Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wednesdays with Words :: Anna Karenina

Linking up with Dawn for Wednesdays with Words. I recently finished reading Anna Karenina. (If you haven't read it and don't like spoilers, better just skip directly to the quote.) I'm not sure how I feel about it. Sad is the first word that comes to mind. And yet there was happiness in it as well. I was disappointed in the ending, but it wasn't unexpected. Anna is such a love-able character, and I so wanted her to repent of her actions, but she chose not to. Tolstoy presented it as though she had no choice, but there is always choice, no matter how painful the right choice might be. I was happily surprised by her husband, Alexey Alexandrovitch. I knew how deep his sorrow was, but I didn't expect him to forgive the way he did. My quote today is from him:

I must explain my feelings, the feelings that have guided me and will guide me, so that you may not be in error regarding me. You know I had resolved on a divorce, and had even begun to take proceedings. I won't conceal from you that in beginning this I was in uncertainty, I was in misery; I will confess that I was pursued by a desire to revenge myself on you and on her....
... But I saw her and forgave her. And the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty. I forgive completely. I would offer the other cheek. I would give my cloak if my coat be taken. I pray to God only not to take from me the bliss of forgiveness!


  1. "the happiness of forgiveness has revealed to me my duty."

    I suspect this will be the most beautiful line I read today. Thank you.

    You must've been awake and motivated early! I'm glad I scheduled the post for before I would be awake :)

    1. It's definitely one of the most beautiful lines in the book.

      Early, yes. It helps to have a 2yo who's regular as clockwork. :)

  2. I have always thought that I *should* read Anna Karenina, but I didn't want to, because I knew secondhand its basic plot and the sorrow of it. This is the first thing I have ever read that might change my mind. Thank you so much!

  3. You know, I'm still not sure if I like it. There were parts that I liked for sure and there was a very sweet and happy ending for two other main characters in the book, but I don't know.... It may be that I'm disappointed because I read this after reading The Brothers Karamozov and I like Dostoyevsky so much more than Tolstoy. Dostoyevsky has such a deep understanding of the meaning and essence of true repentance and the depth of the human soul. Tolstoy just comes across as cynical and somewhat shallow in the end. At least in this book. I do want to read some more Tolstoy before I form a real opinion, but that's where I am at the moment.

  4. I know this is an old post, but I have to comment. Tolstoy can't be cynical and shallow! What if you read Anna Karenina, focusing on the other characters? (Kitty!!! :-))

    Also, maybe you got a bad translation? I read Anna Karenina in my teens and thought it was okay. Then, I read it recently, with more of life behind me, and in Russian, and I was just blown away. The DEPTH of the way Tolstoy understood and portrayed people is unbelievable. The BEAUTY....

    1. I don't think it was a bad translation, although I guess I can't be sure because I don't know Russian. :)

      I guess my sense of cynicism and shallowness stems from the fact that I can't help comparing him to Dostoevsky, whose deep understanding of the human soul so greatly surpasses anything I read in this book, that I ended up feeling like this could have been so much better if Tolstoy had gone deeper. I also felt like he mocked the Christian faith, although in a very subtle way, and that irked me.

      Like I said above though, I am not making this my final assessment of Tolstoy. I do plan to read some of his other works before I let myself form an opinion. I am willing to be persuaded to change my opinion. :) I do plan to re-read War and Peace sometime soon - do you have any other suggestions for which of his works I should read to help me get a clearer picture?

    2. No, I don't really know. I'm really just discovering him for myself now. I do remember an article from here...
      ...that said that there were problems with the main translation(s?), and that was what made me wonder if my feelings on my first time through weren't just because of my age then.

      But mocking Christian faith? Can you tell more of what gave you that impression?

    3. I read the article linked at LMLD and I know that my translation was not one of the poor ones that were being discussed.

      I am not able to get the book out just now, but when I'm home I will go through a bit and see if I can find a couple specific examples of where I sensed a mocking tone toward Christianity. It may take me a couple days to get the chance to do it, but I went forget. :)

    4. That would be nice. If you don't mind, and if you have time. :-)

      Tolstoy was a devout believer, although some of his beliefs were different from average, I think.

      I want to read Resurrection again soon. Again, I read it a long time ago, and I don't remember anything of it.

  5. Phyllis, I need to thank you. I came home today and before I looked in the book I started googling a bit about Tolstoy's religious beliefs and I stumbled upon an article comparing him to Dostoevsky in which AK was referenced. At first I thought maybe I'd misread the reference, because it referred to Levin having a child and I didn't recall reading anything like that. I dug a little deeper and I've now discovered that I haven't read the whole book!!!

    Apparently the copy I had was only volume 1, which was the first four books in the story. I had no idea. I did think the ending was a little abrupt, but since there were no more words in the book I just assumed that was it.

    So thank you, Phyllis, for being the impetus that led me to this discovery! I would have gone on for ages thinking I'd read the complete story when I'd only read half of it. Unfortunately my other copy of the book (which I did not read from and haven't even thumbed through) is one of the inferior translations. :( I will have to look for another copy now so that I can read the rest.

    I think I'll take back what I said about the sense of mockery that I felt and will withhold any judgement until I've actually finished the book! Please forgive me for talking in such an opinionated way when I could not see the whole picture.

  6. You're welcome! And thank you for putting up with me.

    I'd love to hear more of what you think later, too. I'll even be okay if you end up not liking the book. :-D

    1. I finished!

      I still think it was sad. I still wish that Anna had chosen differently. I keep thinking of her and of the sorrow that she chose, even when she thought she was really choosing happiness. It was a potent reminder that what we think we want is not always what is best for us.

      I am not as disappointed by the real ending as I was by what I originally thought was the ending (and no wonder!).

      I think the sense of mockery that I mentioned earlier came from the unresolved questions that Levin had about the meaning of life and how it seemed that Anna and Vronsky were able to just leave together without any significant consequences for their actions. I see now that Tolstoy is very good at being able to understand and describe various conditions of the heart. He doesn't do it in the same way that Dostoyevsky does, but he doesn't have to. There is a place for both styles of writing and the effect that is felt is profound.


I really enjoy feedback and discussion, so please don't hesitate to comment!