Manifestation of individuality in ‘Madame Bovary’ and ‘Anna Karenina’

According to Freud, women’s fate is determined by anatomy, the woman’s individuality is her biological purpose. But is it? Anna and Emma through life constantly ask themselves: Where am I? What am I doing here? How can I change my life? They begin to realize the crisis of individuality in their own lives. Each woman is absolutely unique, but this uniqueness is so much lost under the confusion of social stereotypes and norms. How can a woman find or discover her own individuality? In the nineteenth century, a woman did not have her own ‘I’, which could tell her who she is, who she can become, who she would like to be. To the question ‘Who am I?’ the traditional answer is ‘I am a wife, a mother’; it is an identity defined in relation to a male subject. In order to challenge this, Tolstoy and Flaubert make their protagonists undertake a series of experiments even if they have catastrophic consequences. The concept of individuality is scrutinized in terms of their relationship to their social milieu, their roles as wives and mothers and writers’ attitude towards the protagonists.

The time of action in ‘Anna Karenina‘ is synchronous with the time of the novel’s creation; the post-reform period, more precisely the 1870s with an excursion into the previous decade. This is a period of greatly shaken and ‘overturned’ Russian social reality, when the patriarchal real estate of Russia came to an end. Reforms of Peter I have transformed not only state life, but also the home way of life. The first consequence of reforms for women is the desire to externally change their appearance, to approach the type of a Western European secular woman. The whole way of behaviour changed too. Women aspired to resemble their grandmothers as little as possible. The struggle for an identity had a direct bearing on women, although many men were still far from the idea that woman could be something more than a mother or wife. Flaubert’s novel ‘Madame Bovary‘, according to his plan, was supposed to portray an ‘ugly’ and ‘sad’ modernity, narrated about provincial adultery. The life of a secular society in France was closely connected with literature, in which at that time was Romanticism. Female character, in addition to family relationships and education, was formed by Romantic literature. Novels formed a new feminine ideal image, which, like fashion for new outfits, was followed by both capital and provincial ladies. In place of the feminine ideal of the eighteenth century comes a pale, dreamy, sad woman of romanticism who ‘clasps in her hand a book, in French’ (Eugene Onegin, Chapter 8). Childbirth and motherhood, seemed ‘vulgar’, ‘unworthy’ of a true Romantic woman. Following the new ideal placed woman on a pedestal.

Anna and Emma are similar in many respects. Tolstoy and Flaubert describe first and foremost the cruel customs of contemporary patriarchal society. The novels describe the emotional experiences of heroines, their uniqueness and their struggles for individuality which are not understood by society; it is this struggle for individuality by female characters living in a difficult era of social incomprehension and contempt that forms the crux of this essay.

In the titles of the novels, Tolstoy and Flaubert reflect their idea of the individuality of the heroines. But why did Tolstoy name his novel Anna Karenina when the life of Konstantin Levin occupies such a significant place in the plot? The answer can be found in one of the chapters when Dolly said:

How happy it was for Kitty that Anna came then,’ said Dolly, ‘and how unhappy for her. It turned out quite the opposite,’ she said, struck by her own ideas. ‘Then Anna was so happy, and Kitty thought herself unhappy. Now it is just the opposite. I often think of her.’ (Anna Karenina, 1206).

The happy family life of Kitty and Levin was largely due to the actions and mistakes of Anna. This establishes an inner connection between the images of Anna and Levin. This connection helps the author to demonstrate the ‘unnaturalness’, the falsity of the life of the Russian aristocracy in the 1870s.

Flaubert entitles his novel Madame Bovary, and this indicates that he singles out the married social status of his heroine, rather than any individual qualities. In addition, the novel has a significant subtitle – ‘Provincial ways’.From this it follows that the protagonist’s story reveals her dependence on the views and customs of her social environment, as well as of the physical environment itself. Flaubert set himself the task of discovering all the vices of a philistine, bourgeois way of life and upbringing and Emma’s personal history serves to dramatize this above all. The disclosure of Emma’s character begins with a description of the convent education she received. Isolation from real life developed in her the clichés of mystical languor and Romantic melancholy. Her craving for experience was expressed in reading books, which has ‘lovers, sweethearts, persecuted ladies fainting in lonely pavilions, postilions killed at every stage, horses ridden to death on every page, sombre forests, heartaches, vows, sobs, tears and kisses…’(Madame Bovary, 61). Yet none of these elevate Emma as a unique individual; Emma remains a cliché of the provincial and bourgeois woman; Nabokov explains this by the fact that Emma was true to stereotyped ideas, ‘her way of rising above the conventional was to commit adultery which is the easiest way to rise above the conventional’.

The image of Emma Bovary serves as a means of exposing the petty bourgeois environment and society. Flaubert did not recognize the individualization of the character, believing that art is not meant to portray exceptional personalities; according to the writer, the presence of a distinctive, exceptional figure did not contribute to a comprehensive depiction of reality. Flaubert paid a great attention to the selection of typical character traits. They had to most accurately convey the individuality and behaviour of the characters, the essence of life and the characteristics of a particular environment. The artistic images created by Flaubert are completely conditioned by the environment. In Emma’s personality, the individual manifests itself minimally. She does not know what she wants, she is forced to lie to her husband, to invent many tricks and minor deceptions, and to involve others in the sphere of deceit. The tragedy of Emma is that she cannot go beyond the ordinary; she is engaged to the ordinary. Her fate is the fate of every person unsatisfied with this society, dreaming of beauty, choking in lies and disgust, but without any grandeur of spirit to crystallize this dissatisfaction into anything worthwhile.

Animal personality and the self-interest

In contrast to Flaubert, Tolstoy did not pursue in his novel the creation of a ‘type’; for him the individuality of his heroine was important. The individuality of Tolstoy’s characters, is shown in the complex structure of human nature. Noteworthy are Chernyshevsky’s observations on the psychology of Tolstoy, about the inherent form of psychological analysis of the writer, which he called the ‘dialectics of the soul’. The attention of Tolstoy is most of all drawn to how a person’s feelings and thoughts develop from others; he is interested in seeing how the feeling immediately arising from a given position or impression, subject to the influence of memories and the power of combinations represented by the imagination, transforms into other feelings. Tolstoy, says Owen Flanagan, like no other, comprehended the nature of mankind. Tolstoy represents Anna as a concrete person who acts and thinks not according to patterns of behaviour, but for subjective motives: ‘‘What’s this? Does Kitty consider it degrading to meet me?’ […] I know that in my position I can’t be received by any decent woman. I knew that from the first moment I sacrificed everything to him.’ (Anna Karenina, 1632).

Social and historical conditioning is present in the characters of Tolstoy; nonetheless, it is subjected to sharp authoring and is not an end in itself. For example the tragedy of Anna’s fate is that, while in a corrupted society, surrounded by dishonest people, she strives to be honest and up to the end truthful. Her individuality is not fully conditioned by the environment. Tolstoy’s characters can distinguish between the primary psychological properties, and social norms. His heroine Anna Karenina does not comply with the society around her, she is amoral. Anna fights for the right of free, open love, trying to satisfy her ego but society perceived this as a violation of the rules of decency and turned away from her. For Tolstoy in Anna, it is not her social identity alone that is important, but her individual moral awakening. Tolstoy presents how, in accordance with the changing external circumstances, a person changes, and often his inner world changes significantly. So it happens with Anna Karenina. If in the beginning the reader sees her charming, loving, searching and giving happiness to others, then in the end she appears irritable, jealous, cruel and vindictive due to the selfish interests by which she is driven: ‘Before going away forever, I’ll tell him all. Never have I hated anyone as I hate that man!’ (AK, 1638).

Flaubert, who regards the heroine as primarily a representative of the social environment, does not make such a change. The main qualities of Emma’s personality remain unchanged. Even disappointed in the first extra-marital relationship, she, with the same romantic attitude, goes to the second betrayal. However, Emma is a complex collective image. Flaubert consistently depicts the heroine in terms of one or another romantic pattern. Driven by ego, Emma undergoes some ‘changes’ in order to be more appealing to her lovers. She thinks that these ‘changes’ is what they really look for in a woman, so before meeting with Rodolphe, Emma is seen by Rodolphe as a sentimental ‘maiden’: ‘Poor little woman! She is gaping after love like a carp after water on a kitchen-table. With three words of gallantry she’d adore one, I’m sure of it.’ (Madame Bovary, 215). Emma before the Rouen meeting with Leon appears as a polemical version of a Sandian heroine: ‘He admired the exaltation of her soul and the lace on her petticoat. Besides, was she not ‘a lady’ and a married woman—a real mistress, in fine?’ (Madame Bovary, 432).

According to Flaubert, a person is a victim of his own nature and social circumstances, which deprive him of the opportunity to be morally responsible for his actions. In Tolstoy, a person, being an individual, is himself responsible for his actions. Therefore, Anna experiences a sense of guilt, and a sense of shame: ‘My God! Forgive me!” she said, sobbing, pressing his hands to her bosom’ (Anna Karenina, 326). Emma is devoid of such emotions: ‘She repeated, ‘I have a lover! a lover!’ delighting at the idea as if a second puberty had come to her’ (Madame Bovary, 266). Emma, unlike Anna, does not analyse, assess herself, or feel moral guilt. Anna – on the contrary – throughout the whole plot tries to analyse her feelings. She feels both a feeling of dissatisfaction with herself and a feeling of guilt. These emotions are born in the heart of the heroine after the ball in Moscow. The next day, Anna wants urgently to go home. The feeling of discontent with herself, still so obscure for Anna, already noticed in her by Dolly:

Anna was absorbed the whole morning in preparations for her departure. She wrote notes to her Moscow acquaintances, put down her accounts, and packed. Altogether Dolly fancied she was not in a placid state of mind, but in that worried mood, which Dolly knew well with herself, and which does not come without cause, and for the most part covers dissatisfaction with self. (Anna Karenina, 212-213).

Anna is ashamed. She feels shame in front Kitty, in front of herself, in front of an internal ‘strict judge’, who knows exactly what happened at the ball. She tries to justify herself in front of her conscience: ‘‘‘But truly, truly, it’s not my fault, or only my fault a little bit,’’’ she said, daintily drawling the words ‘a little bit,’ (Anna Karenina, 214) but in her heart she knew that these words were unfair; she not only doubted herself, she felt excitement at the thought of Vronsky and left sooner than she wanted, only in order not to meet him again. However, Anna runs away not so much from Vronsky and Kitty, as from herself.

Tolstoy believed that one cannot explain evil in man only by the influence of the environment. He believed that good and evil are present in every person as an individual entity. The essence of man seemed to him a contradictory unity of good and evil. The writer set himself the task of showing that the same person is a villain, an angel, a sage, a strong man, and a powerless creature. Even the most virtuous characters of Tolstoy are subject to selfish, vain motives and thoughts. So Anna, before meeting with Vronsky, shows respect for her husband, yet after meeting with him, she calls her husband ‘an official machine’ (AK, 787). Chernyshevsky notes that Tolstoy singled out two souls in a man: a ‘spiritual self’ and an ‘animal personality’. This position was expressed by Tolstoy in the Resurrection:

In Nekhludoff, as in every man, there were two beings: one the spiritual, seeking only that kind of happiness for himself which should tend towards the happiness of all; the other, the animal man, seeking only his own happiness, and ready to sacrifice to it the happiness of the rest of the world. (Resurrection, 53)

This duality is also manifested in the image of Anna. This bifurcation is most clearly seen in Anna’s words to Karenin, that she has two ‘I’:

But there is another woman in me, I’m afraid of her: she loved that man, and I tried to hate you, and could not forget about her that used to be. I’m not that woman. Now I’m my real self, all myself. (Anna Karenina, 901).

Anna’s tragedy is, that ‘the spiritual self’ and the ‘animal personality’ tear her soul, and push her in wrong directions according to the paradigms of the nineteenth-century society.

The ‘animal personality’ in man is connected with selfish motives. Here can be found the point of contact between the views of both writers. Both believed that man is governed by selfish motives. Anna’s feelings became more egoistic. Even in her relationship with Vronsky, ‘her chief thought was still of herself— how far she was dear to Vronsky, how far she could make up to him for all he had given up.’ (Anna Karenina, 1390). Emma’s behaviour is also guided by selfish motives. It seeks only personal happiness, without thinking about the feelings of others. Evidence of this is the planned escape with Rodolphe. She wants to leave her husband and take her daughter, without thinking about the feelings Charles would experience after separation from his wife and daughter. Emma only cares about her happiness, her well-being:

Emma tucked the red borders of his undervest unto his waistcoat, rearranged his cravat, and threw away the dirty gloves he was going to put on; and this was not, as he fancied, for himself; it was for herself, by a diffusion of egotism, of nervous irritation. (Madame Bovary, 103)

The reason for this can be seen by the gaining strength of the ‘animal personality’ in Anna and Emma with the development of the plot. Both writers recognized the enormous power over the person of physical attraction and sexual instincts. In ‘Madame Bovary‘ this idea is expressed in the following passage:

‘‘‘Good heavens! Why did I marry?’’’. She asked herself if by some other chance combination it would have not been possible to meet another man; and she tried to imagine what would have been these unrealized events, this different life, this unknown husband. All, surely, could not be like this one. He might have been handsome, witty, distinguished, attractive, such as, no doubt, her old companions of the convent had married.’ (Madame Bovary, 73-74)

Discontent with the current situation leads to betrayal and debt, despite the fact that her husband loves her and indulges all her whims. Emma initially wants to find something wonderful in Charles. However, every day she is convinced of the lack of talent of her husband:

He could neither swim, nor fence, nor shoot, and one day he could not explain some term of horsemanship to her that she had come across in a novel. A man, on the contrary, should he not know everything, excel in manifold activities, initiate you into the energies of passion, the refinements of life, all mysteries? But this one taught nothing, knew nothing, wished nothing. (Madame Bovary, 68)

With her lovers the situation is almost the same; she finds in them all the same vulgarity of conjugal banality.

The ‘animal personality’ also manifests in the attitude of the heroines towards their children. Unlike Dolly – the prototype of a typical mother in the late nineteenth century in Russia, completely devoted to her family and children, Anna’s ‘role of mother living for her son’ is a kind of ‘artificial exit’, a rescue for a lonely and deeply afflicted woman, living in a bleak, cold house with a husband who often seems like a stranger. Later, when Anna gives birth to a girl, the reader witnesses the absolute indifference of the heroine to her child. And this indifference will even more clearly highlight the meaning of the role of the mother, that was once played by Anna. At that time, her son was a kind of protection for Anna in her loneliness: ‘she had a support, quite apart from her relation to her husband or to Vronsky. This support was her son. In whatever position she might be placed, she could not lose her son. Her husband might put her to shame and turn her out, Vronsky might grow cold to her and go on living his own life apart she could not leave her son. She had an aim in life.’ (Anna Karenina, 631 – 632). Being near to her beloved, living with him in the same house, she is not alone and therefore does not need a defender. Anna also changes the purpose of life and tries to be more than a mother. She does not need a family. She needs only Vronsky and in the way that Anna herself offers him – in the image of a passionate lover: ‘If I could be anything but a mistress, passionately caring for nothing but his caresses; but I can’t and I don’t care to be anything else’ (Anna Karenina, 1643).

In Flaubert’s novel ‘Madame Bovary‘, motherhood was not the main concern for Emma. She is ready to get carried away with her appearance, Italian language, literature, an attempt to become a saint or, at worst, a nurse, and in the end, even motherhood, as one of the options, will do. But all these interests are of interest to her for very little time. If she were at least a boy: ‘a man, at least, is free; he may travel over passions and over countries, overcome obstacles, taste of the most far-away pleasures. But a woman is always hampered.’ (Madame Bovary, 146) Emma like nearly all women of that era, is locked in the framework of her identity as wife and mother. From the first weeks of pregnancy, unable to provide the child with a dowry, which Emma dreams about, she psychologically depreciates both the dowry and the future child. Now motherhood cannot give her that narcissistic satisfaction that ostentatious purchases would bring. Next, right after delivery, when she heard that she had a girl, ‘she turned her head away and fainted.’ (Madame Bovary, 147). A boy could have become an idealized continuation of herself, but the girl only makes her come back to a reality in which to be a woman is a misfortune, and this reality she tried to avoid by herself, up to the readiness to die. When Emma regains consciousness, she has to choose a name for her daughter and this, as Flaubert says, will be the manifestation of her own narcissism showing that in fact she is trying to provide the daughter with the best social conditions in this way, since she was not born a boy. ‘Emma remembered that at the chateau of Vaubyessard she had heard the Marchioness call a young lady Berthe; from that moment this name was chosen;’ (Madame Bovary, 148-149). Berthe, like most children of that era and of similar origins, was given to a wet nurse. Although Emma sometimes feels the need to see her little daughter, she is not at all surprised by the wretchedness of the environment in which she lives. When the baby snorts after feeding, this causes Emma obvious disgust. A few minutes later she is already busy with other thoughts and hurries to get rid of both the wet nurse and daughter; as soon as the baby is not there, she ceases to exist for the mother.

Later, when she is completely engrossed in caring about organizing her escape with Rodolphe, he will have to remind her that she has a child: ‘‘‘But—’’’ Rodolphe resumed. ‘‘‘What?’’’ ‘‘‘Your little girl!’’’ She reflected a few moments, then replied— ‘‘‘We will take her! It can’t be helped!’’’ (Madame Bovary, 317). Thus, Berthe ceases to exist for Emma, as soon as it – comes to the possible satisfaction of her love aspirations. Emma’s relationship with her daughter is either ‘warm’ or ‘cool’, and much more often ‘cool’ than ‘warm’. The temperature depends solely on the state of Emma’s affairs, since she can be a woman, maybe a mother, but never both at the same time.

Physical portrait and the inner world

The individuality of the heroines is also linked with their physical appearance. When creating external portraits of characters, Tolstoy typically opposes of the external world and the internal world. For example, the ‘ugly’ Princess Maria with kind fair eyes, revealing her bright soul, or Helen, who is beautiful but empty and soulless. In the image of Anna Karenina, Tolstoy refuses such an opposition. He decided to complicate the image, in which everything is harmonious and beautiful, but the heroine’s individuality still brings her to a tragic end. A consequence which comes when she turns her back on her duties as mother and wife: ‘Anna was not like a fashionable lady, nor the mother of a boy of eight years old. In the elasticity of her movements, the freshness and the unflagging eagerness which persisted in her face, and broke out in her smile and her glance, she would rather have passed for a girl of twenty, had it not been for a serious and at times mournful look in her eyes, which struck and attracted Kitty.’ (Anna Karenina, 156).

Reizov notes that Flaubert almost avoided depiction of his characters. He replaced them with runaway strokes, hints rather than descriptions. But he described in detail the costumes of his protagonists:

She wore an open dressing gown that showed between the shawl facings of her bodice a pleated chemisette with three gold buttons. Her belt was a corded girdle with great tassels, and her small garnet coloured slippers had a large knot of ribbon that fell over her instep. (Madame Bovary, 100)

Emma’s wardrobe speaks of her passion for sophistication, a desire to stand out; which acts, paradoxically, as part of the cliché of the petit-bourgeois materialist. Emma’s wardrobe descriptions “outperform” the descriptions of her own physical appearance. This is due to the fact that, thanks to the description of the costume, information about the environment of the protagonist, about her features, nature and customs is provided. And the image of the environment that molds the character was part of the main task of the writer.

Tolstoy and Flaubert show a special creative manner in the psychological analysis of the individuality of heroines. A special place in the Tolstoy novel belongs to the inner speech of the heroine. In literature written before Tolstoy, a character’s speech was often a reflection of the image of the epoch or the environment. Tolstoy refused to follow this literary tradition and as much as possible individualized the speech of his characters. Instead of describing Anna’s psychological state in the third person, Tolstoy gives her the opportunity to express herself. The internal monologues in ‘Anna Karenina‘ are long, they have a complex syntactic structure, they show how the whole spiritual process proceeds, and reveal how one feeling passes into the other under the influence of memories and associations. Internal monologues, representing the flow of the character’s consciousness, are the most powerful means of analysing the character’s psychological life. In ‘Anna Karenina‘ they are as close to the human thought process of the person as possible, with all the irregularities, accidents, inconsistencies and jumps from one thought to another. Ginzburg notes that Tolstoy’s internal monologue of Anna before death anticipated the stream of consciousness of novelists of the twentieth century. Considering this monologue, Ginzburg asserts that two different types of inner speech are encountered in it. On the one hand, this is the famous: ‘Tiutkin, coiffeur.’ Je me fais coiffer par Tiutkin...’ (Anna Karenina, 1637). The alternation of thoughts, incoherent, but clinging to each other, arise from the interruptions of random street impressions and the persistent internal presence of the experience. And on the other hand, the heroine’s reasoning about the situation arises:

‘‘Well, I’m divorced, and become Vronsky’s wife. Well, will Kitty cease looking at me as she looked at me today? No. And will Seryozha leave off asking and wondering about my two husbands? And is there any new feeling I can awaken between Vronsky and me? Is there possible, if not happiness, some sort of ease from misery? No, no!’’ (Anna Karenina, 1644).

Tolstoy gives his heroine the opportunity to analyse the situation in which she finds herself, which allows the reader to penetrate the deepest emotions of the heroine, to understand the motives of her actions, and get a glimpse of a potential individuality. In his internal monologues, Tolstoy courageously combines tortuous, alogical, associations with the logical reflections of the heroine. Alogical associations are needed in order to express the intense state of the heroine, to depict the confusion of her soul. Logical reflections make it possible to uncover Anna’s pessimistic view of life and attitudes of people: ‘Anyone who did not know her and her circle… would have admired the serenity and loveliness of this woman without a suspicion that she was undergoing the sensations of a man in the stocks’ (Anna Karenina, 1188).

Flaubert uses free indirect discourse to convey the inner experience of his heroine. That is, the narrator acts as the bearer of speech, but he conveys the consciousness of the protagonist:

She stopped to let pass a black horse, pawing the ground between the shafts of a tilbury, driven by a gentleman in sable furs. Who was it? She knew him. The carriage darted by and disappeared. Why, it was he—the Viscount. She turned away; […] she thought she had been mistaken […] She felt lost, sinking at random into indefinable abysses’ (Madame Bovary, 486 – 487)

In free indirect discourse, the voice of the heroine merges with that of the author. On the one hand, there are internal exclamations of the heroine (‘Who was it?’, ‘it was he—the Viscount’), but on the other hand, phrases like ‘she thought’, ‘she felt’ reveals the author. Therefore it is difficult to determine to whom the reader should attribute the words. In addition, according to Reizov’s remark, Flaubert, conveys the inner speech of his heroine by using samples and expressions inaccessible for her. And yet this is the inner speech, freely used for the sake of the general impression, for the sake of the accuracy of the image and idea.

Unlike Tolstoy, Flaubert did not go into lengthy explanations of Emma’s psychological state, he does not analyse it or have Emma analyse it herself, but lets the reader feel the state of the heroine through the details of the external world. For example, the scene with an organ grinder playing melodies:

They were airs played in other places at the theatres, sung in drawing rooms, danced to at night under lighted lustres, echoes of the world that reached even to Emma. Endless sarabands ran through her head, and, like an Indian dancing girl on the flowers of a carpet, her thoughts leapt with the notes, swung from dream to dream, from sadness to sadness. (Madame Bovary, 108).

The writer does not directly indicate what the heroine’s longings were about; however, from all the details described, the reader concludes that the protagonist is burdened by ordinary life and dreams of a high society.

Conclusion

The individuality of the heroines is reflected in the moral perspectives of the writers towards them. The creative task of Tolstoy and Flaubert was to conduct a moral and psychological experiment in order to find the mainspring of the social mechanism that ‘spiritually’ destroys people and find the ‘antidote’ to this disastrous effect. Emma differs from the philistine standard in the way that she notices its vices and rebels against the ordinary provincial way of life, but she herself is part of this world, and she cannot rebel against herself. Flaubert shows that the individuality of a person is very dependent on his/her environment, and Emma absorbed ‘provinciality’ from her early years. She cannot change without a radical change in the environment. Anna, with all her high impulses towards honesty at all costs, comes into conflict with the generally accepted values of her environment and her era. Tolstoy shows egoistic aspirations inevitably lead to suffering. Drawing parallels between these two novels provides an opportunity to trace the experiments and changes the two heroines underwent in order to discover themselves, and strive towards individuality.

Bibliography

Primary Sources:

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