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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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What kind of advice?

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?

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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The Steeplechase

 

 

OK, I’ll admit I know next to nothing about horses, let alone “chasing steeples.”   I learned quite a bit about it all just reading about Vronsky’s race.   After the rather disturbing ending to the race, I just couldn’t get it out of my head, so I went back and read parts again and started getting strange vibes.  I think this little episode is an analogy of Anna and Vronsky’s relationship as well as a foreboding foreshadowing of the end.   Not that I have reached the end, mind you, but this is my guess.

Let’s start with the horse.   I’m probably breaking “The Ban” here, but there is the obvious comparison of Vronsky riding the horse and “riding” Anna.  The horse is described as having bright sparkling eyes and a spirited yet gentle appearance.  Couldn’t this also apply to Anna?   Vronsky calls the horse “darling,” and he calls Anna darling as well.   Vronsky is both frightened and excited due to the horse being in the “very best condition.”

Then we get the disturbing race, where Vronsky rides the horse over barriers, ditches, and fences.  He takes the lead and is on the way to winning, pushing the mare to her “last reserve of strength,” when he makes the horrible mistake of not giving the horse her head, but instead pulling her head up causing her to fall and break her back.   The horse “lay (on the ground), breathing heavily, gaz(ing) at him with her beautiful eyes,”  struggling and falling again.   What is Vronsky’s response to this pitiful sight?   “His face distorted with passion, pale and with quivering jaw, Vronsky kicked her with his heel in the belly and again pulled at the reins.”  He kicks her?!   Yes.  And the horse only “looked at her master with eloquent eyes.”    Of course, the horse must be shot, and eventually, Vronsky does feel badly.   “For the first time in his life he experienced the worst kind of misfortune – one that was irretrievable and caused by his own fault.”     Somehow I think there will be a second time coming.   Poor Anna.

 

 

P.S.   I know Anna is not without fault in this affair, but for some reason I still like this analogy.

P.S.S.  The horse’s name is Frou-Frou, which is French for “frilly or ornamental.”    Vronsky sees Anna as his ornament in Society – a frill he can show off to others and be proud of acquiring.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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Children Are NOT…

…little angels (all the time).   Nor are they sinless.   Boy have I learned this from experience.   I will not regale you with example upon example (although I could), as this post is about Anna Karenina, not my children.

Remember that revulsion I talked about earlier?   I find it interesting that Vronsky feels this same feeling whenever Anna’s son Serezha is around.   (See Part 2, Chapter 22)   Somehow the presence of the child jolted his conscience into high gear.   Here’s another quote from Chapter 22:   “This child, with his naive outlook on life was the compass which showed them their degree of divergence from what they knew, but would not recognize, as the right course.”   Children as a moral compass?   I don’t think I would want to use mine as my guide to right and wrong, but I do think Tolstoy captures something common to human nature.   I think most people will modify their (bad) behavior  in the presence of children, for example, not swearing or cutting off inappropriate conversations when children enter a room.  I think most of us (myself included) want to model what we know is right, deep down.   In a society concerned with moral relativity and tolerance for everything, I think that this behavior is very telling.   Truly God has written his Law on our hearts, and it’s often children that make us realize it.

Wonder if Vronsky realizes this is the root of his feelings of revulsion?

 

 

P.S.  How DO you pronounce “Serezha?”

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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Almost the End

Anna Karenina Part II, chapter 21

Vronksy’s secret love for Anna is causing him to experience a strange feeling.  Jeannette’s translation uses the word revulsion.  Mine chose “loathing”.  Whichever word you choose, Vronsky’s lies and deceit are causing him shame and guilt.

“Yes, we must put an end to it,” he decided.

But there are hundreds of pages left in the book, so what does our author do?  In the very next chapter, Tolstoy complicates things for our main characters.

“I’m with child,” she said, softly and deliberately.

Oh, Vronsky, you were so close to breaking it off.

Fellow readers, I knew a little bit about Anna Karenina before we started.  I’d heard somewhere that it was similar to Madame Bovary but in Russian.  I even know a little bit about the ending of our novel.

What I did not know was that there was going to be a baby.

Vronsky should have ended before he even started.

What surprises have you had while reading our latest book?

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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Hands and Teeth

Adriana mentioned that she’s counting instances of blushing and flushing in Anna Karenina.

Me?  I’m noticing hands and teeth. Specifically little hands and even teeth.

Whose? Anna’s little hands and Vronsky’s even teeth.

Have you noticed them?

pg. 93  He pressed the little hand she gave him…

pg. 99 …and took her hand in her vigorous little hand.

pg. 105  …to touch her, hold her little hand, kiss it, play with her ring…

pg. 120  …fascinating the graceful, light movements of her little feet and hands

pg. 145   With her little deft hands she opened and shut her little red bag…

pg. 146  …the smooth paper knife in her little hands…

pg. 205  Anna Arkadyevna, with her quick little hand was unfastening the lace of her sleeve…

So I guess Anna has little hands.

Now what about Vronsky’s pearly whites.

pg. 168  …showing his strong, close rows of teeth, when he thought of the helmet.

pg. 188  …laughing and showing his even rows of teeth

pg. 256  …face of disgust, and showing his even teeth.

pg. 262  He laughed gaily, showing his even teeth…

Maybe the Countess sprung for orthodontia?

I mentioned my observations to Jeannette last week.  She wondered what I thought it might mean.  The only thing I could come up with was a lame Little Red Riding Hood reference.

Big Bad Wolf Vronsky holding the tiny hand of Little Red Riding Hood Anna… Little Red:  “Why, Vronsky, what even teeth you have!” Big Bad Vronsky:  “The better to seduce you with, my dear.”

What do you think it means?

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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Killing Her Softly

Part Two Chapter 11

Are you with me?  I can hardly even bring myself describe the scene, so please do me a favor and look back at it for yourself.

Yep, that one.  For lack of a better description I’ll call it The Beginning of the Affair  You remember  it, right?  Or have you blocked it from your mind as I’m tempted to do?

Awful.

Possibly the most gut-wrenching, graphic, horrible, detestable, lamentable, grievous, heart-breaking collection of words we’ve read thus far on our list.

And we read about Sikes killing Nancy and Raskolnikov’s death blows to Alyona and Lizaveta.

But those are the two events that flashed through my mind as the infidelity unfolded.  I didn’t connect Anna to Hester or Emma.  Despite his trembling jaw I didn’t see a parallel between Vronsky and Arthur.  Even the boldness in calculation, pursuit, and patience didn’t draw my mind to Léon or Rodolphe at this moment.

I saw only Bill and Rask.

Certainly this is what Tolstoy wanted.  He himself likens his characters to a murderer and corpse.  He himself paints blood oozing out of the invisible, yet deep wounds the affair cut into their souls.  He himself mixes the language of love and kisses with loathing and axes. He himself turns paramours into accomplices.

Thou shall not murder.  Thou shall not commit adultery.

Side by side, as always.

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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