The takes. These adventures are feed by the
The Influence of Reading on Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary Reading provides an escape for people from the ordinariness of everydaylife.
Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, dissatisfied with their lives pursuedtheir dreams of ecstasy and love through reading. At the beginning of bothnovels Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary made active decisions about their futurealthough these decisions were not always rational. As their lives started todisintegrate Emma and Anna sought to live out their dreams and fantasies throughreading.
Reading served as morphine allowing them to escape the pain of everydaylife, but reading like morphine closed them off from the rest of the worldpreventing them from making rational decisions. It was Anna and Emma’s loss ofreasoning and isolation that propelled them toward their downfall. Emma at the beginning of the novel was someone who made activedecisions 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 fantasiesand escape the ordinariness of her life and her marriage to Charles. Emma’sactive decisions though were based increasingly as the novel progresses on herfantasies. The lechery to which she falls victim is a product of thedebilitating adventures her mind takes. These adventures are feed by the novelsthat she reads. They were filled with love affairs, lovers, mistresses, persecutedladies 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, andgentlemen brave as lions gentle as lambs, virtuous as none really is, and alwaysready to shed floods of tears.
(Flaubert 31.)Footnote1 Emma’s already impaired reasoning and disappointing marriage to Charlescaused Emma to withdraw into reading books, she fashioning herself a life basednot in reality but in fantasy. Anna Karenina at the begging of Tolstoy’s novel was a bright andenergetic women.
When Tolstoy first introduces us to Anna she appears as theparagon of virtue, a women in charge of her own destiny. He felt that he had to have another look at her- not because she wasvery beautiful not because of her elegance and unassuming grace which wasevident in her whole figure but because their was something specially sweet andtender in the expression of her lovely face as she passed him. (Tolstoy76.)Footnote2 In the next chapter Anna seems to fulfill expectations Tolstoy hasaroused in the reader when she mends Dolly and Oblonskys marriage. But Anna likeEmma has a defect in her reasoning, she has an inability to remain content withthe ordinariness of her life: her marriage to Karenin, the social festivities,and housekeeping.
Anna longs to live out the same kind of romantic vision oflife that Emma also read and fantasized about. Anna read and understood everything, but she found no pleasure inreading, that is to say in following the reflection in other people’s lives. Shewas to eager to live herself.
When she read how a heroine of a novel nursed asick 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 decisionswere driven by impulsiveness and when the consequences caught up with her latterin the novel she secluded herself from her friends, Vronsky, and even herchildren.
Anna and Emma both had character flaws that made them view the worldas fantasy so that when their fantasy crumbled they resorted to creating a newfantasy by living their lives through the books they read. Books allowed Emma Bovary to withdraw from her deteriorating life. Theyallowed her to pursue her dreams of love, affairs, and knights; from thewreckage of her marriage with Charles. Emma’s, experience at La Vaubyessardbecame a source of absurd fantasy for Emma, and ingrained in her mind that theworld that the novel’s she read depicted was with in her reach. She devoured without skipping a word, every article about first nightsin the theater, horse races and soirees; she was interested in the debut ofevery new sing, the opening of every new shop. She new the dress of the latestfashions and the addresses of every new tailor, the days when one went to theBois or the Opera.
(Flaubert 55.) This passage shows the absolute absurdity of Emma’s obsession withreading. Emma while living in her remote French village in her mind was livingout the life of a Parisian. As Emma decisions continued to sink her further intodebt and deceit she began to live more and more through the novels she read. Heraffair with Leon was undertaken partially to fulfill the fantasies of the novelsshe read.
The room she rented for her rendezvous with Leon she decorated in theopulence that her novels bespoke, and she spent vast sums of money to continuethe fantasy the novels she read described. Emma’s continued detachment withreality made her unable to make rational decisions or even allow her to dealwith her problems. The fantasy in which she lived made her unable to take actionfor herself.
She blamed Leon for her disappointed hopes, as though he had betrayedher; and she even wished for a catastrophe that would bring about theirseparation, 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 ofthe active character in the novel merely the observer of the consequences of heractions. And like the heroines of the novels she read she saw her only salvationwould be through a dramatic suicide. Emma’s obsession with reading lead her tomake decisions that escalated her unhappiness and further paralyzed her fromdealing with reality. Anna Karenina like Emma Bovary turned to novels to provide an escapefrom her unhappy life. Anna wracked with guilt over abandoning Seryozha andshunned by society turned to morphine and reading to provide a fantasy life whenher own life was crumbling around her.
When Anna and Vronsky’s relationshipfurther disintegrated in the novel Anna turned more inward. She ventured withVronsky to Italy to try to repair their relationship and then to a countryestate. 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 novisitors, and she read a great deal, both novels and serious books that happenedto be in fashion.
She ordered all the books that received good notices in theforeign papers and periodicals they subscribed to and read them with theattention that is only possible in seclusion. (Tolstoy 640.) Anna’s relationship with Vronsky continued to crumble.
But both Annaand Vronsky were unable to take action to do anything either to save theirrelationship or deal with her divorce with Karenin. Anna like Emma became sotrapped in her fantasy world she was unable to deal with reality. Anna in thelast parts of the novels watches as her life disintegrates but she continues totake no action as she delves into the morphine and novels that provide apalliative for reality. It is critical to realize that both Anna and Emma areaware that they are living in fantasy, and is precisely because they are awareof reality that they despair and kill themselves when they see that they have intheir minds no escape from their troubles.
Both Anna and Emma also attempt touse reason to escape from their problems, “Yes I am very troubled and reason wasgiven to us to escape from our troubles,” says Anna Karenina. But both Anna andEmma’s reason is so distorted by the fantasy in which they live that they seelittl e escape from life but through death. Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary live out their dreams and fantasiesthrough reading novels which serve as palliatives for their painful lives.Reading novels is not the primary theme in their lives nor is it the primaryreason they kill themselves.
But their use of reading as an escape from realityis critical to Anna and Emma’s characters. It is Anna and Emma’s reading ofnovels which allows them to abandon their husbands and pursue their fantasiesboth in life and in their minds. It is reading which prevents them from usingreason to correct their troubles. It is reading which distorts their reality andforces them to become dissatisfied and bored with the ordinary pleasures of life.Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are books ironically about the dangers ofreading.Footnote1Flaubert, Gustave. MADAME BOVARY.
trans. Lowell Bair. New York: Bantam Books,1972Footnote2Tolstoy, Leo. ANNA KARENINA. trans.
David Magarshack. New York: Signet Classic,1961.