Well we are officially half way through Anna Karenina. Part four is less than 100 pages, it was a quick read and the plot is really starting to move at a good pace. I usually put the book down for a few weeks but before starting the next part but I'm not sure I will be able to - I just need to know what happens next!
We are using Oprah's discussion guide to help facilitate the dialog. the recap below is from her website.
Part Four: Marriage and Divorce Laws
Many contemporary readers picking up Anna Karenina for the first time ask a very logical question after the consummation of Anna and Vronsky's affair: Why don't Anna and Karenin simply divorce? It would seem to solve many of the messiest issues for the three lovers in this triangle. Though that may seem to "solve" the problem, when thinking it through, the truth is that divorce in Tolstoy's Russia produced another set of complications potentially more devastating. All legal issues aside, Karenin and Anna feel the sacredness of their union in their own ways. This is part of the reason for Anna's extreme guilt and Karenin's extreme confusion.
One important distinction that colors Anna's predicament from even the early stages of the novel is the differing weight of the genders in Russian society. Though it may seem at times that Anna, out of the sheer force of her personality, wields as much power as Karenin or Vronsky, it is actually not the case. The selfhood afforded Anna is second-class from the start. She is another man's property, and belongs to Karenin in a way that no woman belongs to her husband in this day and age.
In addition, the laws of marriage and divorce were much more complex in the 19th century. For example, Karenin learns that the permissible grounds for divorce were "physical defect in husband or wife; five years absence without news; adultery of husband or wife." (p. 368) As it turns out however, the most common way couples divorced was by claiming "adultery by mutual consent." Basically this means that Karenin, in the public eye and in the eyes of God, would claim to have had an affair as well and be labeled an adulterer right along with Anna. For all his desire to be split from his wife and leave the pains of his marriage behind him, this is not a step he is remotely willing to take. Were he to try and prove that Anna was the only adulterous one, he would need proof from eyewitnesses—and all he has are passionate letters. Essentially, there is no such thing as a "no fault" divorce—and even in cases as egregious as Anna's conduct is in her society, it is nearly impossible to divorce her.
Questions for Part 4:
Reflect upon Karenin's predicament. He can't easily divorce his wife, yet she has moved beyond the pale of his influence. If he were to handle the situation in a morally upstanding way, what would be his best course of action? I struggle to answer the ‘morally upstanding’ part of the first question knowing that affairs kept quiet were viewed as acceptable at the time. My first reaction is to run and seems to be Karenin’s too, until he takes a few minutes to asses the situation. As this point in the book we are not sure what will happen to the marriage and their son. Karenin has threatened to take the boy and divorce Anna but as we finish part 4 we are not any closer to a decision. With the culture, social circles and setting of the novel rash decisions are hard to make.
At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Anna has a very close bond with her son Seryozha. Talk about what it means for her to leave him in order to be with Vronsky. When I first posted my answer to this question I thought we were discussing her relationship with her brother (I read the question wrong). I have udpated my answer and left my original answer to her relationship with her brother for your entertainment: In my opinion, I have not read that Anna has a close relationship with her son. I don't think it she will have a strong emotion reaction to leaving her son behind to be with Vronsky.
Anna came across as a rational character in the beginning of the novel, saving her brother’s marriage from divorce yet now she finds herself in the same situation. Anna was the support her brother needed when he indiscretions were revealed but I’m afraid there is a double standard - Karenin is not as eager to accept and move forward as Anna's brothers wife was. At this point Anna is willing to give up everything for Vronsky which is challenging to understand.
Part five is titled Love Rushes In: 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.