David's Reviews > Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
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Feb 04, 14

bookshelves: russian, bad-bitches-of-classic-lit, love-loves-to-love-love
Read in August, 2012

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy weaves the tapestry of Russian nobility in all its lust and luster. The story's titular heroine stands out to me as a character keenly fitted in reality. Unlike Emma Bovary, the other foremost adulteress in the classical canon, Anna is not mawkish, she is not sentimental, nor ridiculous: she is proper, level-headed, intelligent, but she is unhappy. At the heart of things, Anna Karenina is about happiness: what makes us truly happy, and what only tricks us into believing it will make us happy? In the humdrum farm modesty of Levin we find a man deeply internally conflicted over the questions of love and happiness, and the very pivotal questions of religion and devotion to something unseen. In Levin we find a man who is truly happy, but who realizes that true happiness is not without challenges, difficulties, self-deceits, little sadnesses. Levin sees in Kitty a woman who he truly loves, but that loves is built up slowly and solidly like a monument, it is fought for in the heart, it is scorched hard by trials and dissappointments, and by Levin's final epiphany, it is sure that their love will last: that though nothing is perfect and clear, some things are right. In Anna we find a young woman who is very unhappy, who has married a man who she does not love, who does not really understand or respect love, but in Anna we find a sort of suppressed passion. This passion, when it meets the passion of Vronsky is doubly affirmed, and let loose like wildfire, she burns herself to the foundation, to ruin. Anna's love for Vronsky is marred by jealousy and mistrust, it is brought on too fast, the passion is fed stock at too fast a rate that when they are finally united, reality cannot live up to her expectations.
For an instant she had a clear vision of what she was doing, and was horrified at how she had fallen away from her resolution. But even though she knew it was her own ruin, she could not restrain herself, could not keep herself from proving to him that he was wrong.
In Anna we see an imbalance of all the passions: love and lust, wrath, pride, jealousy. Her old life, her unhappy life with Alexei Alexievitch curtailed her passions because she was so caged by convention, by her husband and by her society; when she is with Vronsky, she wishes, and acts that she were free, but she is still caged by her simultaneous wishes to be accepted and loved. She rattles in her cage. The tragedy of Anna is that very knowing which endears us to her, which sympathizes her, which makes her so human to us: at all times she is aware of her self-destruction, of her imminent ruin. By the last station stop, one wonders if love is any longer a motive force in her ruin, or if it is rather her momentum, her constant battering of spirit and disillusionment, which must ultimately end is destruction. For Anna, her life is a ballroom dance, an envied mazurka: she is beautiful and loved, she is witty and endeared, she is desired and she desires many things, but all the spinning about, the flitting from one passion to the other, the music must eventually stop: she cannot keep dancing in life forever. Contrarily in Kitty we see a suppression of passion, but a constancy of devotion. For Kitty, her love is uncertain, she is young and still pregnant with illusions about love: she is drawn to the flashy Count Vronsky, but passed over. Her love for Levin is long in realization, it is tempered by time, it is met and forgone many times over many years, and that test of time leaves all questions aside when they final reveal to each other their mutual passions.

Tolstoy writes that there are as many loves as there are hearts: but I think that is not quite true. Love is constant, it is a perfect melody, but every heart is tuned differently, and all loves are variations on the same tune. And each of us, all of our loves, pilled one after the other, are the same also, though we feel with the start of each one that is is infinitely different than the last. We think to ourselves "it is different this time" but we chain ourselves always to the errors of our ways, and it is only by the concatenation of circumstances that these loves vary. Our loves are always being reborn in the image of a new object, "How much I hate X now, that is how much I love Y," but all of these objects are interchangeable. The phoenix reborn has never truly died, before his ashes are even stirred by a mournful wind he is vivid again, preening his feathers egoistically. Our loves are the same, when we are ill in mourning the death of our loves, when our loves are still very much alive, though their objects have left us, those loves do not die, but are reborn in another, by an act of transference not of transcendence. If we see in Anna and Levin very different loves, we see that only as a matter of chance: what if Kitty had taken to Levin's initial advances? Or what if Vronsky had in fact gone away? These loves, as individual as their narratives are, are the same Love, the same passion, the same strain and syncope of the heart.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Riku Sayuj Tolstoy writes that there are as many loves as there are hearts: but I think that is not quite true.

But I think he means to the hearts themselves, just as you say...


David Riku wrote: "Tolstoy writes that there are as many loves as there are hearts: but I think that is not quite true.

But I think he means to the hearts themselves, just as you say..."


I interpret what Tolstoy says as being that "love" is different for everyone, but I think it is the same, we only perceive that our loves are different as a kind of narcissism. Love is the same, we delude ourselves in thinking that every time, or for everyone, it is some different mutation.

(I also write these reviews stream-of-consciousness, so any contradictions are just because I'm still working out how I feel while I write :x )


Riku Sayuj David wrote: "Riku wrote: "Tolstoy writes that there are as many loves as there are hearts: but I think that is not quite true.

But I think he means to the hearts themselves, just as you say..."

I interpret wh..."


But how can any individual truly know? Maybe love is the same every time for one person - just mutations of his own longing :) Anyway, this discussion can evidently go nowhere.

I really enjoyed the review, thanks for that! Especially since I just finished a long meditation on love for Love in the Time of Cholera...


David You can't really know! You can only wonder. But literature and story telling, poetry, definitely offer an albeit imperfect window into the experiences of others.


Riku Sayuj David wrote: "You can't really know! You can only wonder. But literature and story telling, poetry, definitely offer an albeit imperfect window into the experiences of others."

Ah, so you mean to say that all love you have encountered in literature and poetry have been similar enough? And also close enough to your own? That is an even harder statement! I need to give this more thought.


message 6: by David (last edited Feb 04, 2014 07:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

David love stories are all very different, I'm not claiming they're the same! A love story is a narrative and it is subject to infinite permutations based on coincidences and events that have nothing to do with Love as an abstract passion. But love, when it is love and not affection or enamorment, is always essentially the same.

Obviously Levin's and Anna's love STORIES are different, but I think that when you distill WHAT they FEEL to something very basic and fundamental it is the same. Levin's unrequited love drives him into isolation and work, Anna's love for Vronsky is requited, but is ruined by her illusions. But I don't think that Anna's and Levin's loves are different just because the stories which they produced are different. I think Anna does love Vronsky as Levin does love Kitty. Love is the spark, the fury and obsessive passion. Things which are external act upon it, but it doesn't change what it is. Ice and water are the same substance, just affected by different external forces, and love is the same.

When I read stories or poetry about some phase of love which I haven't experienced, I can still trace in it something I know. Different circumstances don't make different loves, only different novelizations of it.


Riku Sayuj David wrote: "love stories are all very different, I'm not claiming they're the same! A love story is a narrative and it is subject to infinite permutations based on coincidences and events that have nothing to ..."

I did not say stories... was asking if you feel the feeling conveyed by the stories - of what love lies behind them has been the same to you. I had never even thought from that perspective.

I agree about the Stories - they can almost never be the same. Even though some aspects and themes have to be. they will also be perceived differently, exquisitely so, even when the love that is felt might be the same in each case.

Nice analogy to ice.


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