I finished Anna Karenina. I started sometime last year. I don’t think that I’ve ever managed to finish something so monumental before (unless you count LOTR or Jane Austen; which I don’t). I’m so proud of myself and I am finally getting around to telling all of you lovely people what I thought of this delightful, thought-provoking masterpiece.
Many people say that War and Peace was Tolstoy‘s masterpiece. Since I’ve never read it, I’m uncertain about the validity of this statement, but if it’s better than Anna Karenina, I will definitely be reading it soon.
The story of AK is fairly well known, but I’ll give you a brief summary. The plot follows two MCs, Anna Karenina and Levin. He’s known by a lot of names, I take it most Russians of the time were, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll stick with Levin. Anna is married with a son at the start; Levin is single, but in love with a young woman named Kitty. From there things get intertwined with all the other characters.
Count Vronsky has been courting Kitty with no intention of marrying her, but Kitty’s mother, the princess has high expectations. Levin comes and proposes to Kitty, but is gently denied. She loves him, but refuses to recognize it as love. She’s holding out hope for Vronsky as well.
Later that evening, at a ball, Vronsky and Anna meet. From that moment they are taken with one another and so fueled by their passions that they throw everything out the window, marriage, motherhood, respectability. Kitty is devastated, noticing the tension between her lover and Anna and becomes gravely ill.
No one except herself understood her situation. No one knew that a few days ago she had refused a man whom she perhaps loved, and refused him because she trusted another.
The rest of the book explores the lives of Levin, Kitty, Anna, Vronsky, and Anna’s husband, Karenin as Anna and Vronksy hurt everyone around them and Levin tries to find the meaning of his existence.
The parallels between Anna and Levin aren’t exactly subtle. Both are almost consumed by their passions, but Levin uses his to try and better his land and his work. It doesn’t always work, but he tries to ignore the pain that Kitty’s loss has caused him and move on. Anna, on the other hand, becomes wholly consumed by herself. G. K. Chesterton wrote in his book Orthodoxy that insanity is being completely self-centered and believing that everything in the universe relates directly to you and your actions. By giving in to her desires for Vronsky, Anna begins to believe that every action of every person around her relates directly to her, and eventually it drives her mad.
Kitty begins to travel and finds herself learning how to do good for others. It is due to this training that she is able to take of Levin’s brother when he grows ill. This is after they get married, of course. They are so insanely cute together. They understand one another well, but have so many miscommunications that it is impossible to believe that theirs is not an accurate picture of married life (chime in married people?).
He understood that she was not only close to him, but that he could not now tell where she ended and he began. He realized it from the agonizing feeling of division into two parts which he experienced at that moment. He felt hurt but he immediately realized that he could not be offended with her because she was himself.
In the end, Levin finds God, which was a bit unexpected to me. And the last paragraph is my favorite because it so beautifully speaks what faith often is and how it affects us.
I shall still get angry with my coachman Ivan, I shall still argue and express my thoughts inopportunely; there will still be a wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife, and I shall still blame her for my own fears and shall regret it; I shall still be unable to understand with my reason why I am praying, and I shall continue to pray — but my life, my whole life, independently of anything that may happen to me, every moment of it, is no longer meaningless as its as before, but has an incontestable meaning of goodness, with which I have the power to invest it.
He knew that he wouldn’t change overnight. He recognized that he would still be much the same, but he knew that his newfound faith would bring a new certainty and would affect his life around him.
I loved Levin and Kitty’s relationship so much. They got unreasonably jealous about each other; they got angry; they were often uncommunicative and surly. But they loved each other throughout it all. There were times that they couldn’t stand each other. It was beautiful. Levin feels so strongly about her; he has such passion and knows that they are two halves of the same soul. Those Russians are ridiculously romantic, I tell you what.
And I used to think that life before marriage did not count, that it wasn’t anything much, and that real life would only begin after marriage. And now it will soon be three months and I have never spent my time more idly or uselessly. No, this can’t go on. I must make a beginning. Of course, she is not to blame.
This quote made my single heart happy. So I underlined it and noted that the single life can often be the more productive life. WOO!
I hated Anna, but saw too much of myself in her to be entirely comfortable. She’s so selfish. She wants what she wants and refuses to allow anyone to be happy. When Karenin offers her a divorce, she refuses. In refusing she makes Karenin miserable, Vronsky miserable, and is miserable herself. Then she insists upon a divorce, but only if she gets her son. Karenin refuses to allow her to take their son, but says he’ll divorce her. She refuses that as well. She’s crazy. She is so charismatic that when Levin finally meets her towards the end, he finds himself enthralled (and more than a little buzzed on vodka). He ends up confessing his attraction to his wife and they move on.
She is so unhappy she decides to get back at all the happy people who don’t love her anymore (like Vronsky and Karenin) by ending her life. So she throws herself in front of a train, which is what she’s known for by all of society. She’s that crazy lady who has an affair and throws herself in front of a train.
Some of you might wonder about how the movie compares to the book. I will say that the movie is possibly one of the most beautiful and artistic films I’ve ever seen and it portrays the relationships and plot of the book well. It is not a substitute for the beautiful language of the book, however. You should definitely read the book and watch the movie.