Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Anna Karenina

This blog post contains spoilers about the literary work titled "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy. 

I have done it.

For the second time in my life, I have completed reading the novel Anna Karenina.

The first time I read the book, it was (evidently) an abridged version (which, had I known that, I'd have gone in search of the UNabridged version...) and it was for my senior year as an assignment of summer reading for my AP Lit class.

I trudged my way through it, using sticky notes to make a multitude of notes about imagery, prose, character development, tone...all of those technical writing things.
I hated the book. Hated. And more than anything, I hated the character named Anna Karenina. The first version I read ended with her suicide and it left such a bad taste in my mouth. I could not believe how immoral she was and her "woe is me" attitude about the situation she got herself into by making the choices that she did. However, at the time, I was also a pretentious, stuck up, goody-two-shoes perfectionist that tended to have pity for those that sinned. I knew I wasn't perfect, but I acted and judged like I was. So to see someone in a piece of literature that was so immoral and the steps she took to escape the mess she made for herself and those around her...I couldn't stomach it.

I talked it over with my teacher a little bit, and when she asked me certain questions that made me reflect on it in a (teeny, tiny bit) different way, the hated was toned down from volatile to disgusted, but I was still not sold on it. She very obviously saw why and where I was having trouble with it, and told me that when she was in college, she read the book Vanity Fair for an assignment and loathed it. She went back a decade later and re-read it and it became one of her favorite books of all time. At that point, I vowed to myself to try and read it again some day, though at the time I didn't expect to wait 10 years to do so.

Fast forward.....that's right, you guessed it...10 years. I had every intention of re-reading Anna Karenina before now, but with life and marriage and kids and moving (multiple times!), it just didn't happen. But a movie is coming out this holiday season based on the book (starring Kiera Knightley and Jude Law), and when I saw the preview, I thought it looked pretty accurate to what I remembered and a desire was ignited in me to finally take on reading the novel again.

It took me more than 2 months, but I have finally accomplished it! I don't hate it as much as I used to, but I'm fairly certain that it is not going to become my absolute favorite book. (I am, however, now curious about War and Peace and reading some of Dostoevsky's work...) I do like Tolstoy's style of being so thorough and detailed about the characters in the novel, even though some of them seem obsolete or pointless. They all have a role to play, and this snapshot of these characters in the 1800's so accurately depicts people and their personalities and choices that I see everywhere in today's world.

Now that I have experienced a little bit of life and am no longer the sheltered, over-protected girl I was in high school, I found the book was much easier to read (regardless of the 2 months it took me to get through over 900 pages) and far more relate-able than the first go around.

There are still things about Anna I can't stand. Like how she was so selfish and looking for an "out," which culminated in her suicide. Or the fact that she even gave in to the desires she did with Vronsky and cheated on and left her husband. The mind games she played with Vronsky, trying to get him to respond to her a certain way after the "honeymoon phase" wore off. I just really did not like her at all. (Granted, I knew this time going into it that she was going to take her own life, and I did really try to see things from her perspective, but the moment she was unfaithful to her husband, it was all downhill for me. I may have looked for more redeeming qualities or instances I could relate to, or had more hope for her recovery had I not known of her coming demise.)

However, I did appreciate the book far more than I did before. I was able to see Kitty and Levin in a way I would never have understood before, and the juxtaposition of the relationships screamed at me. (I can't believe I missed such an obvious thing 10 years ago!) And I found seeing the way that Levin felt hopeless and how he handled it, searching for and finding a spiritual answer to his troubles and that his relationship was built on trust and logic and love absolutely moving. Even more so when it's compared to Anna's hopelessness that spirals from the beginning, with a brief reprieve in the middle, and she turns to fleshly desires and a relationship based on the physical and her answer for those things.

I am definitely not sorry that I re-read it, and I may read it again, once I have some more life experience to my name. My view of her may change yet. But for now, I'm glad to have made it through the entire book!

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