by Leo Tolstoy
Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003
(originally published 1869)
Paperback, 832 pages
It took me two tries and nearly a month to read, but I finally finished “Anna Karenina”! I really wanted to love it, but I have some mixed feelings.
I thought Tolstoy did an excellent job in his aim of making Anna pitiful but not guilty. Although she often rages about having given up everything, her son, her life, for Vronsky, she doesn’t for a second regret it. That she doesn’t feel guilty about leaving is something I dislike about her. She is often miserable because she doesn’t have her son, her beloved Seryozha, but she doesn’t seem to feel guilty about leaving him, for his sake. I don’t really fault her for leaving her husband; she hated him and was unhappy in her life with him, and sometimes you have to put yourself first and do what you feel you need to do. However, leaving her son was selfish, and even the way she thinks about him after leaving is incredibly self-centered. I don’t recall her lamenting the fact that he will grow up without a mother or that she has put him to shame (although it was a very long book, and my memory is pretty terrible, so I could be mistaken? Please correct me if I’m wrong). She is just upset that she can’t have him for herself. I could say a lot more, but I’d like to keep this brief! Needless to say, I didn’t like Anna very much.
Levin, on the other hand… I loved Levin. From his first scene, where he enters Oblonsky’s office and is all surly and awkward and blunt, I just really enjoyed him. His (incredibly long) contemplations of agricultural reform were not always the most exciting passages to read, but I loved that he does his own thing, staying away from the society of Moscow and St. Petersburg as much as he can in order to live the way he thinks is right.
I also really enjoyed Levin’s religious revelations at the end of the book, when he realizes the meaning of life is to live well and to love others. And how wonderful is it that his realizations didn’t immediately transform him into a new and better man?! He still quarrels and reprimands his friends and servants, after which, “he felt sorrowfully at once at how mistaken had been his supposition that his spiritual condition could immediately change him in contact with reality.” There is just such a sense of reality there, that one can have the best of intentions but have to work hard, and with immense self control, in order to act on them. And I definitely enjoyed his reflections that the Divine revelation of what is good and evil extends to other religions besides Christianity, the members of which pray and do good. It definitely spoke to my personal perspective that religion doesn’t matter; living well and doing good is what matters, regardless of whether you are a Christian, a Jew, a Confucian, etc.
What are your thoughts on “Anna Karenina”?