Anna Karenina – Part 2

“The highest Petersburg society is essentially one: in it everyone knows everyone else, everyone even visits everyone else.”

Well the action has certainly picked up. There is no way to discuss Part II without spoilers, so there will be many. You have been warned.

Anna is back in St. Petersburg, and Vronsky has followed her. She knows this should upset her, but it does not. Quite the opposite really. Anna is changed, and it is not unnoticed. She shuns her old morally upright society companions, now favouring the fashionable set – which of course includes Vronsky and his cousin Betsy – now Anna’s constant companion. Her new BFF,  if you will.

Anyone who has lived in a small town or been part of a smaller community in a large town will be familiar with this. Anna and Vronsky are the subject of continual chatter and gossip, with their friends the worst offenders.

“Alexey Alexandorivich had seen nothing striking or improper in the fact that his wife was sitting with Vronsky at a separate table, in eager conversation with him about something. But he noticed that to the rest of the party this appeared to be something striking and improper. He made up his mind that he must speak of it to his wife.”

Karenin’s reaction to his wife’s behaviour is most interesting. He does not feel jealous, as to him jealous is illogical (which is an opinion I share, making his internal musings of particular interest to me). But whereas Anna knows her feelings for Vronsky are wrong and feels much guilt for them, Karenin is less concerned with right and wrong and more concerned with appearances. If his wife is going to have improper relations with another man, she should at least have the courtesy to hide this. Anna struggles with her passion and the need to feel and live out her feelings, Karenin is willing to hide all feelings in order to maintain his status (really, he often doesn’t seem to have feelings, so hiding them should not be a problem).

I was surprised and impressed that after all the build up there was no seduction scene, description of the lovers succumbing to their passion. Merely a mention that time had passed, and that the relationship had been consummated. Because the book is not about the sex. It is about the passion, the buildup, and the consequences. In the first mention that they were now lovers, all we see is how miserable and desperate the affair has made Anna.

It does not get better as you read further: Anna reveals her pregnancy to Vronsky, Vronsky falls from his horse during a race and Anna cannot hide her distress from those in attendance, including her husband, and finally in a fit of rage & desperation she confesses the affair (but not the pregnancy). In response, all Karenin can say is that he expects her to keep up appearances. So even in confession, Anna still does not find the release she needs, and is expected to continue to live a lie.

I cannot help but wonder: if Karenin was able to express even a little of the care and concern for his wife that he admits to himself, might things have gone differently? This is really what attracts her to Vronsky, is it not?

KItty and Levin are still in the picture as well, though not so dramatically. At least not yet. Perhaps that is coming. Levin is back in the country, dealing with the humiliation of Kitty’s rejection by throwing himself into work on the farm. Kitty, having realised Vronsky never did love her, is thrown into a state of depression, makes herself ill, sees a series of doctors and is finally taken abroad.

While in Germany, under the influence of new friends, Kitty begins to learn there is more to life than balls, parties and pretty dresses, and resolves (as only a naïve young girl can do) to do more good, be a better person, etc.  As we know, no good deed goes unpunished – but I think overall, these are important learnings for Kitty which will shape who she becomes later in the novel.

I should perhaps have more to say about these two, but my interest in this part of the story was all about Anna and Vronsky.

Thoughts from other readers? I know many of you are behind. According to my Kobo, I am 30% through the book after 2 of 8 “parts” which leads me to conclude the rest of the sections will be shorter, quicker reads. So catching up should not be a problem.

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