‘All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’
Anna Karenina is a novel of unparalleled richness and complexity, set against the backdrop of Russian high society. Tolstoy charts the course of the doomed love affair between Anna, a beautiful married woman, and Count Vronsky, a wealthy army officer who pursues Anna after becoming infatuated with her at a ball. Although she initially resists his charms Anna eventually succumbs, falling passionately in love and setting in motion a chain of events that lead to her downfall. In this extraordinary novel Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together the lives of dozens of characters, while evoking a love so strong that those who experience it are prepared to die for it.
WHERE TO BUY IT: QBD the Bookshop, Paperback, Vintage Classic Edition, $14.99
WHEN CAN I GET MY HANDS ON IT: Now! Its classic literature! ;P
WHAT CAN I EXPECT: Arranged marriages, lust, infidelity, children, Russia, French dialogue, politics, agriculture, society parties, class systems, wealth, poverty, love.
Oh boy. Where to even begin.
This was a surprisingly easy read considering it is a Russian classic and I’ve never been able to finish one before. I don’t know, maybe I’m more grown up this year.
Anna Karenina is about SO MANY THINGS. At first it seems like a novel about love and relationships, but it quickly becomes a novel abot religion, faith, class, societal norms, politics, finance, agriculture, psychology, children, marriage, fidelity and so much more.
No matter what you like to read about I can say with absolute certainty that Anna Karenina has it in spades.
I have no idea because I don’t read other peoples reviews until after I have read a book, but I wonder if I am the only person who hated the titular character? Who is she to give advice on another’s marriage considering the she ultimtely deserts her son and husband for a man she was unfaithful to her husband with? Granted their marriage was forced upon them by societal standards that dictated that of Karenin did not marry Anna he would make her look like an unchaste woman because they had spent so much time together. It would be improper to simply depart without offering marriage.
Forced to marry Anna, theirs was a loveless marriage to begin with but it eventually grew into an amicable arrangement. Karenin is single-minded and unfeeling in general and is ultimately not a very nice person overall but was undeserving of the treatment at the hands of his wife. His assertion over their son was simply in line with Russian laws of the time and not meant as any kind of insult to Anna. He is just a pretty by the book kind of guy.
An absolute turd. This man is a cheater, a frivolous spender and is incapable of ever changing his was. The husband of Dolly, and the brother of Anna, he cares not who his actions affect nor who knows what actions he partakes in.
The other man. Vronsky is also a bit of a toolbag. Initially drawn to Kitty, he promptly ditches her for Anna in an insta-love kind of way. Suddeny he gets all stalker-esque and proceeds to follow the married Anna Karenina everywhere like a lost and cunning little puppy.
A minor character and the mother of Vronsky, she plays a pivotal role in attempting to sway the readers opinion of Anna towards viewing her as a charlatan and never ever good enough for her son. She says some truly horrible things about Anna and how she ends up in the story, but even though I disliked Anna from the beginning, I felt her words to be extremly offensive and utterly uncalled for just because the Countess felt her position in society would be affected if her son continued his association with Anna.
The victim in all this, along with her sister Dolly. She not only lost the man of her dreams to Anna, but also had to witness her sisters suffering as her marriage to Anna’s brother disintegrated because of Anna’s advice. Kitty also subsequently and without her knowledge cold potentially have lost her husband Leivin to Anna’s charms but he thought better of his actions.
Husband of Kitty, he is essentially the story’s good guy, he descends into a depression when he doesn’t win Kitty in the beginning, but comes to his senses and tries again and this time captures her heart. He favours the advancement of peasants and their emancipation, but also that of Russia itself into a more democratic leaning society, though I feel he struggles to verbalise exactly what it is he wants for Russia. His inital feelings of repulsion toward his child were surprising, but considering my own views, were a little bit humorous as well.
Kitty’s sister, she is at first living the perfect life until her marriage begins to unravel in the first chapters of the story. She is advised to forgive Oblonsky, brother of Anna, his indiscretions and move on. Eventually she suffers in an unhappy marriage that is verging on poverty due to Oblonsky’s careless spending.
There are many facets to this story, but for me, the standout theme was the mistaking of lust for love. Kitty becomes unhappy because Vronsky ditches her for Anna. Anna is unhappy after ditching Karenin for Vronsky. Leivin is unhappy because Kitty chose Vronsky over him. Dolly is unhappy because Oblonsky chooses every other woman over her. Almost all of these couplings, but none more so than Anna and Vronsky get their beginnings either in arranged marriage or infidelity a.k.a lust.
Anna so quickly ditches her husband and child for a relationship born of lust that she winds up living in sin and utter unhappiness.
That was the overarching story to me, politics and argiculture aside, I think that Tolstoy wrote about love. I feel like he was trying to express his views on infideltiy and arranged marriages. I also feel like he was perhaps a massive pessimist, most of the relationships in this book don’t work out, and the ones that do are rocky at best. Perhaps he was opposed to marriage as an institution itself.
The writing is superb and flows very, very well and I found it easy to read. He gets a little repetitive with his word use and favours a number of terms throughout the book including: “holy of holies” and “superfluous.”
Despite the length of this book, most of what lie within its pages is relevant to the story, but boy does Tolstoy love a tangent. He goes off on them multiple times, more so toward the end of the book. It reads almost as if the first half of the book was very well edited and then the editor got tired and simply gave the go ahead to print the rest of the book unchecked. Too long, the start is good so the rest must be as well!
People often worry about books like this being dry and dense. I’m not going to tell you that this one is any different, because its not. But, the dry parts are simply that, parts. The book as a whole is vastly interesting and it is only on maybe 4 occassions where I was bored of what I was reading. All of those instances were related to characters political leanings and intentions and to agriculture and finance. Things that would bore most people I’m sure.
I loved this book and count it amongst my great achievements that I managed to finish it. If you want to try Russian literature but are not sure where to start, I would definitely start here.
Overall rating: 5/5 stars