Anna Karenina

by Leo Tolstoy | Literature & Fiction |
ISBN: 0553211714 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingjlautnerwing of Henderson, Nevada USA on 1/28/2014
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1 journaler for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by wingjlautnerwing from Henderson, Nevada USA on Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Received from a member of paperbackswap today.

Journal Entry 2 by wingjlautnerwing at San Luis Obispo, California USA on Tuesday, March 04, 2014
First book by Tolstoy I've read. I've been shamefully neglectful. It's long but not at all difficult to read.

The translator, in his notes at the end, refers to Tolstoy's "style" as "flat-footed". Tolstoy just says what he means, does not get literary about it. The translator said this made his job easy. I'd have to agree about the style. He takes us from here to there, tells us what we need to know (and much we maybe don't), gets the job done.

The story is about Anna, yes, but more so about Levin. Konstantine Levin, whose life is much like Tolstoy's and whose thoughts probably echo his as well, is in love with Kitty. Levin is in his thirties while Kitty is 18. He has actually seen her grown up and his love for her grew as well. When he finally gets up the courage to ask her to marry him, he learns that he has a rival, Count Vronsky. Kitty, encouraged by her mother, decides she is better off with Vronsky so tells Levin it's "impossible" when he approaches her for her hand. Nearly destroyed, Levin retreats to his country house, where he tends his farm and ruminates on farming, on peasants, on the state of the world and the state of his mind.

Meanwhile, Anna Karenina (called Karenin in this version, the Anglicized version of her name) meets Vronsky and the two are immediately taken with each other. Vronsky, a playboy by nature, has never been affected by a woman in this way. Anna, who prided herself in being a good wife to her older, cold husband, feels an awakening of passion. This situation leaves poor Kitty out in the cold, and she eventually takes herself off to a spa, where she even learns to help others.

Did I mention that these events take place among the upper class? Tolstoy, himself a count, was intimately familiar with how things worked in Russia among the upper classes. This is one reason I enjoyed reading this book as opposed to a book about the same period written by someone today. We can feel fairly confident that the manners, expectations, dress, conflicts, were familiar at the time, were not something imposed by a current writer on a time in the past.

Levin continues to work, to think about how to make his farm profitable (most farmers in Russia apparently were in the red most of the time), how to work with the peasants to get not only higher yields in less time but also how to approach work more like a peasant, and how to get his own life on a good track. Levin, who seems a good fellow, is oblivious to how life really is for the peasant. He thinks they simply enjoy themselves. It may be true that they make the best of their situation and that they are resigned to it, but would education really be wasted on them, as Levin thinks? What he thinks, really, is that an educated peasant would not be good for his own business, and what really matters is what matters to him, Levin. A great deal of the novel is essentially philosophy. Tolstoy working his way through different views of the world. I wonder if much of this might have done better in another novel.

In time, Anna breaks down and has sex with Vronsky. I found it a little funny that this momentous occasion is described in one sentence. Many words, paragraphs, pages on farming and peasants, and one sentence to describe what some might consider the critical moment of the tale.

From here on she hides her relations but many in society know what is going on. Only her husband does not.

How much should I give away here? Many people know the gist of the story so I may not be giving much away, but just a warning: from here on there may be more detail than you want to read if you haven't yet read the book.

Eventually Anna decides she must tell her husband. He does not take it well. His focus has always been how he appears, and this is no different. He does not consider what the best course of action is but rather what looks best. He knows he would be bested in a duel and can't imagine losing his life for something he did not himself do. He believes divorce would look bad. So he decides to give Anna an ultimatum: continue living together as if nothing had happened, but she would no longer see Vronsky.

It doesn't quite work out. She does continue to see Vronsky on the side, secretively, until a point when she has to move out altogether and move in with Vronsky in his lavish house. There she lives, essentially secreted away, while Vronsky continues to be welcome in society and makes the most of it. For a woman infidelity is far different than for a man. Over time she becomes more and more distressed, blaming Vronsky for everything, attacking him every time he comes home. Although it's clear that Vronsky has the better life, I had to feel some sympathy for him. He really has no clue. I suspect, at this point, that many would think that Anna is going mad. I'd rather not, but I waver.

Meanwhile ... Levin has had the opportunity to ask Kitty again. The two marry, life is wonderful except for Levin's jealousy. Kitty gives birth, Levin is transformed. He has an epiphany while lying in the grass. The world looks different to him.

And Anna throws herself under a train.

Vronsky is inconsolable. Levin, meanwhile, who had met Anna and liked her tremendously, does not even think of her death. His own life begins to make sense.

Yes, I liked it, yet I felt I could not really like any of the characters, except perhaps Kitty. Anna became annoying, Vronsky was all about himself, Levin rather pompous in his farmer way. I would have liked less philosophy by Levin and perhaps more of what was really inside Anna.

Journal Entry 3 by wingjlautnerwing at San Luis Obispo, California USA on Wednesday, March 01, 2017
Reserved for bookstogive's general lit VBB.

Journal Entry 4 by wingjlautnerwing at San Luis Obispo, California USA on Sunday, June 10, 2018
Taken off the list so I can free it elsewhere.

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