Literature has illuminated so much of what is going on in my life with the people in it so well. Today, it’s Anna Karenina. The Tolstoy epic novel about a happily married woman who finds a very wealthy, influential, young, passionate military man and subsequently has an affair with him has been regarded as one of the great books of literature. Its real, gritty portrayal of the decent into depression by Anna through losing her child, her comfortable life with her husband, and eventually her lover is a warning to many who decide to have affairs. Once the reader understands the way Tolstoy writes and how incredibly detailed he is, they truly get a picture of just what Anna Karenina is: a human tragedy (I’m not going to give away the plot for those who haven’t read this book and would like to read it).
What is not okay about Anna Karenina is when parallels to the real world begin to show up. It’s not as I’ve regularly seen people cheat on their spouse/significant other, nor any other detail about Anna. But I couldn’t help but see it pop up in a situation that has turned dangerous for the people involved and awkward for the rest of us who are having to bear witness. It’s not as if the situation has been hidden well, or that it’s okay. It’s not okay, and the circle of friends affected can see it. But when is it time to intervene? No one seemed to intervene on Anna’s behalf in the novel. Part of it is because, well, novels need drama, and letting the heroine destroy herself makes for good reading. Part of it is also societal norms of the time. This book was written in the late 19th century, when the concept of affairs, particularly in the social class where Anna and her lover begin, was that a little bit on the side was fashionable. Anna’s lover, Count Vronsky, was given approval from his own family for a “tasteful affair” as long as it didn’t ruin his chances for upward mobility.
Believe it or not, that doesn’t work in the 21st Century. What is different is that instead of being able to pass it off as a tasteful affair, the “he said, she said” gossip rings are much more active and readily connected to each other via the Internet, Facebook, text messaging, and eventually the other party will find out. It took a couple of months for Anna’s husband to find her out, while it could only take a couple of days in modern times. Also in the 21st Century, there are more people who will think an affair is wrong. Not to say that 19th Century Russia always approved of affairs but more or less, it was acceptable in that time period throughout Europe for men to initiate affairs. It was a part of the chauvinist thought process. In the here and now, almost all people will view the course of action in an affair as wrong and will probably confront both parties.
Not to say that the situation that I’m observing has materialised into what could be described as a true affair. But to even allow the question to cross the mind of the observers means that it’s already gone towards that route. It is at the point now where a serious evaluation needs to take place or else it could get much worse. The point of no return, if you will. I surely hope that it will come back to the other side of the line; I’m not certain that it will, however. To quote Tolstoy: