‘Make it so that I am at peace’: Thoughts on Anna Karenina

Love, of course, is tumultuous — ‘throes’ of passion, ‘stormy’ romance — but is it too much to ask to be in love and be at peace?

The tragedy of Anna Karenina, one of the books on my Mid-Life Reading Crisis list, is that she has to choose. She knows it will not end well. She can practically hear the chugging of the fateful train she’ll eventually let herself fall under, some 700 pages later, as soon as she accepts a waltz on the dance floor in Moscow with that dashing, young marriage-killer, Vronsky, while her husband, all but hewn of stone when it comes to marriage, is back home with their son.

She knows, and she even comes to the ball dressed for death.

Anna was not in lilac, as Kitty had absolutely wanted, but in a low-cut black velvet dress, which revealed her full shoulders and bosom, as if shaped from old ivory, and her rounded arms with their very small, tender hands.

Long before her final episode of aimless roaming, filled with hatred, suspicion and fear of everyone she sees, she practically begs her new lover for mercy.

‘If you love me as you say you do,’ she whispered, ‘make it so that I am at peace.’

His face lit up.

‘Don’t know you know that you are my whole life? But I know no peace and cannot give you any. All of myself, my love…. yes. I cannot think of you and myself separately. You and I are one for me.’

…She strained all the forces of her mind to say what she ought to say; but instead she rest her eyes on him, filled with love, and made no answer.

Even as her death wish blossoms, she’s still consumed by her confusion — ‘she thought of how life could still be happy, and how tormentingly she loved and hated him.’

The poor, hopeless beauty doesn’t even arrive at certainty in the moment of suicide.

In that same instant she was horrified at what she was doing. ‘Where am I? What am I doing? Why?’ She wanted to rise, to throw herself back, but something huge and implacable pushed at her head and dragged over her. ‘Lord, forgive me for everything!’ she said, feeling the impossibility of any struggle.

There could have been love. Or there could have been peace. But there couldn’t be both.

On its surface a love story, Anna Karenina is not the story of a search for love. Love is there aplenty. It finds you. It takes aim and hunts you down.

Instead, this wordy, reflective soap opera is about the same search so many of us middle-agers find ourselves undertaking as we scurry from work day to work day, from school function to school function, from marital quarrel to marital quarrel and amends to amends: It’s about the search for peace.

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