Madama Bovary & Anna Karenina Reading provides an escape for people from the ordinariness of everyday life. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, dissatisfied with
their lives pursued their dreams of ecstasy and love through reading.
At the beginning of both novels Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary made
active decisions about their future although these decisions were not
As their lives started to disintegrate Emma and Anna
sought to live out their dreams and fantasies through reading. Reading
served as morphine allowing them to escape the pain of everyday life,
but reading like morphine closed them off from the rest of the world
preventing them from making rational decisions. It was Anna and Emma’s
loss of reasoning and isolation that propelled them toward their
Emma at the beginning of the novel was someone who made
active decisions 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 fantasies and escape the ordinariness of her life and
her marriage to Charles. Emma’s active decisions though were based
increasingly as the novel progresses on her fantasies. The lechery to
which she falls victim is a product of the debilitating adventures her
These adventures are feed by the novels that she reads.
They were filled with love affairs, lovers, mistresses,
persecuted ladies 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, and gentlemen brave as lions
gentle as lambs, virtuous as none really is, and always ready to
shed floods of tears.(Flaubert 31.)
Emma’s already impaired reasoning and disappointing marriage
to Charles caused Emma to withdraw into reading books, she fashioning
herself a life based not in reality but in fantasy.
Anna Karenina at the begging of Tolstoy’s novel was a bright
and energetic women. When Tolstoy first introduces us to Anna she
appears as the paragon of virtue, a women in charge of her own
He felt that he had to have another look at her- not because
she was very beautiful not because of her elegance and unassuming
grace which was evident in her whole figure but because their was
something specially sweet and tender in the expression of her lovely
face as she passed him. (Tolstoy 76.
In the next chapter Anna seems to fulfill expectations Tolstoy
has aroused in the reader when she mends Dolly and Oblonskys marriage.
But Anna like Emma has a defect in her reasoning, she has an inability
to remain content with the ordinariness of her life: her marriage to
Karenin, the social festivities, and housekeeping. Anna longs to live
out the same kind of romantic vision of life that Emma also read and
Anna read and understood everything, but she found no
pleasure in reading, that is to say in following the reflection in
other people’s lives.
She was to eager to live herself. When she read
how a heroine of a novel nursed a sick 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 decisions were driven by impulsiveness and when the
consequences caught up with her latter in the novel she secluded
herself from her friends, Vronsky, and even her children. Anna and
Emma both had character flaws that made them view the world as fantasy
so that when their fantasy crumbled they resorted to creating a new
fantasy by living their lives through the books they read.
Books allowed Emma Bovary to withdraw from her deteriorating
life. They allowed her to pursue her dreams of love, affairs, and
knights; from the wreckage of her marriage with Charles. Emma’s,
experience at La Vaubyessard became a source of absurd fantasy for
Emma, and ingrained in her mind that the world that the novel’s she
read depicted was with in her reach.
She devoured without skipping a word, every article about
first nights in the theater, horse races and soirees; she was
interested in the debut of every new sing, the opening of every new
She new the dress of the latest fashions and the addresses of
every new tailor, the days when one went to the Bois or the Opera.
This passage shows the absolute absurdity of Emma’s obsession
with reading. Emma while living in her remote French village in her
mind was living out the life of a Parisian.
As Emma decisions
continued to sink her further into debt and deceit she began to live
more and more through the novels she read. Her affair with Leon was
undertaken partially to fulfill the fantasies of the novels she read.
The room she rented for her rendezvous with Leon she decorated in the
opulence that her novels bespoke, and she spent vast sums of money to
continue the fantasy the novels she read described. Emma’s continued
detachment with reality made her unable to make rational decisions or
even allow her to deal with her problems.
The fantasy in which she
lived made her unable to take action for herself.
She blamed Leon for her disappointed hopes, as though he had
betrayed her; and she even wished for a catastrophe that would bring
about their separation, 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 of the active character in the novel merely the observer of
the consequences of her actions.
And like the heroines of the novels
she read she saw her only salvation would be through a dramatic
suicide. Emma’s obsession with reading lead her to make decisions that
escalated her unhappiness and further paralyzed her from dealing with
Anna Karenina like Emma Bovary turned to novels to provide an
escape from her unhappy life. Anna wracked with guilt over abandoning
Seryozha and shunned by society turned to morphine and reading to
provide a fantasy life when her own life was crumbling around her.
When Anna and Vronsky’s relationship further disintegrated in the
novel Anna turned more inward. She ventured with Vronsky to Italy to
try to repair their relationship and then to a country estate. 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 no visitors, and she read a great deal, both novels and serious
books that happened to be in fashion.
She ordered all the books that
received good notices in the foreign papers and periodicals they
subscribed to and read them with the attention that is only possible
in seclusion. (Tolstoy 640.)
Anna’s relationship with Vronsky continued to crumble. But
both Anna and Vronsky were unable to take action to do anything either
to save their relationship or deal with her divorce with Karenin.
like Emma became so trapped in her fantasy world she was unable to
deal with reality. Anna in the last parts of the novels watches as her
life disintegrates but she continues to take no action as she delves
into the morphine and novels that provide a palliative for reality. It
is critical to realize that both Anna and Emma are aware that they are
living in fantasy, and is precisely because they are aware of reality
that they despair and kill themselves when they see that they have in
their minds no escape from their troubles. Both Anna and Emma also
attempt to use reason to escape from their problems, “Yes I am very
troubled and reason was given to us to escape from our troubles,” says
But both Anna and Emma’s reason is so distorted by the
fantasy in which they live that they see little escape from life but
Anna Karenina and Emma Bovary live out their dreams and
fantasies through reading novels which serve as palliatives for their
painful lives. Reading novels is not the primary theme in their lives
nor is it the primary reason they kill themselves. But their use of
reading as an escape from reality is critical to Anna and Emma’s
It is Anna and Emma’s reading of novels which allows them
to abandon their husbands and pursue their fantasies both in life and
in their minds. It is reading which prevents them from using reason to
correct their troubles. It is reading which distorts their reality and
forces them to become dissatisfied and bored with the ordinary
pleasures of life. Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are books
ironically about the dangers of reading.