By: Leo Tolstoy
Paige’s Rating: (2) of 5 Stars
Recommended for: Fans of World Lit.
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.
Well, this baby took me months to work through, and if I have to admit I worked through it, then that should tell you my general opinion of the book already: tiresome.
Let’s start with what works in this novel and why some regard it as a classic. First, Tolstoy must be given credit for introducing seven major characters and intertwining their lives throughout the book without making it confusing or difficult for the reader to follow. The characters, like in most classics, balance each other well in the sense that they are opposites of each other. The title character, Anna, is initially portrayed as the finest woman in Russian aristocracy but as the novel progresses, we see that she is a weak, insecure and selfish child. Her opposite, Kitty, is initially seen as a frail child but develops into a strong and self-less wife.
But what doesn’t work, for me, in this novel is that the rest of the characters appear static and do not change (much) while their lives do. Levin is a farmer and his overall demeanor doesn’t change. In fact, Tolstoy spends way too much time explaining Levin’s need for revolutionizing farming. There are pages upon pages of debate between Levin and insignificant characters that detail farming philosophies at that time. In addition, Tolstoy dedicates a few chapters to the Russian politics of the time, which I ended up skipping over. This may have historical importance, but these chapters are completely irrelevant to the plot.
What also doesn’t work for me is the coldness that exists in this novel. Anna is to be having a love affair and yet I really don’t sense any passion between her and Vronksy. Instead, a sense of loathing and ownership is developed between them. Of course Anna’s attitude of, “You must be loyal to me because I left my husband for you…” is what leads to the tragedy, and no one can say they are surprised. Also, I’m not sure if I should feel sorry for Anna or not. Her insecurity never seems to be warranted and I want to slap her for being such a stupid woman. Also, the position she puts her lover in actually makes me pity him more. A woman should know that sacrificing for another comes with a steep price that you can never expect the other to repay. Yet she does.
This is considered a classic by many and I am sure that they would highly disagree with my review, saying that I missed the point of the love affair, and that I didn’t understand the pressures on the characters from society. But I did see that and still thought it was boring. It was cold and it was drawn out. So if you are curious about this one, I recommend saving your time and grabbing the film first. Then, if you enjoy it, proceed with plenty of time on your hands.