If the novels of the twentieth and twenty-first century seem to lack certain qualities that their predecessors possessed (and they certainly do, for better as well as for worse), the explanation is not that life itself—let alone feminism—rendered the subject of love obsolete. The truth is that I get a sinking feeling each time I encounter the marriage-plot argument. It condescends to novels like Austen’s, treating them as mere romances, and, while making much of novels like “Madame Bovary” and “Anna Karenina,” it locates their power in what I think is least interesting about them. Literary depth is too often equated with a sort of journalistic idea of “seriousness,” as if depth were achieved by taking on “issues” like hypocritical attitudes toward female adulterers. But depth is a subtle, wily quality, one that often resides simply in an author’s ability to see into his or her characters—to see beyond self-delusion and pretension and personal mythmaking and reveal them to us with a richness that we don’t often experience outside of fiction.
When Tolstoy first started working on the novel, he envisioned Anna as a kind of empty tramp, but the more he wrote, the more sympathetic he became to her plight. Still, at no point does he absolve her of moral responsibility for her own decisions, as some readers are too apt to do. Anna is a tragic figure, not merely because she is an emotionally deprived woman in a loveless marriage surrounded by empty hypocrites. She is also a victim of her own her romantic illusions, of making, in Tolstoy’s words, “the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realization of desires.” By giving herself over to the fantasy of complete liberation, Anna becomes a slave to her passions, a star in a tragic story partly of her own design. She is a stark illustration of Tolstoy’s belief that one of the central problems of modern social life isn’t just that we’re all playing roles on a stage, but that those roles often end up playing — and destroying — us.
November 16th marks the release of a new film version of Anna Karenina.
People joining Pinterest often get drawn into the excitement of quick and florid self-expression followed by instant feedback. Still, Ann Romney’s move was a little stunning. Mitt Romney’s devoted wife—Mormon convert, mother of five, would-be first lady of the United States—champions a chronicle of … an open marriage?
"The Karenins, husband and wife, continued living in the same house, met every day, but were complete strangers to one another. Aleksey Aleksandrovich made it a rule to see his wife every day, so that the servants might have no grounds for suppositions, but avoided dining at home. Vronsky was never at Aleksey Aleksandrovich’s house, but Anna saw him away from home, and her husband was aware of it."
Let’s just say the medium made her do it. Pinterest has been described as “crack for women” (although isn’t crack crack for women?). Keeping scrapbooks, chocked with mementos and photos and locks of Ringo Starr’s hair, has long been condescended to as a pastime of moms and grandmas, who paste and caption to wile away their waning years on breaks from Sudoku.
Virginia Heffernan's latest column is about Pinterest and Mitt Romney's wife Ann's use of it, and how surprising it is that she would pin a book about “dissatisfied aristocratic wife committing adultery, leaving her high-ranking govt official husband before inevitable tragic end.”