Anna Karenina | A novel by Leo Tolstoy

What is it about Leo Tolstoy‘s novels, written and set in 19th century Russia, that still proves relevant after all these years?

On the surface, Anna Karenina is a beautifully written account of love, betrayal and Russian high society. But delve deeper into the themes and structure and it gives way to thought about the ease of which society’s collective morals shift to accommodate popular opinion, differences of social expectations between genders, the relationship between love and marriage and, the importance of status & class.

I know. It’s heavy! But it’s well worth the read. And at 815 small-print pages, it’s a lengthy one at that!

Anna Karenina was first published in serial form in a weekly magazine The Russian Messenger between 1873 to 1877. It was published in full in 1878.

1. Cover page of the first volume of Anna Karenina. Moscow, 1878.

pic source 1

The story is woven in two strands. One concerns Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky; the other Kitty Oblonsky and Konstantin Levin. The stories bisect each other while remaining the very opposite; Anna Arkadyevna Karenina who is married to Aleksei Alexandrovich Karenin a parliamentary minister, embarks on a torrid love affair with Aleksei Kirillovich Vronsky a young Count who is headed for distinguish in the military. Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Shcherbatsky is newly Of Age and sees the world innocently and with deep emotion (the effect of the juvenile infatuation with Vronsky), while Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin is a serious countryman who’s only dalliance is his obsessive love of Kitty.

Love, heartbreak then love-again surround Kitty, who marries Levin on his second proposal and together they settle down to a commonplace existence, while the full emotional spectrum are experienced by Anna, who has a cordial and somewhat tender relationship with her husband until she can no longer fend off the brazen advances of Vronsky. Her world becomes saturated with their love affair that progressively deteriorates and in-turn causes her demise.

At times there are chapters of sheer dullness (mostly of Levin’s activities), and there are other times when I want to hurl the book across the room from frustration of all the arbitrary communication that consume these high society Russian’s, but generally the novel is an artistically written window into beautiful but tragic disorder.

It’s interesting to learn that Tolstoy himself was born into Russian aristocracy but had his fair share of relationship mishaps. It’s been said that he based Anna’s character on the daughter of Alexander Pushkin whom he met at a dinner party, and the character of Levin on himself.

my copy of Anna Karenina

Beautifully surmised, English poet Matthew Arnold once said “We are not to take Anna Karenina as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life.” And in 2011 that’s what we can take away from this piece of Russian literature.

Published by thisismelly

Mel @thisismelly lives a life of adventure, gets lost in farmer’s markets, regularly indulges in movies, loves to whip up gourmet meals in the kitchen, swears that one day she will learn to speak French properly, adores candles and fresh flowers, married her high school sweetheart, visited 19 countries and counting, fears an apocalyptic rage-virus, regularly spoils her cavoodle Harley, loves walking along the harbour, is decorated with ink, muddles her right & left, seasonally switches between blonde and brunette, has soul-mates, favours painted nails & dangly earrings, always orders the 'plateau de fromages', is obsessed with British or Scandinavian crime fiction, detests creepy-crawlies & people who take too long to order coffee, gives terrible directions, makes up crazy dances for her devilishly handsome husband, believes in good, would always be dressed in Saint Laurent, Gucci & Chloe if she could, adores Tex-Mex & Japanese, loves the smell of rain & evening jasmine, may be addicted to Instagram&Pinterest, is always on the hunt for a really good macchiato, is James Taylor’s biggest fan, gets rowdy with tequila, dreams every night, takes pickles, jalapeños & dried fruit for movie snacks, would hate a world without French champagne, adores Pantone 1765, almost always wishes she was lying on the sand in the sun, is an inconsistent Paleo convert and although she is a hopeless Francophile she will forever be smitten with Sydney.

3 thoughts on “Anna Karenina | A novel by Leo Tolstoy

  1. Great review! Have you seen the old movie? Greta Garbo is Anna and she’s very good. There is a recent remake starring the French actress Sophie Marceau as Anna. I haven’t seen it yet, but reading your post reminded me I have to watch it (and read the book of course…)

  2. It is kind of like one of those old movies that have some really good bits and you have to suffer through the long bits and there are lots of long bits. But I find Russian stories so fascinating. I’m always waiting for someone with my name to show up.

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