Showing posts with label Anna Karenina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anna Karenina. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Past the point of no return...with Anna Karenina


Slowly reading a long book makes it more memorable. Over time, the story weaves itself into the fabric of your memories of your life while you were reading it. At least it works this way for me. I passed the halfway mark with Anna Karenina yesterday, and I know that whenever I think of it in the future I will remember that I read it the summer my oldest child left the nest for college.

There's a melancholic oppressive feel to the story--partly because I know Anna's fate and partly because, despite the joy and energy that keeps on cropping up (see previous post on AK), the pace is ponderous and nothing turns out as expected for the characters. I noticed this in particular last night. Tolstoy alternately described Kitty and Levin's courtship and then marriage and then honeymoon intermixed with Anna and Vronsky's flight from propriety, Russia, and her marriage.

Although Kitty and Levin were surprised that the euphoria they experienced through the wedding was displaced by the annoyances of actual married life, they worked through the annoyances to find joy again. Conversely, Anna and Vronsky anticipated the freedom and joy they could have unfettered by Anna's husband, but found themselves bored and restless when all they had was love, without the daily trials and rituals of real life.

Here's what I marked as I passed the midpoint (or as I like to think of it--the point of no return--who can abandon a book after they have read more than half of it--too much invested to turn back now!).

Here are Vronky's thoughts while they are still in Russia, before Anna decides to leave her husband without agreeing to a divorce, and he is starting to have buyer's remorse:
She was not at all as he had seen her in the beginning. Both morally and physically she had changed for the worse. She had broadened out, and her face...was distorted by a spiteful expression. He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has plucked, in which he can barely recognize the beauty that had made him pluck and destroy it. p.358


This next passage really struck me--it made me think about how we often say that Austen's heroines insist on marrying for love, as if that will lead to happiness. What I got from this passage is that Tolstoy, via this conversation between Anna and her brother, is saying that while marrying for love may not ensure happiness, marrying without love will ensure unhappiness. This is Stiva talking to Anna...
...you married a man twenty years older than yourself. You married without love or not knowing what love is. That was a mistake... p.427


Here's some of Vronsky's thoughts while he and Anna are lounging around Europe, becoming disenchanted with each other.
Vronsky meanwhile, despite the full realization of what he had desired for so long, was not fully happy...It showed him the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realization of desires. p. 465


Finally, I absolutely loved how Tolstoy had both Vronsky and the painter Mikhailov do portraits of Anna, which reflects so beautifully who Vronsky really is, who Anna really is, and how they are hopelessly shallow and soulless, nothing more than costumes and jewelry and show.
He liked the graceful and showy French manner more than any other, and in this manner he began painting a portrait of Anna in Italian costume, and to him and to everyone who saw it this portrait seemed very successful.


If you're getting the sense that I don't like Anna and Vronsky, you're right. But like them, I'm past the point of no return and must see what other treasures Tolstoy has hidden in the 334 pages remaining. First, I'm going to take another mini-break and get through some more of Gabaldon's A Breath of Snow and Ashes.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Joy in Anna Karenina - Through Part III


I started out loving the first two parts of Anna Karenina. I found it easier to read than I had expected, and I discovered a delightful subplot between Levin and Kitty, which I hadn't known about at all.

Then I read part III, and felt weighted down and dragged under. In part III, Levin goes to the country and there are long passages about his working with the peasants and the local politics. I feel a bit shallow, but I didn't find this very interesting and I felt like I was slogging through mud and just wanted to get on with the story. Now that Kitty is also in the country, in part IV, I'm hopeful that the pace will quicken.

Also depressing was Anna's confession to her husband of her affair with Vronsky, and his reaction, and her reaction to his reaction. The confession was inevitable but again, I felt like I was being sucked down into a vat of molasses during these scenes.

So where is the joy that I mentioned in my post title? In the translation I am reading by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, I have been particularly aware of the use of the word "joy." I don't know if they are translating one Russian word or if their use of "joy" covers multiple Russian words, but I did a quick scan using the Amazon "Search inside this book" feature, and counted 30 instances of the word "joy" in the first 150 pages, and an additional 21 instances in the next 240 pages. Just for grins, I searched on the word "sad" and found only 16 instances in the same section.

What struck me about joy in Anna Karenina is that it's a tragedy, of course, so describing characters as full of joy was surprising. Actually, the joy described is actually more an animal energy, a life force, rather than a feeling of happiness. I wonder if there is a uniquely Russian term that the translators have decided that "joy" best fills.

The other word that abounds is "soul." That didn't surprise me, though, as the dark, brooding, pessimistic Russian soul is what those of us who haven't read much Tolstoy equate with a Tolstoyan novel.

I started part IV, but haven't gotten far as I needed to read The Reluctant Widow for my review at AustenProse on August 13 during Heyer month, needed to get caught up on The Woman in White weekly installments, and needed to read Transitions, so I could understand family dynamics when my daughter leaves for college in two weeks.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Teaser Tuesday (July 6) - Kitty from Anna Karenina


The doctor's predictions came true. Kitty returned home to Russia cured. She was not as carefree and gay as before, but she was at peace. Her Moscow griefs became memories.


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
* Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

The passage above is from the end of part 2 of Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

The photo above is from a wonderful site with collages of costumes/actresses from the various film versions of AK. I suspect I will be using other images from this site to illustrate future AK posts!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Anna Karenina - parts 1 and 2


I signed up to review Anna Karenina for the Classics Circuit later this month, and am now through the first two parts. I've only read a couple of short stories by Tolstoy, so I am happy to be finally reading one of his novels. I am pleased with the translation, by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and the notes, which do enhance the experience because there are a fair amount of topical, regional, political, and otherwise historical details that would float right by me without explanation.

The novel is surprisingly easy to read, and I really appreciate the cast of characters listed up front because there are a lot of characters all of whom seem to have two to three names at least. I was amply warned about that aspect of the novel, so it's not a big deal.

I'm interested in the story, and knowing the basic outline of the plot, I am finding that I can notice Tolstoy's use of foreshadowing and symbolism. The refreshing part is not the story of Anna and Count Vronsky, but Kitty and Konstatin Levin, both of whom I am liking so much more than Anna and Vronksy.

Stuff I've noticed through the second part:
- Anna's husband and her lover both have the same first name, Alexei, which I take to mean that they aren't as different as Anna assumes.
- Part 2 begins and ends with Kitty's illness; it was a perfectly symmetrical section, which I found quite satisfying.
- Vronsky destroys his beloved, high-spirited horse during the race, just as I assume he destroys his beloved Anna.
- Ironic that Anna arrives in the novel to smooth the marital waters of her brother and his wife after she discovers he has been unfaithful to her. Anna and her brother, Stepan Arkadyich, are more than a little like Mary Crawford and her brother Henry. I could see Mary playing a similar role when Henry strayed.

For some reason, I had it in my head that the novel consisted of five parts and not eight. While I was stil thinking that it had five parts, I was thinking that it was coming together like a Shakespearean five-act tragedy. Now, I'm still wondering if there is a substructure to the novel that follows a five-part dramatic arc.