Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Anna Karenina

Finished Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. Finally. I began reading the novel last July in anticipation of the film's release in November. I had originally planned, for no no good reason, to read it when I turn 50, but the planned film released trumped that idea by two years. Since I only read a chapter or two a day here and there it ended up taking me ten months. This does not reflect on the quality of the novel, only on my lack of focus. In many ways it reads lake any other Victorian novel. It's clear to see that Russian society at the time was obsessed with all things French and some things British.

The large cast of characters includes everyone from the Fool (Oblonsky) to the Angel (Kitty). Anna herself seems a bit angelic at first, acting as mediator between her philandering brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly, who is the epitome of motherhood. However, once Anna meets Count Vronsky her character and fate are changed forever.

Anna's infidelity and downward spiral reminded me a bit of Irene Forsyte's path in The Forsyte Saga, another sweeping epic with as many characters as a Russian novel. However, Irene proved a much stronger character than Anna, and luckily had more sympathy from others. Anna herself becomes such an unsympathetic character that I grew weary of her. I found Konstantin Levin far more interesting, three dimensional and cerebrally encouraging. Towards the end of the novel he questions his very existence and considers ending it all, but then has an epiphany, and while disappointed at first that the world does not now glow with meaning and goodness, he has the courage to go on and appreciate all it has to offer.

The 2012 film version of the novel was very cleverly staged within a theater, calling to mind the lines from As You Like It, "All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances." So true with this novel. However, while reading the book over all those months it was Vivian Leigh's face and voice, from the scintillating 1948 Alexander Korda production of the film, that I pictured and heard in my head.

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