The Influence of Reading on Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary

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The Influence of Reading on Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary

Reading provides an escape for people from the ordinariness of everyday life. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, dissatisfied with their lives pursued their dreams of ecstasy and love through reading. At the beginning of both novels Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary made active decisions about their future although these decisions were not always rational. As their lives started to disintegrate Emma and Anna sought to live out their dreams and fantasies through reading. Reading served as morphine allowing them to escape the pain of everyday life, but reading like morphine closed them off from the rest of the world preventing them from making rational decisions. It was Anna and Emma's loss of reasoning and isolation that propelled them toward their downfall. Emma at the beginning of the novel was someone who made active decisions about what she wanted. She saw herself as the master of her destiny. Her affair with Rudolphe was made after her decision to live out her fantasies and escape the ordinariness of her life and her marriage to Charles. Emma's active decisions though were based increasingly as the novel progresses on her fantasies. The lechery to which she falls victim is a product of the debilitating adventures her mind takes. These adventures are feed by the novels that she reads.

They were filled with love affairs, lovers, mistresses, persecuted ladies fainting in lonely country houses, postriders killed at every relay, horses ridden to death on every page, dark forests, palpitating hearts, vows, sobs, tears and kisses, skiffs in the moonlight, nightingales in thickets, and gentlemen brave as lions gentle as lambs, virtuous as none really is, and always ready to shed floods of tears.(Flaubert 31.)Footnote1

Emma's already impaired reasoning and disappointing marriage to Charles caused Emma to withdraw into reading books, she fashioning herself a life based not in reality but in fantasy.
Anna Karenina at the begging of Tolstoy's novel was a bright and energetic women. When Tolstoy first introduces us to Anna she appears as the paragon of virtue, a women in charge of her own destiny.

He felt that he had to have another look at her- not because she was very beautiful not because of her elegance and unassuming grace which was evident in her whole figure but because their was something specially sweet and tender in the expression of her lovely face as she passed him. (Tolstoy 76.)Footnote2

In the next chapter Anna seems to fulfill expectations Tolstoy has aroused in the reader when she mends Dolly and Oblonskys marriage. But Anna like Emma has a defect in her reasoning, she has an inability to remain content with the ordinariness of her life: her marriage to Karenin, the social festivities, and housekeeping. Anna longs to live out the same kind of romantic vision of life that Emma also read and fantasized about.

Anna read and understood everything, but she found no pleasure in reading, that is to say in following the reflection in other people's lives. She was to eager to live herself. When she read how a heroine of a novel nursed a sick man, she wanted to move about the sick room with noiseless steps herself. When she read how Lady Mary rode to hounds and teased her sister-in-law, astonishing everyone by her daring, she would have liked to do the same. (Tolstoy 114.)

Anna Karenina was a romantic who tried to make her fantasies a reality. It was for this reason she had an affair with Vronsky. Like Emma her decisions were driven by impulsiveness and when the consequences caught up with her latter in the novel she secluded herself from her friends, Vronsky, and even her children. Anna and Emma both had character flaws that made them view the world as fantasy so that when their fantasy crumbled they resorted to creating a new fantasy by living their lives through the books they...
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