Ana Karenina

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Stiva's relationship with Dolly suggests the incomplete relationship between Karenin and Anna. The Oblonskys' problems only seem lighter because of the double standard: It is less serious for a husband to stray than for a wife, since family unity depends on the woman. Tolstoy shows us that men's primary interests are outside the home, whereas women, like Dolly, center their existence on the family. Stiva, Vronsky, and Karenin, unlike Levin, divide their lives sharply between their homes and amusements, and they are each startled, through the incidents of the novel, to confront the previously ignored feelings of their wives. The divided pattern of these marriages, moreover, allows the dissatisfied partner to seek outside fulfillment of social, emotional, or sexual needs. Anna exemplifies the divided nature of an unfulfilled spouse: During her bout of fever, she admits her affection for Karenin though another part of her soul desires Vronsky. Without solving these marital problems, Tolstoy develops his characters so they adjust to their incomplete relationships. Dolly dotes on her children, Anna gives Seriozha the love she cannot express toward Karenin (conversely lacking deep affection for her love-child Ani), while the husbands commit themselves either to work (like Karenin) or pleasure (like Stiva and Vronsky).

Tolstoy thus depicts the hopeless marriage patterns in urban society. Despite showing the blissful union of Kitty and Levin, Tolstoy ultimately states that marriage, and other sexually-based relationships, weaken the individual's quest for "immanent goodness." He prefigures this later doctrine as the love between Anna and Vronsky deteriorates and by the lighthearted intrusion of Vassenka Veslovsky.

While Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina, however, he still exulted in the success of his own marriage. The result is that Levin and Kitty have the only mutually complete union of the novel. Their marriage is a fulfillment, not a compromise, because Levin's...
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