Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bookmarks -- Anna Karenina

When I received my Nook, I promised myself that I would use it and other devices (now my phone and an iPad) to read a number of classic works that have, for one reason or another, passed me by. The most recently completed of these, read almost entirely on my iPhone, is Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

One reason I think I waited so long to read Anna Karenina is because it is a story about adultery. Or so I thought. Adultery is fine for subject matter, but I don't like that with even many supposedly great works, the reader is manipulated into feeling sorry for the woman who has cheated on her husband (who is often portrayed, in varying ways, as a louse). Anna's husband is not all that good a person, but he has his moments where he tries to be. In the end, he proves too weak-willed, ironically, to strive toward goodness, but one can see his side from time to time.

Anna may seem like a strong, sometimes courageous woman. But on the whole, she is a nut-dog with crazy relish. I can't say what makes her insane, but by the time she throws herself under a train (knowing this fact should not ruin the novel for you), she has isolated herself from everyone and proven to have no love or loyalty, not for her lover, her children, or any high ideas. She might love herself.

Her story is interesting, but the story that captured my attention is that of Levin, the philosophical farmer, whose love and courtship of Kitty baffles him as it gives purpose to his life, as his vocation and his attempts to better the world around him have not. Levin tries to revolutionize the agrarian system, and finds himself attracted and repulsed by the peasants whose lives he is trying to improve. He is more comfortable with his books and farm, but desperate to win approval for the book he writes, expecting his ideas to set the world on its head. He doesn't believe in God, thinking himself too intelligent for such things, but is moved by the faith of his young wife and others he encounters. In the end, he is strong enough to be what others might see as weak, but he comes to his proclamation of faith honestly, after deep struggle.

This is a thrilling, fascinating book of parallel stories (The draft title was Two Marriages.). It took sometime to finish it, but I am very glad I took the time to do it.

1 comment:

Rufel said...

Atta boy, Michael. :-) I took a Russian Novel class in grad school, and that's where I read Tolstoy's AK (my prof was more of a Dostoevsky-phile, so I read more of him than Tolstoy). The parallel marriages are what makes AK so lovely and sad.