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Thread: Homosexuality in Anna Karenina?

  1. #1
    Inderjit Sanghera
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    Homosexuality in Anna Karenina?

    Found this whilst reading Nabokov's lecture notes on Proust;

    Incidentally, the first homosexuals in modern literature are described in Anna Karenin, namely in chapter 19, part two, where Vronski is breakfasting in the mess room of his regiment. Two officers are briefly but vividly described-and the description leaves no doubt about the relationship between the those two.
    Was wondering if anybody else noticed this? Don't have a copy of the book at hand at the moment, unfortunately.
    The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.-Vladimir Nabokov

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  2. #2
    Good morning, Campers! Jay's Avatar
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    We have Anna Karenina here. Unfortunately I haven't read this book so can't comment on the passage.
    I have a plan: attack!

  3. #3
    Two Gun Kid Idril's Avatar
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    I don't remember that at all and having reread through that chapter, I still don't see it. I don't think there is anything overtly romantic about their connection, they obviously know each other but I didn't see that there could be "no doubt about the relationship between those two". I have often been struck by how affectate men can sometimes be with each other in Russian lit, their proclamations of love and loyalty but I've never taken to mean a homosexual kind of connection. Except the short story The Eternal Husband by Dostoevsky, there was a character in that story that really made me wonder.
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  4. #4
    Inderjit Sanghera
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    Wasn't Gogol a homosexual? I think Pushkin and Lermontov were, if not exactly homosexuals, then at least "gay friendly"-but any such reference in pulished works by the trio would have have censored for being "immoral". Another novel which deals with homosexuality from (roughly) the same time period is Hamsun's "Pan", in which the lead character, Lt. Glahn describes a rather ntimate relationship with another man. Also remember watching Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon" and noticing a scene with two homosexual-ish characters and I was wondering whether or not this scene took place in Thackeray's novel, which I have not read.

    http://www.online-literature.com/tol...a_karenina/53/

    Didn't notice anything obviosuly gay, but I guess Nabokov is a more sensitive and refined reader than myself!
    Last edited by Inderjit Sanghe; 02-17-2007 at 05:39 PM.
    The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.-Vladimir Nabokov

    human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars-Flaubert

  5. #5
    Two Gun Kid Idril's Avatar
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    Gogol certainly had no love of women, I know that. I always got the impression he was chaste but I really don't know that much about him. As far as Pushkin and Lermontov go, I hadn't heard anything of that nature about them but then again, I don't pretend to know a great deal about their personal preferences.

    I really don't think there is anything in that passage that would strongly hint the two soldiers were gay, not that there's anything wrong with that but I just don't see it in that passage.

    As far as Thackery is concerned, I know that in Edwardian England, there seems to be a fair amount of 'experimentation' going on but I have no idea how far back that goes.
    the luminous grass of the prairie hides
    feet lovely and still as sleeping doves,
    porcelain bones strong enough to carry a life,
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    As black Dakota hills.
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  6. #6
    Inderjit Sanghera
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    Homosexual behaviour is often culturally specific-perhaps the two characters in "Anna Karenina" were portrayed in a manner which resembled (to Russian minds at least), atypical homosexuals of the time. Nabokov would have been a good deal more knowledgable about Russian culture than us, I guess. I doubt, however, that there would have been any explicit references to homosexuality due to censorhip issues.

    Also noticed homosexuality in some Balzac novels-one character in "Old Goirot", Vautrin is referred to explicitly as being a homosexual in a couple of novels.
    Last edited by Inderjit Sanghe; 02-18-2007 at 11:00 AM.
    The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.-Vladimir Nabokov

    human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars-Flaubert

  7. #7
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    omg, I just fixed about 5 typos that were in that chapter!

    ok what the heck, it’s Stunday and I’ve not much else to do right now but I also haven't read this book in ages..

    Quote Originally Posted by Inderjit Sanghe View Post
    Homosexuality behaviour is often culturally specific-
    Huh? sexual orientation/homosexuality has always transcended any ‘boundaries’ of country, culture, race, religion, historical era, and socio-economic class. Maybe 19th century Russian aristocrats (as Tolstoy was, though I’m not saying he was homosexual) or, in this case Vronsky the army officer, could hide it better because they could afford to ‘keep’ their lovers financially and/or could be, or had to be, more discrete about it. As is still often the case, homosexual men still have heterosexual relationships, get married and have children for various reasons, maybe because they are not aware of their orientation, or are ‘keeping up appearances’ etc etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Inderjit Sanghe View Post
    perhaps the two characters in "Anna Karenina" were portrayed in a manner which resembled (to Russian minds at least), atypical homosexuals of the time.
    Well what would be a typical homosexual of the time?*

    Quote Originally Posted by Inderjit Sanghe View Post
    I doubt, however, that there would have been any explicit references to homosexuality due to censorhip issues.
    Even in 21st century literature there is often only suggestion of homosexuality as it is still a taboo subject for many countries, cultures, and religions.

    In the specific chapter you reference what I see is, the stereotype of a virile, competent, accomplished man (Vronsky) expressing disdain for the un-named effeminate, lazy, “submissive”, ineffectual man of same rank who has ‘let himself go’: ( “a plump, elderly officer, with a bracelet on his wrist, and little eyes, lost in fat.” ) Vronsky has no respect for him and whether his companion, the young page with “a feeble, delicate face” is his lover or not, maybe they are “inseparable” because so many of the ‘manly, virile’ officers express disdain/disgust for them and don’t want to associate with them. I mean, just like any situation, people in close ranks like men in military service need friendship and companionship and inevitably form close bonds with their peers, platonic or not.

    Vronsky seems to take offense to any possible connection with them, doesn’t want to look at them or speak to them because, as the chapter has opened with such a detailed description of Vronsky’s eating habits and being at the “required light weight” , he is preoccupied with physique and maintaining his outward appearance to others as competent and admirable. Maybe this a theme for his homosexuality (?) Maybe he does know they are homosexual and actually envies their indulgence and feminine-like qualities because he lacks that type of companionship and capacity for emotional vulnerability/expression in his own life?

    The un-named “plump” officer is contrasted with Vronsky’s friend, long-legged “tall and well-built Captain Yashvin” ironically of “immoral principles” with “exceptional physical strength” who can drink like a fish, loves to gamble, and will not be undermined by such trifles as feelings.

    So basically the chapter gives us a snapshot of two close relationships between men: two men who happen to be stodgy, effeminate, and ‘weak’, who aren’t even named because they’re so insignificant, but employed by the author to contrast with our hero Vronsky and his buddy Yashvin, both who happen to be virile and overtly manly.

    *In my opinion, either pair could be homosexual, but I think that is secondary to the story: Vronsky, the archetypical loner, is again at odds with his situation and feelings about Anna and whether she will keep her promise, and has very few in his life he can talk about her with. Like most people/men of his time, his commitment to his career and possibly jeopardising it or ‘losing face’ or ‘honour’ among his peers by becoming involved with the wife of one of St. Petersburg’s most important/influential men is foremost in his mind.
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  8. #8
    Inderjit Sanghera
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    Huh? sexual orientation/homosexuality has always transcended any ‘boundaries’ of country, culture, race, religion, historical era, and socio-economic class. Maybe 19th century Russian aristocrats (as Tolstoy was, though I’m not saying he was homosexual) or, in this case Vronsky the army officer, could hide it better because they could afford to ‘keep’ their lovers financially and/or could be, or had to be, more discrete about it. As is still often the case, homosexual men still have heterosexual relationships, get married and have children for various reasons, maybe because they are not aware of their orientation, or are ‘keeping up appearances’ etc etc.
    Sorry about the incoherence of that part of my quote. What I meant to say was that stereotypical homosexual behaviour is often determined by the culture in which it takes place-for example, in the West homosexuals are often stereotyped as being effeminate etc.-as you mention in your post, the two characters are pretty effeiminate and perhaps this was what Tolstoi and Russians saw as being typical homosexual behaviour in Russia at the time.
    The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.-Vladimir Nabokov

    human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars-Flaubert

  9. #9
    I am russian and read the book in Russian and didnt really notice probably because I wasnt paying attention to the background characters in this particular part of the book. However, reading back now I do think there is a good chance it was a tongue in cheek description of homosexuality.

  10. #10
    ignoramus et ignorabimus Mr Endon's Avatar
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    Doesn't it make a lot of sense now! Why else the 'disgust' and 'contemptuous nod', and the 'sarcastic' epithet of 'inseparables'? I did wonder at this seemingly wayward digression into point-blank and unexplained hatred when I was reading, but now I see the purpose it serves.
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  11. #11
    confidentially pleased cacian's Avatar
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    what does Nobokov know about sexuality and homosexuality when he was entirely reliant on Lolita for that?
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