by Leo Tolstoy
I’ve meant to read this for years and years. I actually started it more than a decade ago when I was pregnant with my twins, and just never got very far with it. Earlier this year I decided to listen to it on audio, since my Audible membership mostly goes to waste and I’ve acquired a lot of credits. It took me about eight months to listen to; no only is it quite a tome, I tend to do audio books in fits and starts.
There is no possible way that I can write a worthy analysis or summary of this historical epic masterpiece; many scholarly papers have been written about it. At its heart, it’s the story of the fall of Anna Karenina, a woman who, at the start of the novel, is the beautiful, charming, self-possessed wife of Karenin, a respected statesman. As the story opens, Anna convinces Dolly, here sister-in-law, to forgive Stepan, her brother and Dolly’s husband, for his infidelities. This scene foreshadows Anna’s own downfall; soon thereafter, she meets and falls in love with Vronsky, an affluent military man. They begin an affair which results in Anna becoming pregnant. She ends up leaving both her husband and young son in order to be with Vronsky. But alas, this is not the twenty-first century we are talking about – it’s the mid-nineteenth century, and Anna’s infidelity and abandonment of her husband and son make her a social pariah, although her lover, Vronsky, being a man, is not held in lower esteem and is still well accepted and welcomed in the best circles. It’s a stunning illustration of sexism and female oppression for sure.
Anna’s status as an outcast who is no longer received by polite society takes a toll on her; by the end of the novel, she is a broken woman prone to weeping and jealous tirades, and finally, seeing no way out of her situation … well, you probably know how it ends, but I won’t spoil it in case you don’t.
If Anna’s story is the heart of the novel, there are plenty of characters and scenarios circling her story. Courtships, marriages, births, deaths, ruminations on life, religion, relationships, and social and political issues abound.
I enjoyed Anna Karenina very much and am glad I finally “read” it. I’m interested in seeing a film adaptation now; I know several have been made. Do you have a recommendation on the best one to watch?