Sunday, April 14, 2013

Anna Karenina (1878) Novel Version

I've always wanted to read Tolstoy, but my plan was actually to read War and Peace. A friend of mine, familiar with Tolstoy's work, recommended that I read Anna Karenina if I wanted to read a Tolstoy novel. He knew I'd appreciate the strong title female character. He was right.

Anna Karenina as a character is brilliant. Her beauty and passion captivate the reader in nearly every scene. Her major strength for me in particular, though, is her willingness to stand up when faced with adversity and metaphorically spit in the face of propriety. She is a late 19th century feminist and I adore Tolstoy for writing her that way.

Russian writer, Tolstoy published Anna Karenina in instalments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger. I read the 2000 Modern Library Paperback Edition with Introduction by Mona Simpson and a collection of literary commentaries at the conclusion. In novel form, Anna Karenina is over 900 pages long with a number of sub plots and so many characters that it is sometimes difficult to keep them straight. Added to the confusion that comes with trying to keep the characters in check is the fact that throughout the novel the same character is referred to using a different name. At one point there is even a footnote in the text that alludes to this fact. If there is one more weakness attributed to the author that I could point out about the text it would be the dullness that arises in large portions of the text as certain characters contemplate philosophy, politics, agriculture, and religion, to name a few topics. Commentary provided at the end of the novel attributes these lengthy passages to the realism that Tolstoy was seeking to accomplish with his novel. When thought about in that manner, the boredom I felt while reading those particular passages is a somewhat more forgiveable.

Without creating any spoilers, Anna Karenina is a novel containing two parallel love stories. The two romances foil each other and Tolstoy even goes so far as to write comparative child birth scenes for the two women involved. While very much a novel about love, Anna Karenina also possesses a very dark motif. There is much talk of suicide from three of the major characters, one unsuccessful attempt by a character at taking his/her own life and one successful attempt that proves quite shocking. The narrative voice changes quite frequently throughout the novel moving from a third person omniscient narrator to a style of free indirect discourse told from the point of view of a number of characters. At one point, the narrative voice is even attributed to a dog. Despite the boring nature of some of the passages, Anna Karenina is a brilliant piece of literature.

One thing that I noticed and was intrigued by was the presence of the colour lilac throughout the novel. I did a quick Google Scholar search and came up with a few theories mostly surrounding the contrast created between the title character, Anna Karenina (who would never wear lilac), and the other female characters. Perhaps, sometime I will spend a bit more time researching Tolstoy's use of lilac, but for now, I will simply continue to surmise my theories.

I wrote this review as part of the 2013 Reading Outside the Box Challenge hosted by Musings of a Book Lover. Anna Karenina fits into the first category of ROTB, To the Screen. Another reason I decided to tackle this 900+ page goliath of a novel is actually because I knew the film version was hitting the screens. My review of the film can be found here.

The wonderful bloggers at Musings of a Book Lover rate their reads using the following star system:
1 Star - I didn't like it
2 Stars - It was ok
3 Stars - I like it
4 Stars - I really liked it
5 Stars - I loved it

As a novel, I would give Anna Karenina a 3 Stars rating. 
As a character, Anna Karenina deserves 5 Stars, without a doubt!


  1. Personally, I preferred War and Peace to Anna Karenina. But W&P certainly doesn't have any strong female characters, if that's what you're looking for!

  2. Tolstoy is my favorite author. I like recognizing the same people in his different books. All his characters are based on people he actually knew, including himself. In Anna Karenina he's Levin and in War and Peace, he's Pierre. Great books! Thanks for the review!