It’s silly to call this a review, since Anna Karenina has already been declared a classic work of great literature many times over. However, now that I’ve finished, I’d like to publish an overview of my thoughts on the book.
Since my last update, here’s an overview of the plot (spoilers, as you probably already know, occur): After Dolly’s visit (during which Anna confides in her that she either uses some form of birth control or has become sterile due to her illness after her daughter’s birth), Anna and Vronsky continue their relationship, but move to Moscow for a time. They wait for a divorce to be granted, but Karenin has fallen under the spiritualist influence of Countess Lidia Ivanovna and refuses. Only Dolly, Stiva, and a few society hangers-on will visit Anna, although she strikes up a friendship with a British family who’s daughter becomes Anna’s student. Levin and Kitty also move to Moscow for Kitty’s confinement, and a son is born to them. Levin and Anna meet in a striking scene just before the birth of the baby, and Levin is touched by Anna’s difficult position and not a little charmed by her–but resolves never to meet her again after seeing how it hurts Kitty. Anna becomes more depressed and jealous, eventually committing suicide by throwing herself under a train. Levin falls into some depression, both from his brother’s death shortly after his marriage and from not feeling the way he thinks he should feel toward the baby. After moving back to the country, Levin is brought back to Christianity and a lightning storm that endangers Kitty and Mitya brings warmth back into their family life. Vronsky, now depressed himself, takes a unit of volunteers out to fight the Turks in the Servian war, and Karenin is given Anna’s daughter to care for.
Several of the characters continued to surprise me with their actions. I was disappointed in Karenin’s complete enchantment by Countess Lidia Ivanovna and his turn to the spiritualist side of Christianity, as well as the return of a vindictive streak on that front (his or hers, it’s hard to tell). Seryozha therefore continues as the most tragic figure in my opinion, stuck with a father who doesn’t think much of or about him. Vronsky’s continued faithfulness to Anna throughout the whole book impressed me against my will–I went into the story preparing to dislike him, and many times I did, but he really did seem to love Anna, and he stuck by her despite her growing jealousy and the growing rottenness of their situation.
I still find Anna’s spiral downward a little perplexing–even she can see that she gets caught in thoughts and thought patterns that are both dangerous and false, but she can’t seem to stop. On the one hand, it seems fairly true to depression, as I understand it–and even I frequently catch myself thinking things that I know aren’t true, and needing to stop and re-evaluate. On the other, I never quite get why Anna is depressed. Does she feel guilty for the choices she’s made? Is she just completely devastated by realizing her fall from society? Is she upset because she’s given up her son? What is it that makes her feel and act the way she does. Although I still have these questions, I am impressed by Tolstoy’s sympathetic treatment of her, and really, of almost all the characters. Even while characters act in ways that are stupid or cruel, very rarely does the reader feel like a character is completely worthless and hateful.
The train scene was a surprise to me, not that it happens (I learned at some point long before reading the book how Anna dies) but how it happens. When I picture someone throwing herself under a train, I expect it to happen quickly and in front of the train engine. But Tolstoy very clearly describes that Anna threw herself under the middle of a carriage, and that she had to wait for the right point and watch a carriage pass before she could physically do it. It may seem slower than expected because it is largely from Anna’s point of view, but overall, I think that I lack some understanding about how trains worked in 19th century Russia.
I felt very satisfied at the end of the book–I thought Levin’s final reflections and feeling at peace were well done, and since he is just as much a protagonist as Anna, the book does end on a happy note. Still, on reflection, there is more I’d like to know. First, I want to know what happens to Anna’s kids. Does Karenin soften toward Seryozha? Does his initial affection for the baby girl continue? Also, what about Stiva and Dolly–will Dolly’s position improve, will Stiva ever become a better husband? Finally, it seems like Vronsky is going off to die in the war, but does he?
As I stated at the beginning of this post, I’m not reviewing the quality of this book–that’s already been done plenty. However, I do want to finish by saying that I’m glad I took the time to read it, and that I found it more enjoyable of a read than I expected for such a big, “classic” book. There are some parts that have long descriptions, and some of Levin’s reflections can get a little tiresome, as can some of the social debates that Tolstoy works in. Overall, though, while I would look back over a section and wonder, “Did anything happen?” I didn’t feel that way when I was reading or listening. The characters are brought to life enough that I felt for their hopes and worries and wondered what would happen next. A worthwhile reading project!