Anna Karenin is stuck in a loveless marriage with the much older Alexei. When she meets Count Vronsky (also named Alexei) at a ball, she falls head over heels in love with him. And he with her. This is unfortunate for Princess Kitty, as she had just refused a proposal from landowner Levin because she had a crush on Vronsky. Anna’s affair will become a much debated subject in Russian society for some time to come.
Anna Karenina is one of those thick scary classics that I wrapped around myself like a blanket. An ideal winter read in my opinion. But sometimes it got very warm under that blanket. Let me explain just that. Although this is about a tragic love affair of a proud woman yearning for love, a large part of the story is told from Levin’s point of view.
Levin is pretty much the alter ego of Tolstoy himself. A wealthy, introverted landowner who has rather conservative views and doubts his belief in God. Levin has a passion for agriculture and so the book regularly makes excursions into several chapters of Levin working the land together with his serfs. Or he goes hunting with his friends. And then you also have the large political and philosophical discussions between (male) characters that are so typical of classic literature.
Levin is certainly a sympathetic main character, but he took the pace out of the story for me. I was always waiting to get back to Anna, Vronsky or Anna’s husband. Or to Stipa (Anna’s brother) and Dolly (Kitty’s sister, if you still follow me), who were my favourite couple.
Anna is a complicated woman and I liked that. I’m not sure if I pitied her or if I disliked her. That’s the charm of this book. The characters are real, egocentric at times and even a bit superficial. But it just works.
Tolstoy’s writing style is pleasant. Especially the many short chapters make it manageable and give a sense of progression. I have the feeling that the story doesn’t draw heavily on the historical setting. We get a picture of 19th century Russian and especially the contrast between the elite and the peasants. But I had expected that this would be more a ‘historical’ novel. It’s very character-driven and this surprised me.
I’m less scared now to start War and Peace some day.
This is book 12/50 for the classics club.
Have you read this famous classic?