Challenges: My Year of Reading Dangerously, TBR Challenge, Eponymous Challenge
# of pages: 853
Quote: “As the reading proceeded, especially at the frequent and rapid repetitions of the same words, ‘Lord, have mercy upon us!’ which sounded like ‘Lordavmercpons!‘, Levin felt that his mind was closed and sealed . . . ‘Well, it will soon be over now,’ he thought. ‘No, I believe he’s going back to the beginning again,’ he thought, listening to the prayers.” -Levin pp. 464-465
I substituted Anna Karenina for Lolita in the Reading Dangerously’s June challenge. I went to the library to get Lolita and couldn’t find it so I grabbed this instead since I needed it for other challenges.
I was afraid of reading this book and was amazed that it was easier to read and I enjoyed it more than I had imagined. My only complaint is that the eighth and last section could have been reduced to a couple of pages! At that point I just wanted to know what happened to the remaining characters and while Tolstoy does give us that information, I felt like he was really cramming in a lot of other stuff that should have been dispersed throughout the book (of course, he is the worldwide famous author who has gone down in history and I couldn’t write a book if I tried!).
Anna Karenina is, of course, about a woman named Anna. However, I was interested to discover that it also closely follows the Alexandrovna sisters and their familys. There’s 3 sisters: Natalie, Dolly, and Kitty. Dolly and Kitty are main characters as well as Dolly’s husband and Kitty’s love interests. Anna gets mixed in as a result of falling in love with one of Kitty’s favorite young men, Vronsky, and Levin is pulled in to the story because he falls in love with Kitty. Karenin is Anna’s husband and so is featured in many chapters. Confused yet? The only other main characters are Koznyshev and Nikolai, Levin’s brothers.
The novel has a timeline that spans over a couple of years. A lot of things happen in these years, people fall in love, marry, die, have babies, learn important life lessons. I was mainly interested in the stories, especially Kitty’s. I liked her character. I didn’t always like Levin, although I have heard that Tolstoy based this character off of himself. Levin is full of thoughts and loves to ponder these thoughts. He’s always changing his views and learning new things. Some of it is interesting, but I couldn’t force myself to care too much about the peasants and how they affected agriculture. I’m sure that at the time this novel was published that must have been an issue, but it tainted my pleasure of reading the parts that followed Levin. Also, he kind of annoyed me because of how moody he was. Everytime he was around people he was angry and frustrated. However, his love for Kitty was really sweet and I liked how he (mostly) was happy with her.
I also had to dislike Anna’s character at most times. At first I wanted to judge her and say that she shouldn’t have been so selfish as to leave her husband (especially after he forgave her after she gave birth). But after that the reader learns a little about her background with her husband. We already know that she no longer loves Karenin, but it turns out he is 20 years older than she is and that her aunt tricked them into getting married. It must have been terrible to be forced into marriage with someone you don’t love. However, I could never really get past the fact that she abandoned her son for a lover. I think she couldn’t really get past that either though. She tried to forget it and it haunted her throughout the years she was separated from the boy.
I felt bad for Karenin at times, especially when he is looked down upon for forgiving his wife instead of dueling Vronsky. Society didn’t respect forgiveness. They assumed he was a coward and didn’t realize that sometimes it takes more strength to forgive and show love. However, after he becomes self righteous and meets Countess Lydia I thought he was less sincere than he was before he started outwardly proclaiming his Christian faith.
Dolly was an interesting character and I enjoyed her thoughts. At one point she is traveling to visit Anna and contemplates her life as a mother and a wife to a man who pays no attention to his family. She wants to be like Anna, but quickly realizes that she would be unhappy with that lifestyle and from then on appreciates her life and children more. I liked her honesty because I think that’s how I would feel in her position, and I think I would arrive at the same conclusion she did. Dolly is the opposite of Anna. Sure, she doesn’t love her husband and is even mistreated by him just like Anna was by Karenin, but instead of abandoning them she sees the good in her life and sticks with her children and her friends.
The end of the novel reminded me of Voltaire’s Candide. At the end of Candide, Candide comes to the conclusion that the meaning of life and the way to be satisfied is to tend to his garden. A peasant farmer tells him that and he embraces that lifestyle. At the end of Anna Karenina, Levin is wondering the same thing, what is the meaning of life and how can he know that he is living the way he should? A peasant farmer tells him to live rightly in God’s way. And Levin is struck by that and realizes that is the key to being fulfilled.
I recommend this book to lovers of Russian literature and lovers of classics. After reading it, I don’t think I’ve ever read any references to it, but it was interesting to compare it to other novels such as Madame Bovary and Candide. It will be interesting to see if I start to discover more references now that I’m familiar with the storyline and characters. This was a good (but long) read that took me a week and a half to finish. I think others will also be pleasantly surprised that this is easier to read than it looks!