Friday, January 13, 2012

Anna Karenina Wrap-Up Post

Oh RIGHT! THAT'S what I was forgetting--my final Anna Karenina post!  I totally left the good old blogging hanging on that one--did I love it? hate it? finish it??  The last time I posted was before I read the last quarter of the book (meaning: yes, I did finish it...did you really doubt me, dear blog?) and then I didn't post because, well, the holidays were raging, and I sped through the end of the book so quickly that I finished it before the read-along ended and then felt a teensy-weensy bit guilty.

If you've read any of my prior posts on the book, you may remember that Anna Karenina is actually a re-read for me [technically]  although the fact that I read it in highschool (some 17 years ago or so) means that I don't remember much except for hazy pictures of unhappy people in big houses in the middle of Russia.  And trains of course.

This was my 2nd read-along (the first being last spring for Villette--also with Wallace) and it was also a very good experience.  I work well with deadlines, I suppose, so the schedule works for me.  Also, it's a great way to digest a classic: periodic discussions aid in understanding and appreciation.  So read-along=thumbs up, & hoping for more in 2012.

In Week 1, I delighted in Tolstoy's humor as well as the wonderful translation.  Also, it was crazy to realize that most of the main characters are not more than 34-35 years old.  When I was a teen that sounded ancient, now it seems oh-so-very-young. ;)

Week 2 was all about adding layers: the characters and the plot both start to become more complex as the picture starts to fill in.  Tolstoy continues to do this throughout the novel, which is one of the things that made it feel so real and intriguing to me.

Anna starts working herself into a corner in Week 3.  We see a little more of the social life in the upper class, and also some hints that the times are a-changing.

Week 4 is quieter.  We see Kitty's time abroad and Levin's observations on farming.  We are left to ponder the important things in life.

It's crunch-time in Weeks 5-7: so many things are starting to come to head and the characters' faults are showing.  I began to dislike many of the characters here, and yet was captivated by the story.

Ah, Weeks 8-9.  How many angles of love we see here.  There's the newlywed bliss and stress, there's the deluded justification of a broken marriage, there's the sad acceptance of a lesser love.  Dolly's circumspection here really touched me.  She realized that she did have love--which was good--but it wasn't the kind or the quality that she yearned for.  (sigh*)

The last quarter of the book shows Anna & Vronsky falling apart, Kitty & Levin grow stronger, Dolly and Stiva find a way to hold it together.  Seeing Anna crack up was pretty intense.  Tolstoy ended the book on a philosophical note rather than on drama and plot--something that felt very Tolstoy to me.  At first, since I'd been so enraptured in the story, I had a hard time switching back to philosophy.  In the end, though, I found that it not only allowed the story time to settle and soak in, but it also really brought all the plot points and themes together.

Tolstoy went through some major life changes while writing this book.  He struggled, as Levin does in the book, with what the meaning of life is & how he should be living.  While in the beginning Tolstoy was excited about writing what he viewed as a proper novel, in the end he was sick of it--had changed it so many times and just wanted to be done with it.  And yet the result is still wonderful.  I love that you can take so many different messages away from the book: since Tolstoy is mulling over all the issues himself, the book feels more like an invitation to mull over it along with him rather than being a vehicle to deliver his agenda.

This has solidified Tolstoy as one of my very favorite authors.  The mix of insight and action, poetry and wit are melded into perfection for me here.

[some of my favorite quotes:]

p. 236: ...She understood that she had deceived herself in thinking that she could be what she wished to be.

p. 260: Hard as Stepan Arkadyich tried to be a solicitous father and husband, he never could remember that he had a wife and children.

p. 427:  “I’ll begin from the beginning: you married a man twenty years older than yourself.  You married without love or not knowing what love is.  That was a mistake, let’s assume.”

p. 608: ...They all fall upon Anna.  What for? Am I any better? I at least have a husband I love.  Not as I’d have wanted to love, but I do love him, and Anna did not love hers. How is she to blame, then? She wants to live. God has put that into our souls. [...] I might have loved and been loved in a real way.

p. 614: “When you love someone, you love the whole person, as they are, and not as you’d like them to be.”

p. 729: Children? In Petersburg children did not hinder their father’s life.  Childen were brought up in institutions, and there existed nothing like that wild idea spreading about Moscow - as with Lvov, for instance - that children should get all the luxuries of life and parents nothing but toil and care. Here they understood that a man is obliged to live for himself, as an educated person ought to live.

p. 780: “Yes, as a tool I may prove good for something.  But as a human being I am a wreck,” he said measuredly.

p. 817: [last paragraphs]  This new feeling hasn’t changed me, hasn’t made me happy or suddenly enlightened, as I dreamed - just like the feeling for my son.  Nor was there any surprise.  And faith or not faith - I don’t know what it is - but this feeling has entered into me just as imperceptibly through suffering and has firmly lodged itself in my soul.
    I’ll get angry in the same way with the coachman Ivan, argue in the same way, speak my mind inappropriately, there will be the same wall between my soul’s holy of holies and other people, even my wife, I’ll accuse her in the same way of my own fear and then regret it, I’ll fail in the same way to understand with my reason why I pray, and yet I will pray - but my life now, my whole life, regardless of all that may happen to me, every minute of it, is not only not meaningless, as it was before but has the unquestionable meaning of the good which it is in my power to put into it!


  1. Loved this book. LOVED it. I do kind of wish I'd read and talked about it in sections like you did though, because there's just so much amazingness that needs to be talked about that my one teeny blog post didn't really do it justice! Glad that you liked it too :)

  2. I really wish that I had bought this translation when I read this. I was cheap, and bought one that was a couple bucks less expensive. I believe that it contributed to my unpleasant experience with Anna, although I'm not so convinced that I'd go out and read it again.

  3. I'm not surprised you couldn't wait for the 'proper time' to finish it. When things started happening at the end I could hardly put it down when I read it!

    I've never done a read-a-long, maybe I should consider it, it sounds like a fun experience.

  4. Definitely 5 stars. Thanks for posting the quotes. Powerful.

  5. I wish I had known about this read-along as this is one on my TBR list. So glad you enjoyed it

  6. Laura, there really is too much to talk about to try to cram it all into one post (which is why my wrap-up post is really not much of a review at all!) I was surprised by how much I loved it. Yum-O.

    MJ, I do think that has a lot to do with it, although there's always the possibility that Tolstoy just isn't your thing...I have a theory that whether or not you enjoy his jaunts through philosophy have a lot to do with how much you enjoy his writing in general. A friend of mine read AK last year (not this translation) and she didn't enjoy it at all either. :(

    Sam, the only reason I was able to wait as long as I did to finish it was because it was such a busy time of year! That, and I enjoyed the discussions. I don't know if I'd enjoy a read-along of just anything...but for something big or dense or classic-ish it's been great.

    Heidi, I have pages (and pages) of quotes from this book--it was so hard to pick out a few. The one about raising children made me laugh. :)

    Jessica, that's too bad...hopefully another will pop up soon and you can get it crossed off that list. :) I highly recommend this particular translation when you do get around to it.


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