The Influence Of Reading On Anna Karenina

And Madame Bovary Essay, Research Paper

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


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 read.

Books allowed Emma Bovary to withdraw from her deteriorating life. They

allowed her to pursue her dreams of love, affairs, and knights; from the

wreckage of her marriage with Charles. Emma’s, experience at La Vaubyessard

became a source of absurd fantasy for Emma, and ingrained in her mind that the

world that the novel’s she read depicted was with in her reach.

She devoured without skipping a word, every article about first nights

in the theater, horse races and soirees; she was interested in the debut of

every new sing, the opening of every new shop. She new the dress of the latest

fashions and the addresses of every new tailor, the days when one went to the

Bois or the Opera. (Flaubert 55.)

This passage shows the absolute absurdity of Emma’s obsession with

reading. Emma while living in her remote French village in her mind was living

out the life of a Parisian. As Emma decisions continued to sink her further into

debt and deceit she began to live more and more through the novels she read. Her

affair with Leon was undertaken partially to fulfill the fantasies of the novels

she read. The room she rented for her rendezvous with Leon she decorated in the

opulence that her novels bespoke, and she spent vast sums of money to continue

the fantasy the novels she read described. Emma’s continued detachment with

reality made her unable to make rational decisions or even allow her to deal

with her problems. The fantasy in which she lived made her unable to take action

for herself.

She blamed Leon for her disappointed hopes, as though he had betrayed

her; and she even wished for a catastrophe that would bring about their

separation, since she did not have the courage to take any action herself.

(Flaubert 251.)

Finally, Emma lost all control over her life as she became instead of

the active character in the novel merely the observer of the consequences of her

actions. And like the heroines of the novels she read she saw her only salvation

would be through a dramatic suicide. Emma’s obsession with reading lead her to

make decisions that escalated her unhappiness and further paralyzed her from

dealing with reality.

Anna Karenina like Emma Bovary turned to novels to provide an escape

from her unhappy life. Anna wracked with guilt over abandoning Seryozha and

shunned by society turned to morphine and reading to provide a fantasy life when

her own life was crumbling around her. When Anna and Vronsky’s relationship

further disintegrated in the novel Anna turned more inward. She ventured with

Vronsky to Italy to try to repair their relationship and then to a country

estate. The country estate was lavish but for Anna it was a lonely place.

Anna devoted as much time to her appearance, even when they had no

visitors, and she read a great deal, both novels and serious books that happened

to be in fashion. She ordered all the books that received good notices in the

foreign papers and periodicals they subscribed to and read them with the

attention that is only possible in seclusion. (Tolstoy 640.)

Anna’s relationship with Vronsky continued to crumble. But both Anna

and Vronsky were unable to take action to do anything either to save their

relationship or deal with her divorce with Karenin. Anna like Emma became so

trapped in her fantasy world she was unable to deal with reality. Anna in the

last parts of the novels watches as her life disintegrates but she continues to

take no action as she delves into the morphine and novels that provide a

palliative for reality. It is critical to realize that both Anna and Emma are

aware that they are living in fantasy, and is precisely because they are aware

of reality that they despair and kill themselves when they see that they have in

their minds no escape from their troubles. Both Anna and Emma also attempt to

use reason to escape from their problems, “Yes I am very troubled and reason was

given to us to escape from our troubles,” says Anna Karenina. But both Anna and

Emma’s reason is so distorted by the fantasy in which they live that they see

littl e escape from life but through death.

Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary live out their dreams and fantasies

through reading novels which serve as palliatives for their painful lives.

Reading novels is not the primary theme in their lives nor is it the primary

reason they kill themselves. But their use of reading as an escape from reality

is critical to Anna and Emma’s characters. It is Anna and Emma’s reading of

novels which allows them to abandon their husbands and pursue their fantasies

both in life and in their minds. It is reading which prevents them from using

reason to correct their troubles. It is reading which distorts their reality and

forces them to become dissatisfied and bored with the ordinary pleasures of life.

Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are books ironically about the dangers of



Flaubert, Gustave. MADAME BOVARY. trans. Lowell Bair. New York: Bantam Books,



Tolstoy, Leo. ANNA KARENINA. trans. David Magarshack. New York: Signet Classic,



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