I went to see Anna Karenina in the Abbey Theatre last night. As I expected, it was a stunning play. The scenes were lighting swift, the snow was copious, the actors were beautiful. And every male character in it was an entitled prick.
In case you didn’t know, the story is billed as “The impact of one woman’s decision” and revolves around Count Vronsky pursuing the beautiful Anna Karenina who he saw once at a train station. She is married with a son she adores and she ignores Vronsky. But he chases her for a year, and eventually she gives in. He is ecstatic, she becomes a miserable social outcast. Eventually she throws herself in front of a train and everyone lives happily ever after.
It’s all about Anna and her bad decision ruining everyone’s life.
But no one is talking about Vronksy abandoning the girl he was about to propose to to chase after a woman who is not interested in an affair. Every second word out of Anna’s mouth is about her son. That doesn’t stop Vronsky chasing her, because she’s beautiful. That’s enough to justify his behaviour, right? Boys will be boys. He ignores her protests because he’s so in love with her, and even when she succumbs and becomes his mistress, he still ignores anything she says. She tells him she’s afraid of her husband who is violent, and he tells her she’s wrong.
Eventually, he starts courting the Tsar’s grand niece, and his charming mother comes to tell Anna that she’s in the way and suggest that she throw herself in front of a train. So handy, those new trains.
As soon as Anna is dead, everyone else goes on with their lives.
Vronsky is clearly no prince.
Neither is Karerin, Anna’s husband, who tells Anna that if she sees Vronsky again, she will never see her son. He does own all her children, so he can do that.
Her brother Stiva starts the story by getting caught screwing the governess, and can’t understand why his wife wants to leave him, so Anna is called in to talk deluded Dolly around. Did I mention that Stiva screws anything in a skirt and is squandering Dolly’s fortune as fast as he can?
I had some sympathy for Konsta, who seemed like a shy culchie type, until he produced his diaries which revealed that he is fucking all his serfs (slaves) and has had babies by thirteen of them. But they don’t count, it’s all about how heartless seventeen year old Kitty is by rejecting him. How dare she have a choice?
But no one says a word about the behaviour, ethics or morals of the men. It’s all about Anna’s fall from grace.
There were some wonderful moments in the play. I loved the doctor telling a labouring Kitty to “Push as if you were trying to shit a turnip.” But I couldn’t help noticing that every woman who had sex, even if it was sanctified by the marriage bed, ended up almost dying as she gave birth. Or had to pay for her sin by watching her children die.
Except evil Anna, of course, who had done the unthinkable and learned about contraception.
Anna Karenina is fresh in my mind because I’ve just seen it, but it’s the same pattern in stories and plays all over the world. Men can do whatever it takes to seduce their chosen mate and it’s all good, but as soon as she falls, she’s the evil temptress, unless he is good enough to marry her. Otherwise she should die.
Of course, if she resists him, then she’s clearly evil because she doesn’t care that his balls will turn blue and fall off, so she deserves to die.
Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina in 1873. Things are different now. Except they are not.
Love Actually is more of the same. It’s all about what the men want, and any woman who gets ideas or has anything to say ends up dead. One of the love objects in the film literally doesn’t get to speak, but that’s okay. The best women are silent.