ANNA Read-a-long: Part 3

Photo: Zurich Opera House

Photo: Zurich Opera House

Several of the Manic Mommies are reading Anna Karenina as our 2010 classic read… you need to be committed to read this one (800+ pages)! We are using the Oprah discussion guide to facilitate the discussion. 

I finished reading part 3 last week and I am really enjoying it. I’m pleasantly surprised that this novel is so interesting and keeping my interest piqued. I didn’t expect anything less but I keep hearing people start Anna but do not finish it. I can’t wait to start reading part four, I need to know what happens next!

Since we didn’t get to fully discuss part two, let’s review parts 1-3 and then I have a few questions for you (if you are reading along with me or have read the novel and want to join in the discussion).

Part 1 (The Family Sphere):  The story starts with Oblonsky confessing that he had an affair to Dolly and we learn about life in Russia along with a little about each character. For me, the story really took off when at the train station, just before Anna arrives in Moscow.

For the remaining pages in part one we watch Anna talk Dolly into forgiving, we meet Kitty whose parents are ready to find her a husband and Kitty meets Anna at a Ball. Vronksy invites Anna to waltz, the look the two share stays with Anna forever. They do not get to dance but Kitty sees Vronksy looking at Anna. Later Anna tells Dolly that Kitty is upset with her over Vronsky. She claims she was trying to be a matchmaker and that she feels she must return home immediately.

While on the train ride from Moscow to St Petersburg Anna spots Vronsky. He tells her he must be near her. Anna’s husband is waiting to pick her up and meets Vronskys, who asks to call on them. Anna’s husband says Monday’s are good.

Part one ends when Vronsky decides to spend time in St Petersburg.

Part 2 (Adultery and Sexuality): As we progress through part two, the lovers' magnetic personalities grow exponentially as their love affair goes from an all-consuming idea to a fully realized reflection of sexual desire, expression and treachery. Anna and Vronsky meet in St Petersburg where their affair begins. Throughout the pages of Anna Karenina we discover many people have had affairs, even Vronsky's mother has been known to take lovers.

In the circles they run in, it's acceptable to have affairs as long as they don't become too entangled. Mere moments after the consummation of Anna and Vronsky's affair, the age-old double standard begins coloring the way we think of it. Why is it okay for a man but not a woman? In Anna, we meet a woman who not only has desires, but who acts on them against all judgment. She is adulterous yet real, scandalous yet true to her own feelings, sexual yet foolish. It's hard to know at times whether to love her or hate her.

As we find ourselves deeper and deeper in the web of Anna and Vronsky's love, you will be asked to choose for yourself what to think.

Part 3 (Reform Abounds): We have transitioned from love affairs and scandal to practicality and evaluating one’s happiness. The novel spends a lot of time Levin in this part of the book, after having his heart broken focuses his attention narrows to his land and the search for personal happiness.

While Levin is trying to move forward, Anna’s husband has some decisions to make. Anna confesses having an affair with Vronsky to her husband and is worried he will take their son and she will be left alone. Towards the end of part three she writes to Vronsky to say ‘I have told him’ but in the end decides against it and instead finds a way to see him face to face. Everything is out in the open now. 

Part four focuses on marriage and divorce Laws. I am looking forward to reading what will happen next – this novel is really interesting and gripping. I’m so happy to be reading it.

Questions for Part 3:

What do you think about the fact that Karenin considers and rejects the possibility of a duel with Vronsky for Anna? Do you think the fact that he initially decides on divorce instead is reasonable? First let me say that with all of the affairs in this book, it seems like this might have been a ‘trendy’ thing to do at the time. Karenin’s ego has taken a hit and he is embarrassed by Anna’s affair and being in high society doesn’t help. Divorce is better than a duel but as we leave part three we are still wondering what will happen.

Trace the ways Anna has thought of her affair with Vronsky up to this point. Discuss what Anna says makes her happy and unhappy about her situation. Do you think she is being realistic or naive? I’m not sure Anna has thought about the affair, like one thinks about buying a home (pros/cons, etc). Anna is emotional and makes her decisions without thinking about consequences. I was surprised to read that she thought to pick Vronsky over her son in part three. Is she realistic? Probably not but I do understand the need to be loved and if she is unhappy with Karenin it would make for a difficult marriage given the time/setting of the story.

Do you feel Anna's relationship with her brother and his wife Dolly is a good one? Discuss this dynamic and how you think it may play out as the book progresses. I hope this is explored more as we move to part 4. I really enjoyed Dolly and Kitty’s relationship in part 1.