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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
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Anna Karenina (original 1877; edition 2012)

by Leo Tolstoy

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26,37446042 (4.15)5 / 1416
Member:megc11
Title:Anna Karenina
Authors:Leo Tolstoy
Info:Simon & Brown (2012), Paperback, 1182 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)

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Summary: The classic work exploring the illicit loves and lives of Russian nobility against the backdrop of nineteenth century Russian class struggles and philosophical speculation.

For those looking for a "Cliff Notes" of this classic work, this is not it. Rather, I'm going to share some of my impressions on re-reading this work forty-some years after I first tried to read it in high school.

The novel is kind of like a huge landscape painting with figures in the foreground against a vast panorama. What we have in that foreground are seven people in three sets of relationships against the social, class, and religious backdrop of nineteenth century Russia. It seems to me that in this novel, Tolstoy tries to address himself to all of these, which helps explain its length.

Of course there are the love affairs. We have the love grown cold between Anna and her husband, making her vulnerable to the affections of Count Vronsky, who is unwilling to content himself with a casual dalliance, but makes an all-out assault on Anna's heart, with all the drama and tragedy that you might expect from such an act. One wishes that Anna's husband would have challenged Vronsky to a duel (and we get the feeling Anna wishes it early on as well, as a sign that he really cares). Instead, he tries first to get her to confine her relationship to a conventional affair on the quiet. But neither Anna nor Vronsky can do this, and a bastard child makes this virtually impossible. The book chronicles their attempt to make an illicit love work, even though cut by society, and the struggle Anna increasingly faces as Vronsky also appears to cool in his ardor.

At the other end, we have Kitty and Levin who take half the novel to finally get together, and most of the remainder to really believe and settle with the incredible fact that they really and truly love each other. TV dramas that draw out love affairs have nothing on Tolstoy. We agonize to see them get together, and then delight to see a love that matures into a fecund relationship of child-bearing, homestead, and providing shelter for those not-so-fortunates around them.

Finally, there are Dolly and Stiva, who represent the hypocrisies and compromises that Russian society was willing to tolerate. Stiva likes the ladies, but not like Vronsky. He dabbles in affairs, and Dolly, after pardoning one of these, accepts that this is his character, and as long as he acts discretely and provides a modicum of affection, she looks, sadly at times, the other way.

We see the double standards between men and women that prevail in so many societies. We have men who are loving husbands, philanderers, passionate lovers, and cold-hearted, but none really pays for the kind of person they are. It cannot be so with Anna, who sadly, simply wants to be loved enduringly. For a woman to seek this, when a marriage has turned cold and formal, there was little alternative and less hope. And yet she risks all on her only chance.

Behind the foreground, Tolstoy explores the great questions of the day, giving us a panoramic view of Russian society, from relations between landed gentry and their workers to the philosophical speculations that shaped late nineteenth century Russia informed by an increasingly materialistic vision of the world in which cold science overthrew the structures and worldview of the church for many. At points, this may grow tiresome for some of us as we overhear lengthy disquisitions on these matters at various points. Yet Tolstoy, through the eyes of Levin shows us the hollowness of this all, the chattering intelligentsia flitting from one cause or latest idea to another. Perhaps the most revealing section is when Levin has to spend time in Moscow, participating in a series of these empty conversations, with people living above their means, and off the labors of the people. Meanwhile, Levin finds himself in an existential search for meaning as he witnesses the death of his brother, puzzles over the joy he finds in his work, and finds himself praying in the midst of his wife's labor agonies.

Anna and Levin. Two kinds of life. One that is destroyed by a hollow and hypocritical Russian society. One that finds redemption in spite of it. That, for me, sums up Anna Karenina. ( )
  BobonBooks | Dec 5, 2016 |
“You must understand,” said he, “it’s not love. I’ve been in love, but it’s not that. It’s not my feeling, but a sort of force outside me has taken possession of me. I went away, you see, because I made up my mind that it could never be, you understand, as a happiness that does not come on earth; but I’ve struggled with myself, I see there’s no living without it. And it must be settled.” - Count Aleksei Vronsky

After five months of on and off again reading, I've finally conquered this book! I am disappointed that it didn't turn out to be the favorite I was almost sure it would be. That translates to: it is very unlikely that I will reread it in the future, which is why I am donating it to my local library. That being said, it's a gorgeously written novel! I can just imagine how Tolstoy labored at each sentence and paragraph.

As a fan of the older film and television adaptations, it was a shock to discover that the novel wasn't all about Anna and Aleksei or Levin and Kitty, for that matter. It's about a whole slew of characters who live at the fringes of each other's lives, but somehow all their lives seem to intersect. Tolstoy has been said to be the most masterful author in this category, and I wholeheartedly agree. The constant state of worry over faith, politics, the economy, and even the bigger gap between social classes felt very appropriate for our day in time, although written so long ago. Unlike my feelings for Emma in Madame Bovary, I didn't completely despise Anna although I didn't quite sympathize with her. Tolstoy so expertly weaved in all points of view so that it was impossible to completely side with any one character. The multifaceted types and layers of love & honor were all displayed to perfection, as was the affect one action can have on the countless lives of many. ( )
  dreamydress48 | Nov 9, 2016 |
The rating is *read it a long time ago and as far as I remember...*.
I haven't tried again though. ( )
  Aneris | Oct 31, 2016 |
Settled on 3 Stars

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy was written and set in mid 1870 Russia. This is a period of great change and reform setting up the Russian Revolution some 40 years later.

My version was the Constance Garnett translation of 1901 and revisions. Though many readers complain about keeping track of the names of the characters, I had no problem whatever in this regard.

The novel is titled Anna Karenina, but I found her tragic love story came second to the story of Levin, who is the acknowledged stand in for Tolstoy himself. An equal amount of time is spent on Levin's romance and marriage to Kitty. However, to me, the core of Tolstoy's book is Levin's search for the spiritual meaning to life and his eventual belief in God.

There are long passages about agricultural practices and the beauty and purity of the countryside. Some of these very long sections go on for pages and weren't interesting. The same can be said of the passages on the existing political machinations. While I love history and know little of Russia's politics of the era, there was too much detail of committees and people that were uninspiring to me. I'm sorry I also lacked enthusiasm for the religious and philosophical themes of Levin's inner narrative. These discourses went on as long as a chapter and dragged the story down for me, the plot moved forward at a glacial pace. I admit I struggled and eventually skimmed over paragraphs that didn't hold my attention. Sadly, I really don't feel I missed much doing this.

Occasionally the writing confused me. Perhaps Tolstoy was being too subtle and not stating things outright.

I did not like most of the characters in this novel and found them to be childish, melodramatic and irrational. I never really grasped a very good sense of the essence of Anna or her attraction to Vronsky.

I'm extremely disappointed that I didn't like Anna Karenina. In terms of its literary legacy it rates 4 stars or higher; in terms of my personal reading enjoyment it rates 2.5 stars. ( )
1 vote Zumbanista | Oct 30, 2016 |
Anna Karenina, or, Aristocracy Behaving Badly. I went into this book, completely unaware of the plot or that the main storyline would be the affairs of the aristocracy. And I mean literally, affairs. (Along with their general affairs too.) This is a novel about many things, but morality and the decadence and, in fact, irrelevancy, of the aristocracy in society are primary thematic areas Tolstoy explores.

Anna Karenina is a novel of close psychological realism. Tolstoy reveals unexpected insights into the inner workings of his cast as they stumble through their relationships without ever understanding each other. In fact, the vast majority of interactions between individuals reveals a vast gulf between their inner life, what they communicate with each other, and what they believe are the feelings of the others in their life. When you come down it, none of the characters ever understand each other.

There is much to make fruitful in this novel from a feminist perspective. The main character is clearly trapped by her society. Women at this time were not allowed education or careers. They were essentially treated as children, dependent on their families for life, for income and survival. Certainly within the aristocracy. If she isn’t a farm laborer, a servant or a prostitute, a woman had no options. Anna butts up against that as she finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage. She moves from economic dependency upon the man she despises to dependency on the man she loves, Vronsky, but this eventually leads to her battles with jealousy and drug addiction as she finds herself “trapped at home,” in Vronsky’s mansion, reading and educating herself, but due to the class scorn for a woman who left her husband to “live in sin” as it were, she is barely able to interact in society. The double standard is blatant, with Vronsky able to move about in society as a man having an affair perfectly comfortably, once he settles into his wealth and social position, but Anna can’t even see the opera without being verbally spit up.

Yet despite her lack of place in this society, Anna is educating herself by reading and comes across as a woman who is intelligent and had potential to have a successful career were that path open to her. Yet she is emotionally often shown to lack both intelligence and control. And either way, her self-education comes across as even more tragically for naught because there is nowhere for it to go. Regarding what happens to her at the end of the book, I’ll mark that with a spoiler although I suspect most know what happens:

I found that Anna committing suicide certainly made sense given not only how trapped she was but also based on her drug addiction. Which reminded me today of how many housewives get hooked on prescription anti-anxiety medication like Xanax). From a metaphorical perspective, it was a logical conclusion, to show that Anna, as a “fallen woman” with no power except her beauty, as a woman who hoped for a degree of emotional independence through love, had no place in this stifling, collapsing aristocratic society. On the other hand, I couldn’t help feeling like Tolstoy also didn’t have anything else to do with her. I don’t feel it was a “sexist” choice, per se, it was a logical outgrowth of the patriarchal culture she was living in as well as her frantic, powerless state of mind. And yet, I also wonder if there was a both/and situation at work here. There was no place for her in society and Tolstoy couldn’t find a place for her to go in the story either. The complexity of her living arrangement needed closure. So he killed her off.

Politics and religion were also ongoing thematic subjects in Anna Karenina. As politics was woven through the story, I could clearly see intimations of the Communist overthrow coming to Russia. The politicians, as exemplified by Anna’s husband, Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, were all petty and ineffectual bureaucrats battling to create committees to study committees and make reports about reports. Politics was presented as nearly as absurd and pointless as it would if Kafka were writing about it. The way Tolstoy positioned the political struggle, it was easy to see how a “worker’s movement” that purported to actually impact people’s lives could easily sweep in and shatter the old guard. And these bureaucrats were closely tied in to the aristocratic class, which was also presented as crumbling and irrelevant.

Religion suffers a bit of a skewering by Tolstoy, but in the end he takes a rather conservative position on it. I had mixed feelings about the main character, Levin, as stand-in for Tolstoy’s views himself. Although Levin is one of the more “moral” of the characters, he is also quite intellectually questionable because he is so flighty, rarely has ideas of his own, hops from one viewpoint to the next and lacks common sense. In the end, his groundlessness finds a ground in an ecstatic born-again experience of Christian apologism. Frankly, I’m glad this conservative back-pedaling in an otherwise forward thinking book was constrained to the last 15 pages or so. And I’m glad I can also excuse the philosophical justification Tolstoy puts forth as being Levin’s and not too literally the authors. I can slot them into the context of a man who could never find an idea of his own and hopped from meaning to meaning until he finally landed on a sort of standard Christian “logic” to justify being born again. Something that could have come from Thomas Aquinas or similar, a rather non-rigorous analysis of existence and meaning, which unfortunately comes from an otherwise rigorous author who brooks no hypocrisy.

There were a few dead-ends in the story, as I was left wondering what would happen next with Alexei or Vronsky, but without a doubt, Anna Karenina is a masterpiece and a compelling read. Tolstoy was an insightful and forwarding-thinking author. ( )
  David_David_Katzman | Oct 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 426 (next | show all)
Each time I reread Anna Karenina, picking my way past the attics and cellars and rusting machinery of Tolstoy's obsessions and prejudices, a new layer of his craft emerges, to the point where, for all my admiration of Joyce, Beckett and Kelman, I begin to question whether the novel form isn't too artisanal a medium for the surface experimentation of the modernist project ever to transcend the flexing of space and time that apparently conventional language can achieve in the hands of a master.
 

» Add other authors (93 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tolstoy, Leoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bayley, JohnIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bayley, JohnPrefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dole, Nathan HaskellTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Edmonds, RosemaryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Farrell, James T.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gallero, VíctorTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Garnett, ConstanceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ginzburg , LeoneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gurin, JacobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gurin, Morris S.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hašková, TatjanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horovitch, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Huisman, WilsTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kool, Halbo C.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leclée, JacobTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Magarshack, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Matulay, LaszloIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maude, AylmerTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maude, Louise ShanksTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
May, NadiaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Porter, DavinaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pyykkö, LeaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roseen, UllaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schwartz, MarianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Troyat, HenriIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volohonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Vengeance is mine; I will repay. ~ Deuteronomy 32:35
Dedication
First words
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (C. Garnett, 1946) and (J. Carmichael, 1960)
Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему. Всё смешалось в доме Облонских.
All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
All happy families resemble one another, every unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion. (N. H. Dole, 1886)
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Pevear, Volokhonsky, 2000)
Quotations
"Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be." [Anna, p744 (2000)]
"He has long ceased loving me. And where love stops, hatred begins." [Anna, p763 (2000)]
Every minute of Alexei Alexandrovich's life was occupied and scheduled. And in order to have time to do what he had to do each day, he held to the strictest punctuality. 'Without haste and without rest' was his motto. [p109 (2000)]
Every man, knowing to the smallest detail all the complexity of the conditions surrounding him, involuntarily assumes that the complexity of these conditions and the difficulty of comprehending them are only his personal, accidental peculiarity, and never thinks that others are surrounded by the same complexity as he is. [p302 (2000)]
Vronsky meanwhile, despite the full realization of what he had desired for so long, was not fully happy. He soon felt that the realization of his desire had given him only a grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realization of desires. [...] He soon felt arise in his soul a desire for desires, an anguish. [p465 (2000)]
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
This is the work for the complete Anna Karenina. Please do not combine with any of the works representing the individual volumes (see combination rules regarding part/whole issues for details), or with abridged versions. Thank you.

The original Russian title was “Анна Каренина”.

Please keep the Norton Critical Edition books un-combined with the rest of them - it is significantly different with thorough explanatory annotations, essays by other authors, and reviews by other authors. Thank you.
This is the work of Leo Tolstoy, not Henri Troyat.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0143035002, Paperback)

Some people say Anna Karenina is the single greatest novel ever written, which makes about as much sense to me as trying to determine the world's greatest color. But there is no doubt that Anna Karenina, generally considered Tolstoy's best book, is definitely one ripping great read. Anna, miserable in her loveless marriage, does the barely thinkable and succumbs to her desires for the dashing Vronsky. I don't want to give away the ending, but I will say that 19th-century Russia doesn't take well to that sort of thing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:39 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

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. While previous versions have softened the robust, and sometimes shocking, quality of Tolstoy's writing, Pevear and Volokhonsky have produced a translation true to his powerful voice. This award-winning team's authoritative edition also includes an illuminating introduction and explanatory notes. Beautiful, vigorous, and eminently readable, this Anna Karenina will be the definitive text for generations to come.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 36 descriptions

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