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Anna Karenina [Norton Critical Edition, 2nd…
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Anna Karenina [Norton Critical Edition, 2nd ed.] (1995)

by Leo Tolstoy, George Gibian (Editor)

Other authors: Matthew Arnold (Contributor), Eduard Babaev (Contributor), Fyodor M. Dostoevsky (Contributor), Boris Eikhenbaum (Contributor), Caryl Emerson (Contributor)12 more, George Gibian (Contributor), Henry Gifford (Contributor), Lydia Ginzburg (Contributor), M. S. Gromeka (Contributor), Aylmer Maude (Translator), Louise Maude (Translator), D. S. Merezhkovsky (Contributor), Gary Saul Morson (Contributor), Donna Tussing Orwin (Contributor), George Steiner (Contributor), Nikolai N. Strakhov (Contributor), Raymond Williams (Contributor)

Series: Norton Critical Editions

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In recent years, Anna Karenina has been received even more critical acclaim than Tolstoy's other epic work, War and Peace. (Or has this always been the case? I only recently began to notice the extra emphasis on Anna Karenina.) As soon as I began reading this novel, I was immersed in the world Tolstoy built in his words, and I understood why so many writers and readers acclaim this book as a masterpiece of literature.

The novel follows the lives of a large cast of characters. It begins by focusing on Stephen (Stiva) Oblonsky, a charming and genial man who happens to be a horrible husband, constantly cheating on his wife. Said wife, Dolly, has recently discovered his most recent affair and learned her husband is not the faithful partner she imagined. In the midst of this domestic drama arrives Anna Karenina, Oblonksy's sister, ready to soothe Dolly and restore harmony to the family. Anna succeeds in reconciling Dolly to Stiva, and is a favorite with the whole the family. She meets Kitty Shcherbatsky, Dolly's sister, and the two become quick friends. Anna makes one more conquest, of Count Alexey Vronsky, who she met at the train station when she first arrived in Moscow. Vronsky, who had been paying court to Kitty but without serious intention, falls quickly in love with Anna.

While these events are unfolding, the reader is also introduced to Constantine Levin, a nobleman who eschews the city to stay on his family's estate and run everything. He has returned to Moscow to propose to Kitty, with whom he is deeply in love. Unfortunately for Levin, he delivers his proposal while she is still infatuated with Vronsky, and she turns him down. Levin flees back to the country with a broken heart. As he is a deeply reflective man prone to philosophical musing, Kitty's refusal shatters his world, and sets him to attempting to reorganize his entire way of life.

Having introduced the main characters, the novel proceeds to follow Anna and Vronsky, Levin and Kitty, and the many people whose lives intersect with theirs. Anna and Vronsky fall into a passionate love affair. Kitty travels abroad to heal from Vronsky's abandonment of her. Levin consumes his time with trying to improve the methods used on his farms and land, and developing his theories about the relationship of the laborer to the land. Anna and Vronsky eventually expose themselves, destroying Anna's husband Karenin and estranging her from her son, and they leave the country. Levin and Kitty are reunited, and he realizes that she finally does return his affections, prompting him to propose a second time and be accepted. They are married at the same time as the relationship between Anna and Vronsky shows signs of deterioration: she suffers obsessive jealousy and he chafes against his loss of independence and ambition.

These larger events are stitched together with countless scenes of mundane life, such as dinners with families, trips to the club, hunting expeditions, working on the farm, visits with artists, and so on. After all, Anna Karenina is a hefty book. It fully examines the lives of these central players in great intricacy, and with such a realistic portrayal that it feels like the reader is stepping into the world these people inhabit. Although that may sound like the book is a chore to read, the opposite is true. Every time I picked up the novel, I was immersed in its world. The comprehensive reality it created wrapped around me and engaged my interest, from beginning to end of the long story.

Before I began reading, I knew something of the narrative about Anna Karenina. I knew that it involved a passionate love affair that would unravel Anna's life, and that the relationship would not end well. I did not know that Levin and Kitty would be the counterpart characters, presenting a picture of a healthy and wholesome relationship that balances out the damaging relations between Anna and Vronsky. I did not know how Anna's tragic ending would play out, or that Levin and Kitty would intersect with Anna and Vronsky in complicated and reflective interactions. I did not know anything about the myriad of characters that would people the pages of the novel beside the central figures, and how they would impact the narrative. In other words, I knew the skeleton of the story, but was unaware of the flesh of storytelling that Tolstoy would wrap around it. And what impressive craftsmanship he used. All of the central characters are fully realized, with personalities that are as distinct as people we might encounter in our daily lives; even more so, because we observe their inner world and private interactions in a way we can't possibly see in reality. Even minor characters that appear for brief moments in the narrative have succinct characterizations that mark them out as individuals. The various settings are produced with precision and accuracy, and the plot of the story slips smoothly from one event to the next, sometimes crescendoing into momentous occasions, and then settling back down to meticulously account for all of the other occurrences in between. The mastery in the writing is evidenced by the ease with which I read this complex, detailed, and nuanced book. I was always ready to read just one more page, and soared through the novel much faster than I originally expected.

I chose this particular edition for its high quality editorial production and for the essays at the end of the book. Norton Critical Editions are works of beauty. For readers interested in examining the deeper meaning in works of literature, these are the definitive editions to choose. The analytical pieces here covered many themes in the novel, such as the difference between passionate and familial love (and can they coincide), the depicted corruption of Russian society, the posited purity of peasants, the redemption of a faith that is more genuine than that found in the church, and the repercussions of choosing an immoral path even when prompted by pure feelings. Essays debated whether Anna's punishment was too harsh or justified, what Tolstoy's position was behind his extremely detached narrator, how political events affected the writing of the novel, and other matters. I was particularly fascinated by the essay that presented the argument that Tolstoy's fiction should not be termed as novels, because he rejects the classical plot structure, and instead crafts a story that jumps into events and out of them, leaving the reader with the impression that much has occurred before the book began, and much will continue to go on after readers leave the story, that this is a fluid world we are entering for a short space of time that will keep on flowing without us. In short, the supplementary material provides an intelligent evaluation of a great work of art, and are not to be missed. I really enjoyed my entire experience of reading this acclaimed novel. ( )
  nmhale | Feb 16, 2015 |
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Leo Tolstoyprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gibian, GeorgeEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Arnold, MatthewContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Babaev, EduardContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dostoevsky, Fyodor M.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Eikhenbaum, BorisContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Emerson, CarylContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gibian, GeorgeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gifford, HenryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ginzburg, LydiaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gromeka, M. S.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Maude, AylmerTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Maude, LouiseTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Merezhkovsky, D. S.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Morson, Gary SaulContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Orwin, Donna TussingContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Steiner, GeorgeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Strakhov, Nikolai N.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Williams, RaymondContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Do Not Combine: This is a "Norton Critical Edition", it is a unique work with significant added material, including essays and background materials. Do not combine with other editions of the work. Please maintain the phrase "Norton Critical Edition" in the Canonical Title and Publisher Series fields.

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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0393966429, 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 18:11:25 -0400)

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