Anna Karenina

ISBN: 1593081774
ISBN 13: 9781593081775
By: Leo Tolstoy Constance Garnett Amy Mandelker

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Genres

Classic Classics Fiction Historical Fiction Literature Romance Russia Russian Russian Literature To Read

About this book

Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of Barnes & Noble Classics:New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholarsBiographies of the authorsChronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural eventsFootnotes and endnotesSelective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the workComments by other famous authorsStudy questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectationsBibliographies for further readingIndices & Glossaries, when appropriateAll editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. Barnes & Noble Classics pulls together a constellation of influences—biographical, historical, and literary—to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works. Vladimir Nabokov called Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina “one of the greatest love stories in world literature.” Matthew Arnold claimed it was not so much a work of art as “a piece of life.” Set in imperial Russia, Anna Karenina is a rich and complex meditation on passionate love and disastrous infidelity.Married to a powerful government minister, Anna Karenina is a beautiful woman who falls deeply in love with a wealthy army officer, the elegant Count Vronsky. Desperate to find truth and meaning in her life, she rashly defies the conventions of Russian society and leaves her husband and son to live with her lover. Condemned and ostracized by her peers and prone to fits of jealousy that alienate Vronsky, Anna finds herself unable to escape an increasingly hopeless situation.Set against this tragic affair is the story of Konstantin Levin, a melancholy landowner whom Tolstoy based largely on himself. While Anna looks for happiness through love, Levin embarks on his own search for spiritual fulfillment through marriage, family, and hard work. Surrounding these two central plot threads are dozens of characters whom Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together, creating a breathtaking tapestry of nineteenth-century Russian society. From its famous opening sentence—“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—to its stunningly tragic conclusion, this enduring tale of marriage and adultery plumbs the very depths of the human soul.Amy Mandelker, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, is the author of Framing Anna Karenina: Tolstoy, the Woman Question, and the Victorian Novel and coeditor of Approaches to Teaching Anna Karenina.

Reader's Thoughts

Tyler

When the Russian elite first read this idyll to their vanity, they must have fallen headlong into the reflecting pool right after Narcissus. For now, you see, not only are they rich and powerful, but according to Tolstoy they’re also supremely virtuous. The theme of this book does the trick.Say a painter decides to do a Madonna and Child. Looking around, he frowns as he sees that this subject has already been painted thousands of times in every possible way over the ages. To stand out, he decides to paint the biggest, baddest Madonna and Child ever. Such is Tolstoy’s approach to the book’s theme, an admiring homage to God, family and class.Though the author paints on a sprawling canvas, this theme handcuffs the plot, which gets so predictable that it can be seen hundreds of pages in advance more or less what will happen. This same sprawl handcuffs character development because the characters have to be all bad or all good in order to make the author’s point. So the book needs exemplary writing in order to work.Here, however, Tolstoy never really trusts us to extract the message from his story. He tends to spell it out for us in case we didn’t get it the first time. After a few promising paragraphs, or pages, the prose gets eclipsed by remarks better suited to religious tracts, the kinds with cartoon crosses and all caps, and a penchant for showing up anonymously in public places. As a result, too much of the author can be seen and not enough of his story.Further damaging the narrative is the laughable misogyny by which the Stepford-wife females make fools of themselves. At one point, for example, three upper class women victoriously demonstrate to a dazzled peasant cook that their recipe makes the tastiest jam. All through the book, the corset-yanking writer pulls out every cliché, right down to the hooker with a heart of gold who, mortified by her own scarlet shame, literally (with a shawl) effaces herself before a ruling-class woman of virtue and promptly exits the stage after a disgraceful cameo. We’d have a veritable encyclopedia of sexism except that these caricatures must in turn compete with more subtle excoriations of liberals. The eponymous Anna, her eyes glittering, showcases the step-by-step descent into nihilism that liberalism causes, abetted by freethinkers and possibly even by atheists. Though more subtle, this condemnation is still much too obvious to the reader.Choking on dogma, the story scrapes bottom awhile. But luckily, about page 700, the author drags the manuscript off the mortuary table and applies shock. Over the next 240 pages, he tones down the agitprop, and Levin’s generally well written epiphany in the last 60 pages shoves this Frankenstein past the finish line. The author tries to mine the same vein as Dostoevsky, another religious conservative. But where Dostoevsky succeeds brilliantly, Tolstoy fizzles. The urge to moralize so impedes the narrative flow that it ruins the effect. What’s left is an archipelago of excellent prose floating on a pond of unctuous treacle.I wanted to give this novel at least some credit for these stretches of good writing. But sadly, the distractions in the writing conspired with a predictable plot and monochromatic characters to turn this book into a train wreck.

Madeline

** spoiler alert ** I finished this last night, but didn't write a review then because I needed some time to think over the entire book and decide exactly what I wanted to say about it. I'm going to start with a quick plot summary, because before I read this I didn't really know what Anna Karenina was actually about. So, in brief: Oblonsky has cheated on his wife Dolly but he convinces his sister Anna to talk to her and they don't get divorced; meanwhile Oblonsky's friend Levin is in love with Dolly's sister Kitty but she wants to marry Vronsky who is in love with Anna who is already married to Karenin but goes ahead and has an affair with Vronsky anyway so he rejects Kitty but it's okay because she marries Levin anyway and Levin has these two brothers and one is a drug addict and the other is a stuffy author and they don't do much but they're around a lot and then Anna leaves her husband but he won't give her a divorce and won't let her keep their son so she's very depressed about that and Dolly is the only one who will talk to her even though Oblonsky also works hard to convince Karenin to divorce Anna. Everyone got that? It really could not be simpler. Okay, on to the review part: I'm giving this book three stars because it seemed like the fairest rating, considering that some parts of this book deserved a five-star rating and some parts deserved one star. Everything with Anna and Vronsky was really interesting and amazing - I loved Anna so much, and I really wanted to be friends with her. She was lovely. Unfortunately, she and her lovah had to compete with Kitty and Levin, the other important couple of the story. And good god are they boring. Levin owns a farm, which means we get chapters upon chapters of nothing but him babbling on about farming techniques and how nobody does the job right and what he wants to do to improve his farm. Also, the book should have ended right after Anna killed herself, or at least ended by talking about how Vronsky was dealing with it. But that doesn't happen. In the last thirty-some pages of the book, Anna throws herself under a train, and for the rest of the book we get a little mention of how Vronsky has volunteered to fight in some war, but the rest of it is all about Levin and his farm and local politics and his spiritual crisis and OH MY GOD I DON'T CARE. Once I had read two chapters about Levin after Anna's death, I flipped through the rest of the book, saw that he was the sole focus of the rest of the story, and almost stopped reading. I could have, too, and I wouldn't have missed anything important.

Brandi

One of the best novels I've ever read. There was only one part that dragged a bit for me--the account of the provincial election in part 6. I rather loved the detailed descriptions--especially Tolstoy's habit of describing the little idiosyncrasies for each character. I love that each character was allowed to grow and change from the beginning to the end of the book, the book more than any other I've read flows like real life--the characters react and grow make decisions and change with what is happening and not vice-versa. Because of it's length, you get to see what sometimes other books don't show--that the Earth doesn't cease to keep spinning because of someone's actions. And Tolstoy allows us to see what happens when "life goes on" after choices are made.The prose was beautiful, especially Levin's insight and reflections (not that I think I comprehended all of his philosophical musings). In fact, I think I loved Levin's story even more than Anna's--though to compare their stories is compelling. As I was reading about 3-400 pages in, I started wishing I had begun with a pencil in hand to underline particularly beautiful or insightful passages. I told myself I would next time--and for me if I already have plans to read it again before I'm through the first time that means it's a pretty fabulous book.

Kat

Yesterday I finished this book. I started it in early July, 2006 and never put it down for more than, oh, a month at a time.Infuriatingly boring. The last 25 pages are a philosophical essay cloaked in fiction. (i.e., "What if," the character thought, "such and such and such a [whole-page paragraph]? That would mean that the meaning of life is [...]!") I can't think of any reason Tolstoy would have stuck this at the end of an 800+-page book unless A) he was worried that the previous 776 pages didn't convey his purpose (I think this is true), and/or B) he realized his ideas were too half-assed to warrant a straightforward essay. (We suffer because we think too much, and studying science will inevitably make us want to kill ourselves, so we should just believe in God even though belief in God doesn't make any sense? I need more than a novel to convince me.)Tolstoy succeeds at "realism," inasmuch as he makes up so many details that it's easy to forget that he's making things up instead of describing a photograph. I will give him that. But from my historical position, when "realism" is not bold and new, the book only strikes me as a swollen, insufferable narrative. I don't see why he couldn't have accomplished everything he accomplished in a book one-quarter the size. If you've already read the book and want to talk about the ideas or the character arcs, I would be vaguely interested in such a conversation. But I can't think of anyone I know to whom I would recommend an investment of time in this book. I am satisfied that I read the whole thing only because it is a testimony to my stubbornness.

Sean

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” One of the most famous lines in the history of literature. A phrase that sets the tone for the events that unfolds in this massive tome from one of Russian’s most famous novelist, Leo Tolstoy. This author is mostly famous for his double fisted pair of epics which feature a panoramic view of 19th century Russian society. This book, Anna Karenina rests in one hand as a tragic love story whereas the other complex war epic, War and Peace. Both of these books have become household names in the world of classic fiction. Both have experienced a reputation of being both equally loved and feared by those readers who have braved the 1000 pages and the long term investment that each of these novels demand. Anna Karenina is the first of Tolstoy’s novels that I have read. Although the main plot is fairly simple, it is one of the most complex novels I have ever read in terms of characterization and morality. The book is a quintessential example of realism in literature so the true strength lies in the complexity of its characters and its themes. Anna Karenina discussed many themes such as love, marriage, jealousy, infidelity, economics, art, and politics. It really is all there. It leaves very few areas untouched. I believe many themes are still relevant in today’s society. It really presents an interesting study of the challenges of being human. The plot follows the personal life of two families. One is in the early stages of creation; the other is on the verge of destruction. Both are inter-twined and both are presented with the same problems. Like the characters in this novel, one of the most important goals in anyone’s life is to achieve happiness. The definition of happiness varies from person to person. However, in many people’s lives happiness is something ambiguous. Many people do now know what makes them happy. Many believe that money, love, power, or a healthy family are the ingredients that bring them a sense of happiness. However, when some of these goals are achieved, a person may still feel as if they have not fully achieved happiness even though they have everything that they have always wanted in life. The same feelings are experienced in this book. I have never read a novel that had more realistic characters and been more relevant to the challenges of modern life today than Anna Karenina.

Caris

I don’t know what to think of Tolstoy. This is the first work of his I’ve ever read. After reading Dostoevsky, I am thoroughly intrigued by Russian literature. Tolstoy, however, is vastly different than Dostoevsky. It’s like he’s Dostoevsky’s happy older brother. There are similar aspects such as pride, depression, and madness, but Anna Karenina just wasn’t as dark.It may have been more beautifully written. By the first page, it was if I could breathe again. As if all of the contemporary fiction, all the Dan Browns of the world, had polluted the air and Leo Tolstoy stepped up and personally applied the oxygen mask to my face, stroked my hair, and told me everything was going to be alright. Anna Karenina, in my opinion, was written at a time when writing meant something. It wasn’t something one did on his/her days off at Starbucks. “Oh, I’m working on my novel.” S/he says, sipping a latte.Tolstoy didn’t so much write as craft from the clay of humanity. This is especially evident by the dialogue in this piece, which essentially drives the plot. The conversations in this book are unparalleled. They range in subject from farming to love to religion, and each is far more in depth and philosophical than any conversation I’ve ever had.There were a couple of things I wasn’t thrilled about in this book. It was very long for the relatively few significant plot details that took place. It was like taking a canoe on a meandering stream and coming to places where the water slows to a trickle and you have to get out to push your vessel along until the water gets deeper. That’s just the nature of the story, I guess, but it made for slow reading. It took me nearly a month to finish this one. Also, I don’t think Tolstoy has really considered women. His women think like men think women think. I’m reading some feminist writing at the moment, and I notice how male dominated every aspect of this book is. It isn’t that the concerns of the women in his book couldn’t be those of real women, it’s just that they’re stereotypical. When the women are being logical, they are thinking like the men in the story. This doesn’t surprise me entirely, considering Tolstoy’s tumultuous relationship with the other sex.All in all, it was a good book. Something of a commitment, but good nonetheless.

Mark

Levin, Levin, Levin, you are a conceited monkey. Why you worry so much?? Is it because you think your problems are bigger than everyone else's? Is it because you don't have enough to fill your days? I would think planting and harvesting would be enough to make a guy dog-tired at night. Dog-tired enough that his infernal mind would shutty uppy for even half a page. Or is it because you think your problems are greater than others'? That you as landowner are the sole decider of everyone else's fate? Cause dude, your head is way way too big. You need to hold the air valve sideways (it's there, just behind your ear) and deflate that enormous ego you have. Just for giggles, lemme introduce you to Madam Karenina. Madam K's got some real problems. Yes, you might say, they are indeed first-world problems. She's not starving to death, dying in the street. But compared to you, buck, she's got problems. You might say, in your troublesome way, that Ms. Karenina brought her problems on herself. But would you concede that Ms. Karenina was trapped in a loveless marriage and who the hell wants to spend their life living in some kind of doldrums where nothing happens save slow, arduous stagnation? Oh yes, that's right, you're so full of yourself that you can't feel empathy for other people. That's right. Even though you made it abundantly clear over many an inner monologue, I forgot for a second. Maybe that's because you ramble so much I tended to tune you out. What's that? No, I don't think you cared about the peasants. In your arrogant way, I think you did believe that you cared about the peasants, but that's not the same thing. Would you agree? Of course you wouldn't. Well who asked you? Listen, Madam K. had some shit going on and it was far bigger than your shit. No, I don't care that yours was about the very fate of your everlasting soul. You're an ass so I don't care. Sue me. You didn't care about people so I don't care about your problems. Yeah, well as we say in the south, you can go butt a stump. No, wait, come back. I still have to tell you why Madam K's problems are so much bigger than yours. You like discussing philosophical issues right? Don't lie, I know you do. I listened to you try to argue them for half a book. Now sit down. I'll call your brother. You know Sergei could outwit you, hell, even Nicholai could outwit you on almost every (heck, every) occasion! What's Madam K's problem? Don't act like you don't know. You spent half the book avoiding her because you were so hung up about whether or not your wife actually loved you. You know what her problem is. Yes I know you were based on Tolstoy himself. I wasn't sure of that until my buddy Mary told me, but I had an inkling from all the farming you did. No, I don't think you expressed yourself as well as Tolstoy. Tolstoy, while making a boneheaded decision to give you spotlight status, is still a brilliant writer whose syntax, scenes, characters (yes, even you) all came to life before my very eyes. The man knew classes, both the poor and the aristocratic. You would do well to emulate him. Yes, I realize that's what you were trying to do. But what era? Were you Tolstoy in his 20s, 30s, maybe his 50s? Yes, I know you're 34 but I'm saying mentally, where are you? Well, to me you're a child. You fuss and whine and worry and kick a stone along the road and convince yourself that you're right about everything and everyone knows you're not. We all know it. Yes, even Kitty knows it. Kitty's a helluva lot smarter than you, btw. I just wanted you to know that. Look, can I take a break? You're wearing me out. I'm going to get some lunch. We'll continue this in a bit ---Good lunch? Really? What'd you do then? Will you ever stop thinking? You'll drive yourself nuts. You really will. Have you read Salinger? Oh yeah, after your time. Right. Look, I ran into a buddy while I was out. Levin, this is my buddy, Mr. T Yes, like the letter T. "I pity da foo dat don't read dis cause it too long, foo." Mr. T enjoyed the book, Levin. He has a bit of a bone to pick with you. But he loved the writing. "I pity da foo dat don't like dis book, foo." See, what'd I tell ya? He loves it. Sit down, Mr. T. I was talking to Levin before - about what a self-righteous twit he is - and was going to ask him what he thought of Madam K's...predicament. "I pity da foo dat don't pity Madam K, foo." That's right. See, Levin, Mr. T and I have the same bone to pick so he thought he would come along, hang out, throw in his two cents if the mood struck. "I pity da foo dat don't got two cents, foo." But while I was out, I did find something that was sorta of positive about you, Levin. You won't know it since it's after your time, but all the existential writers who dabbled in fiction, there was quite a bit of your influence in them I think. They turned the pen inward upon themselves and pondered life's great questions - much like you did. But the thing was, Levin, they did it so much better than you and they thoroughly convinced me why I should care about what they were thinking. Did you know Ivan Ilyich? Just in name? Oh, okay. You don't know much about him? Tolstoy wrote about his death several years after writing about you, so I thought you may've heard of him. You and Ivan, I think you would have gotten along splendidly. Ivan was a confused guy too. While I appreciated his pondering - to an extent - I don't feel his pondering was sound. It felt forced. And I gotta tell ya, his was easier to digest because he shut the fuck up sometimes, you know? "I pity da foo dat don't know when to shut the fudge up, foo." So. Anna, then? You what? Want a second? What, like in a duel? We're just talking. Yes, but Mr. T is only interjecting a little bit. He's - I know he has big muscles. That's not why I brought him. He's not going to hurt you. Alright, alright, who do you want? Vronsky!? That's the last person I figured you to pick. Maybe you're wilier than I thought. Ha, yeah, I know he can take a hit. But still, you guys will be a pair ---Well if it isn't Vronsky. Man, I've got some words for you too, bucko. "I pity da foo dat don't calm down, foo." Okay, okay. See, he's here as much to calm me down as to -- never mind. Look Vronsky, what you did. The way you were. Well, you and Levin are more alike than you know. I see why Kitty... Do you see how Anna was put upon!? Why didn't you see how hard it was for her!? "I said, I pity da foo dat don't calm down, foo." Okay, okay. But didn't you see what you were doing to her? Oh yeah, wine and roses in the beginning. But isn't it always? Did you not see how hard her position was, though? She had a son, Vronsky. Don't you think that began to creep up on her? What she gave up for you? I don't even want to think about the kind of therapy her children will need. Yes, Karenin was a dick, too. Big ole lopsided dick. Needed Houdini to travel back in time to debunk all that trance shit. That was hilarious to Tolstoy to throw in, though. I do give him high marks for that. Great scene. Great writing. But you!! Gallivanting off to your men's club every chance you got, 'A man needs to be social,' you said, something like that, and Anna couldn't even go to a concert without an uproar. A simple concert! Yes, I know, society's as much to blame. But are you not a member of society? And you're a Count. Your words, as a 'man' would mean something. You could have said, "We're trying to procure a divorce but Karenin The Dick won't let us have one because he's got his own pettiness to deal with under the guise of a religious fervor." But nooo, you were too busy looking after Vronsky, what Vronsky needs. And and Levin - yes, we're back to you, again - are so much alike. Me, me, me. Mr. T, I'm sorry but I really wanna hurt the both of them. Like really really bad. Both of these assholes had good women and neither of them treated them fairly - shut the fuck up, Levin, you were an asshole to the end. "Foo?" We have to beat some sense into them, Mr. T. It's the only way they'll understand anything. They were too good to sully themselves for the ones they professed to love. It's the only way. On three. Ready? One. Two. Three. Urmph. Good one, Mr. T! Ugh. Zow. "I pity da foo dat don't know when to quit, foo!" Ping. Snap. "Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo-choo?" Boing.Sprung. "Damn, man, like getting run over by a freight train...ughrmm. "Ha ha ha ha ha ha." Woosh.Yeeeeeee. Wait, wait, hang on. Wait. Stop. Let's just stop a minute. Don't get me wrong, it feels fan-friggin-tastic to wail on you guys. But I'm gotta stop a minute and duff my cap to Mr. Tolstoy again for creating such realistic characters for me to grapple with, to love, to loathe, to live with for the last several months. Mr. T, watch out for Vronsky. He's liable to sucker punch while I do my monologue. Oh harsh you trap, Levin, you got center stage for at least 400 pages. Mr. Tolstoy, I think you are a terrific writer, and though I didn't always agree with your characters - especially the autobiographical one - you are one kickass writer. It was a pleasure just to read your sentences. It would be awesome to be able to speak to you in person, to pick your brain. "I pity da foo dat don't open his eyes, foo." What, Mr. T? "I pity da foo dat don't know what T stand for, foo." What are you saying, Mr. T?? "Look, do I have to spell it out, fool? T. Tolstoy. Duh." Say what? "Reincarnation, man. Ever heard of it?" Uh. Yeah. "So, you liked the book?" Uh. Yeah. "Why are you lookin at me that way, foo?" I'm sorry, it's just a lot to wrap my head around. All this time...? "Yeah, foo." Mr. T---olstoy? Count? "Whatta ya say, foo, you feel like an ice cream?" Uh. Yeah. Erm, you guys wanna come? Urmph. "I'll clean dem up later." Uh. Okay. "So you didn't like Levin, huh?" ...

Brett

Alright, I'm going to do my best not to put any spoilers out here, but it will be kind of tough with this book. I should probably start by saying that this book was possibly the best thing I have ever read.It was my first Tolstoy to read, and the defining thing that separated what he wrote from anything else that I've read is his characters. His characters are unbelievably complex. The edition of this book that I read was over 900 pages, so he has some time to do it. His characters aren't static, but neither are they in some kind of transition from A to B throughout the book. They are each inconsistent in strikingly real ways. They think things and then change their minds. They believe something and then lose faith in it. Their opinions of each other are always swirling. They attempt to act in ways that align with something they want, but they must revert back to who they are. But who a character is is a function of many things, some innate and some external and some whimsical and moody.So all the characters seem too complex to be characters in a book. It's as if no one could write a character that could be so contradictory and incoherent and still make them believable, so no one would try to write a character like Anna Karenina. But people are that complex, and they are incoherent and that's what makes Tolstoy's characters so real. Their understandings of each other and themselves are as incoherent as mine of those around me and myself.One of the ways that Tolstoy achieves this is through incredible detail to non-verbal communication. He is always describing the characters movements, expressions, or postures in such a way that you subtly learn their thoughts. He does an amazing job in the internal monologues the characters experience. You frequently hear a character reason with himself and reveal his thoughts or who he is to you in some way, and all the while you feel like you already knew that they felt that or were that. Even as the characters are inconsistent. There are times when he can describe actions that have major implications on the plot with blunt and simple words and it still felt rich because the characters are so full. The book takes on love, marriage, adultery, faith, selfishness, death, desire/attraction, happiness. It also speaks interestingly on social classes or classism. He also addresses the clash between the pursuit of individual desires and social obligations/restraints. There is just so much to wrestle with here.And you go through a myriad set of emotions and impressions of the characters as you read. At times you can love or hate or adore a character. You can be ashamed of or ashamed for or reviled by or anxious with or surprised by a character. And you feel this way about each of them at points. But it isn't at all a roller coaster ride of emotion. It's fluid and natural and makes sense. One of the many points that the book seemed to reach to me was the strength and power of love. Tolstoy displays it in all its power and all its inability. In the end love is not sufficient enough to sustain. He writes tremendous triumphs for it, and then he writes the months after when the reality of human failings set in. But love is good, and there is hope. Life can be better with love in it. Should I have kids one day I think I'll make reading this book a precondition for them to start dating (that and turning 25).I was also surprised by a section towards the end of the book where Tolstoy through Levin, my favorite character and the one that I identified with the most, makes a case for Christianity that was so simple but at the same time really impacted me. I guess I'll leave that alone here.Basically, I don't have high enough praise for this book. I hope everyone reads it. It is very long, and I found the third quarter or so slow. But I could definitely read it again. Not soon but it could become a must read every 15 years or so for me. Between he nature of the content and the quality of the words, I would say that this is the greatest masterpiece in words that I've ever found.

Anastasia Fitzgerald-Beaumont

I first read Anna Karenina when I was in my mid-teens. I remember being deeply moved by the story of Anna and her doomed love but I missed a lot of Tolstoy’s subtlety. I say this because I have now reread this magnificent book in the light of the recent film adaptation with Keira Knightley in the role of Anna.In my review of the movie I described the novel as a War and Peace of the emotions. But it’s actually much more than that. Though it is more intimate in an emotional sense than War and Peace Tolstoy also manages to capture the sweep and grandeur of a particular period in Russian history. It’s an effortless shifting of focus really, from interior feelings at one point to exterior settings at another, inside and outside captured with almost perfect comprehension.The novel opens with arguably one of the most recognised lines in all of world literature;All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.On my first reading I thought this was a reference to Anna and her own relationships, first with her husband, Alexis Karenin, a man she clearly does not love, a man she never loved, and then with Count Alexis Vronsky, the great passion of her life, a man she loved too much. But it’s not. In the immediate sense it’s a reference to the marriage of her philandering brother, Stiva Oblonsky, and Dolly, his much suffering wife. Beyond that it really touches on a variety of relationships. It touches, in a deeper sense, on a larger family, that of the Russian aristocracy, on the threshold of a precipitous decline.The title is deceptive. Much of the novel does indeed focus on the tragedy of Anna but not in an exclusive sense. It might just as well have been called Portraits of Marriage; for marriage and relationships is what it’s all about. Not all unhappy, I should add. For in counterpoint to the story of Anna, Karenin and Vronsky we have that of Kitty, Dolly’s sister, and Constantine Levin. This, as it turns out, is the novel’s one happy family, resembling no other. The idealistic and occasionally tiresome Levin is an obvious self-portrait of Tolstoy himself. I say tiresome because the author allows him to become a vehicle for his own economic, political and spiritual obsessions, which buzz at points as annoyingly as the bees Levin keeps on his country estate! For me the fascinating thing about Anna Karenina is just how well it captures a particular social milieu and a particular period in Russian history. I offer another possible title – Decline and Fall. There is pathology here, something symptomatic almost. At one extreme we have the insouciant Oblonsky, thoughtless and shallow, a scion of an ancient family in terminal decline. At the other we have Levin, a country gentleman who dreams of a communion with the peasantry, while always being apart from the peasantry. In the middle we have Anna, passionate, transient and destructive, a force of nature. On the outside we have the peasantry, looking on with incomprehension and bemused contempt. It’s often said that Anna Karenina is the greatest novel ever written. Greatness, it seems to me, is such and elusive and uncertain measure. There are serious flaws in the book which, at least to me, would seem to stop it somewhere short of ‘greatness’, at least understood as perfection. But there is something greater than greatness; there is brilliance. Anna Karenina is a brilliant book, one with breathtaking insight, a handling of character and theme that shows one to be in the presence of a true master of the art. Tolstoy’s understanding of human nature is as broad as it is deep. Although the novel has a third person grand narrative style, the focus changes with the mood, moving from a God-like perspective to interior consciousness with equal ease. Even Laska, Levin’s dog, is allowed a perspective at one point in the narrative! Tolstoy’s descriptive power is as grand as it is in War and Peace, though the richness of his country scenes stands in sharp contrast to the anonymity of his urban settings. Anna Karenina is a novel of consequences. In some ways it’s similar in handling to War and Peace, in that the author clearly believes that each individual destiny is shaped by forces that cannot be controlled. Anna is the novel’s boldest character, one who defies convention, choosing love over propriety. That is the beginning of her tragedy. I suppose it is possible to say that Vronsky also places love, the love of another man’s wife, before propriety, but for him the choice does not carry the same burden, a measure of social hypocrisy, perhaps, though the judgements here are our own, not Tolstoy’s. His task is simply to show the limits of freedom and the penalties of choice. The penalties for Anna are high. Unable to divorce, she grows increasingly uncertain of herself, increasingly insecure in her relationship with Vronsky, who can, after all, discard her in a moment and marry another, as his mother clearly wishes. Anna’s passionate nature turns in on itself, driven to destruction by recrimination, doubt and paranoia. Her story resembles no other in its unhappiness. It ends in a station; it ends in suicide under a train. Is there any happiness to be found here? Well, as I say, to contrast with the dark there is the light of Kitty and Levin. If Oblonsky represents shallow and cosmopolitan urban values, Levin – Tolstoy himself – seeks roots in the land, roots in ‘the people’, something of an idealised and unreflective giant. He finds contentment with Kitty and meaning in life, including spiritual meaning…at least up to a point. Tolstoy admired the work of Charles Dickens. But the thing about Dickens’ novels is that they all have one conclusion – the end of history. One feels that the action is done. All that remains is an endless summer of happy families, big meals and blessed death. Not so with Anna Karenina. Levin is a doubter; his quest is not over, his happiness less than complete. His is a story that is also destined to end in a station, the story of Tolstoy’s own future.

Manny

For the Celebrity Death Match Review Tournament, Jane Eyre (5) versus Anna Karenina (12)[sequel to this review]I have already recounted the events of the ball. When I returned to England, there was a missive waiting for me. Somehow I knew, even before I opened it, that the contents were nothing I wished to read; that, if I had the smallest good sense, I would throw it on the fire and be done with it. But my hands, moving, it seemed to me, of their own accord, carefully slit open the envelope, which contained a letter and a thick manuscript. I watched my fingers unfold the letter. Here, without further ado, is what it said.The rest of this review is in my book If Research Were Romance and Other Implausible Conjectures

Paul

For the Celebrity Death Match Review Tournament round 2.****The ball was only just beginning as Anna walked up the great staircase, flooded with light, and lined with flowers and footmen in powder and red coats. From the rooms came a constant, steady hum, as from a hive, and the rustle of movement; and while on the landing between trees the ladies gave last touches to their hair and dresses before the mirror, they heard from the ballroom the careful, distinct notes of the fiddles of the orchestra beginning the first waltz. A beardless youth, in an exceedingly open waistcoat, straightening his white tie as he went, bowed to them, and after running by, came back to ask Anna for a quadrille, which she promised him. Although her dress, her coiffure, and all the preparations for the ball had cost Anna great trouble and consideration, at this moment she walked into the ballroom in her elaborate tulle dress over a pink slip as easily and simply as though all the rosettes and lace, all the minute details of her attire, had not cost her or her family a moment's attention, as though she had been born in that tulle and lace, with her hair done up high on her head, and a rose and two leaves on the top of it. It was one of Anna's best days. Her dress was not uncomfortable anywhere; her rosettes were not crushed nor torn off; her pink slippers with high, hollowed-out heels did not pinch, but gladdened her feet; and the thick rolls of fair chignon kept up on her head as if they were her own hair. Her bare shoulders and arms gave Anna a sense of chill marble, a feeling she particularly liked. Her eyes sparkled, and her rosy lips could not keep from smiling from the consciousness of her own attractiveness. She had scarcely entered the ballroom and reached the throng of ladies, all smiles and ribbons, when a mighty blow assailed her, blood burst from her earlobe and she collapsed straightway to the floor, amidst a swirl of consternation. All eyes turned to the assailant who was a prim looking young woman arrived lately from England. Her gown was plain but striking, with a design incorporating flashes of orange taffeta, which some of the ladies present had not seen before, and were keen to copy. A gentleman standing by removed the candlestick from the lady's gloved hand, or, in fact, she indifferently gave it to him. "How vicious, how vicious," cried many of the ladies thronging about Anna's prone form, attempting to stop the copious blood flow with tulle and valencienne. The beardless youth, in fine fury, leaped before the Englishwoman and demanded of her – "What treachery is this? In heaven's name, whence come you and whance this cruelty?" The lady cast her eyes about the enraged, brilliantly spangled assembly. "I believe you will find that whance is no word in any dictionary, neither in England nor Russia. I say this with a modicum of authority, grammar is one of the lessons I have had to teach. Sir, I have travelled many miles for this, and now it is done. She will rise no more –" poking Anna's outstretched leg which was slightly twitching – "but should she do so she will receive another buffet." "But what dispute had you with this lady?" said the young man, attempting, it appeared, to make some sort of inquiry as to the purpose of the assault. "And are you not aware there are rules society has laid down to resolve such, and that you may not ambush your adversary in such a manner, and what had this lady done to you at all, since you come from England?" Although she was of smallish stature the English woman drew up her head and stared him straight in the eye. "My name is Jane Eyre. You do not understand this matter at all. And I am no longer inclined to abide by men's rules."

Rob

Well, I finished it. Not sure what to say.This is one of those books whose image in my mind is so distorted by its reputation for Greatness that it's impossible for me to evaluate it on its own terms. I think I liked it, but a voice nags at me: would any of that positivity remain if it had been unceremoniously plopped onto my desk with no context, without endorsements like this one? I finished the book and nodded: "yes, that was good. Four stars on Goodreads, let's say." But what I was nodding assent to was the mass of praise the reputable have heaped upon this Greatest of Great Novels, and this Greatest of Great Authors. Whatever admiration or affection I hold for the book, I'm not sure it would be enough for me to stand on its side of the fence if everyone else in the world weren't already standing there.One of the reasons I like long novels is that I get increasing returns from spending time in a fictional world. The longer I spend with a set of characters and with an author's style, the more sense of reality (or bewitching unreality) they take on. I see every new page in a slightly new context, and by the end of a good, long book the wealth of context is enough to make every writerly gesture, no matter how small, seem interesting by virtue of its interaction with its background. My experience with Anna Karenina certainly benefitted from this effect. Initially I wasn't impressed at all. Halfway through the book, the characters finally begin to feel alive; by the end even Tolstoy's descriptions of the most minute experiences began to seem profound, sitting as they were on top of so much understated and carefully chosen detail. It would be easy to chalk this feeling up to Tolstoy's "mastery of the realistic novel" or something. But it's hard for me to tell whether this book really did anything special or whether it simply profited from its length the way any competently produced 800-page novel would. (That is, it's hard for me to tell whether I like Tolstoy or whether I just like long novels.)I comfortably tell myself that Tolstoy was surpassingly skilled at characterization and that the eventual intensity of my engagement with his characters reflects this . . . then I remember that while reading Anna K., my mind would often drift to the characters of Community, a sitcom I was watching my way through at the time. Well, Community is certainly not a Great Work, and its characterization certainly displays no great subtlety. But if my own engagement with Tolstoy's characters means nothing about their Greatness (since I can readily engage with all sorts of non-Great things), what should I point to as evidence for that Greatness, if it exists? Tolstoy's characters have a certain reality to them, it's true. But I am neither sure that this sense of reality is valuable nor that it is not, in the end, an illusion. (Maybe Realism is not for me.)Now -- about translation. Something about translations has always startled me: they all sound awful. I don't know if other people actually don't feel this way or whether they just consider it too obvious to mention, but in any case it confuses me how little this is brought up. With a few exceptions (Rabassa's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Nabokov's translations of his own stuff), the translations I've read have read terribly: stilted, awkward, graceless, witless, limited in vocabulary . . . The obvious response here is that translations shouldn't be read as though they were English-language originals; the awkwardness is simply the result of the fact that the conventions of foreign literature don't map directly on the conventions of English literature (or of the English language itself) -- and if you aren't interested in foreign conventions, what are you doing reading foreign literature? A fair point, but without intimate knowledge of the conventional context -- knowledge that a foreign reader is unlikely to have, or to ever obtain -- one misses something enormous when one reads these alien forms, namely, how their sound/feel/functioning compares to that of their peers.Having read this big, imposing matte black object on my desk which has the word "Tolstoy" on it but which is not in Tolstoy's language, I can try if I want to speak about "Tolstoy's style" . . . but I know that all the information I have about Tolstoy's style comes not from reading Tolstoy, but from reading this very odd, very clumsily written English novel on my desk, whose selling point is its ostensible resemblance to Tolstoy's Great Novel Anna Karenina. I have no sense of how Tolstoy really sounds to a Russian reader, what sorts of special things he does with their language that they can't get anywhere else (he must do such things, since after all, he is a Great Writer), any more than a reader of Shakespeare in translation can grasp the special feeling a modern English speaker gets when they read this author whose work changed their language forever.The object on my desk is the celebrated, omni-approved Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, which I have to imagine is at least less bad than the alternatives. But I start to wonder when I look at the blurbs:At last, a version of Tolstoy's great novel that is neither musty, nor overly modernized, nor primly recast as a Victorian landscape. . . . a pellucid Anna Karenina that speaks (as Tolstoy himeslf wished to speak) from within its own time, but for all times.The ideal seems to be the sort of timelessness that results from lack of identification with any particular strain or era of English literature: it is neither "musty" nor "overly modernized" nor "primly recast as a Victorian landscape," and so forth, and after all these possibilities are rejected we are left with something "timeless" but also faceless and contextless, something that gives us no clues about how it is supposed to sound. (At least a "prim Victorian landscape" feels prim, which is something definite; P&V's Tolstoy is not prim because it is not quite anything.) Perhaps this is the right way to capture a foreign literature that does not map exactly onto English literature, but the costs are great. Once every coloration made possible by English literature has been removed, the result is not something recognizably foreign but simply something colorless; where it should be dressed in exotic clothing, the writing is simply naked. (I have been wondering, though, whether this "nakedness" isn't just the way 19th century literature as a whole seems to someone like me who's not used to it. But I doubt it. Having finished Anna K., I've just started Middlemarch, and the difference in variety, expressiveness, and particularity of language is remarkable.)This review has been almost entirely negative, which is not an accurate reflection of my experience with the book. I enjoyed it -- we had some good times together -- but I feel mostly unable to talk about my enjoyment, because I'm not sure how much of it can be separated from the book's reputation. Everything I could say would fall, with eerie exactitude, within the bounds established by all of the "Tolstoy is a Great Novelist" paeans that already exist, and I can't say with any confidence that I would be writing such a paean if I had never read one.

Emily May

This is a book that I was actually dreading reading for quite some time. It was on a list of books that I'd been working my way through and, after seeing the size of it and the fact that 'War And Peace' was voted #1 book to avoid reading, I was reluctant to ever get started. But am I glad that I did.This is a surprisingly fast-moving, interesting and easy to read novel. The last of which I'd of never believed could be true before reading it, but you find yourself instantly engrossed in this kind of Russian soap opera, filled with weird and intriguing characters. The most notable theme is the way society overlooked mens' affairs but frowned on womens', this immediately created a bond between myself and Anna, who is an extremely likeable character. I thought it had an amazing balance of important meaning and light-heartedness. Let's just say, it's given me some courage to maybe one day try out the dreaded 'War And Peace'.

Reynje

At least once a year since I was fifteen, I have attempted to finish Anna Karenina. I get to the exact same point each time (around halfway) and then just... stop. I have no idea why. It's turning into my book-nemesis, which drives me crazy because I want to love it. Anyway, I declare 2012 "Reynje vs Anna Karenina: Ultimate Book Smackdown". It's on.

Terry

In the beginning, reading Anna Karenin can feel a little like visiting Paris for the first time. You’ve heard a lot about the place before you go. Much of what you see from the bus you recognize from pictures and movies and books. You can’t help but think of the great writers and artists who have been here before you. You expect to like it. You want to like it. But you don’t want to feel like you have to like it. You worry a little that you won’t. But after a few days, you settle in, and you feel the immensity of the place opening up all around you. You keep having this experience of turning a corner and finding something beautiful that you hadn’t been told to expect or catching sight of something familiar from a surprising angle. You start to trust the abundance of the place, and your anxieties that someone else will have eaten everything up before your arrival relax. (Maybe that simile reveals more about me than I’d like.)My favorite discovery was the three or four chapters (out of the book’s 239) devoted to, of all things, scythe mowing—chapters that become a celebratory meditation on physical labor. When I read those chapters, I felt temporarily cured of the need to have something “happen” and became as absorbed in the reading as the mowers are absorbed in their work. Of course, the book is about Anna and Vronsky and Levin and Kitty and Dolly and poor, stupid Stepan Arkadyich. It’s about their love and courtship and friendship and pride and shame and jealousy and betrayal and forgiveness and about the instable variety of happiness and unhappiness. But it’s also about mowing the grass and arguing politics and hunting and working as a bureaucrat and raising children and dealing politely with tedious company. To put it more accurately, it’s about the way that the human mind—or, as Tolstoy sometimes says, the human soul—engages each of these experiences and tries to understand itself, the world around it, and the other souls that inhabit that world. This book is not afraid to take up any part of human life because it believes that human beings are infinitely interesting and infinitely worthy of compassion. And, what I found stirring, the book’s fearlessness extends to matters of religion. Tolstoy takes his characters seriously enough to acknowledge that they have spiritual lives that are as nuanced and mysterious as their intellectual lives and their romantic lives. I knew to expect this dimension of the book, but I could not have known how encouraging it would be to dwell in it for so long.In the end, this is a book about life, written by a man who is profoundly in love with life. Reading it makes me want to live.

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