Tuesday, February 11, 2014

I Do Not Understand Anna Karenina

As an English major and English teacher, I wish I could say I'm a true book nerd.

In reality, I am a book worm. I devour books, rushing through them like I'm starving, and they are the only food that will satisfy me.  This tendency means that I sometimes fail to connect with a story before moving on to the next meal book.

There are exceptions to this.

I read Anna Karenina twice, once in 7th grade, and later, as a college student, both times well before becoming a wife and mother.  This fact matters, because, even then, I could not understand how Anna could, above all else, willingly abandon her children.

Why bring this up now?

Caution: Spoilers Ahead

I finally watched the recent movie version of Anna Karenina (Kiera Knightley goes quite mad; Jude Law quietly tries to keep his life together). I experienced the story, this time, through the lens of motherhood.

And I still do not understand Anna's choices.

When Anna decides to be with her lover, she says, of her son, "Once he understands love, he will understand why I left."

I understand love (or at least, I think I do), and I don't get it. How would her son ever understand that she abandoned him so she could run off for a frolic with her lover?

Anna's marriage to Karenin is portrayed as peaceful, at most.  Her husband treats her kindly. He is a busy government official and may not pay Anna and their son much attention as she would like.  She meets Vronsky, a decorated officer, and embarks on a ridiculous (in my opinion) affair that those around her try to warn her will be her ruin.

It's a Russian novel; so, of course the whole affair does end in ruin.

I know that Anna wasn't necessarily happy in her marriage, but she didn't even recognize that until she felt this so-called "love" for Vronsky.  Then, she was willing to sacrifice everything for this notion of love.

Everything. Including her children.

Sure, Anna dealt with morphine addiction, a serious case of postpartum depression, and isolation from her peers in light of the fact that she "broke the rules" by running off with someone new. All of these issues fast-forwarded her demise.

Ultimately, though, it was her first decision, the one to step outside of her marriage, a decision made while free from drug addiction or (known) mental illness, that led to the abandonment of her children.

That is something I do not understand.

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