh, there are so many questions we could discuss.

But what I’m really wondering is there anyone out there that read the book not knowing about Anna’s demise beforehand?  and if so, what was your reaction?

Now stay with me.  I’ll come to a question.  Eventually.

My family is one that reads.  Lots.  We are a family that reads a book together in the evenings and listens to audio books in the car.  One of my absolute favorite family memories involves my husband reading aloud to us by flashlight while we camped.  I have to say that having my children witness me working through the WEM list is a good thing.  It has to be.  They see mom reading (always a bonus).  They see mom journaling: taking notes, asking questions, thinking hard.


They too know that Oliver asked for more, and that Gulliver met talking horses.  They know that Christian made it to the Celestial City and that Madame Bovary died.  Some of these things they know because they learned them by reading the books themselves and some of them have “rubbed off” because it’s what I’m reading and I talk about the current book, and they ask me questions.


Someday when they have to read Anna Karenina and they already know that she dies, will this add to or take away from their reading experience.  Will they think, “Hey, I know something about this story!  This is going to be great!”  or “Oh, man.  I knew she was a goner from the beginning.  Why bother reading this?”

What do you think?


Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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Balls are Bad News

Today I started watching the Vivien Leigh version of Anna Karenina. I’m only a half hour into the movie, but I have had a revelation.

Balls are bad news.

Why do I say this?

Let’s think back.  The first ball we attended as classics readers was in Pride and Prejudice.  It was not a pleasant experience for Lizzy Bennett, our main character.  Darcy insulted her saying, “she is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me.”  At the second ball things weren’t much better.  Lizzy suffered through dances with Mr. Collins.  She ended up dancing with Darcy and had a terribly awkward conversation with him about Wickham.  Later that evening her mother and sister Mary each did things that brought embarrassment to the Bennett family.

In the end, Darcy and Elizabeth have the fairy tale ending, so perhaps we should look at another book and another ball.

How about Madame Bovary?  There’s a ball in that book.  The honeymoon was over for the Bovarys.  Emma was quickly disappointed in her dull, clumsy spouse, so when a wealthy patient invitesd the newlyweds to their ball, Emma was delighted.  Instead of dancing with her husband (who snoozes in the corner wearing pants too tight for dancing), Emma danced with a viscount.  The same viscount later dropped his cigar box. which Emma kept.  She held on to it dreaming of (and scheming to get) the beautiful, wealthy, decadent, extravagant (pick your favorite adjective) life she could have had.

Remember the end of this book?  Emma took arsenic, chosing to die rather than face the enormous debt she had run up in her search for (shallow/material) happiness.

And now back to our current book, Anna Karenina…  Remember that ball?  Kitty danced waltzes with Count Vronsky, sure that a proposal of marriage was not far off.  Anna arrived in her stunning black dress.  Kitty watched Anna and Vronsky interact.  She saw Anna’s sparking eyes and happy smile.  Kitty knew exactly what was happening.

“No, it’s not the admiration of the crowd has intoxicated her, but the adoration of one.  And that one?  can it be he?”

Kitty was crushed when Vronsky did not ask her to dance the Mazurka.  It was going to be the dance that decided her future, and it never happened.  Anna chose not stay for supper, but the damage was done.  Vronsky was now infatuated with the married woman, and Kitty was forgotten.

Now in the end everything turned out happily ever after for Kitty, but we know how things ended up for Anna.

I repeat.  Balls are bad news.


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Anna Wants Control

Birth Control, that is.

Were you surprised to find Anna and Dolly discussing this topic in a novel published in the 1870’s?   I was, at least at first.   Upon further thought and research, I realized that women wanting control in this area was not a new idea, even back then.   By the 1870’s, although from Dolly’s reaction it was not commonly known, many methods of birth control were available.   Pessaries, made of many crazy substances from honey to elephant dung, had been available since Ancient Egyptian times.   Many plant and herb-based substances were thought to prevent conception or even cause abortion.   There was the “withdrawal method,” of course, and even barrier methods were used, including primitive condoms and diaphragms thanks to the invention of vulcanized rubber.  (Which took the place of even more primitive “barriers” such as a lemon half…yikes!)

So what method was Anna using?  Tolstoy doesn’t tell us specifically, although he implies that Vronsky had no knowledge of Anna’s control here, since he wanted a son.   I’d also be willing to bet that Anna is not using a method of birth control that causes an abortion.   I think Dolly’s reaction would have been even more negative if that was the case.   It’s even possible that what “the doctor told (her)” was that her illness had rendered her unable to have children, although that wouldn’t be my guess.  That narrows the options a bit.

But, yukky details aside, I found this discussion fascinating and timely.  Take Anna’s main defense of her decision to use birth control: she wants to be attractive to Vronsky, not swollen and ill with pregnancy.   This reason stems from fear.  She doesn’t want to lose him.   Dolly sees right through this excuse, doesn’t she?   She reasons, wisely, that a man who looks only for pleasing outward appearances in a mate will find plenty of that wherever he looks – even facades more attractive than Anna’s.   Sadly, Dolly speaks from experience.  Her husband is well-versed in locating beautiful paramours.

Even though Dolly doesn’t express her thoughts out loud to Anna, Anna continues with all of her other (rather unconvincing) arguments.   It’s almost as though she HAS to verbalize them.   She MUST convince Dolly – or at least convince herself.   She really sounds guilty.   Anna is really trying to silence her own conscience, I believe.  Dolly doesn’t agree or disagree with Anna, but inside she “suddenly felt that she was so far away from Anna that there were questions on which they could never meet, and about which it was best not to talk.”  One result of their conversation, however, is a renewed realization on Dolly’s part of how precious her children are to her, and how much she wants to be with them in her role as mother.

I know I’ve felt that same feeling as Dolly at times.  Some people have opinions so far removed from my own that it is probably better for us not to discuss them.   We’d only argue, and nothing I could possibly say would convince them anyway.  And I’m not going to use this blog as a forum for debating the morality of birth control either.  (Although that WAS Dolly’s first and only response, did you notice?  “N’est-ce pas immoral?”   Isn’t it immoral?)  I have only one thing that I’m compelled to say on the subject.   I believe that life begins at conception, and terminating a life after that point is wrong.  Legalizing this action is one of the biggest tragedies of my generation.

Tolstoy sure gives us plenty to think about, doesn’t he?!   Apparently he even brings in the topic of homosexuality in Part II, although I missed that reference completely when I read it the first time.   But that’s a post I won’t be writing.

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Posted by on November 17, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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Levin the Introvert

Classic Case of Madness is thrilled to bring you a guest post today.  “Levin the Introvert” was written by fellow classics reader Gina.  In August Gina came to the blog as a friend of Christina’s sister, and now she’s become our friend too.  Enjoy!


So I just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which is an excellent book. As an introvert, it was an affirming read and showed me that being an introvert is not a negative personality trait.

When I started reading Quiet, all of a sudden, AK was suddenly showing me lots of examples of Levin as an introvert and made me recall the quote attributed to Flaubert about Tolstoy. Tolstoy did such an amazing job of portraying his characters that he picked up on this type of personality trait before the concepts of introversion and extroversion became widely accepted.

Here are a few examples that jumped out at me – did anyone find any other examples?

Part One, Chapter 7 – Levin enjoys listening to a philosophical conversation with his brother Koznyshev and a professor – “Is there a line to be drawn between psychological phenomena in man, and if so, where?” (Introverts are great listeners and prefer having deep conversations to small talk.)

Part Three, Chapters 4-6 – Levin mows the field with the peasants; yeah, more than one chapter devoted to mowing! (Introverts tend to enjoy activities that are solitary and do not require much conversation.)

Part Three, Chapter 26 – Levin goes hunting on the property of his friend Sviazhsky, and Sviazhsky’s unmarried sister-in-law is wearing a low-necked dress – “…but he had not complete freedom of ideas, because he was in an agony of embarrassment. This agony of embarrassment was due to the fact that the sister-in-law was wearing a dress specially put on, he thought, for his benefit, cut particularly low, in the shape of a trapeze, on her white bosom. This square opening, in spite of the bosom’s being very white, or just because it was very white, deprived Levin of the full use of his faculties.” (Introverts are not very good at multi-tasking.)This was a LOL moment for me!

Part Four, Chapter 11 – Kitty and Levin converse with each other while everyone else talks about politics (Introverts prefer one-on-one conversations).

Part Six, Chapters 8-13 – Levin takes up several chapters going hunting (similar to the mowing example).

Part Six, Chapter 28 – Levin is in Kashin for the elections. “But Levin forgot all that, and it was painful to him to see all these excellent persons for whom he had a respect, in such an unpleasant and vicious state of excitement. To escape from this painful feeling he went away into the other room, where there was nobody except the waiters at the buffet.” (Introverts may not be as comfortable expressing their feelings outwardly, and also need to take occasional breaks when in group situations.)

Part Seven, Chapter 1 – Kitty is noticing differences in Levin since they moved to Moscow for her confinement. “She liked his serene, friendly, and hospitable manner in the country. In town he seemed continually uneasy and on his guard, as though he was afraid someone would be rude to him, and still more to her.” (Introverts tend to be homebodies and like to avoid conflict when possible.)

Part Seven, Chapter 3 – Levin meets Metrov, who is a well-known agricultural or economics writer. “’What I began precisely was to write a book on agriculture, the laborer,’ said Levin, reddening, ‘I could not help coming to quite unexpected results.’ And Levin began carefully, as it were, feeling his ground, to expound his views.” (Introverts can be embarrassed by the spotlight, but actually do enjoy taking an active role in conversations that cover subjects they are familiar with.)

Part Seven, Chapter 5 – Levin takes Natalie to a concert and tries to immerse himself in the music. “…he stood against a column and tried to listen as attentively and conscientiously as possible. He tried not to let his attention be distracted, and not to spoil his impression by looking at the conductor in a white tie, waving his arms, which always disturbed his enjoyment of music so much, or the ladies in bonnets, with strings carefully tied over their ears, and all these people either thinking nothing at all or thinking of all sorts of things except the music.” (examples of overstimulation, disdain of people who don’t think deeply.)

On an unrelated note, this was one of my favorite parts of the book so far – Part Six, Chapter 31, where Oblonsky sends Dolly a telegram – “Darya Aleksandrovna, getting the message, simply sighed over the ruble wasted on it, and understood that it was sent after dinner. She knew Stiva had a weakness after dining for faire jouer le telegraphe (setting the telegraph going).” So who knew?! Before drunk texting there was drunk telegraphing!


Posted by on November 16, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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The Finish Line

Don’t give up!  You can see the finish line from here.
Christina, Jeannette, and I have made it.  We’re cheering for you, so for those of you still reading, please call out your place in the comments.

What’s that you say?
Some of you have finished Anna Karenina and you wonder what you should do now?

1. Begin working on “The Questions“.  Start by thinking up a new title for the tome.
2. Take this quiz.  It will make you feel smart.  I only had issues with one question.
3. Wait (im)patiently for the new movie version of AK to be released.  Until then, watch this one or maybe this one.  Or find a different version.  There’s a long list from which to choose.
4. Find your copy of The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy.  We’re leaving Russia and returning to England.
5.  Think up ways to mention in casual conversation that you finished another classic novel.
A Russian one.  By Tolstoy.


Posted by on November 12, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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