Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.
Let's set the scene...
CUT TO BUS STOP
(Dean is waiting on the bench as Rory steps off the bus.)
Dean: It's depressing.
Rory: It's beautiful.
Dean: She throws herself under a train.
Rory: But I bet she looked great doing it.
Dean: I don't know. I think maybe Tolstoy's just a little over my head.
Rory: No, that's not true. Tolstoy wrote for the masses, the common man. It's completely untrue that you have to be some kind of genius to read his stuff.
Dean: Yeah but…
Rory: Now I know it's big. . .
Dean: Very big.
Rory: And long. . .
Dean: Very, very long
Rory: And many of the Russian names tend be spelled very similar, making it confusing…
Dean: Every single person's name ends with 'ski'. Now how is that possible?
Rory: But it's one of my favorite books. And I know that if you just give it a try you...
Dean: All right. I'll try again.
Rory: You won't be sorry.
Unlike the unwieldy number of characters and relationships that were scattered throughout War and Peace, Anna Karenina essentially follows three main relationships: Levin and Kitty, Stiva and Dolly and Vronsky and Anna. As such, this particular book made Rory correct- as it reads like something that waswritten for the masses. Flowcharts weren't necessary when reading Anna Karenina... and therefore, it now has a spot as my favorite Tolstoy (I just... can't... when it comes to flowcharts of any kind).
I did find it interesting that the novel was named after a character I felt to be an aside. The downfall of Anna Karenina was not central to the story. The book should have been named Konstantin Levin. But, hey... who am I to question Tolstoy.
In general, Anna Karenina is a story about wanting what you don't have... a feeling I'm sure we're all familiar with. However, we also all know people who take this to the extreme- as Levin and Anna do. Tolstoy examines the outcome of said "the grass is always greener" syndrome. For some people, it results in a constant striving to improve and challenge oneself to greater heights. While, for others, it ends in misery and their inevitable downfall. Tolstoy writes about the process as his characters discover their unhappiness and begin their search for joy.
I actually found myself cheering Anna onto that train track. Toward the end of the book, she had gotten awfully Sybil-ish and martyr-y and I needed the sweet release of her death. I stated this to my friendSamantha, and she noted that she had the same thoughts on Anna in her first reading. However, subsequent readings gave her an insight and a resulting sympathy for Anna's plight. The social mores in Tolstoy's Russia called for the complete ruination of Anna due to her separation from Karenin and her affair with Vronsky. We watched as Vronsky continued his life as if nothing had changed, while Anna was made a complete outcast from the social circle she had once dominated. Is that enough to send a previously vibrant, sane woman into the depths of madness?
I absolutely adored this book. The characters were complex, you got an insight into the birth of Communism and you were forced to question the existence of faith... what more could you want?
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?
Because the whole reason I'm reading this book is because Dean was reading it... I'm going to go for the easy pick here.