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.


  1. 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.
    Yes, that's the aspect I find especially daunting, especially characters with the same first name. I'm looking forward to reading this in the Autumn. I too am vaguely aware of the plot, so I'm glad to hear that you found it helpful whilst reading it, Jane. Also that you are finding it easy to read.

  2. I'm reading AK, too, though just for myself and not for the circuit (since I know I am too slow to read such a long book by a particular date). It's been interesting to see how many people prefer Kitty and Levin's story over Anna and Vronsky's. I thought also that the horse scene was rather telling about Vronsky--it doesn't bode well, does it. I'm in the middle of the third section, which has been moving slowly for me, but you get to see another side to Levin. Why does it seem that Stepan gets away with his philandering but Anna doesn't?

  3. I tried to listen to this one on audio but all of those names were hard to follow without seeing them in writing. One of these days I'll actually get to this--sounds like it's worth the effort.

  4. I loved this book when I read it a few years ago and I was surprised too by how easy it was to read. Reading this makes me want to read AK again, but I think I'll have to relive it through your posts!

  5. I really liked Kitty and her husband too -- it was my favorite part. I remember I liked the novel as a whole but don't remember details about it. I'm glad your enjoying it!