2012 Challenges, Books, Quotes, The Classics Club

Book 119: Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

So sometimes it sucks to be well read, or at least appear so. A friend visited last weekend and she mentioned the ending, thinking I was re-reading it, which marred the ending for me. I had no idea how the story ended and although I would’ve had a good idea leading up to the moment she mentioned, I spent more time wondering when ‘it’ would happen rather than enjoying the story for the last 300+ pages.

Anna Karenina counts for the Mount TBR, Tea and Books, Back to the Classics and The Classics Club – and more importantly it puts me over the 50% mark on ALL 2012 challenges. (Right on goal for the year!)

Overall I’m really glad I read this. If not for the challenges I joined this year I doubt I ever would have gotten around to reading it. Not only did it make me have a new desire to learn more about Russia and it’s people, but it made me want to actually visit Russia. (At least theoretically, I’m still leaving Doctor Zhivago on my Back to the Classics as a place I realistically won’t visit.) What was probably most surprising about the novel was that they were just normal everyday people like in all the other classics I’ve read – and that Russia isn’t all snow and ice! Russia has farming and society and all the things I never thought it had. I enjoyed Tolstoy’s various characterizations of Russian high society – some desperately wanting to be European, and some desperately wanting to stay independent/non-European, especially when they travel in Europe.

As for the story, I found it interesting and complex. There were potentially 15 main named characters and the book is over 1100 pages long! Did it need to be this long, probably not, but almost the entire novel was well worth it and beautifully written. However, I had very little sympathy/empathy for Anna Karenina (the character). I get why Anna Karenina is the title, everything throughout is loosely connected to her and her decisions, but I just couldn’t feel sorry for her. She mad her bed, so she should sleep in it. I did however love the Kitty/Levin plot line and it made me happy to no-end. I constantly found myself wondering what they were up to and how they were and they just brought a smile to my face.

If there is ONE thing I didn’t like about the novel, it is the ending. I would have been perfectly satisfied if the novel ended after Part 7 and Part 8 never existed. Part 8, to me, consisted of Tolstoy exploring and extolling his political and religious values. Now this wasn’t the first time they appeared in the novel, but this was the first time where I felt things got preachy and over-the-top. We also only check in with a few of the main characters (Vronsky, Kitty, Levin and family), but we don’t check back in with Anna’s husband and that really bothered me – I mean we find out the facts, but it’s sort of in passing when we’re learning about Vronsky. It also bothered me that Kitty, Levin et al. didn’t discuss Anna or what happened, they’d already moved on with their lives two months later. And this is completely fair considering what Anna and Vronsky did to them, but it felt odd to me.

Sorry for the rambling, but this was a long book and I tried to keep my thoughts in order as I read, but it took me 21 days to finish! I’m glad I read it, but doubt I will go back and re-read it.

Recommendation: Read it – there is something incredibly beautiful and moving about the story and the Russian countryside/culture. Don’t be daunted too much by the 1100+ pages, I would recommend splitting it into sections.

Opening Line: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Closing Line: “I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.” (Whited out – and it is a LONG sentence.)

Additional Quotes from Anna Karenina
“Stepan Arkadyevitch had not chosen his political opinions or his views; these political opinions and views had come to him of themselves, just as he did not choose the shapes of his hat and coat, but simply took those that were being worn. And for him, living in a certain society–owing to the need, ordinarily developed at years of discretion, for some degree of mental activity–to have views was just as indispensable as to have a hat.” (13/loc. 98)

“Stepan Arkadyevitch smiled. He so well knew that feeling of Levin’s, that for him all the girls in the world were divided into two classes: one class–all the girls in the world except her, and those girls with all sorts of human weaknesses, and very ordinary girls: the other class–she alone, having no weaknesses of any sort and higher than all humanity.” (57/loc. 604)

“You want a man’s work, too, always to have a defined aim, and love and family life always to be undivided–and that’s not how it is. All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.” (63/loc. 676)

“There are people who, on meeting a successful rival, no matter in what, are at once disposed to turn their backs on everything good in him, and to see only what is bad. There are people, on the other hand, who desire above all to find in that lucky rival the qualities by which he has outstripped them, and seek with a throbbing ache at heart only what is good.” (75/loc.812)

“Hypocrisy in anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.” (388/ loc.4329)

“The landowner unmistakably spoke his own individual thought–a thing that very rarely happens–and a thought to which he had been brought not by a desire of finding some exercise for an idle brain, but a thought which had grown up out of the conditions of his life, which he had brooded over in the solitude of his village, and had considered in every aspect.” (481/loc. 5426)

“He saw just the same thing in the socialistic books: either they were the beautiful but impracticable fantasies which had fascinated him when he was a student, or they were attempts at improving, rectifying the economic position in which Europe was placed, with which the system of land tenure in Russia had nothing in common.” (496/loc. 5612)

“Levin had long before made the observation that when one is uncomfortable with people from their being excessively amenable and meek, one is apt very soon after to find things intolerable from their touchiness and irritability.” (507/loc. 5737)

“He looked at her as a man looks at a faded flower he has gathered, with difficulty recognizing in it the beauty for which he picked and ruined it. And in spite of this he felt that then, when his love was stronger, he could, if he had greatly wished it, have torn that love out of his heart; but now, when as at that moment it seemed to him he felt no love for her, he knew that what bound him to her could not be broken.” (521/loc. 5872)

“Levin had often noticed in discussions between the most intelligent people that after enormous efforts, and an enormous expenditure of logical subtleties and words, the disputants finally arrived at being aware that what they had so long been struggling to prove to one another had long ago, from the beginning of the argument, been known to both, but that they liked different things, and would not define what they liked for fear of its being attacked.” (573/loc. 6465)

“He had often had the experience of suddenly in a discussion grasping what it was his opponent liked and at once liking it too, and immediately he found himself agreeing, and then all arguments fell away as useless.(573/loc.6468)

“Then relations arrived, and there began that state of blissful absurdity from which Levin did not emerge till the day after his wedding. Levin was in a continual state of awkwardness and discomfort, but the intensity of his happiness went on all the while increasing. He felt continually that a great deal was being expected of him–what, he did not know; and he did everything he was told, and it all gave him happiness. He had thought his engagement would have nothing about it like others, that the ordinary conditions of engaged couples would spoil his special happiness; but it ended in his doing exactly as other people did, and his happiness being only increased thereby and becoming more and more special, more and more unlike anything that had ever happened.” (588/loc. 6637)

“The more she got to know Vronsky, the more she loved him. She loved him for himself, and for his love for her. Her complete ownership of him was a continual joy to her. His presence was always sweet to her. All the traits of his character, which she learned to know better and better, were unutterably dear to her.” (669/loc. 7537)

“He was well acquainted with the way dilettanti have (the cleverer they were the worse he found them) of looking at the works of contemporary artists with the sole object of being in a position to say that art is a thing of the past, and that the more one sees of the new men the more one sees how inimitable the works of the great old masters have remained.” (680/loc. 7662)

“And she felt that beside the love that bound them together there had grown up between them some evil spirit of strife, which she could not exorcise from his, and still less from her own heart.” (1010/loc. 11417)

“Yet that grief and this joy were alike outside all the ordinary conditions of life; they were loop-holes, as it were, in that ordinary life through which there came glimpses of something sublime. And in the contemplation of this sublime something the soul was exalted to inconceivable heights of which it had before had no conception, while reason lagged behind, unable to keep up with it.” (1020/loc. 11532)

“And death rose clearly and vividly before her mind as the sole means of bringing back love for her in his heart, of punishing him and of gaining the victory in that strife which the evil spirit in possession of her heart was waging with him.” (1072/loc. 12129)

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13 thoughts on “Book 119: Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy”

  1. Too bad the ending was ruined! I read the book in high school and pretty much remembered only the sensational plot points, so I was waiting for it the whole time too. However, in my case I think it allowed me to appreciate the rest of it so much more. I loved how Tolstoy gave such a full picture of the crumbling aristocracy. He does seem to love the philosophically heavy ending though. I didn’t mind it as much in AK as in W&P, but it was almost like he’d had enough of story-telling and couldn’t restrain himself.

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    1. He really did and I didn’t even touch on that in my response. I read a review or a recap or maybe the new movie poster/trailer that described the setting as the twilight of an empire. And it was really spot on.

      That definitely doesn’t make me look forward to W&P, but we’ll see when I get to it!

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    1. Thanks. Like I’ve said everywhere, I was really surprised at how much I like it. Guess I just have to read even wider now since I was that surprised and had assumed I wouldn’t like ‘Russian Literature.’

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      1. For me Russian literature has been a little like reading sweeping sagas and each one I’ve read sweeps me away somewhere, I think I find it alost easier to be immersed in than some English classic literature, its the size thats offputting.
        I was recommended to read The Idiot in a creative writing class, as Dostoevsky is a master of building characters and really glad I did. I haven’t read War and Peace yet, one day for sure.

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    1. I was so grumpy and almost didn’t finish the novel. But to be fair I guess that’s what I get for coming across as so well read. Definitely give it a go, it has convenient stopping points, plus with the new film adaptaion coming out later this year, it’s a great time!

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  2. I just read this one, also for the Classics Club and for my translated requirement for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I SO SO SO agree with you on Part 8 being completely unnecessary. According to the Wikipedia article about the book (which, you know, may or may not be true depending on who felt like updating it this week), Tolstoy’s editor at the magazine that originally serialized the novel wouldn’t run the last section because they had political disagreements about the troops being sent to Serbia, so maybe the last section just really needed an editor and never got one? Either way, it could have ended on Part 7.

    And I read the introduction to my edition before starting the novel, hoping for some background/context for the novel, and it gave away the ending too… SO FRUSTRATING. Still a good read, though. Funny that your friend just assumed you had already read it!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment! I doubt it about needing an editor – I think it was too different. It would’ve belonged great in one of his political essays, and maybe was from or inspired an essay, but I felt like it was just slapped on there and vaguely connected to the subject matter.

      It’s funny – I’ve started to read the intros regardless of whether they’ll reveal something. I think they give so much to look out for as you’re reading that it’s almost a travesty not to read them unless you know for certain you will re-read the book. I have at times stopped if I felt there was going to be a major reveal that I didn’t want to know, but in general I do now read the intros.

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