Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Anna Karenina

I’ve re-named this book Gone With the Windski in my mind. It probably sounds quite odd, but it’s because Anna so strongly reminds me of Scarlet O’Hara. Both women are caught up in situations which neither suit their wants, needs, nor temperaments, yet they cannot escape due to the social restrictions placed upon them. However, both women are very selfish and manipulative and for the large part, bring their own misery down upon themselves by either going about things the wrong way, or trying to make their surroundings bend to their wants. Instead of making the best of their situations as they are and looking for happiness where they would have a chance of finding it, they look for it where they want to find it, and that is what ultimately brings about their own destruction. Granted, Scarlet is neither completely destroyed nor does she capitulate at the end of the book, but she did lose everything she was striving for and will have to start all over again. Anna, on the other hand, watches as she destroys her own life and not being able to face reality, completes her own, and her lover Vronski’s, destruction.

Anna Karenina does have another interesting facet: Kitty. Kitty is the antithesis of Anna. She shows the reader what Anna should have been and how Anna should have acted. Not having gotten what she wanted, Kitty was able to regain her life by looking towards things she should want and which were attainable instead of reaching out for things she could and would never have. It’s quite interesting the way that Tolstoy plays the two women’s stories against each other. Their lives are intertwined by the people they know, yet they go two completely different ways which almost seem to mirror each other the way that a picture negative mirrors a picture. They are the same, yet completely different.

I suppose that reader is meant to sympathize with Anna, but I can’t. I find her horribly arrogant, selfish and manipulative to the point in which these traits overshadow any of her good points. The only thing I do sympathize with is that she was damned by her own nature. I doubt she could have changed had she wanted to, so ultimately, there was really nothing she could do about it. Still, that doesn’t make me like her any better. Every time she made another choice, all I could think was “stupid woman”. The things she chose were so obviously wrong that she was either stupid or blind. Either way, it made no difference. She chose the wrong things and had to pay for her decisions in the end.

Tolstoy also managed to wind in two other themes into his story. The first is the Russian nobility of the nineteenth century. They glimpse Tolstoy gives of them makes them seem to be some of the most extravagant, decadent and thoughtless people in the world. Viewing them with the knowledge of what happens in Russia during the following century, it becomes easier to see why communism seemed appealing to many of the Russian people. An overthrow of the system must have seemed the best way to eradicate the Russian people of the ultimately destructive element of their nobility; seeing as how the nobles controlled politics at the time, there really way no other way. The second is philosophy. Tolstoy introduces Levin, Kitty’s future husband, at the beginning of the book. Levin epitomizes the Russian spirit of the 19th century with his depressing and dark outlook on life. Always trying to make sense of the world as he saw it, Levin goes through many different phases of both personal and political philosophy, changing it according to the people he meets and the experiences he has. Again though, like Kitty, Levin doesn’t try and strive for things beyond his reach, but eventually realizes that to be truly happy, he must reach for things that are attainable and be happy with what he has. On the whole, both his and Kitty’s stories are what make this an uplifting novel.

All in all it was a good read. It’s the first Russian classic I’ve ever managed to get through. Up until now the Russians have always been too heavy for my taste. Anna Karenina is a lighter, although not totally frivolous novel, and I can recommend it to anyone.

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