Anna Karenina: FINISHED!!

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!

Anna Karenina Update #2


Partly thanks to our recent trip, and kids who napped in the car, I am making good progress on Anna Karenina. I both listened and read some chapters over the last week, and I am on Chapter 21 of Part 6. According to my Kindle, I am 74% of the way through (thank goodness for the percentage indicator…I don’t think fat books would be nearly as satisfying to read on the Kindle without it).

Here’s a summary of where I am in the plot: Anna has left her husband for good, but not requested a divorce from him. She, Count Vronsky, and their baby daughter traveled all over Europe, made a stop in Petersburg where Anna secretively visited her son and publicly flaunted being a “fallen woman” at the opera, then settled at Vronsky’s family place in the country. Anna’s husband, Karenin, went from being a vindictive, bitter cuckold to a forgiving, self-sacrificing one who is trying to do the best he can by his son and keep up appearances in society. Levin successfully proposed to Kitty a second time and they have married and are now expecting a baby while living on Levin’s estate. Kitty’s sister Dolly (and Anna’s sister-in-law, as she’s married to Anna’s brother) has just traveled from the Levins to visit Anna and Vronsky.

Here are my current impressions/thoughts/questions:

  • Anna continues to amaze me with her behavior–I’m sure that’s part of the intent, and one the one hand, I can understand her frequent lack of rationality, because I am not always very rational myself. BUT, she continues to act without any regard for others, and this keeps surprising me. She was introduced as a caring and thoughtful character, but has completely departed from that. Her complete disgust for her husband, particularly after his forgiveness and treatment of her during a grave illness that followed her daughter’s birth is somewhat confusing to me. Most of all, her feelings and actions toward her two children is mystifying. She seems to love her son passionately, but abandons him to live with her lover. Meanwhile, her daughter, who she’s able to keep with her, she only seems to have a passing interest in. I would *love* to talk this character over with a literature teacher if any are forthcoming right now!
  • A fairly early chapter establishes that Vronsky has some money troubles and does not have an unlimited income. But now, he and Anna are living in luxury (plus all the traveling they did), and he’s building a hospital for the community. Where’s all the money coming from?
  • Karenin’s turn-about was touching, but I’m not sure it will last. Also, while he obviously feels responsible for his son, he doesn’t feel any affection for him (but does for the baby girl). Poor Seryozha!
  • I’m happy that Levin and Kitty seem to have a happy life, but wonder if Levin’s temperament will allow him to enjoy his position and family.

That’s all for now. I hope to finish the book before the end of June.

Anna Karenina Update #1

I am making progress…a little over a quarter of the way through the book so far (finished Chapter 10 of Part 3, to be exact, and there are 8 parts total).

Current thoughts:

  • I like how Tolstoy opened the story with scenes that made the reader (well, this reader, anyway) feel sympathetic toward both Levin and Anna. It keeps me reading through some of the (admittedly slow, lengthy) sections where Levin is farming and reflecting on farming, and heightens the tension in the story about Anna (no, Anna, don’t do it! Come on now, think!)
  • I am more convinced of Anna and Vronsky being really in love than I previously was…but part of the point of the book is that their being “in love” isn’t really an excuse for their actions.
  • Some of the characters Kitty meets while abroad remind me of the little I know about Tolstoy’s philosophy/lifestyle, but the narrative critique of several of these characters (Mme. Stahl in particular) makes me want to research him a little more.

Recent quote I enjoyed:

(From Part 3, Chapter 7, talking about the character Darya Alexandrovna Oblonsky)

“…the children themselves were even now repaying her in small joys for her sufferings. Those joys were so small that they passed unnoticed, like gold in sand, and at bad moments she could see nothing but the pain, nothing but sand; but there were good moments too when she saw nothing but the joy, nothing but gold.”

Anna Karenina

One of my goals/ideas for this blog is to report on larger projects in my life: reading, knitting, writing, cooking. My current large reading project is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I’ve wanted to read this (or, more accurately, have read this) for quite awhile. I really like lists (that’s probably an understatement), and one list-related book I enjoyed is The Top Ten, edited by J. Peder Zane. Basically, Zane wrote to over 100 authors to ask them for what they thought were the top ten works of literature. Anna Karenina came out on top of all the books recommended by all the authors, so it seems like one I should read. What finally got me to start, though, is the new movie with Keira Knightley. I want to see the movie, but I’m not going to rent it until I finish the book!

To make the task a little easier, I was able to download an audio version from NCLive. I love listening to books, and when I think to get out my iPod, it makes chores like dishes and folding laundry go faster (the latter especially when one is not permitted to watch TV for the week!). I’m about 20 chapters into the second part (I think there are 8 parts) and enjoying it so far–it has a good, not overdramatic narrator, and the chapters themselves are short enough that it’s easy to stop and start. I’ve also bought the book for my Kindle (albeit a different translation), so I can check details and get my bearings when need be.

Some initial reactions:

  • I know about the tragic ending (if you don’t, you won’t want to read my future AK posts), so I was impressed by the foreshadowing of it in the first part.
  • I mostly like/feel sympathetic toward Anna, but occasionally her personality seems to change abruptly. I guess this can be true of us when we aren’t making our best decisions, but I’m not yet sure that I buy her being in love with Vronsky.
  • I don’t like Vronsky or find him at all sympathetic, but ironically, I fall under Oblonsky’s charm just like all the characters do–I find this to be part of Tolstoy’s skill!

Updates to follow as I progress through the book.