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Views On Marriage And Divorce In Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

2259 words - 9 pages

Marriage and family are prevailing themes in the major works of Tolstoy. In War & Peace the marriage of Pierre to Hélène is later contrasted with that of Pierre's later marriage with Natasha (among others) and in Anna Karenina, the novel is in some ways two separate stories of two separate marriages. On one hand is the union between Levin and Kitty and on the other is Anna Arkádyevna and Alexéy Karenin. One is a marriage coming together, while the other is one breaking apart. Based on the characterization of the players involved, coupled with parallels to Tolstoy's own life it is possible to discern his philosophy towards marriage and therefore why each character's fate was chosen at the outset.

Although there are two main marriages in the novel, other marriages undergo scrutiny as well. The first character we are introduced to is Stiva Oblonsky, a government clerk portrayed as a likeable character who is also at odds with his wife due to an act of infidelity with their French governess (part I, chapter 1, pg. 1). His wife, Dolly, wishes to leave him as she can not stand to live with a man who has defamed their love, especially with someone under their own roof. At the same time, Levin has come from the country in order to ask for the hand of Kitty, Dolly's sister. Shortly after arriving in town, Levin and Oblonsky had a talk in which Oblonsky's philosophy towards marriage was expounded on: "'a woman, a dear, gentle affectionate creature, poor and lonely, sacrifices everything. Now when the thing is done...just consider, should one forsake her? Granted that one ought to part with her as not to destroy family life, but oughtn't one to pity her and provide for her and make things easier?'" (part I, chapter 11, pgs. 37-38). His opinion is that marriage is more in name only than in actual meaning. Once the husband loses interest (as he most certainly will), he is free to associate with whom he pleases provided it is discreet. From the first page we are given an image of marriage as an unhappy union contrasted with the love struck Levin, who sees marriage as the apex of happiness and essential to his life.

Before we go on, it would be useful to show just how similar Tolstoy is to his protagonist, Levin, as he embodies much of Tolstoy's philosophy while mirroring much of his life. The parallels begin with Levin's interest in agriculture, its relation to the Russian peasant, and his love of country life. Prior to Tolstoy's second year examinations at university, he left to settle at his ancestral estate in the country. His plan was to improve the lot of his peasants, but could never surmount the distrust of the peasantry (Maude, 45). This was similar to the attempt made by Levin to improve his peasants' lives through sharecropping and other innovations (part III, chapter 28, pg. 309). Like Levin's wife Kitty, Tolstoy's wife Sonya was city bred and upon moving to the country had a difficult time adjusting. Both Sonya and Kitty were thrown into...

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