Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
I read Anna Karenina over the summer and thought it was high time to share my thoughts about it with you. Let us try and summarize this book first though, shall we? It’s divided into eight parts and is far more complex then it’s title suggests. Anna’s story is not the focal point, or at least, not the only focal point. The story of Levin, Levin’s hope for love and adoration of Kitty and his struggles to come to terms with society, morality, social inadequacies and anxieties and Christianity all form a substantial part of the book. I might even venture to say that Anna and Vronsky’s tumultuous relationship plays second fiddle, almost, to the challenges and thoughts that Levin deals with throughout the book.
Anna Karenina is married to Count Alexei Karenin and they have a son together. He is a statesman and twenty years her senior. When we first meet Anna, she is not unhappy in her life. The book itself begins with Anna’s brother, Prince Stepan ‘Stiva’ Oblonsky, and his rocky marriage to Princess Darya ‘Dolly’ Oblonsky. He regularly plays away and is frivolous with his money. The family have several children and this strains Dolly. After the discovery of one particular affair, Dolly is distressed and Anna is called to help the situation. She does so and stays with them for a little while. During her time at their house, she is reintroduced to Kitty, Dolly’s younger sister, and we are introduced to both Kitty and Levin. Levin has a strong connection to Kitty’s family and believes himself to be in love with Kitty. Kitty believes herself to be in love with Count Vronsky. Vronsky is in the army and very fashionable. Needless to say, there’s a ball, Levin is rejected and Anna and Vronsky dance in a passionate manner, enough to start the embers of their future relationship.
Eventually, Anna and Vronsky begin an affair and they decided to run away together. This tears Anna apart because she leaves behind her child and she is rejected from society so completely. Vronsky is allowed to remain in society because he is a man. This strain builds momentum and both begin to despise and depend on one another. Anna finds it too much and exacts upon herself the same fate a train worker underwent, much earlier in the book. Levin’s story, on the other hand, follows him returning to his home in the country, working on the farm, attempting to understand modern farming techniques and the contemporary peasant and battling with his desire for a wife, and his questioning of his religion. As time moves on, he meets Kitty again and their situations are much changed. They marry and live in the country with their son who has arrived.
I have missed out much but I feel that’s okay. It is a large, complex book which is also a joy to read. It discusses questions of human morality, the rights and wrongs of society and the infinite difficulties of being human which can occur. I think the title is misleading. By overtly stating Anna’s name it makes the reader believe it is solely about her and Vronsky’s all-encompassing relationship, when in fact it is so much more. For me, Levin’s story line was actually more interesting. I think in some ways Anna and Vronsky’s characters are less formed, less whole and therefore slightly less real. They are an interesting topic, especially for that period, but their fiery love for one another is less believable. My disbelief was not wholly suspended by the pair.
It is a book everyone must read – it’s in the Top 100 books to read before you die for a reason. It picks up on some many little unspoken moments in human life, all the questions and queries, which I think can be best seen in Levin. It is very interesting in depicting a world that was totally washed away by the Russian Revolution. There are so many cultural quirks, elegance, beauty and mannerisms which are no longer there, or no longer celebrated. It is really interesting to delve into a world which has been purposefully destroyed and lost. This is especially so coming from a British perspective, where so much of our history and traditional ways still find a place in our modern society.
Don’t be afraid of how large it is, go forth and conquer!