Complicated Relations

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Leo Tolstoy — Anna Karenina

 It has been declared as the greatest novel of all time.

Tolstoy’s epic novel, Anna Karenina, set in czarist Russia is considered as a pinnacle in realist fiction.

It also can be seen as an interesting portrait of the pitfalls and joys of the Temperaments in the lively and deadly game of romance, or simply put: LOVE …


Fully half of Tolstoy’s monumental Anna Karenina (1877) tells the story of an adulterous love affair between two Artisans, the beautiful, sensual Anna and the handsome but more shallowly impulsive Count Vronsky.

However, the book as a whole is a much more far-reaching and balanced study of male-female relations, and especially of married life. “The main, basic idea” of the novel, as Tolstoy told his wife, is “the idea of a family,” and he carefully interweaves Anna’s ruinous extra-marital affair with the fates of three related marriages in the novel: Anna’s own hateful marriage with her Monitor Guardian (STJ) husband; the strained marriage between Anna’s libertine Artisan brother Stepan Oblonsky and his long-suffering Guardian wife Dolly; and, as the main counter-plot in the novel, the hard-won happiness of Stepan’s sister-in-law Kitty, a dating software (ESFJ), and her husband Konstantin Levin, the wedding dating who in many ways is Tolstoy’s autobiographical hero in Anna Karenina. [Pygmalion Project: The Idealist]

Anna Karenina is full of colorful characters:

  • Princess Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (Анна Аркадьевна Каренина): Stepan Oblonsky’s sister, Karenin’s wife and Vronsky’s lover.
  • Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (Aлекceй Kиpиллoвич Bpoнcкий): Lover of Anna, a cavalry officer
  • Prince Stepan “Stiva” Arkadyevich Oblonsky (Cтeпaн “Cтивa” Aркaдьевич Oблoнский): a civil servant and Anna’s brother, a man about town, 34.
  • Princess Darya “Dolly” Alexandrovna Oblonskaya (Дарья “Дoлли” Aлeксaндрoвна Oблoнскaя): Stepan’s wife, 33
  • Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin: a senior statesman and Anna’s husband, twenty years her senior.
  • Konstantin “Kostya” Dmitrievich Levin: Kitty’s suitor and then husband, old friend of Stiva, a landowner, 32.
  • Nikolai Dmitrievich Levin: Konstantin’s elder brother, an impoverished alcoholic.
  • Sergius Ivanovich Koznyshev: Konstantin’s half-brother, a celebrated writer, 40.
  • Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya: Dolly’s younger sister and later Levin’s wife, 18.
  • Princess Elizaveta “Betsy”: Anna’s wealthy, morally loose society friend and Vronsky’s cousin
  • Countess Lidia Ivanovna: Leader of a high society circle that includes Karenin, and shuns Princess Betsy and her circle. She maintains an interest in the mystical and spiritual
  • Countess Vronskaya: Vronsky’s mother

Leo Tolstoy’s fiction consistently attempts to convey realistically the Russian society in which he lived.  In several of his novels, a philosophical landowner (much like Tolstoy), who works alongside the peasants in the fields and seeks to reform their lives.

Known most for his novels, Tolstoy, a Teacher Idealist, his conversion from a dissolute and privileged society author to the non-violent and spiritual anarchist of his latter days was brought about by his experience in the army as well as two trips around Europe in 1857 and 1860–61.  During his 1857 visit, Tolstoy witnessed a public execution in Paris, a traumatic experience that would mark the rest of his life. “The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens … Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere.”

Tolstoy’s personal life was complicated.  As an Idealist, he was always searching for meaning, never quite satisfied.  Tolstoy had married Sophia Andreevna Behrs, who was 16 years his junior; they had thirteen children.   The marriage was somewhat happy in the beginning, and Tolstoy was very productive, writing the masterpiece, War and Peace, and then Anna Karenina.  For his novels, short stories, and plays, Tolstoy not only drew from his own life experiences for his characters but also created characters in his very much own image, such as Konstantin Levin.  Tolstoy’s story Anna Karenina about the contrasting lives of several families makes fascinating reading.

Again, Dr. Stephen Montgomery in the Pygmalion Project talks about the character Levin, an character much like Tolstoy, an Idealist trying to resolve the complicated relations in life.

Like so many Idealists, Levin has struggled all of his life trying to transform himself into a perfectly good human being, believing that self-esteem is possible only for the ideal man, and that devotion to “God and goodness” is “the only life that is worth living and the only life that we prize.” But his violently contradictory emotions after the storm—his rush of love and of anger—give him pause and force him to consider a more tolerant basis for self-regard. Levin must confess that, for all his desire to banish his human flaws, for all his dreams of being a purely benevolent and loving man, he is no more than human and will likely continue to deal with others in his shy, intense, and passionately critical Counselor way. He finally admits to himself with a smile of recognition that, despite his saintly intentions,

I shall still get angry…I shall still argue and express my thoughts inopportunely; there will still be a wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife, and I shall still blame her for my own fears and shall regret it.

Importantly, Levin recognizes “this new feeling” of self-acceptance not as the miraculous personal transformation he has sought for so long: it “has not changed me,” he says, “has not made me happy and enlightened me all of a sudden as I dreamed it would.” On the contrary, Levin seems to have become “joyfully aware” only of his own, inescapable limitations as a human being—as an Idealist—and he seems to have embraced the idea that we find a higher and “incontestable” feeling of goodness when we forgive ourselves for being ourselves.

It is not too simple to say that, in the course of Anna Karenina, Levin has learned to love both his wife and his son despite their all too human weaknesses. And that at the very end of the novel, after his storm of emotions, he finds the “joy and tranquility” of understanding and accepting himself as well. [Pygmalion Project: The Idealist]

Charlie Rose’s Interview with Screenwriter Tom Stoppard and Director Joe Wright on their version of Anna Karenina.

3 thoughts on “Complicated Relations”

  1. I’m not sure how you can type Levin as an Idealist. Did you type him from the book or the movie? In the book, Tolstoy has Levin reading a “Treatise on Heat” and writing about electricity and heat. He has a deep interest and desire to do physics. He spends most of his time obsessing over his farm, trying out new technology and techniques. He rides around teaching his peasants and foremen how to implement them. He becomes infuriated that Oblonsky sold a forest without “counting the trees”, showing a Rational’s love of objective measurement. His love of Kitty is more of a sense that she is the perfect woman to fulfill his plans. He thinks about her, not as a person, but as the women who will give him a family, which is all part of his plan. He is a Coordinator Rational, most likely an Arranger (Mastermind).

    1. I have found many Counselor Idealists attracted to science, Jane Goodall and T.E. Lawrence off the top of my head come to mind. But your arguments are reasonable. My father calls the Counselor and the Arranger both Competitive Contenders (in their roles). The Counselor being Diplomatic and the Arranger being Strategic. The Rational usually does not worry as much about their mate (their Pygmalion Project is not as intense, or passionate) so I still think Levin (and Tolstoy) are more Idealistic than Rational. Levin’s struggle in accepting that his mate is not like him, constitutes a theme in the book.

  2. Oops, I didn’t read carefully. I see you typed Anna as an Artisan. Now, I know you’re basing it on one or more of the movies. Anna in the book comes across as a strong Idealist. It figures that the movie makers would want to make her more sensual. She is brought in by Oblonsky to reconcile him to his wife Dolly. She “finds the love in them” to bring them together, but she can’t overcome Oblonsky’s libertine nature. Meeting Vronsky, she feels very strongly toward him but puts him off for months. She is interested in the concept of love though. At one point she talks about how important love is to her and suggests that Vronsky doesn’t understand it the way she does. She can’t, eventually, deny herself love believing that her husband is “a machine”. In the book, the affair is about her constant struggle with her predicament, a struggle that Vronksy feels much less strongly. To him it is a matter of taking expedient steps. To her it is about resolving the emotional ties in her life. Anna is a victim of an “explosive” (to quote Prof. Keirsey) meeting between a Promoter Artisan and a Champion Idealist.

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