An initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops


Anna Karenina: Marriage in Literature Series

Posted May. 19, 2017 by DOM No comments yet



Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (published 1877)

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, while clearly diagnosing the problems of lust and adultery through the main protagonist, also offers a more sanguine view of love, marriage and family through the relationship of Levin and Kitty.

Five elements for consideration:

  1. Emotional maturity is important in love.

Levin persists in caring for Kitty even after she rejects him—she, like Anna, was infatuated with the dashing Vronsky at the time that Levin proposed. Levin does not nurse his feelings of rejection, reproach her, or demand some sort of apology for her not choosing him first.  Instead, he is grateful and content to receive her love when she is ready. In their first meeting after a number of years, “[Kitty] and Levin had a conversation of their own, yet not a conversation, but a sort of mysterious communication, which brought them every moment nearer, and stirred in both a sense of glad terror before the unknown into which they were entering” (p. 461). Levin experiences the emotional high of being “in love” the day he goes to Kitty’s house to receive her parents’ consent to their marriage: “All that night and morning Levin lived perfectly unconsciously, and felt perfectly lifted out of the conditions of material life” (p. 475).  He wants to marry her the very next day, if possible, but her parents add a dose of prudence (and a trousseau). None of this joy would have been possible if Levin had held on to pride, jealousy, or resentment.

  1. The love between man and woman is a common experience that draws a community together.

After he becomes engaged to Kitty, Levin is surprised because, “He had thought his engagement would have nothing about it like others, that the ordinary conditions of engaged couples would spoil his special happiness; but it ended in his doing exactly as other people did, and his happiness being only increased thereby and becoming more and more special more and more unlike anything that had ever happened” (p. 481). Kitty also feels that the time was one of “utmost bliss and the utmost misery” (p. 533). Instead of his joy being dampened by the fact that other couples had felt the same way, Levin realizes that this fact is a joyful one. He is entering into the state of Matrimony where many have been before him, and many will follow.  His vow joins him in a way to all those who have made the same vow. This is part of the beauty of saying the traditional vows at a wedding ceremony; being conscious of all those who have said, and will say, those same words.

  1. It is important for a man and a woman who are considering marriage not to conceal things from one another.

Levin decides to confess to Kitty that he is not a virgin: “He knew that between him and her there could not be, and should not be, secrets, so he had decided that so it must be” but he is surprised by how affected she is by it (p. 482).  She forgives him, “but it’s terrible!” she exclaims (p. 482). Levin’s past actions, especially his sexual experiences, affect his current relationship. This is always true. In marriage, this transparency must continue. Today, one may think of pornography and the way that spouses may try to conceal these struggles from each other. This lack of transparency, while it may seem to be protective, erodes trust between spouses. (This is not to say that one’s spouse should be one’s accountability partner, simply that the struggle should not be a hidden one)

  1. Weddings are blessed times for all married couples to recall their own promises.

Levin is keenly aware of the mystery of the Sacrament of Matrimony during his own wedding: “Levin felt more and more that all his ideas of marriage, all his dreams of how he would order his life, were mere childishness, and that it was something he had not understood hitherto, and now understood less than ever, though it was being performed upon him. The lump in his throat rose higher and higher, tears that would not be checked came into his eyes” (p. 524).  But it was also an occasion for others in the congregation: “[Dolly] was deeply moved… She was rejoicing over Kitty and Levin; going back in thought to her own wedding, she glanced at the radiant figure of [her husband], forgot all the present, and remembered only her innocent love… with love and hope and dread in their hearts” (p. 536). Attending weddings together, married couples may contemplate their own growth in their vocation.

  1. Marriage, even a happy marriage, is not easy.

Levin is surprised and disappointed to learn that complete marital bliss does not follow the wedding. “[He] could never have conceived that between him and his wife any relations could arise other than tender, respectful and loving, and all at once in the very early days they quarreled, so that she said he did not care for her, that he cared for no one but himself, burst into tears, and wrung her arms” (p. 565).  Levin found that while he wanted to blame Kitty for these fights, he longed to “make up” even more. Tolstoy writes that the first three months of marriage were very difficult for these two. Throughout the novel, Levin and Kitty experience misunderstanding, jealousy, anger and pain in their relationship, yet it must truly be said in the end that theirs is a happy marriage.  This can be a good reminder to married couples when they experience a dry or difficult period in their marriage.


Read More
Tags: Tags:


That Hideous Strength: Marriage in Literature Series

Posted May. 12, 2017 by DOM No comments yet

01_That Hideous Strength_MIL_BlogSeries

That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis (published in 1945)

The last of his “Space Trilogy,” C. S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength explores Christian marriage as a force for good in the world.  The book opens this way: “‘Matrimony was ordained, thirdly,’ said Jane Stubbock to herself, ‘for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.’ She had not been to church since her schooldays until she went there six months ago to be married, and the words of the service had stuck in her mind”(p. 11).  The novel begins with Jane’s contemplation of how marriage has not turned out the way she thought it would, and ends with Jane and her husband, Mark, recognizing the deep meaning of their marriage.

Here are three things that we can contemplate about marriage through this novel:

  1. Open communication between spouses is both important and difficult.

Despite being a fantasy novel, there is great realism in Lewis’s depiction of the spats and subtexts of married life.  The whole of Chapter two, part three, is devoted to a conversation between Jane and Mark about whether Jane minds Mark’s staying out of town for a few days.  It references tones of voice and Jane’s internal dialogue. Lewis notes that at times neither of the spouses really knows what he/she is doing or why. After their morning spat, in which they are clearly not understanding one another, Lewis writes, “The upshot of it was that Mark gave himself a very bad cut while shaving… while Jane decided, through a mixture of motives, to cook Mark an unusually elaborate breakfast—of which she would rather die than eat any herself—and did so with the swift efficiency of an angry woman, only to upset it all over the new stove at the last moment. They were still at the table and both pretending to read newspapers when Lord Feverstone arrived” (p.45-46). A seemingly simple question (Mark’s, “Do you feel quite alright this morning?” quickly led the characters through a wide range of emotions and confusion because of other unresolved issues in their marriage.

  1. Married couples are fruitful in many ways besides natural children.

In the fight between good and evil which is at the heart of That Hideous Strength, married couples play a key role. Dr. and Mrs. Dimble, for example, are important characters fighting for good. This couple is a great example of the spiritual fruitfulness of Christian marriage.  Mrs. Dimble says, almost in passing, that she does not mind losing their home too much because it had “all those big upper rooms which we thought we should want because we thought we were going to have lots of children, and then we never had” (p. 75).  But as she and her husband work for the cause of truth in the “Director’s company,” Mrs. Dimble is referred to as “Mother Dimble” and consistently takes care of the other members of the group (p.162).  The Dennistons and the Maggses, other married couples, are also important to the company, which is a small band of committed people who are attempting to live their lives with love. This simple group is depicted as opposing huge machinations of evil on the other side of a conflict for the world’s future.

  1. Marriage is what God says it is; and this truth sets us free.

When Mark has fallen in with the wrong crowd (i.e. evil), the Director (good) tells Jane, “It would be hard for the same person to be the wife of an official [in the evil group] and also a member of my company” because they could not all trust each other (p.142).  The Director wants her to convince Mark to leave the evil group by using her love as his wife. She rebels at this idea and says that the Director has a different idea about marriage than hers. “It is not a question of how you or I look on marriage but on how my Masters look at it,” the Director says (p. 144).  When she finally comes around to the Director’s reasoning, Jane feels both free and beautiful, and makes the decision to “give Mark much more than she had ever given him before, [with a] feeling that in doing so she would really be giving it to the Director” (p.148). Mark, for his part, longs to be with Jane and believes that doing so “would clean away all the filth that seemed to hang about him” from his association with evil (p.186). They both realize that the path to loving God is through the other.

In the end, Mark and Jane come to recognize their own flaws and the ways they have hurt one another. They approach one another in humility and love. May all married couples do the same, and by so doing, contribute in their own way to the salvation of all.


Read More
Tags: Tags: