Kelly's Reviews > Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
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May 24, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, 19th-century, russians, grande-dames, mawwiageiswhatbringsustogethertoday, woundedsoulsandfragileflowers, grand-opera
Read in July, 2012

So, I have this ongoing etiquette problem. Though sometimes I think it is a matter of respect. Or maybe social awkwardness. I’d consult my Emily Post on the issue, but it’s a unique bookworm sort of problem. I don’t think Ms. Post got that deeply into the protocol of neurotic bibliophiles.

Anyway, the question is.. why do I unconsciously call an author by their first name sometimes? In some respects, I’ve had this conversation before in the context of gender. That is, are discussants more likely to assume a first name basis when conversing about women authors rather than male authors? If so, does this mean a sign of disrespect? What about when this happens as a discussion among women? Is this more or less problematic? It also, obviously, happens sometimes with two authors by the same name, or with an author that someone happens to know personally.

But my question doesn't just have to do with this situation. I'm more interested as to why readers feel the impulse to do this to start with. The answer I've come up with is maybe an obvious one, but its worth stating: the emotional bond that a good book can seem to create in a reader’s mind with that author. This emotional bond can resemble love or hatred, respect, anger or sadness or can even simply result from spending some time with a comedian who has told enough, “you know how when,” jokes that you recognize. But on some level you feel you understand where they’re coming from. But its hard to pinpoint when that happens. Usually, for me, I only see it when I write my review. Usually I self-consciously delete it later once I realize it. As if I think that I’m like someone who met a movie star in a fast food restaurant and then decided to gush to everyone about how we were destined to be BFFs because it turned out that we had ordered the same kind of fries. But it is always revealing of how much the novel got to me. Virginia Woolf is the ultimate example of this for me. My experience with Mrs. Dalloway was like breaking through a wall into a party I’d always been invited to with close friends. I had the same experience with Austen and the Brontes and Graham Greene and a few others.

I wasn’t expecting to add another to this collection with Tolstoy. I've read this before, but that time my impression of Tolstoy as an intimidating, distant Big Russian Author intact. This read was different. I believe that the translation work of Paevar and Volokhonsky deserves credit for that. My first read was with the Garnette translation. However, as the NYRB notes, Garnett morphed Tolstoy’s words into “graceful late-Victorian prose,” as she did to every other Russian author she translated. And unfortunately, it turns out that graceful late-Victorian prose reads rather… well.. like it sounds like it might. Intelligently done, but often intimidating and cold. Thus, despite the fact that her work may have made Tolstoy’s work “accessible” to a Victorian audience, her work did a disservice to Tolstoy for me. Because that Victorian sensibility… that’s not Tolstoy. At least, it is not the Tolstoy that Paevar and Volokhonsky showed me. I’m glad that I gave this book a second chance, because this time Tolstoy became Leo a couple times. If my self-consciousness reasserted itself immediately and he became Tolstoy again, that’s okay. I remember those Leo moments.

There are many things I loved about this novel. I think what got me most, however, is something that’s based in the process of its creation. As I understand it, writing this novel was a great struggle for Tolstoy. Originally, he meant this to be a straightforward morality tale. Anna was meant to be an ugly, vulgar old adulteress who represented Evil Womankind, and Karenin a model of sainted Christianity. But the longer the writing went on, the more this black and white purpose acquired shades of grey. Anna became beautiful, then sympathetic at the beginning, and then in the middle, and then all the way into the end. Karenin became clueless, hypocritical, desperate, and even “unmanly”. Vronsky no longer twisted his mustache, but became a man with a code who wanted very much to be allowed to keep that code and live a life. The morals became increasingly tangled until his original purpose became almost-yes, we’ll get there- unrecognizable. He found his way from rigid morality to what makes a tragedy a tragedy.

Tolstoy just can’t bring himself to judge these people. There are moments where he shows that he could have gone full on Oscar Wilde if he wanted to, but he takes it back. For every cutting remark, there’s an apologetic attempt to reach out and embrace everyone a few paragraphs later. There’s a wonderful quality of generosity that runs through the whole novel. Judge not, lest ye be judged. It seems to have slowly eaten away at original purpose until there wasn’t anyone I could bring myself to blame. Some of them I sympathized with from the beginning-Anna, Dolly, Levin- and some snuck up on me-Karenin, Kitty- and some-Vronsky, Oblonsky- took me awhile, but I got there. The book is set up as a dance where these seven people come together, go through the motions and then change partners again. How they come together, why, and what the two partners want from each other in that moment reveals everything about these two characters. As our two anchors who represent the two choices that you can come to resolve the existential crises of life, Levin and Anna get to meet everyone and everyone gets to reflect them back to themselves. Other characters experience them and make their own choices by evaluating their experience. Their resolutions represent the spectrum of other choices that you can make in between Ecstasy (starts as Anna, moves to Levin) and Death (which moves from Levin to Anna). The dance climaxes when Levin and Anna meet and the author finally allows himself to face the powerful woman he’s created and see what he thinks of her. What happens in the scene is beautiful and makes a lot of sense. I hated what he did it to it afterwards, which read like someone desperately afraid that they had revealed too much (we’ll get there), but it doesn’t negate what happens when we see that opposites are more alike than we’d like to think. Like that circle you always see done with fascism and communism-in-reality where despite whatever they may say, they are not the opposites that they claim.

You’ll notice that seven is an odd number. Someone is always going to be left on the outside, or being the third wheel to one of the pairs. Everyone has a turn with this. Anna starts it, then Levin continues it, then Kitty, then Karenin and full circle until we come back to Anna standing by herself once again. Through the odd man out, we get an exploration of how loneliness, rejection, and mistaken choices to reject others affect these characters. The two choices seem to be either that it will transform them, or that it will gradually harden the worst parts about them until they become an unbreakable diamond. Kitty’s time in Europe is perhaps the most through exploration of this phenomenon. Tolstoy allows her to break and reform and then reform again until she’s able to give herself permission to be herself again. Not everyone is lucky enough to have the space and time to do that. Levin gets to do it eventually. I’d even argue that Vronsky almost gets to that point time and time again. Anna is the diamond. Karenin shatters to pieces and then rebuilds himself into one again. Surprisingly, in the end, Karenin was the one who broke my heart.

He shows these peoples' attempts at understanding each other and failing again and again. It's revealing that he has this tendency have these characters look at each other just “seem to express” deep, extensive feelings with their eyes or with mundane trivialities. Characters frequently make assumptions that other people are mind-readers or that they are, and some even go so far as to tell them so. “I can tell that you think that I…” or “Her eyes told me that…” etc. It seems like he can’t think of a way that these people can be honest with each other and just say these things that they are dying to convey to each other, so they have to make all these assumptions. The ones who can communicate with each other are the ones who drive the novel- Anna, Levin, Kitty. Our author stand-in, Levin, is the most socially anxious being. He frequently doubts every word that comes out of his mouth, blushes and embarrasses himself with his boyish pride, and puts his foot in his mouth on about a million occasions. Anna and Karenin’s inability to speak to each other just the few words that would have stopped this whole thing on about chapter ten is a more serious version of this. Levin’s older brother and his almost love affair with Kitty’s friend and one wrong word spoken that changed their lives is a lightly amusing version. But all these little moments add up to a more thorough condemnation of social conventions than (view spoiler). Only Connect in eight hundred pages at full volume. Only a few people manage it, and usually not for long. He shows us why succeeding is a gift, not something that we can take for granted.

And as for the writing… Tolstoy gets away with so much that other authors can't. He tells rather than shows for at least half the novel, and that is a conservative estimate. He repeats himself constantly. He chooses isolated moments and lets them go on for fifty pages longer than anyone on earth needs. Levin and Kitty’s wedding ceremony takes six chapters in my version. A two day hunting trip takes twice that. Ultimately, his writing isn’t that quotable out of context, except for that famous bit about happy families. Why? I can’t tell you. But Woolf can:
"For it has come about, by the wise economy of our nature, that our modern spirit can almost dispense with language; the commonest expressions do, since no expressions do; the most ordinary conversation is often the most poetic... For which reasons we leave a great blank here, which must be taken to indicate that the space is filled to repletion.”

The commonest expressions thrown together in the right order and with the right kind of passion. That’s Tolstoy all over.

But I know we’re going to have to talk about that end. That is, what he does to Anna because he could not himself decide what he wanted her to be, and really what he wanted himself to be. Even his generosity failed him here. He chose to take Anna’s rebellion against her circumstances and grind it down until it became the scratchings of a selfish, spiteful cat. He went gloriously, full-tilt into a wall wrong, but it was wrong. It seemed like his original stern morality got the best of him. At first, I wanted to think that it was just a plot mechanics decision in the sense that Anna was the big outlier in the story and social structure, and the way he had written the people around her there was no way for anyone to move forward unless she herself changed. Whatever Anna’s story was about, it was not about how love conquers all because Tolstoy doesn’t believe that. That couldn’t be the end. She couldn’t go back to Karenin, because that would have been an even bigger betrayal. But in the end, I think that I'm wrong and it was just him feeling like he had to condemn her for her sins in the end. He couldn't let it be about what he said it was the whole novel because that was too dangerous.

And it wasn’t just Anna’s ending that I had an issue with. Levin’s, too. There are things to love about it, but it also (view spoiler) Lastly, I really did not like what he did with that scene where Anna and Levin meet and (view spoiler).

But still. I can mostly forgive Tolstoy for what he did to Anna and Levin and their complex struggles because of one thing: his joy. Even when his generosity of spirit uncharacteristically fails him with Anna, or when powerful intellect goes off the rails toward crazytown with Levin and his peasant-worship, he has this great ability to celebrate things great and small. This is most evident in the Levin sections where we get long odes to the harvest and to his love for Kitty. He gets perhaps the most genuinely sweet proposal scene I’ve ever read, and his depiction of sheer ecstasy after his success left me smiling for hours. And really, despite the all that earnest, existential angst and all the terror of death, the ultimate conclusion that I think Tolstoy wants me to walk away with from that last Levin chapter is Life. Even with the problems with it I mentioned above, its such a relief to see Levin finally just let himself rest that its difficult to hate it completely. And Levin isn’t the only one who gets to experience the joy. Kitty gets to be wrapped up on it. Oblonsky walks around with an apparently unshakeable foundation of it. Vronsky and Anna even get pieces of it sometimes, in their love for each other, in Vronsky’s love of horses and Anna’s for her children. One of Karenin’s problems is that he never sees the value in joy. Tolstoy complements this with a sly sense of humor that sneaks into the prose in between the other seven hundred and fifty pages of Seriously Considering the World. He’s got some great bits about his own misconceptions about marriage and the absurd things jealousy leads us to do. He pokes fun at men showing off their manliness to each other. He has some fun with mysticism, laughs about the ridiculousness of politics. He makes me laugh with the extremes to which he carries his insistence that we think about the feelings of everybody. Including the dog. Twice. I mean, could you be so insensitive as to forget how it inconveniences the dog when you’re disorganized getting out the door in the morning? You monsters!

In the end, it’s just all out there, you know? Awhile ago, I saw Jon Stewart give a speech in tribute to Springsteen. I forget the occasion, but I’ve always remembered one part of what he said, which is that Springsteen is great because whenever he is on stage, he doesn’t hold back. You know that when he walks out he’s going to be going all out, one hundred percent of the time, and when he’s done, he’s left it all on the field. But this isn’t in a reality show culture flash inappropriate body parts and explore the outer reaches of vulgarity kind of way. It’s just more the sense you have that he has worked through the problems that he presents to you as long and as hard as he can. He’s mustered up all the blood, sweat and tears that he has to present it to you, and there aren’t any bon mots he’s saving for the cocktail party later. This book is a book of statements, but it feels like a book of questions. Do you know any better?

Often, with Tolstoy, I think that a lot of us feel like we do. With rare exceptions, he deals with everything on earth as if it is the most serious thing alive. We know about “don’t worry, be happy.” He’s got a lot of anxiousness about his dealings with women, and some extremely silly ideas about Women in general. We can even feel that we know better about communism, idealization of manual labor or even just his ideas about cooperative farming. But still, he’s got those big questions about everything and he insists that they matter. He’s so wonderfully earnest from the beginning until the very end. He reminds me of David Foster Wallace, in that respect. That Consider the Lobster essay, with all that serious questioning and pain, thrown out to the readers of Gourmet. He feels like the inheritor of this fearsome intellect/earnest straightforwardness duality. Both these guys are really asking. This was a surprisingly vulnerable book in that way. For every opinion Tolstoy pronounced, he retracted two and asked four questions. That is the sort of mind I want to be around. Does this all come down to “but he means so well”? No. Maybe. A little bit. But his amazing writing ability, his sharp insight, and his ability to reason through as far as he could go are powerful enough that I will always let it go.

I’m excited for my next Tolstoy read. He rambled at me for eight hundred pages, and I can’t wait for eight hundred more. What’s up, War and Peace? As my favorite cartoon monkey said, “It is time.”
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Reading Progress

06/28/2012 page 35
4.0% "Impressions so far: Oblonsky: Tolstoy's Jack Aubrey in neighborhood dad khaki pants. Levin: Just Needs a Hug."
06/29/2012 page 100
12.0% "Anna Arkadyevna read and understood, but it was unpleasant for her to read, that is to follow the reflection of other peoples' lives. She wanted too much to live herself... When she read about how Lady Mary rode to hounds, surprising everyone with her courage, she wanted to do it herself. But there was nothing to do, and so, fingering the smooth knife with her small hands, she forced herself to read."
07/02/2012 page 232
28.0% "But, in the depths of his soul, the order he became and the more closely he got to know his brother, the more often it occurred to him that this ability to act for the common good, of which he felt himself completely deprived, was perhaps not a virtue but, on the contrary, a lack of something... a lack of life force, of that yearning which makes a man choose one out of all the countless paths of life presented to him"
07/05/2012 page 420
50.0% "Levin had noticed in arguments between intelligent people that after enormous efforts, the arguers would finally come to the awareness that what they had spent so long struggling to prove to each other had been known to them long before, from the beginning of the argument, but they loved different things and therefore did not want to name what they loved, so as not to be challenged." 49 comments
07/06/2012 page 470
56.0% "He felt that the realization of his desire had given him only a grain of the mountain of happiness he had expected. It showed him the eternal error people make in imagining that happiness is the realization of desires. At first, after he had united with her and put on civilian clothes, he felt the enchantment of freedom in general ...but not for long. He soon felt arise in his soul a desire for desires, an anguish." 7 comments
07/07/2012 page 620
74.0% ""And they all fall upon Anna. What for? Am I any better? I at least have a husband I love....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 done the same. I ought to have left my husband then.. I might have been loved and loved in a real way. Is it better now? He's necessary to me, and so I put up with him. Is that better?" -Dolly"
07/08/2012 page 700
84.0% "He knew it was impossible to forbid Vronsky to toy with painting.. as it was impossible to forbid a man to make a wax doll and kiss it. But if this man with the doll came and sat in front of a man in love and began to caress his doll the way the man in love caressed his beloved, the man in love would find it unpleasant. The painter experienced this unpleasant feeling at the sight of Vronsky's painting." 5 comments
02/07/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 77) (77 new)


message 1: by Elijah (new)

Elijah I just bought a copy of this, because I fucking love Tolstoy to death, but realized that now I'm too self-conscious to read it until after the upcoming movie is long gone.

I care far too much about what people on the subway think -- don't want to be a hanger on!


message 2: by Kelly (last edited Jun 28, 2012 12:51PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly I feel you. I am super self-conscious like that too (the first time I read this it was just after Oprah had recommended it for her book club). But if you're going to bandwagon, I think bandwagoning Tolstoy style is the way to go!

Doooo it. Subway people are too busy reading ads for teeth whitening procedures and 'been in an accident??' lawyers to notice you anyway.


message 3: by Elijah (new)

Elijah Maybe I'll wait a little longer though, I've been thinking of tackling Moby Dick this fall...


Kelly Good luck with that! I've only ever read Billy Budd, in high school. I'd be interested to hear your impressions of Melville. All's I remember are the infamously long sentences.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Ha, funny, I just finished re-reading the book myself a couple weeks ago! My second read was an unbelievably different experience.


message 6: by Meredith (last edited Jul 02, 2012 10:54AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meredith I have a lot shorter rant about Anna K., so don't worry. I actually really like Anna - until the end, which I think is so stilted and silly.

It's Levin's girl who I think is the totally unrealistic caricature of a woman. I can't remember her name. But, I think the focus on her and the obviously purposeful contrast of her as ideal womanhood and Anna as doomed is a silly and boring mischaracterization of how women are.


message 7: by Kelly (last edited Jul 02, 2012 02:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly I'm glad we agree about Anna at least. So far I'm feeling like I just need a five minute sit down with Karenin around page 150 just to explain a few things and everything would have been okay! Anna and Karenin's relationship is way more interesting than Anna and Vronsky.

But you don't like Kitty, huh? I'm not to the point where she's supposed to be ideal womanhood yet, so perhaps I'll change my mind, but right now she's not painted that way. Through at least the first two parts she's painted as a very insecure girl who is trying on different roles for size and rejecting them as she finds out they are inauthentic to her or unrealistic. First she tries to imitate Anna- and interestingly fails because she can't not because its painted as her finding out it was wrong- then she tries to be a Perfect Selfless Christian Girl instead, imitating another woman. She finds out who she is by trying other women on for size, then rejecting them and finding out who she is, really, in the process. That's cool with me, and I think realistic for an eighteen year old girl.

I can see what you're saying about them being set up as a false contrast, and Tolstoy definitely idealizes women in a domestic family context, but I also think that its an Austen city/country thing as much as Bad Woman/Good Woman thing. I'm only just starting part three though, so I may change my mind!


Meredith Yeah, I think I actually liked everyone in the first part of the book. I agree about Kitty, but I also think it's not particularly interesting to read about her, even in the beginning. I definitely think it is tied to the city/country morality lesson he is giving. Ugh.

Digression: I guess I don't find Austen to be particularly suspicious of the city, though I guess she does have some of that in Lydia's story and Mansfield Park. Bath is a city, though, right? And everything is wrong with Anne and Wentworth in the country, but works out in Bath? I totally know what you're saying about Romantic suspicion of the city, though, I just got turned around thinking of it with Austen.

At first, when I read "idealizes," I was like, whaaaaaa? And then I was like, "Oh yeah, idealizes as it relates to how women would be convenient for him not how it would be convenient to be as a woman." But, yeah. I find him abysmally self-centered, and I think his blonde girls are slaves to that. The first thing I read of his is Family Happiness, as part of a collection of short stories. I don't know if you've read it, but it's about a little blonde smiley girl who reeeeeeally wants to get married to this old morose dude so she can clean his house and cook him food. Ugh.

But, I'm realizing that I had anticipated your problem with Hemingway being how flat his women are, and now I'm wondering if it is more his prose style that isn't your favorite.


Kelly Wow, that Family Happiness book sounds terrible. I think in AK his self-centeredness works out in a touching, tormented, useful and interesting kind of way during a lot of the book because he can argue with himself and work stuff out on the page.

Yeah when I meant idealizes, I think I just meant how important having The Woman is for his vision of happiness. Levin goes on and on about how being married is all he wants and how central it is to his happiness, so yeah, Kitty's interesting journey is limited by the fact that she's headed for rejecting all roles but standing on Tolstoy's pedastal.

And yes, my major problem with Hemingway is that I don't like the way he writes, and the way he expresses himself doesn't work for me. I haven't read enough Hemingway to have a definitive opinion on his Women except Brett.


message 10: by Kelly (last edited Jul 02, 2012 04:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Oh and re: Austen, I think that the evil city/good country thing is definitely there, at least for me. I could be wrong, but I think it's in P&P (not just with Lydia- the thing where Jane goes to town and realizes how horrible the Bingley sisters are happens too) its one of the centerpieces of S&S (the whole Willoughby storyline taking place there and then everything resolving happily in the country), and even with Persuasion, although stuff finally works out in Bath in the sense that that's where she gets the letter almost all off the inner transformation happens in the country (if we include the seaside place they go to as well, which, the seaside was good with Romantics so I think we can!). I could be wrong, but it seems like it appears in almost every one of her books.


message 11: by Szplug (new)

Szplug Kelly, you truly are a pleasure to watch in operation around here, especially when it comes to one of the classics like Anna Karenina—your pre-completion observations, commentary, and updates only heighten the excellence that is/will be your ensuing review.


Meredith Re Austen: yeah, I don't disagree, I guess. And I agree with Elizabeth. It seems less deliberate to me than with Dickens, for example. And to some extent it seems less like painting the city as evil than like talking about some things that kind of make sense structurally within the novel to happen in a city. Maybe not, though.

Re Tolstoy: yeah, I feel like he sets up a pretty good story and then it gets crushed by the anvil of his moralistic sexism.

Re Hemingway: that totally makes sense. I wouldn't say force yourself to read another of his if the style isn't your thing. I love his style times a million, but nobody's style is for everyone.


Kelly Thanks, Chris. I'm a bit intimidated now, but we'll see how the rest of this read shakes out! It's been interesting so far. Another hundred pages on the glories of the Russian fields may change my mind though. :)

I like the remark about how structually "bad" things happen in the city, but that is a repeated thing. She does seem to attach unhappiness to going to the city every time, perhaps for the reasons Elizabeth said. Even in Persuasion, stuff wraps okay in Bath, but only after numerous issues and almost losing her to her citified cousin. Anne's old enough to resist now, but her younger subjects aren't. Her reaction vs. Catherine's problems in Northanger Abbey is an interesting contrast.

I'm definitely going to give Hemingway another shot because I liked Sun Also Rises my re-read. I should perhaps mention that my initial impressions of Hemingway were formed in a period when I was really into Fitzgerald, so that probably wasn't the best time to think about him.

Re: Tolstoy, you're right about his moralism for sure, but it's fascinating to watch him fight with himself to get to that place. Or so I thought last time. We'll see what I think this time.


message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Was anyone else surprised by how Anna's plot line ended? The first time I read the book I didn't even notice because I loathed Anna, but on my re-read it infuriated me--those last proto-stream-of-consciousness pages are some of the best writing in the world, and then WHAM. (Literally. *rimshot*) Madame Vronsky calls Anna names, Levin finds God (UGH) and that's it. Mme Vronsky's reaction is understandable to say the least, but it annoys me to no end that the authorial voice totally dismisses her after the death--she literally dies; it's like she never even existed. /rant


Meredith Kelly wrote: "I should perhaps mention that my initial impressions of Hemingway were formed in a period when I was really into Fitzgerald, so that probably wasn't the best time to think about him."

Why so? I like their relationship a lot and think it's pretty funny, but I've never thought of them as uncomplimentary to one another.

With Austen, I guess I've always thought of the bad things being associated with people obsessed with wealth and status, not necessarily the evils of urbanization. But, I also guess I don't see Willoughby leaving as a bad thing, but just disillusioning and coming of age. So, I guess I would agree that disillusioning happens in the city. I feel like the bad things usually happen in the home - the father dying in S&S, Darcy being an asshole in P&P (and the second time that happens, it is literally out in nature) and Wickham's seduction of all the girls, Wentworth choosing Louisa Musgrove and Anne's father's scorn of her. But, I guess maybe there are different ways of looking at bad things.

I totally agree, Rooney, about the end of Anna K. It made me sooooo mad.


message 16: by Kelly (last edited Jul 06, 2012 10:19AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Oh, re: Fitzgerald/Hemingway I like their relationship too. The first Hemingway piece that made me smile was the part in A Moveable Feast where he fanboys about Fitzgerald. But I think their writing styles are very different. Fitzgerald has always struck me as much more lyrical in his style, and heavily indebted to the 19th century, his stories told a much lighter touch, whereas Hemingway is all about the power of the terse. Fitzgerald always read like a light touch on the arm to me, and Hemingway like a punch. I wasn't into that at the time. Sun Also Rises did start to change my mind about that, though.

I think Re: Austen, I think I'm definitely not using the term city as precisely and well as you are. I definitely don't think that her novels are about the evils of The City itself in the way that Dickens' novels are. Her novels are pretty firmly about the problems of the upper middle class which means that that doesn't really concern her. So yeah, I agree with you, I'm just not very precisely calling it "the city" when I should have said "people corrupted by what Austen thinks the city represents in the life and morals of upper middle class British people." I guess a lot of it is necessary growing experiences so not directly "bad." It's interesting because I'm not sure how Austen herself felt about that. There's a conversation in S&S where Elinor says that the sooner Marianne figures out how naive she is about the world, the better, and Brandon disagrees and says she should be protected from it. On the one hand, Marianne marrying Brandon and modifying her views would seem to indicate that Elinor was right, on the other hand, she almost died to get to that point, and she married the guy who wants to protect her, so I don't know where she ultimately comes down about whether being disillusioned about people is good or bad. Her treatment of Jane in P&P is sort of ambiguous in the same way. Hmm. That's interesting, I hadn't thought of that before. I guess I'd say ultimately I probably agree with you that she sees disillusionment as a necessary thing, but I'm not entirely sure.

You're also right that some bad things happen at home, for sure. I guess I just see a lot of those bad things (for sure not all of them, it's not black and white like Tolstoy sometimes makes it, Austen would never do that!) as coming from what she usually identifies with city morals- a concern with status, appearance, money, etc. It's not like its all paradise in the countryside, for sure. Especially in her earlier novels I think she actually makes a great deal of fun of Romantic idealizing of the country- Northanger Abbey turns on Catherine's Romantic evil ideas of an old country mansion. S&S makes some gentle fun of it, too. But it always felt to me like as she got older, the country got a little more idealized.

Man, I am really interested to get to the end of this one. I remember Anna's ultimate end, but I don't remember too much else. I hope I'm not as disappointed as you all, but it sounds like that's not likely!


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

re: Austen and disillusionment: would you say Anne Eliot is disillusioned? I mean, she SHOULD be, poor girl, but I don't think she ever truly was, which is what makes the book oddly Romantic. (I have no experience with Austen aside from Persuasion, which I love to death, and P&P which I don't care for, so sorry if this is a dumb question!)

Sparrow--yes, I was so mad that I actually felt the need tell the book "I AM MAD" and I drew an angry slash down several paragraphs. Take that, Tolstoy.


Kelly I think Austen is a realist, in an emotional and economic sense, so the "disillusionment" is really just being able to see clearly, without rose-colored goggles, so to speak. Her best heroines are always the ones who see the clearest (even Emma at the end).

This is a really good way of putting this. I would agree with this statement- I think I set up a false dilemma above. It's not about good and bad at all. Thanks, Resident Austen Expert! :)

I definitely would also agree that she fits into an English pastoral tradition. I think it was in the midst of reviving about this time, no? Wordsworth and Keats and those guys?


Meredith Dudes, I got kicked off this thread. Such injustice.

100% agreed about Fitzgerald's writing versus Hemingway's. Fitzgerald does get so ranty and self-indulgent sometimes though. And . . . sometimes boring. I hate to say it, but I do think it's true. Obvs, not in Gatsby, but I think there is only like one good part in Babylon Revisited. And I really love Tender is the Night, but it could use some serious editing.

Anyway, I'd be interested to hear your reaction to The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber on the subject of their styles. I think that one has some really beautiful, and even lyrical moments. But, I guess I also think the description of the rain in Sun Also Rises is really beautiful.

I'm glad we solved the Austen issue. I agree about the disillusionment and everything.


message 20: by Kelly (last edited Jul 06, 2012 06:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly I definitely agree that Fitzgerald is pretty self-indulgent at times. I mean, he writes the same story over and over a lot, and also writes about himself and his friends. I just think the words he chooses to do it with are often quite beautiful. I haven't read Babylon Revisited. That bad? I've read This Side of Paradise (which I liked but is clearly a Before They Were Genuises kind of book), Gatsby (love), Tender is the Night (LOVE), Beautiful and the Damned (love a lot of) and some of the short stories.

I'm going to put Francis Macomber on my list! Thanks!


Meredith Oh, wait. Maybe it was This Side of Paradise. I can't remember. I think it was Babylon that I read. We listened to it on audio on a big road trip because fitzgerald was (is?) his favorite. Whichever one it was, at one point they ran into Satan, and I felt like that was really the only good part.

I definitely agree about the words he chooses, though. He was a brilliant writer.


Kelly Hmmm, I think you might be right now that I think about it. I think the main character meets up with the Devil a couple of times in the middle of parties. It somehow makes him special in some way. I liked a lot about that novel, but its clearly not his best. I liked it more because he reveals more about how he works and his thoughts because he hasn't quite learned how to cover his authorial tracks as well yet.

I'm glad we agree he was brilliant though. It is nice to know we agree on some things. :)


message 23: by Meredith (last edited Jul 06, 2012 07:19AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meredith haha, for sure! I think we have a lot of basic foundation of agreement. But differences are fun, too!

Yeah, audio was also a bad choice for that one. But, I agree - not terrible, just a little dragging and definitely pre-genius, but in an interesting way.


message 24: by Kelly (last edited Jul 06, 2012 07:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Yeah, I would imagine a lot of Fitzgerald's stuff doesn't necessarily sound the best when read out loud! Especially if people try and do "realistic" voices for the characters or whatever. I bet Gatsby would be fun as a heard book though.

And yes, differences are fun too! It's still fun disagreeing with you, I stand by that opinion! I am for sure putting words to realizing how I feel about certain things, and clarifying some others opinions. Thanks!


Meredith I think this audio guy just talked reeeeeeally slow, like you do with litrahture.

Yay for disagreeing!


Kelly If done well that sounds like it could be awesome! It would take some amazing readers, though. It sounds like you got lucky with that.

And yes, yay for disagreeing!


Meredith Yeah, and it seems like Gatsby could stand up to a lot. Such a beautiful book.


Kelly For sure. Except maybe when someone reads it like litrahture. That sounds deathly!


message 29: by Meredith (last edited Aug 05, 2012 08:13AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meredith Yay! I think I ultimately mostly agree. I guess, I probably think of him as more of a calculating bastard than you do. My instinct is to think he sets us up to like Anna in the beginning because it's not as worthwhile a betrayal to realize she's evil in the end if you start out not liking her. You know? But, instead, to me, the end just seems off and stupid. But, your way of thinking about it is more forgiving.

I love Constance Garnett! And I think Pevear and Volokhonsky are so awkward and lame. But, I don't like attempts to modernize translations or to awkwardly jump something that sounds natural in the original language to something that is literally accurate but not natural in the destination language. I definitely don't think Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy sound the same in the Garnett, though, since I love the one and hate the other. But, I do think I'm the minority in that opinion.


message 30: by Kelly (last edited Aug 05, 2012 08:33AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly I guess, I probably think of him as more of a calculating bastard than you do. My instinct is to think he sets us up to like Anna in the beginning because it's not as worthwhile a betrayal to realize she's evil in the end if you start out not liking her.

Yeah, I guess maybe my thinking on this is naive. Its mostly informed by what I know about his life and his struggles with what version of Christianity he believed in: harsh, absolute, or humanistic. My understanding is that he chose the harsher version as he got older, but wasn't quite at that point when AK came out. So I have a tendency to see what happened to this novel as him being scared and taking out his own doubts on his characters. It just seems like the novel is too long and he shows us too much for it for him not to believe in some of that, you know? His observations are too accurate and the feelings he describes too nuanced for that. He even tries to explain Anna's... somewhat neglectful.. treatment of her children and does go into what motivates her jealousy for a time. If nothing else, he seems too honest in his other characters for Anna to be a Machiavellian plot.

I can see what you're saying, though. The switch is so abrupt, and the bile so overwhelming at the end that its really hard to remember the way it was before. The part where he has her (view spoiler) It was pretty hard to read that.

That's interesting about Garnett vs. P&V. My husband was reading the Garnett while I read the P&V, so I sometimes put our books next to each other and read the difference. My impression was that Garnett had a lot more formalized diction and didn't let a lot of Tolstoy's original word choices or feelings come through. So everyone wound up speaking like they were at court the whole time. In P&V that's not the case. The NYRB article says that Garnett would just cut whole things, sometimes, too, which I'm not totally comfortable with. But I really think a lot of this is just personal preference, for sure. I'm not in a position to comment on the Dostoyevsky/Tolstoy thing since I haven't read Dostoyevsky in a long time, so I'll trust you. I just thought the Brodsky comment in the article was reflective of how much control she seemed to have over the access that the English speaking public had to these authors.


Meredith Yeah, I get you on the motivation he would have had for the different ways he shows her character. There is this particular type of youth pastor guy with a doofy Adam Sandler goatee, struggling with the idea of whether women are human or not, who is just my least favorite type of person. And Tolstoy is the 19th century Russian version of that to me. So, I am not very patient with it. I think ultimately it bothers me that Tolstoy comes down on the side that Anna is basically inhuman, but it also bothers me that it feels like he's raising that question at all.

Yeah, I do agree that it is crazy how much power translators had at that point, and Garnett is no exception. I actually don't remember whether I read this in a Garnett translation because I read it for a class, so we had an assigned translation. I would imagine it was the P & V. Cutting sections is not so cool, unless it's that "beauty of the Russian peasant" section in the middle. I'd be cool with cutting that.

I get what people like about the P & V, and I think everyone sells them really well. I just think Russian and English do not translate well into each other, and they are more loyal to the original, where I think they should be more loyal to the product they are making. I guess I don't think it's possible to capture how Tolstoy would sound like in Russian through an English translation, though, because I think the languages are too different, so saying they did capture it seems suspect to me.


message 32: by Kelly (last edited Aug 05, 2012 09:35AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Hmm. I hadn't thought of him saying that Anna is inhuman. Just that she gave in to the worst instincts she possibly could in the situation that she was in. I think that that end does represent something awful, but I don't think that its inhuman. It's what humans can become when we're warped by loneliness and doubt or dealing with the consequences of choices we weren't really prepared to make. But now that you compare him to goatee guy, that image is pretty hard to get out of my head!

I can't say whether P&V "captured" the Russian, because I don't speak Russian. I would agree that there probably aren't a lot of people who can definitively say whether they did or not, especially given the change in the languages that have taken place over the last century. However, if I had a choice, I would personally prefer that they remain as close as possible to the original, just because I think that if that's not the goal, people can just start writing their own novels and authors can have things attributed to them that they never intended to say. That's a difficult thing to think is happening, for me.


Scott Sheaffer Great review. based on your review I moved this up on my "to-read" shelf.


message 34: by Kelly (last edited Aug 05, 2012 09:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly I'm glad! I think that whatever issues you might end up having with it, its worth encountering some of Tolstoy's questions.


Meredith From looking at the different translations and the Russian, I do feel that they are more loyal and literal to the original language. I think Garnett asks, "What would a person in this position say in English that would have the equivalent sentiment?" and I think they ask, "What do those words literally mean in English?" Ultimately, neither are totally satisfying, I think, because Russian and English don't get along as languages. I've said to you before that it's my theory that the cultural and political issues between Russia and the U.S. are because you can't satisfactorily translate them to each other, right?

Yeah, I don't know, with the goatee guy thing. I've had too many dudes like that truly wonder to me from a Christian perspective whether it is women's evil nature that causes us to succumb so easily to the temptations of the flesh and disobedience to men to really give Tolstoy the benefit of the doubt on that front, especially when culture so supported him in wondering that at that time.


message 36: by Kelly (last edited Aug 05, 2012 10:29AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly I have not heard this theory about the cultural and political issues, but now I want to! When was this an issue in their relations? Tell me more!

I will give you that Tolstoy definitely has some silly ideas about women. He would absolutely prefer for them to be Domestic Goddesses and provide the happy home that he desperately wants everyone to know is so awesome. But I don't think that he thinks that they are inhuman. Even the woman most consumed by the Domestic Goddess type starts the novel by thinking about leaving her husband because it isn't worth it. She gets a whole section later when she goes to see Anna living in sin where she wonders again about her life and the choices she's made. Kitty gets to be completely human throughout, even after her wedding to Levin. The part where she's in Europe finding out who she is seems pretty organic to me, as does their negotiation of the early part of marriage. I agree the ending sucked and had a lot of that "women's evil nature" and "temptations of the flesh" with regard to the Anna/Levin meeting. I agree that he's sometimes got a problem with putting women on a pedastal as Woman. He's got a number of slightly ridiculous ideas in this book in general, about that, about the peasants, about politics. I just think that the balance of pages in which Anna is shown as complex and sympathetic is far far more than those in which she is shown as off her rocker. Tolstoy sometimes takes some pretty questionable left hand turns, and what happens to Anna is definitely one of them. But I don't think that it invalidates everything that came before.


message 37: by Meredith (last edited Aug 05, 2012 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meredith Yeah, we probably make different associations with what goes on with the characters. To me, the ending doesn't live as a separate thing, but it reveals that his purpose was to write a fallen woman (Anna as Eve) and a redeemed, Proverbs 31 woman (Kitty as Mary). It doesn't taint, for me, the passages in the beginning and middle that are really beautifully written, but it taints the story. Really, though, I think I get mad at Tolstoy for what he does to Anna and says about her, but Kitty just makes my skin crawl the entire time. I hated her and Levin from the moment of the stupid felt-letter proposal - not so much in an OMG Tolstoy, you jerk, way, but I just hate them. The felt proposal turned a corner for me and made me just sigh and flop around whenever they were on the page. I don't really think Tolstoy gets either of them totally right as women, but I could see someone looking like Kitty, perfect mix of Cosmo girl and church wife, from the outside, and those people make me crazy. So, I am definitely reacting from my own associations.

There's not much more to my Russian/English theory. Just, the way it is polite for people to dance around something or be direct about something in Russian is the opposite of the way it is in English, I feel. In Russian, it is polite to demand something from a stranger if you refer to the stranger with a respectful title. Like if you wanted Tolstoy to give you five bucks, in Russian, you would say, "Give me, please, five bucks, Lev Nikolayevich." In English that sounds demanding and rude, even with the "please," I think. Especially when it is barked at you in the Russian manner. In English, we would say, "Would you be able to give me five bucks, Leo?" And the informality of the address, and probably the generally informal manner of an English speaking person asking the question, would be rude to a Russian speaker, but also they probably wouldn't get the sense that you actually wanted what you're asking for. Anyway, I can see how it would cause alienation between the two in international affairs.


Geoff Hey, lovely, brilliant review Kelly. Makes me want to reread this. I had the same experience, a kind of unattached feeling to the Garnett translation and a total adoration of P-V. Anyway, great writing about a truly great book!


message 39: by Bram (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bram Kelly, yes! Great review.


message 40: by Kelly (last edited Aug 06, 2012 06:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Thanks guys! I'm glad that you had a similar experience with the Garnett vs. P&V to mine, Geoff. I was starting to feel like perhaps my taste was lacking! I don't know anything about Russian, so I can't say whether the word choice was closer to the "sense" of what was meant or not, for sure, but at least for me their choices made it much easier to gain entry into Tolstoy's world. It seemed much more relaxed and naturalistic to me.

Thanks for responding and clarifying where you're coming from, Sparrow. I think your idea about the fallen woman/redeemed woman is interesting and I actually wouldn't disagree that those two characters fit into those two categories within the structure of the novel. I am with you there. I don't know if it was intentional, but it would certainly make sense that it was.

I think where I diverge is that I think that within these two stories (which I think were among the very few narratives available to explore and think about women's lives at the time) Tolstoy does not relegate them to being merely these things, heading towards inevitable doom or inevitable success. I think that he gives time and space to explore what there is to celebrate about both women, their loveable qualities, their flaws, their worst moments, the whole thing. I think there were real moments when Kitty or Anna could have gone either way. I think that he takes them beyond those stereotypes by exploring what goes on within them. I think that this effort is enough to show me that he thinks of them as "human"- ie, individuals who think and feel and have ideas and a past and who make positive choices and negative ones. Even with the lefthand turn to crazytown at the end I still felt like he tried to explore the feelings that he was stating with enough honesty that I was still touched by them. Self-hatred and self-doubt are really nasty things that can really get into you and do some really unfortunate stuff to your perspective and mindset. Anna had had a long time to build that stuff up in isolation. I think that even if I disagree with what he did, since I don't think that the Anna he showed me at the beginning would have gone there, he did a pretty affecting job of showing a person who has gone there.

It seems like your problem isn't necessarily with human vs. inhuman though but more in specific his general approach to Woman, as an idea, though? I do again grant you that he can sometimes get pretty wrapped up in the idea of Woman in the Levin sections. But when he's with the girls themselves, I don't think that that's true. And Levin learns to overcome that. I can see where you'd see the guy with the goatee with Levin, but honestly I think that he doesn't mean it in a way where he ever thought that women were lesser than men or "inhuman." I thought that his reflections were as much about love and marriage, as concepts, than about Women specifically.

Also, Kitty doesn't bother me at all, which is such a fascinating thing to me. I just don't see the Cosmo girl/church wife thing with her. If I could see it I think I would react just like you are. I guess I'm curious what the Cosmo girl signifiers are to you? To me that seems like you mean maybe someone who is all about status or looking good or buying into formulas, all about the shallow end of presentation rather than being? I just don't get that with her. Kitty seems like she's a pretty honest girl, and she's doing her very best to find herself amid the problems and bad choices that she's made. When some guy flirts with her and pays her attention, she's uncomfortable, not playing the game. She and Levin have these great conversations where they fumble through all their insecurities to a resolution. And also, it probably helps that I thought that that proposal was adorable and totally made sense to me from the perspective of someone as awkward/shy/intermittently self-hating as Levin and someone as embarrassed and unsure as Kitty. They're such vulnerable people and Tolstoy does such a good job of showing us how much they want to make each other happy I find it impossible to hate them.

Also thanks for elaborating on the Russian/English theory. You'd think that that would be the kind of thing that diplomats and translators are trained for, but I can see how in a high stakes game might make every word really count.

Sorry if some of these comments are confusing, I'm really trying to wrestle with what you're telling me. Let me know if I'm unclear at all.


message 41: by Meredith (last edited Aug 06, 2012 05:43PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meredith I should probably say that Kitty was dead to me after the deal with the felt letters because that was the lamest thing. Not from an idea of the Woman, or anything about women, but just because I think she and Levin are so lame. That just makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth. And, that is one example of the cosmo/church idea, I think. Like inspirational magnets and jokes about taking out the garbage. brrrrr. Oh, here's a good example: Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti. Levin and Kitty could BE that couple. And aside from how I feel about Women or the church, or whatever, that is just so lame. So, that's my feeling about them.

A bunch of my friends were in this group for young married couples at a church I was going to a while back, and they were reading some book, I'll have to think of what it was (maybe it was the waffle book, I'm not sure). So, this book gave some helpful tips for spicing up your married love life. One of them was for the husband to go buy a bag of Hershey's kisses, break it open, and hide them all around the house, but, you know, in places where she'll find them, like in the pots and pans and, I'm pretty sure, BEHIND THE TOILET. hahahahaha. It was so amazing. Anyway, Kitty and Levin would have been all over that shit. And plenty of girls I've known and been friends with have been all over that, too. It doesn't make them less complex people, it just makes them lame. ;)

I wouldn't argue that Kitty or Anna are two dimensional, and it's not simplicity that bothers me about them. I wouldn't even really argue that Eve and Mary are two dimensional, and I do love them. Actually, the inclusion of two dimensional women isn't really a deal breaker for me, either, and a lot of authors I love throw in a simplistic woman or two. I just think the lesson is wrong. I don't think it's wrong in being reductionist, necessarily, I just think it's wrong in the way I disagree with the Protestant . That's not to say that I dislike most of the women in the Bible or think they are simple generalizations about humanity. Like Kitty and Anna, I think that if you look at the facts that make up their whole, they are interesting and cool, but the lesson from their whole is bizarre. And it's not that there is nothing cool about Kitty to me, just that the felt letters outweighed anything I liked about her. And wasn't there a part in the end where she's like, "OMG, I just realized that being a Stepford wife is so fun"?

It's been years since I read this, like with Bovary, so I don't really remember the Levin sections with the idea of the Woman. I just remember dying at the felt letter thing. And it is for sure Tolstoy whom I see as the goatee-sporting youth pastor. It is worse to me than Levin because Levin is just an idiot. Tolstoy, to me, sees the complexity and humanity in the women and rejects it. It just bugs me about him. I probably can't make a good argument that it is objectively bad, so I'm more just saying he pushes my buttons in the way that a lot of the Great Awakening, revivalist Christianity does. It sees complexity and then gets such weird things out of it.


message 42: by Kelly (last edited Aug 07, 2012 04:45AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Okay, that waffles and spaghetti thing is pretty funny. :) And I will grant you that Levin does definitely spend some time generalizing about women and his ideas about them in a women are spaghetti like fashion.

But I actually think Kitty and Levin are in general totally not those lame spaghetti people with their tricks and their "men and women are like this"! Levin actually makes a huge deal out of the fact that he will never be anything less than totally honest and real with Kitty about things. He's definitely not into games, and in fact is expressly against them. He's would be WAY too embarrassed and self-conscious to be doing that Hershey's kisses nonsense. He takes himself far too seriously for that. I actually think that some Hershey's kisses scavenger hunts might not have been the worst thing in the world for a guy as eternally freaked out as Levin. I don't think Kitty would have done it, but if she had I would have supported her just to get that guy to laugh. The felt letters are cute! You can't talk me out of it. :)

Like Kitty and Anna, I think that if you look at the facts that make up their whole, they are interesting and cool, but the lesson from their whole is bizarre.

Okay, well I think that that makes sense to me then. Tolstoy can work himself up into some silly conclusions. The whole ending where everything wrapped up nice and pat for both Anna and Levin was pretty contrived in general. The "lessons" probably suffered a great deal from that.

It is worse to me than Levin because Levin is just an idiot.

To be fair, I think that Tolstoy would have agreed with you about this. :) There's enough self-doubt/questioning/dislike in this book for me to be sure about this. But I do think that if he's an idiot he's at least an honest one! And one who keeps trying no matter how many times he ends up looking foolish.

Tolstoy, to me, sees the complexity and humanity in the women and rejects it.

Hmmm. Surprisingly I don't totally disagree with this. I think he "rejects" it in the sense that he doesn't see grey as a color he can end this story with. And he rejects it because he's got too much existential angst to get out of bed tomorrow if he doesn't have something he feels sure of. And to be fair, he's clear about the fact that every time he comes to an answer he's pretty much guaranteed to change his mind about it two seconds later. At least if Levin's constant, complete reinventions of himself are any indication.

so I'm more just saying he pushes my buttons in the way that a lot of the Great Awakening, revivalist Christianity does. It sees complexity and then gets such weird things out of it.

Fair. I definitely think that Tolstoy would have benefited from relaxing about a few things. He did seem to want an Answer for everything, when sometimes there just isn't one. Or the answer isn't just one thing. Or sometimes you have to live with uncertainty. He clearly couldn't handle that very well.

Thanks for continuing to be great to disagree with!


Meredith hahaha. You are just a nicer person than me! But the waffles/spaghetti people are really funny. I like how she makes the waffle shapes while he's talking about the waffles. And I like the one dude who says that men are rough, but have holes in them, and women feel like worms. It's okay to be Takei, buddy!

I agree to a point about him not wanting to end in grey, but I don't think he does the same thing with the men. Not that it would have been better if he resolved the men really cleanly, but I'm just saying that I think he assumed that men are kind, but flawed and sometimes irresponsible with their care of women, but he uses the women as morality/salvation tales. I don't think it's shocking or terrible, or anything, that he does that, but it gets at my pet peeves.


Kelly Not that it would have been better if he resolved the men really cleanly, but I'm just saying that I think he assumed that men are kind, but flawed and sometimes irresponsible with their care of women, but he uses the women as morality/salvation tales. I don't think it's shocking or terrible, or anything, that he does that, but it gets at my pet peeves.

Fair enough! I will agree that all the main men do have a thread of kindness running through them that can't always be said for the ladies.

That waffle video is going to be a multiple watch joy for me. Thank you for that gift. :)


message 45: by Meredith (last edited Aug 06, 2012 07:01PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Meredith You are so welcome. I wish I could remember the other book. I'll have to ask my friend. Not as good as the Christian side hug video, but close.


Kelly I don't think anything can be as good as the Christian side hug video. It's like that mythical 100 in a class where the professor doesn't give 100s. It might be possible in theory, but let's get real.


Meredith Yes! It is the best.


message 48: by Joje (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joje "Originally, he meant this to be a straightforward morality tale. Anna was meant to be an ugly, vulgar old adulteress who represented Evil Womankind, and Karenin a model of sainted Christianity. But the longer the writing went on, the more this black and white purpose acquired shades of grey. Anna became beautiful, then sympathetic at the beginning, and then in the middle, and then all the way into the end. Karenin became clueless, hypocritical, desperate, and even “unmanly”. Vronsky no longer twisted his mustache, but became a man with a code who wanted very much to be allowed to keep that code and live a life. The morals became increasingly tangled until his original purpose became almost-yes, we’ll get there- unrecognizable. He found his way from rigid morality to what makes a tragedy a tragedy."
I would believe this, although Leo Tolstoy was subtler than that, but one does feel the ambiguity in his treatment of the characters, which could well come from changing his mind, as in so many other rich books. Do you have the resource for this, by chance? I taught it once, studied it longer ago, and do not remember reading it. Have you ever read his essay on smoking: similar wavering emotions. Funny stuff I read back in HS, but it stuck with me.

Superb review. I hope I find it again in a less busy time!


message 49: by Kelly (last edited Aug 07, 2012 06:30PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kelly Hey Joje, thanks. I found the bit about Tolstoy's original morality tale intention with this book in the introduction to the P&V version. There are apparently letters that attest to what Tolstoy thought he was writing, as I recall. As regards the more specific character traits that he chose, most of those are my specific interpretation of how he made them more sympathetic, not necessarily him saying, "I have now made Karenin a clueless conventionally unmanly man."

I have not read his essay on smoking! But I would like to read funny Tolstoy. That side of him was on display too rarely in this volume. I had the sense that he could be a funny guy if he chose, but he was far too Serious to do it much here.


message 50: by Joje (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joje Um, well, he was being dead serious in the essay. I have just found it one of the odd bits of my reading that stuck with me. Since I was also reading Ramparts till my ma pulled the subscription, Tolstoy's essay was different. For me it was funny (not haha, sorry) because I didn't have lots of habits except reading, and I certainly didn't want to break it.


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