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Anna Karenina: The bitterness of ecstacy


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I'm taking a Russian literature course (19th C) and I have to write a paper on a topic of my choice, so I want to write about the character of Anna Karenina from Tolstoi's novel of the same name.


This prof does NOT WANT a researched, analytical essay, she would prefer it if we drew from ourselves or how we as readers interpret the various works so I thought it might be interesting to write about certain aspects of my past that kind of correspond to the Karenina story.


Anna Karenina was married to a old, cold, frigid husband in the government and she has an affair with a handsome, young count, Vronsky. The story ends tragically when Anna throws herself in front of a train.


The book explores how Anna and Vronsky are guided solely by their physical passion towards each other which eventually gets out of control and they become outcasts of the Petersburg elite society.


Do you have any suggestions on how I can present this paper? What should the title be? Has anyone lived through a similar experience?

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hi pauline,


oooh, i remeber studying this for my final year exams. i'll try and give it my best shot....


firstly, i quite like the title you have used for your post. it is indicative of the life she was leading: a cold and bitter marriage led her on a search for ecstasy, but her ultimate and inevitable demise was tragic and bitter.


tolstoy often achieves an immediate characterisation by describing one character through the eyes of another, as in the early description of Kitty through Levin's love-struck eyes:


"when he thought abpout her, he could conjure up a vivid picture of her whole appearance...(blah blah blah)"


i think it's quite poignant that tolstoy characterises a character through the eyes of another. we don't all view a person the way someone else does (e.g. some look at a person with lust. some look at a person with love). it could also be classed as a tragic story of escapism i.e. leaving the things in life that cause you pain in search of greener pastures. she needs affection, she needs passion (who doesn't?). this is something many of us relate to.


i think the tragic death of anna was inevitable, which makes this novel quite cathartic and sad.


this is just my personal interpretation anyway.


escaping an unhappy relationship has played a part in my life once, although it wasn't a figure of lust that drew me away. it was my own rationale. i didn't want to rush into the arms of someone else. i've never been brought down by others the way anna was (thank god) and i've never attempted to jump in front of a train out of sheer desperation (thank god!).


i used to get rather frustrated at having to pull apart a novel/poem/play and analyse every segment of it. to me, books, just like poetry and music, are subject to personal interpretation, which i feel makes it more enjoyable especially when we can relate our own life experiences to it. i'm also a fan of reading for the sheer enjoyment of it.


best of luck with your paper :)

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I thought you were talking about that girl who plays tennis....what's her name?


Seriously, I think it sounds like an intersting class. I read the book a long time ago, so I'm not going to be very much help.


But here goes anyway. I think the bitterness of ecstacy is that it is a temporary phenomena. Like a drug or anything that makes us feel really good, the more we get the more we want. We want to be high all the time. The consequences of increased drug use themselves increase.


In the same way lovers can become passion junkies, in fact all do. The difference with Anna and her beau was that in their case there were too many roadblocks in the way. The forces of society pushed in one direction, passion in the other. Eventually, her nervous system snapped under the pressure and she killed herself. She escaped.


German writer Goethe has a story about this kind of. I forget what it's called. Now that I think about it I see a similar theme in Romeo and Juliet.


As far as how to approach the story, I would suggest thimking about a time in your life when you really wanted to do something but for whatever reason weren't able to. Could be a forbidden relationship or something entirely different. Or you could throw a feminist twist on it and explore how the treatment of women at the time caused Anna to make her final exit. How would the story be different in 21'st century America, for example.


So that's all I got. Good luck with the paper. I may have been to analytical here but that's just the way I am.


"Women love men for their defects, if men have eneough of them, women will forgive them everything, even their gigantic intellects."


Oscar Wilde

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YOU ASK: "Has anyone lived through a similar experience?"


I tried to throw myself in front of a train once. But I was held back by several bill collectors.


It is sometimes a very good thing to owe people.

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