I know that last week I said that I would do 4 posts about this book, but then I decided to do just two.
Anna Karenina was for me one of those books that you want to read, but at the same time, the thought of reading it, scares you. So Anna Karenina,rested on the shelves for about a year, before I get brave enough to dive into it.
Tolstoy started this book in a unusual way (at least for me). Instead of presenting the major characters in the opening chapters, he presented the brother of the main character, and the mess that his family life became because of the discover of his affair by his wife. In spite of unusual, this beginning is also meaningful, because it’s a prelude to the story and some of the main themes are presented in it such as :love, family life, and marriage. As one critic called it, this part is the “Oblonsky’s prelude”, being Oblonsky Anna’s brother.
So, we met Oblonsky and though he is a very cheerful character and everybody seems to like him, I don’t, he just seems fake (that doesn’t mean Tolstoy made a bad job, according to my research, the Russian high society of the 19th century had a fake nature, and Oblonsky is part of the Russian high-society of the 19th century, so actually Tolstoy made a very good job) as well as a bunch of characters that appear later in the book and that are part of the high society of Moscow and Petersburg. Both of these urban places, are home for many characters that are very hateful because all of them love to speak ill of their “friends”, are idle (even the ones that are considered the “great minds”, because they prefer to only think instead of taking actions), and speak French only to show that they are from an higher social class (again according to my research, Tolstoy used French in Anna Karenina to show us the characters that are not truthful).
So, as I said before, the book starts with Oblosnky’s troubled family life, and we get to meet him, the example of the typical high society man (though he is not as mean as others), but a few pages later, though we still have to wait to meet Anna, we meet an important character: Lévin. Lévin is probably my favourite character, and I’ve read that Tolstoy used himself as inspiration to create him. Lévin is the opposite to everything related to the high society and the city life, though he is part of the aristocracy. He is conscious of his faults, he likes to work and he understands that he has to work to feel good, and to Russia evolve, he tries to help is country not only by trying to find a theory to improve agriculture, but also tries to prove it ( contrary to the “great minds”), all his feelings are true, and according to his actions (something that doesn’t happen with people from the cities). In conclusion he is the true Russian. Speaking of which: according to my research, Russians from the 19th century were a bit confused because they didn’t know who they truly where (not in what we can call the teenage sense, but rather in the country’s identity sense); for many years people used the european imported traditions (the French language comes from there), but those traditions, didn’t come naturally to Russians (that’s why the people who still used them seemed fake), and so in the 19th century some Russians (in the book represented by Lévin), started to try to find their true Russian soul, and despised all the city life, because it was contrary to what they believed and felt it was their true nature. Though in the book Lévin represented those people, we can see that even the high society from the cities was affected sometimes by these kind of thoughts:
But how marriages were made now, the princess could not learn from any one. The French fashion–of the parents arranging their children’s future–was not accepted; it was condemned. The English fashion of the complete independence of girls was also not accepted, and not possible in Russian society.
The Russian fashion of match-making by the offices of intermediate persons was for some reason considered unseemly; it was ridiculed by every one, and by the princess herself. But how girls were to be married, and how parents were to marry them, no one knew.
So, we met Lévin, and now, before meeting Anna, we still have to meet other two very important characters: Kitty, the young woman who Lévin loves deeply, and Vronsky, the man she is in love with but who (BIG SPOILER, but you probably know this already), will love Anna (when he gets to meet her, actually by this part I was starting to think that they would only meet in the end of the book, but thankfully that didn’t happen).
So let’s start by Kitty; she is a pure, naïve young girl, that has only been in the society for a few months (if she had been in the society for more time, she wouldn’t be so naïve). Kitty is 18, and through the book, she will grow up, and become a wiser woman, though she never loses the ability to be a fresh breeze in the midst of all the characters from the big cities ( if you know what I mean). One of the scenes where we really understand that Kitty is growing up is when she wants to become a better person and tries to help the people that are sick. Though some of her resolutions are childish and we understand that she will hardly take an action towards completing them because of her nature, I think that only the fact that she understands that the life she has been living is somewhat shallow, and that being the most beautiful girl in a ball isn’t enough to fulfil her is a sign of growth.She understands that she needs more, and though in the end she decides to not live a life completely devoted to the others, she doesn’t return to her earlier self, having found a middle point where she is comfortable and happy. Also in the last chapters of Part 2, Kitty thinks about of her way of seeing religion, and though she returns to her old views, the ones she had been taught and accepted without question until then,when she ponders them I think this is again a sign of growth. I’ll return to Kitty later, when I speak about Anna, but now, let’s talk about Vronsky. Vronsky is,as Oblonsky, a high society man and in the very wise words of Kitty’s father:
a peacock, like this feather-head, who’s
only amusing himself.
And that is exactly what Vronsky is. He likes to amuse himself, he likes the society, and he moves very well in it, and he likes to flirt with beautiful girls but doesn’t care about their feelings. I didn’t like him very much (and I still don’t), but Vronski, after falling in love with Anna, does somethings, and has some attitudes that I appreciate. Actually, when (spoiler) Anna is very sick he is so sad, and desperate that I felt sorry for him, but still, despite those specific moments I don’t exactly like him.
And so the plot moves on, and until here we have Lévin that loves Kitty, that loves Vronski, that will love Anna, that finally appears.
Anna, is a good character, and she is believable. She is not beautiful, but she is attractive, she is kind and intelligent,and we understand why people like her so much. But though I think she is a well-developed character , as all the characters in the novel, her happiness (and sorrow), depends too much on the men of her life , which is something that really annoys me, because almost all female characters in this and other novels of the same time do this. I find hard to believe that women could depend so much on men at an emotional level, and let their attitudes towards them have such an effect in their lives, making them extremely anxious, or sad. I know that women depended a lot of men in that time because they didn’t have access to higher education (or to lower) so they couldn’t work and earn money, and because working women had lower salaries than men, but I think that it was not necessary for women to depend so much emotionally on men. I understand that in a relationship there’s always one person that’s the stronger, but that doesn’t mean that the woman is always the weaker one, and that the man is always the stronger one, as male novelist of the 19th (and other centuries as well) like to tell us (please if you know a book where the opposite happens please let me know).
Moving on… While reading I noticed that Anna and Kitty as well as their future relationships with Vronski and Lévin,respectively, are compared and contrasted in a subtle way. I think that the moment where you can really see the biggest differences between Anna and Kitty is in the ball scene. In that scene you can really understand the purity, happiness,prettiness and inexperience of Kitty, compared to the attractiveness and experience of Anna. Is in this scene that Kitty understands that Vronski is no longer interested in her and prefers Anna. The comparison between the relationships is more clear in part five, so I will talk about it in the next post.
Now, the last character I want to talk about is Aleksey Alesksandrovitch, Anna’s husband. He is a cold human being, and I despised him most of the times, especially for the way he treated Anna and their son,but in the end of part 4, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him, because he changed so much, and became so much nicer, that I felt Anna, Oblosnki, and Betty, were too harsh with him.
I really enjoyed Tolstoy’s writing, and I love that he used internal monologues so much.
As many writers, Tolstoy uses his characters motivations,actions, and nature as vehicles to develop the themes he wants, but what I think it’s unique about Tolstoy’s writing is that one character, isn’t limited to be the vehicle of development of one theme but rather is the vehicle of development of several themes, and when you have a set of characters as big as this one, you have an authentic web of actions, consequences and motivations that slowly develop several ideas that the author wants us to get. In the beginning I founded this rather confusing since I’m used to read books, where one or more characters, are only connected to one theme , but now, that I get used to this style, I don’t have any problems with it.
I’m really enjoying Anna Karenina and despite some parts where there’s a lot of talk about agriculture, I almost never get bored.