Title: Anna Karenina (Goodreads)
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translator: Aylmer Maude, Louise Maude
Published: Oxford World's Classics, 1873
My Copy: Personal Copy
Buy: Amazon, Book Depository, Kindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)
Anna Karenina is the tragic story of the socialite’s marriage to Karenin and her affair with the wealthy Count Vronsky. The novel begins in the midst of their families break up due to her brother’s constant womanising; a situation that preferences her own situation throughout the novel. Running in parallel to this story of Konstantin Levin, a humble country landowner that wishes to marry Kitty, who is Anna’s sister in-law. Anna Karenina is a pinnacle piece of realist literature, exploring a wide range of family issues.
At over 800 pages, Anna Karenina can be a daunting novel to pick up; the large cast of characters does not make it any easier. I look at this classic novel as an exploration into melodrama that just about every family experiences. Born in 1828, Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich Tolstoy was born into a large and wealthy Russian landowning family, and has often been suggested that Anna Karenina is based on a similar social upbringing. While there are vast differences, issues with wealth, religion, farming and morality are issues that seem to parallel between reality and fiction. The story arch of Levin is considered to be autobiographical; Tolstoy’s first name is Lev (although in English he is known as Leo) and the Russian surname Levin actually means Lev.
Leo Tolstoy has been known for adding real life events into his fiction as a way with dealing with current political and social issues. Within Anna Karenina, events like the liberal reforms initiated by Emperor Alexander II of Russia and the judicial reform are used as the backdrop for the novel. This allows him to explore current issues, like the developing of Russian into the industrial age and the role of agriculture in these changing times. Also Tolstoy questions the role of the woman in this changing society and (the ever popular in Russian lit) class struggles.
The story of Anna Karenina is probably the most interesting for me and I enjoyed reading the struggle between love and the public opinion. She was trapped in a marriage and wanted to divorce but Karenin, who was a politician cared more about his public image. Then there is the fact that Anna’s brothers womanising destroyed the family and now she is faced with a similar situation that could cause the same damage. Adultery becomes a big theme within the book and seems to be a common theme within Russian literature to this day. However with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850) and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857), these three novels seemed to start a fascination in exploring the themes of passion and adultery in the mid to late nineteenth century.
There is a lot to explore within this book, and re-reading Anna Karenina was such an enjoyable experience. I know big books often scare me but there is something about going back to a much-loved novel that I find enjoyable. Leo Tolstoy intentionally made this novel long, he wanted to replicate life’s journey and the struggles people face along the way. I think he was able to capture that struggle and Anna Karenina will remain a favourite on my shelves and in Russian literature. There are so many more themes that could be explored within the novel but I will leave that for others to discover on their own.