Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anna Karenina, the last stop on my Tolstoy mini-marathon

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy ( Classics Series translated by Constance Garnett)Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy by Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Anna Karenina had been written in the twenty-first century it would have been cut back to about half its length. There are scenes of farming and Russian politics as well as long divergences into philosophical discussions about what is important in life. The modern thought would have been that those scenes do not advance the story. But what's wonderful about nineteenth century literature in general and Anna Karenina specifically is that Tolstoy took the time to explore his characters and topics thoroughly.

Anna sums up her tragic flaw in a brief way when she says, “It is only those two creatures I love (Seryozha, her son, and Alexy, her lover), and one excludes the other.” But her words are much too simplistic. Anna slowly swirls down into her personal disaster because of all the elements around her. When Anna goes to the theater Madame Kartasova reacts by telling her it is a disgrace to sit beside her. It's easy to say society is not important, but incidents like that have to upset Anna. She and Vronsky live in the country because they can be away from occurrences such as that, but life in the country is lonely leaving Anna nothing to dwell on but her situation. She can't sleep, so she resorts to morphine and opium. These drugs are short term solutions that make the long term situation even worse. Her husband doesn't react violently to the revelation that his wife has had an affair, instead, due to his influence by Countess Lidia Ivanova, he acts magnanimously, in a very self-righteous manner. Anna cannot help but be injured by Alexy Alexandrovitch's attitude and by his refusal to allow her to see her son. This sends her even deeper into her downward spiral. In the end the reader can feel and understand the reasons Anna needs to end her life.

Tolstoy starts his book with what has become one of the most famous opening lines in all literature: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. But those words are not entirely true. Levin and Kitty's life is the counterpoint to Vronsky and Anna's. Tolstoy examines that life with just as much detail and continues to explain Levin's spiritual state even after Anna's story has run its course. When I first read Anna Karenina over twenty years ago, I was pulled in by Anna's story. This time it was Levin who held my interest the most. I loved his insecurities and his attempts to search for meaning in life. In my opinion his respect and love for Kitty made their love story more powerful than the tragic story of Anna and Vronsky. Perhaps what makes Tolstoy's writing so powerful is his ability to reach out to readers at all stages of their lives.

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