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.


  1. I've always maintained that the instant something is happening in a Tolstoy novel, it's time for a very long hunt or trip to a field. Still, I really enjoyed the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation of AK and have been trying to find the time to get to their War and Peace!

  2. It has been so long since I read this book, but Levin remains my favorite hero in all of literature (excepting Mr. Darcy, of course). I love those scenes where he is reaping the fields, but I've always been a sucker for idylls.

  3. Замечательно, что Вы читаете нашего Льва Николаевича!

  4. You do end up learning an awful lot about nineteenth century agricultural practices! But it's an interesting contrast with Vronsky later on, when he's playing at being 'Lord of the Manor'. Levin is the real deal, he cares about his workers, he knows his workers, he works with them, putting his own sweat and toil into the farm, and he discusses best practice with other landowners - Vronsky simply throws money around (and where did he get his money? Last we saw he was going through his accounts, paying the card sharp and avoiding paying his tailor)

    As for Joy, this whole novel is also about life and death, and the big question, why are we here? - Anna sees only hatred everywhere she looks, whereas Levin sees only love, as we see at the end.