Date of Award
Most literary critics have either viewed Dolly Oblonsky in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1877) as a somewhat pitiable character who, unlike Anna, submits to the oppressive patriarchal system, or they have neglected her as an insignificant minor character. I feel that such views are reductive and ignore Dolly’s personal strength compared with Anna’s weak character. Dolly’s heroism goes beyond her social, marital, and maternal status. Dolly “lives for the soul,” demonstrating personal and spiritual virtue (Tolstoy  794).
Gary Saul Morson is the most important critical voice on the subject of Dolly in Anna Karenina and in many ways the most influential Tolstoyan critic in recent scholarship of the English-speaking world. Morson is also the main originator of the idea that one of the novel’s seemingly secondary characters – Dolly Oblonsky – is the true hero of Anna Karenina.
In his work "Anna Karenina" In Our Time: Seeing More Wisely (2007) Morson offers an analysis and interpretation of Tolstoy’s great novel in terms of his thesis on “prosaics”. He argues that Tolstoy’s work criticizes romanticism in favor of “prosaic”, everyday love and rejects Anna’s narcissistic and romantic nature in favor of Dolly’s “prosaic love and lowly wisdom” (Morson  189). In doing so, Morson controversially attempts to establish Dolly as the true hero of the novel by arguing that her “prosaic” love and wisdom align with Tolstoy’s ideas of morality.
However, while Morson’s illuminates many aspects of Anna Karenina beautifully, his “prosaics” thesis has two significant shortcomings. Firstly, his analysis almost entirely neglects the pervasive religious content of the novel, in spite of the fact that this religious content strengthens the argument for Dolly’s heroism. Secondly, Morson’s analysis can be open to feminist critique. Morson proves Dolly to be a Tolstoyan “prosaic” hero, but many feminist scholars might suggest that Tolstoy’s own perception of this “prosaic” female heroism and morality is in fact misogynistic.
By employing and integrating both feminist and religious-ethical criticism, my thesis demonstrates that in “living for the soul” and exemplifying religious virtue, Dolly Oblonsky achieves a sense of independence and purpose, in spite of her adherence to traditional gender roles and social structures , and is therefore a true hero of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
Minion, Mara, ""Living for the Soul": Dolly's Heroism in Anna Karenina" (2016). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 344.