Anna Karenina~review

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I am very opinionated when it comes to books. I love books with a passion and I can’t stop reading everything I get my hands on. That being said, I feel very strongly about how books should be. When I read a book, I have a tendency to form instant opinions about the story/characters. Classic books are a bit harder to do that with. Classics force you to think and really read the book, not just skim.

(Unless it’s Robinson Crusoe. I give you full permission to skim through it. I, personally, cannot stand Robinson Crusoe. I’m not sure why.)

I read Anna Karenina recently. Since I had very strong feelings about about it, I decided to write a review to get those feelings off my chest and onto paper. Er, text. Whatever.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy knew what he was saying when he wrote the now-famous line from his book Anna Karenina. The Russian novel has been called “One of the greatest love stories in world literature”. If a story about infidelity, betrayal, selfishness, revenge, and despair is considered one of the greatest love stories, then there is something very wrong with our idea of a love story.

Anna Karenina, the title character, is a married woman with a young son. Not feeling loved by her husband, she turns to the young solider, Count Vronsky, for solace. Her affair destroys her relationships with almost everyone around her; her betrayed husband who refuses to grant her a divorce, her son, her sisters-in-law, Count Vronsky, and eventually it destroys her. Anna seems to be a great denier. She refuses to see the fact that she is in the wrong, living with a man who is not her husband and expecting everyone to just turn a blind eye on her sinfulness. She sinks deeper and deeper into despair, eventually succumbing.

I really struggled with the whole premise of this book. As a Catholic, the idea of infidelity is repugnant to me. Even if Anna didn’t feel loved by her husband, she shouldn’t have turned to another man for affection instead. It’s more important to uphold the sanctity of marriage, rather than chase after love at all costs. Anna is a selfish woman, wanting Vronsky, her son, and happiness, no matter who she hurt. When she isn’t satisfied, she keeps looking for more. Her unfaithful relationship isn’t enough. She must have everything and be right about everything. When she isn’t getting her way, she takes it out on others. That becomes very evident in the end.

However, Anna Karenina is unique in the fact it doesn’t flinch away from showing the results of Anna’s disastrous choice. It doesn’t end with Anna and Vronsky ending up together. No, it keeps going, all the way to the detonation of their relationship. This isn’t a love story. This is a tragic story about giving into temptation, refusing to change, giving into despair, and suffering the consequences of your bad choices. Tolstoy is a master storyteller, if a bit wordy. He illustrates the fact that choices have consequences, and your choices can affect everyone around you, for good or for worse.

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One thought on “Anna Karenina~review

  1. (Even though I haven’t finished the book yet, I saw the movie, so I feel at least moderately qualified to comment on the whole thing!) Totally agree that a portrait of infidelity and the destruction of a family shouldn’t be called an exemplary love story. And yet, while I of course wish Anna had held herself to a higher standard, I do sympathize her decisions, and the circumstances of her life make them quite clear. From what I’ve read so far (I’m about a quarter of the way through), her husband–though he certainly doesn’t deserve to be cheated on–doesn’t seem entirely faultless; he uses his relationship with his wife to cultivate a certain image of himself in society, which reflects his nature as such a man of precision and duty that he fails to see her for the person she herself is, rather than just any wife–as someone, not as anyone. So I think their marriage is meant to illustrate the unhappiness that can result from mutual use: Anna wants from Alexei affirmation and substantial emotional intimacy, and he, in turn, wants from her the conduct that he thinks she should exhibit, regardless of whether or not she actually possesses those qualities. Anna’s affair is, to me, Tolstoy’s warning against defining love solely as passion and emotion. He was a deeply Christian man, and I feel sure that his portrayal of poor decisions isn’t without reason. I do think the relationship between Kitty and Levin -is- one of the most beautiful love stories I’ve read. The development of virtue and the constancy of their love over time before they’re able to profess it to each other is truly a strong foundation for a relationship, and I think it’s significant that the novel ends with a scene from their family life. My husband, who reads and watches movies with the critical eye of an English lit scholar, cried during the proposal scene in both the novel and the movie!

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