Book and Film

Relationship advice from Anna Karenina

In it’s suffering, pain, angst and paranoia lie parallels in today’s love and marriage.

Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece Anna Karenina is considered one of the best novels in the world. The 800 page literary piece is difficult to condense into a motion picture however several attempts bring to view the world of Russian aristocracy from which numerous relationship lessons can be learnt even today.

I happened to stumble upon Christopher Reeve’s 1985 television version of the story which I immediately preferred to the 2012 Kiera Knightly version since I personally consider Jude Law a very handsome actor and watching him as Karenin simply made no sense to me. In the 1985 film the stark comparison between the looks of Christopher Reeve as the young, handsome Count Vronsky and Paul Scofield as the old, dark and possessive husband Alexei Karenin presents an excellent canvas of a woman’s view of a desirable partner and poses a question to any reader or viewer of the legitimacy of society morally judging Anna’s heart in such a position.

Drop dead gorgeous!

Count Vronsky’s depiction by Christopher Reeve presents a dashingly handsome Prince of Hearts who is the centre of attention of all women. It is unsurprising that Anna still youthful shouldn’t resist his charms. The question also comes to matter why the powerful Alexei Karenin failed to recognize his partnering with a girl 20 years younger to her, as young to be his own daughter would be an appropriate and reliable alliance through the thick and thin of vulnerable marital ties.

A totally unmatched couple! I smell trouble! The possessive Alexei Karenin

Any married couple today will agree that marriage is an ongoing struggle. It doesn’t remain smooth. Anna’s position is something which anyone could face at any point of their lives be it man or woman. Often times after an initial compromise and suitability for a specific period couples who don’t form an intense passion and dependency on each other tend to stray away from each other and slowly fall apart. The heated attraction of Anna towards the young and charming Count Vronsky can be interpreted as a “very normal” feeling in which any young woman could be driven towards given the age difference and appearance of Alexei Karenin. It was a marriage which failed and ended the moment Anna’s eyes met with Vronsky’s.

Another theme which greatly stood out was the attainment of a forbidden love. Up until Vronsky was still a lover and Anna was living with Karenin, Anna’s passionate desires and dreams of being together with her lover ,whenever a chance provided, gave her ecstasy and exhilaration. When she finally attained him by leaving Karenin and her son his charms, his gorgeous looks and the pleasure of being with her lover gave her no lasting peace. Mark Manson the phenomenal writing sensation says

When you achieve your dreams, it never feels the way you thought it would

and this is exactly what happened to Anna. It is what we all experience and begin to understand as we grow into middle age. Anna’s attainment of Count Vronsky was a dream achieved and a victory drenched in guilt and a sense of immorality and duty as a mother. In life we see that it is important to be grateful and thankful in the present moment for WHATEVER we have. Anna’s situations throughout the novel can be dissected into 2 scenarios which people can relate to in their own personal lives

The ballroom dance where the sparks flew!

Scenario No. 1
Anna is married to Alexei Karenin, is smitten by the heavenly handsome Vronsky but her love for her son is greater than her passionate desires for Vronsky so she comes to peace with the fact that she must live with Karenin in order to have her son by her side. She sacrifices her love for Vronsky for the love of her son. She forces herself to remain content with the love of her son and remains in a loveless marriage to an old man.

Scenario No. 2
Anna instead chooses to live with Vronsky and her baby Anne and sacrifices her love for her son Sergei. She has to live with the pain of losing her son. She sacrifices him and chooses to remain content with the pain of not being able to see him again and finds solace in Vronksky and Anne’s love and chooses to mother another child with Vronsky. She lives on with the pain of Sergei’s separation and tries to write letters to him every week in secret, hoping she will one day see him again.

You will notice in each scenario Anna has to sacrifice something for something she loves. It is always the case in life. In the end the choices we make and whatever we get, we MUST be contented with that! What would have Anna chosen to make her the most contented? ONLY and I repeat ONLY Anna could tell, meaning that only WE can know what path we take and what we can afford to sacrifice and what we can afford to keep to ultimately bring us to a state of peace , satisfaction, gratitude and contentment.

Several themes recurring in Anna’s character specifically in the 1985 film are discussed below with a point of view on love, marriage and relationships today. We have all been heartbroken and hurt, it wasn’t only you Anna.

Love. She was still legally wedded to Karenin who despite knowing that she not only carried feelings only for the Count but also carried Vronsky’s child, refused to relieve her with a divorce. I beg to side with Anna, her forcefully maintaining her marriage whilst loving the Count was a torture which Alexei Karenin put her through because he believed Anna would “come back to him”. Reality check: when someone doesn’t love you, They DON’T love you!

Suicide. I do not believe in suicides and I highly suggest no one should either. Christopher Reeve himself was a person who was the most appropriate to choose suicide yet he lived his amazing life to tell us his story and became an inspiration for millions. Anna towards the end resorted to suicide because she did not show gratitude and contentment in being with Vronsky and having patience to wait to be married to him. Whilst pondering about suicide one MUST wonder how it would affect one’s family members. Anna didn’t think that it would make her little Anne motherless, she didn’t think how it would break her son’s heart, how it would pain her brother and sister in law or how it would affect Vronsky. In suicide you are never alone, you choose to cause irreplaceable loss to your family.

The Gossips of Society. High society or low, medium or small whatever have always nibbled out our self esteem away, whether your in high school, college, university, a laborer or in any profession imaginable, you will always ALWAYS have to deal with gossip. What is worst is that you won’t even know the people who will be discussing you, neither your trait which will make them gossip. For society at large you will always be too good (she must have an ulterior motive!) too mean, too thin, too fat, too short, too tall, too ugly, too beautiful, too immoral. It is YOU who decides if you let these people have power and control over you. YOU need to be strong. In Anna Karenina’s case she should have had an inner reflection of what she had done, she should have never given in to elite aristocratic social circles. The fact that she needed friends and a social circle to move in, and Vronsky’s partnership wasn’t enough for her to have peace, showed that perhaps she cared far too much for other peoples’ good opinion. If you love someone you need to realize that in doing so you might have to elope with him and loose all of your family members and friends. It is a price which has to be paid, nothing in life is for free, we all have to pay the price of something in order to attain our desire. A person has to choose that road which despite a painful sacrifice will lead him to peace and contentment something which is clearly depicted in the film that Anna yearns for later on. Mark Manson says “A nice dinner with people you love is 10 times better than a party with a hundred people you don’t”, why need the aristocratic fops and bitches anyway Anna? Everyone needs to learn “the Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k” in order to save oneself from paranoia!

Overthinking is a vice which would drive any person crazy. Charles Dickens said “A busy bee has no time to worry”. Anna’s paranoia stemmed from her aristocratic wealth and lifestyle. The elite had enough time to go to parties and flirt with women and men other than their spouses. An elite household also meant that Anna barely had anything to do in the household. EVERYTHING was done by the several servants. Anna was confined to the walls of the house which imprisoned and haunted her with her guilty conscience strangling her towards paranoia and insecurity. An intensely busy life schedule would have Anna thinking less about her lover’s activities and her own guilt.

Moral Obligations have to and MUST be Personal. No one can and no one should decide for you what your moral obligations are. We are all strange and different people, we have all been in different struggles in our lives, no one knows us better than we. We need to be the judge of what we done in life was truly immoral or not. Were you the high school whore everyone claimed you were? If the answer is yes, you need to think what YOU can do to give you better morals and redeem yourself and NO ONE has to know. There is always redemption, forgiveness, deliverance and it can be even in taking care of homeless animals or volunteering at an elderly home.

Self Love and Guilt. It can be apparent that Anna must have been such a charismatic and appealing woman that despite her being too young for Karenin he still choose her, and despite her being a married woman Vronsky still choose her. She was a very much sought after woman in Russian aristocracy indeed! Such a woman heavily depended upon the opinions of others and appears to have gradually developed self hate and a horrifyingly negative image of herself that she resorted to free both the Alexeis from her immorality. Letting go of guilt, forgiving yourself, accepting yourself and once you confronted your shotcomings made efforts to make amends. True peace is attained by living for others. With immense affluence instead of governing a single english child Anna could have chosen to make a girls orphan in the countryside to keep her morals alive and satisfied. A person has choices to repent for sins! No person is altogether white not black we all have our fairshare of sins and all lie in a grey area.

Patience is a Virtue, indeed it is! Patience brings contentment and gratitude like no other thing in this world. Patience gets you through the tough times. Anna could have patiently waited for her son Sergei to grow and become independent so that she could see him again and explain her life choices to him. As in the Tenet of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, Providence releases Helen from her husband, and she manages to unite with Gilbert Markham and start a new happy marriage. It was her patience which pays off in the end. Despite her immoral decisions Anna must have shown patience on several instances, Karenin being 20 years older could have potentially not lived long enough and she could have had a chance to be with both her son and Vronsky by patiently waiting for a development to occur instead of resorting to ending her life. It doesn’t mean hoping he would die but nature has its ways of testing you and granting you compensation!

Relocating and Starting Anew. If it doesn’t work once, do it again, you are not a tree. For someone as wealthy as Anna, waiting for a divorce, patiently waiting to be Vronsky’s lawfully wedded wife and yet again relocating to another country could have been a future prospect. Options only end when you stop, Italy didn’t work, Moscow didn’t work, St. Petersburg didn’t work, keep moving, move forwards to Spain ANNA! The world is a huge area and there is always a place you can find to call home.

Happiness is a choice, it isn’t something which anyone ever has, you need to create it for yourself, essentially make yourself happy. Despite her guilt her immoral conduct if she had chosen to be happy with Vronsky and baby Anne it should have been able to be enough to save her life and value them. In any case it would have been either Karenin and Sergei or Vronsky and Anne and she would in any case have one husband and one child to keep, treasure, cherish and love to ultimately find peace. Peace in itself is something intrinsically personal and only your true self knows how and where to find it from.

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