I absorbed most of my Christmas break reading Anna Karenina. I thought, what a lovely way to spend the winter evenings hunkered down with a story set in Russia where the snows are deep and the nobility ride in sleighs! When the lights are dimmed and my iPad eminates a soft glow as I turn the pages of Leo Tolstoy’s classical tale, I could hear the tinkling of bells tied to horse harnesses; I could feel the soft brush of fur against my face as I stood upon the train depot platform watching Anna and Count Vronsky. The imagination is a wondrous gift.
I so very much wanted to be enthralled by Anna. The beginning of the book held me with rapturous attention. (Warning: spoil alert contained in this post) The drama of Anna’s brother’s many affairs and his wife’s discovery of them set the stage for Anna’s breath-of-fresh-air entrance. Anna, the cosmopolitan beauty graced with impeccable style and charm, arrives to her brother’s troubled household to console her much distraught sister-in-law who was on the brink of leaving her no-good philandering husband. Anna with her poise and compassion manages to comfort her sister-in-law and miraculously smooth relations between husband and wife. Though the husband claimed to be repentant, he had no intention of ever renouncing his ways. He was grieved that his wife, whom he could no longer love romantically, was upset, and he very much wanted to restore his household to its normal balance…for the children’s sake and of course for his own peace of mind.
Upon first encounter Anna is depicted as an angel. Her nieces and nephews adore her. There is no fault to be found. She is beloved by all. (It certainly helped that she was from fashionable society and married to a powerful man.) Once Vronsky enters the picture, the baser, darker, selfish side of Anna is exposed. Anna, the supposedly doting and fierce mother to her only son and woman of kindness and compassion, ended up being a woman who cared for nothing other than herself. Only after she crossed the point of no return did she mourn giving up her son, her place in society, and her reputation for love. Here is where I question the whole notion of love as Tolstoy described it. The love Anna and Vronksy professed for each other destroyed everything and everyone in its path. The child Anna bore with Vronsky was supposed to be from a union of love. However, Anna and Vronsky ended up not caring for their child. Ultimately, the love Anna had for Vronsky drove her to kill herself.
As stated I so very much wanted to like the story, but I ended up totally disliking it. After the discovery that Anna was pregnant and was so convinced she was going to die in childbirth (perhaps THAT would have made for a satisfactory ending), the story meandered through fields ploughed by peasants whom Levin tried hard to understand but always became aggravated by them, to the stint with a Russian artist in Italy who painted Anna’s portrait (and is never mentioned again), to shooting expeditions hosted by Levin and his frustration with not having a good shooting himself, to an election which I thought for sure would be significant but ended up not so, to Anna’s tragic death and the dismal conclusion of the story–pages and pages and pages of Levin reasoning with himself. (Who is Levin? Really, it’s not worth the explanation.) The big disappointment was that Tolstoy did not provide to closure to Anna’s death. There’s nothing about how it affected the folks in society–and you KNOW they would have had something to say about the whole matter. Nothing about her husband’s reaction. Nothing about her family’s reaction. Most pathetic. It was as if Tolstoy lost interest with Anna and became much more interested with Levin and his philosophy on peasantry and Russian agriculture.
Now I’m exasperated.
My take-away from that literary experience? OMG. Was there not an editor who previewed the manuscript and thought the story needed a major tightening of the plot?
On to Les Miserables and its 1400+ pages…
All images © 2013 Sriprae P. McDonald