Anna Karenina ~ Leo Tolstoy

So I’m posting a little late today because it took me a little longer to finish Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. 1000 pages in one week can be a challenge between work, grocery shopping and life in general. Even the Easter weekend didn’t induce me to read much, I’ve been so tired. But well I managed – barely.

Anna Karenina is, as seems to be the case with Tolstoy, not the main character of the first moments in the book. Just like in War and Peace, he introduces many characters before he gets to the point where he’s ready to let us know: hey this is who the story’s about. Anna Karenina works that way too.

Eventually we get to the main plot, which is that of Anna Karenina, a married woman who comes to Moscow to help resolve the conflict between her unfaithful brother and his wife only to fall in love with another man Count Vronsky. Throughout the story, we get to see how society treats men and women differently, as both her brother and the Count continue to be welcome in Society whereas she’s shunned and reduced to only live with the company of one man, becoming so scared that he has dalliances during the time he entertains or is entertained that she commits suicide.

I found Anna Karenina a lot easier to read than War and Peace although it was still a struggle. I still believe translation plays a big part and I might appreciate it more either in French or – if I could read/speak it – in Russian. There are so many things in Anna Karenina that could be discussed.

There’s the parallel plotlines of Anna/Vronsky and Levin/Kitty; the first ends up being a doomed story – of adulterine nature – while the other ends in the proper marriage happiness. One could be cynical about this but Levin and Kitty’s story does add a bit of lightness to an otherwise tragic story. So there’s definitely religion and the proper way to entertain love relationships.

I should say I’m a firm believer in the vows of marriage: when you get married religiously you make a vow of ‘till death do us part’. I understand standards have changed but this is one promise I do take seriously and while I get that sometimes it doesn’t work, I’ve never understood cheating. To me, cheating on your husband/wife (or partner for that matter) is just unthinkable. So Stipan’s and his sister Anna weren’t characters I sympathized with that much.

At the same time, as a woman raised as I was, I got angry on Anna’s behalf. How is it that the men get away with being philanderers yet women have to live by a strict code of conduct and breaching it makes them persona non grata? Stipan knows even though he’s at fault, even though he’s broken his wife’s heart, the entire household staff is on his staff. Vronsky continues to go out in society flirting with women after pledging his so-called love to Anna.

This is a rich book and I can see why it attracts a feminine audience more than War and Peace. Somehow the latter didn’t feel as much as a novel as a philosophical discussion sometimes. Here we have the tragic story of doomed lovers. Yet again I found it hard to truly relate to the character’s plight; she wanted to have it all. The marriage and the status it conferred and the affair. Even if I’d never read the book, I figured it wouldn’t end well – there’s the foreshadowing of course but beyond that there’s the entire discourse about the proper way for women at the time to act and what their duties were. I felt a lot more compassion for Dolly who was betrayed but knew that leaving her husband would put her and the children in a precarious situation, even though she’s the one with the money. So she staid for them. Hers was the greater sacrifice of the story.

Have you read Anna Karenina?
What did you think of it?


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