Funny, writing a post on this last part to wrap up our Read-Along is much harder than I first thought. Where do I begin?
Here are just some thoughts.
Tolstoy the Psychoanalyst… and More
First, this is not just one story but several, and not just appreciating a 19th C. writer in distant Russia, but this is Tolstoy the master storyteller. I’m amazed at his craft. What a sharp observer of human nature, the incisive psychoanalyst decades before Freud, not only piercing into the minds of women and of men, but our canine pals as well. Tolstoy the dog whisperer. Why, the hunting scene in Part Six is a unique exploration into the cognitive dissonance of Levin’s four-legged hunting partner Laska. And Tolstoy has amusingly shown us why dogs are man’s best friend. They know their master’s shortcomings, yet still remain faithful.
Tolstoy the Late-Night Show Host
And then there’s the humor. I was surprised from the start that Tolstoy’s style is so light and sometimes even deadpan. The best quotes comes from the minor characters. Here’s one from Yashvin, Vronsky’s friend from the military, condensing the 800 plus pages in a nutshell:
‘A wife’s a worry, a non-wife’s even worse,’ thought Yashvin… (p. 544)
Tolstoy can make one superb late-night show host. Listen to this:
A man can spend several hours sitting cross-legged in the same position if he knows that nothing prevents him from changing it; but if he knows that he has to sit with his legs crossed like that, he will get cramps… (p. 528)
That was what Vronsky feels with regard to society. And we know Vronsky gets more than just leg cramps.
Tolstoy the humorist? Or realist? Even the most casual remarks could bring me a smile of agreement. Like here, responding to Vronsky’s urge to go out for a walk, Oblonsky has aptly voiced out my sentiment:
‘If only it was possible to stay lying down and still go,’ Oblonsky answered, stretching. ‘It’s wonderful to be lying down.’ (p. 589)
All the World’s a Stage
And then there are the spectacles. Society’s a stage where people are actors and spectators all at the same time. Tolstoy throws in many scenes reminding us that. When Anna and Vronsky come back to Petersburg, they appear separately in public at the theatre, something that Vronsky insists and Anna is indignant about. Vronsky seems to favour the spectator role, searching out people through his opera-glasses. In contrast, Anna would rather be the actor, bravely ignoring reverberations, be on centre stage. From his glasses, Vronsky saw Anna’s head, “proud, strikingly beautiful, and smiling in its frame of lace.” But now that he has her the mystery vanishes. Her beauty, though still entices, begins to ‘offend’ (p. 546).
Anna, oh Anna…
If Anna could have detached more and emoted less… Of course, she has never expected how fickle love can be, or that passion is so short-lived or changeable due to varying circumstances, or that too much of it could smother and delude. Ironically, she does look before she leaps. If only she has used her rationale for better judgement rather than calculating when the middle between two train cars will come, all for satisfying her own delusional revenge on Vronksy.
Further, which should have been no surprise to her, that marriage has ties that linger even after intimacy ends. Anna does not choose Vronsky over her husband, but Vronsky over her son, the two loves of her life. She has chosen romance over motherhood. If I’m being a tad bit unsympathetic, maybe that’s Tolstoy’s doing.
What’s surprising to me is that Tolstoy is quite matter-of-fact about Anna’s predicament. His description of Anna’s tragic demise is just one paragraph, and after that, no more mention of her. Following that comes Part 8, wrapping up the whole book with the limelight on Levin. Quite puzzling really since the book is her namesake.
Levin … Tolstoy?
At the end, is Tolstoy offering a contrast to Anna’s tragic end by detailing Levin’s spiritual awakening? The master storyteller certainly doesn’t shy away from issues which would be considered sensitive subjects and even taboos today, like God, religion, spirituality and morality. So in the book entitled Anna Karenina, Levin has the last word. Umm… which leads to a speculation that Tolstoy might have ‘an agenda’ behind his writing. Is he proselytizing?
More and more these days, I’m seeing people getting edgy about others presenting the case for faith, especially taking offence when it comes to Christianity. Nobody would squirm a bit if suddenly one day you declare you’ve become a Zoroastrian. Mind you, Tolstoy’s handling of Levin’s conversion is reasonably and philosophically grounded, albeit that sudden spark of epiphany is too overwhelming and spontaneous to be rationalized.
And all is within context of the story. Levin, having exceedingly gratified by marital bliss, by the pure love of an angelic woman in Kitty, and witnessed the miracle of life in seeing the birth of his son, has opened unreservedly his heart and soul towards God. We can read it as it is, a convincing turn for a character who has consistently been authentic and genuine in his search for meaning.
If we take offence to this ending, suspecting a hidden agenda from Tolstoy, then we could well shed similar sentiments towards other writers whose faith, convictions, or philosophical viewpoints are presented overtly or seeped through silently in their works. Would we be equally alarmed or offended when we read, for example, Thomas Hardy with his naturalism, Camus and Sartre their existentialism, Graham Greene his Catholicism, Isaac Bashevis Singer his Judaism, Somerset Maugham his Buddhism, and for that matter, Salman Rushdie his atheism? There’s no neutral writing, is there? Every writer breathes into his writing that which stems from his or her own personal world view and hopefully authentic self.
Funny too how Tolstoy in his time could so freely describe Levin’s spiritual awakening and explicitly write about the argumentations for the Christian faith in a literary work. Just makes me think that there might be more freedom of expression in days past than in today’s society.
So here we are, at the end of another Read-Along. Thanks to those who has participated in reading these 800 plus pages with me. To all who have stopped by the pond and thrown in a pebble or two, I’ve appreciated the ripples. To those who are just curious onlookers, your visits mean no less. It’s been a fun ride. Hopefully we’ll do another one in 2013. Will you join us then?
And now, to the movie…
Do go and visit these other Read-Along participants and join in the discussion there:
CLICK HERE to read my first post on Anna Karenina Read-Along: Parts 1 – 4
Photo of Mariinsky Theatre from russiantourguide.com
33 thoughts on “Anna Karenina Read-Along Parts 5 – 8… And The Curtain Falls”
Fabulous review! So thoughtful. I certainly recognized the humor and the profundity but couldn’t seem to pull off any explanations of what exactly wowed me. (You all are quite intimidating in your reactions and eloquence to explain – which makes these so fun for me but, again, intimidated.)
Perhaps, just a thought, that human nature always seems to have us rubber-necking at the car crash, so Tolstoy decides to name his book after Anna and not Levin.
Thanks for linking and joining our discussions here at the pond. You’re spot on about human nature and car crashes. After seeing Skyfall, I can’t agree with you more. You’ve a succinct post on your Bookclub blog, contemporary style. Again, thanks for stopping by and throwing in a pebble.
Oh Arti, I knew you would do it: write a comprehensive, gorgeous review of a most complicated book. I love how you highlighted all of Tolstoy’s “roles”, his great gifts as analyst, commenter on society, humourist, and best of all, Christian. Epiphanies, the sudden understanding of faith, is too complicated to be rationalized. Essentially, you either believe. Or, you don’t.
Of all the very meaningful lines in the post (and I loved ‘dog whisperer’ images) these are my favorite: “More and more these days, I’m seeing people getting edgy about others presenting the case for faith, especially taking offence when it comes to Christianity. Nobody would squirm a bit if suddenly one day you declare you’ve become a Zoroastrian.”
This is so true! I feel that my Christian faith is somehow perceived as odd. But, that’s okay. I’ll stand for Him any day over any other. Besides, as my very good friend says, “When were the masses ever right? The masses crucified Christ.”
I’m so glad that Tolstoy brings Him up, with a myriad of other important issues such as marriage, faithfulness, motherhood, hard work. Love this book, love your review. As usual.
Thanks for joining in this journey of reading along 800 plus pages. I’ve enjoyed the experience, should do it again in 2013. Tolstoy is a master storyteller, lots to learn from, not just writing techniques, but incisive commentary and insights… and humor. Mind you, his Christian faith may not be the style that we see today, albeit there are many different expressions even just today. But his was an ascetic and agrarian kind, pacifist, anarchist even, and he ultimately was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church. It just shows there are various expressions of faith even just under one umbrella.
And now, let’s do the movie together… virtually, online. Let’s post our reviews and share our thoughts. I’m still waiting for it to show in our City. But I think for the U.S., the release is tomorrow Nov. 16. I await your movie review. 😉
What a marvelous idea!!! I’ll plan on seeing it by the end of November, and then we’ll chat about a good time to post our thoughts. SO glad you’re my friend, xoxo
Yes, i completely agree with you about Anna’s choice — it was a choice between her sensual love for Vronsky and her love for her son. Anna chose the wrong love (not the more enduring love) and thus it was her tragedy.
Levin always stood for the “grounded” clean things of human life like land, nature, heartfelt love and simple things (not being swept away by society’s changing rants). It makes sense the story would end on the enduring and grounded “good” things of life like the birth.
The one thing i always felt while reading the book is i actually liked Vronsky and thought he had many interesting qualities. It seemed that some of his shallow behavior was due to his youth. Many humans have had, in their youth, at least one infatuation that swept them off their feet and felt like real love – only to disappear like cotton candy does in the mouth.
Yes, thanks for pointing out the parallel that now made obvious to me: how Levin is ‘grounded’. Also, you’ve reminded me of Vronsky’s passion for Anna… he gives up his military career for her, and has at least remained ‘faithful’ in his own way, while his escaping from Anna’s smothering and possessive grip is totally understandable. Further, I love how you describe his sentiments… oh what an apt metaphor: “… infatuation that swept them off their feet and felt like real love – only to disappear like cotton candy does in the mouth.” Amazing insights! Thanks for these beautiful ripples, Hedda!
This was worth the wait.
In addition to the joy of reading your review, you’ve given me direction on my own writing project. For you’ve underlined two things I’ve been thinking about the last few days — how it helps to think deeply about something before attempting to express meaning in feeble words — and how important it is to write from one’s authentic self — the whole of it rather than in half measures. Just yesterday, I concluded that these are the very sources of trouble I’m experiencing in writing my own manuscript. The voice in one storyline feels forced and stagey — and I’ve begun to wonder whether I haven’t thought deeply enough about my dream before coming to the page. So thank you, first, for these.
As to your review itself, there are so many other places I could land. But for now, I’d like to approach the question you posed about the title of the book: Why Anna Karenina and now Konstantin Levin since both characters are on the hunt for greater fulfillment in life and love? Anna is the natural title character because only she touches every other major character, for better or worse. And sometimes, in the case of Kitty and Levin, for better AND worse. And maybe this better AND worse goes for all the other main characters as well: Stiva, Dolly, Sergi (her son), Alexi (the husband) and Alexi (the lover). (Interesting, don’t you think, how Tolstoy chose to name both of Anna’s male counterparts with the same name!) Levin, meanwhile, living his quiet country life, impacts only those nearest and dearest to him. And sometimes, he hesitates to approach even these, for fear of … what? Insecurities? Pride at rejection? Levin’s circle of influence, by choice, is smaller than Anna’s. He would shy away from the limelight of being the titled character — my gosh, he even shys away from his own titled background when he take to working the fields with his workers!
To that other question you posed — Is Tolstoy proselytizing? — I can only say it didn’t seem that way to me. If anything, I felt Tolstoy wrote through the character of Levin as one seeking meaning rather than as one trying to convert others to his way of spiritual thinking. Levin doesn’t foist his new-found joy and peace upon any character on the page — he doesn’t even share it with his beloved Kitty. So does Tolstoy intend to reach out beyond the page in a mission of conversion? Two thoughts here. First, I imagine most of his contemporary reading audience were already Orthodox in their beliefs — I can’t imagine Tolstoy realized he was writing across the ages when he penned his words, to those living 130 years hence, who might not share his spiritual beliefs. Two, Tolstoy seems to hold this faith lightly — as something to marvel over — rather than with a heavy hand to force upon others.
Sorry for the post-size comment. With you, I look forward to the movie and a new read-along in the new year.
“Anna is the natural title character because only she touches every other major character, for better or worse.” I see it. Would you also say her actions propel the story, even as catalyst for how Levin and Kitty come together eventually?
I’m totally with you re. Anna’s network of influences. I think you’ve presented a convincing answer to my question. Thanks! Yes, she touches just about everyone, and she definitely poses an affective (pos. and/or neg.) vibe on anyone who crosses path with her. So in that sense, she’s a very charismatic character and her influence is far reaching, from the individual to societal. At first I’d really liked her as she mediates between Dolly and Oblonsky. But she quickly shows what she’s like as soon as Vronsky appears. Oh well, nobody’s perfect.
Also, you’re absolutely right in that in his time, Tolstoy writing about Levin’s conversion would not have appeared proselytizing since almost everyone would have belonged to the Church. Probably what he’d done in his storytelling was to cultivate a rational and philosophical ground for the conversion experience, which I think is successful indeed.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts in this your ‘post-like’ comment. It’s very helpful and I’m gratified to see all the ripples you’ve stirred up. You’re welcome to come back and throw in a pebble or two more whenever you think of more ideas to share.
Nice write up Arti! I’ll be posting mine tonight. I found it curious too that the book is called Anna Karenina but the book isn’t really about her. I’ve decided it is titled after her because she is the warning, she is the example of how not to conduct one’s life and the title calls attention to her so we will notice. Too bad so many seem to find hers to be an example of a tragic romance and elevate it to higher status. It’s Levin we should all be looking at, Levin whose example Tolstoy wants us to follow.
I agree with you there too. So, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Janell above has also given her views regarding this question. I think you’re both right. I look forward to your post tonight. Have you enjoyed the experience? Hopefully we can do another Read-Along next year. Thanks for joining in this time!
Arti, I’m sorry I have not been around but I am slowly catching up after illness in the family and our trip. I can’t comment on the book but I can tell you that I thought about you while in Odessa, Ukraine, last month. We visited Count Tolstoy’s palace in Odessa – an opulent and historic mansion. He was a cousin of Leo’s I believe – there were many photographs in the house and also the grand piano which belong to composer and pianist Franz Liszt (I really liked Odessa.) I’ll have a post on it in the future.
Oh how cool is that! Wish I could have gone on a tour to Russia. I can’t wait to read your post on Odessa and see your photos. You know Tolstoy writes many scenes using the theatre as setting. The photo I have included here, The Mariinsky Theatre in Petersburg, was just opened a few years before Tolstoy wrote the serial that later became Anna K. The photo in this post is a contemporary one, the people could all be tourists. I got it from a Russian tour guide website. I’d love to visit St. Petersburg. Have you been there? And hey… thanks for stopping by Ripple Effects after your hiatus. I’ve enjoyed our previous exchanges… the pond is open for all, and I always welcome you to throw in a pebble or two. 😉
Yes I visited St.Petersburg in September 2005. We rented an apartment for a week there downtown, close to the Hermitage museum. We had a great time. I took many pictures but that was before I had a digital camera – it was my 35mm camera, but I still could do a post on it –someday. I have so many posts and photographs to do about my trips that I just don’t know which ones to select! Then in addition we take small trips close to our house and I always like to talk about the last trip…
Arti, this was very insightful. I wonder why it’s taking me so long to read Tolstoy. I’ll read AK next year for sure.
I’m excited over the comment you left on my blog, about reading together. Why don’t we throw in a few titles and see which ones we haven’t yet read? Or if you’re already planning another readalong just let us know and I’ll read along, too. 🙂
I’ve only read his shorter works before this. So, I’m a late starter too. But don’t think I’ll venture into War and Peace anytime soon. I’d love to host another Read-Along in 2013. And yes… I do have a few titles in mind. 😉
Which ones? Let’s throw them in!
Arti, I wish I’d had time to join the read-along. But now that I’ve read this, I am extra excited to pick up the book when I have a bit of time to be able to savor it. Lots of depth there, and your intriguing insight leads me to anticipate the film all the more. I wonder if it will be to the good or ill not having first read the book…
From the trailer and some early reviews, I know this new adaptation is quite different from previous ones. So to Anna K. purists, it may pose some discrepancies from their expectations. However, I eagerly await it to screen in my City.
I love the way you’ve organised this. I read and very much enjoyed The Kreuzer Sonata by Tolstoy, so one of these fine days I really will go back and get past the grass harvesting in Anna K.!
It wasn’t that bad, really. Actually I quite enjoyed reading about Levin and his agrarian, down-to-earth, and well-grounded character development. Having read Anna K., I don’t plan to start another Tolstoy now. There are so many other writers I haven’t explored.
I valued all the above thoughts and comments. I was jotting down some thoughts as I read this post and here is my ripple:
1. Tolstoy as psychoanalyst; would Anna Karenina be a good recommendation for bibliotherapy?
2. “And we know Vronsky gets more than leg cramps” HA HA HA. You are humorous too Arti.
3. Is Tolstoy proselytizing? Perhaps he is but his form to me is inoffensive. In our world we have quick and easy exposure to the charlatans and the saccharine textures of faith that prevail. Levin’s mental struggle with the concept of God is a welcome character trait.
4. “More freedom of expression in days past than in today’s society” I think so. We are trained or primed to take expressions of faith with a grain of salt. We can think of recent and past historic acts motivated by interpretations of faith in the 130 years since AK was published.
I am up for another read-along when you have one Arti. Thank you for hosting this one and providing a welcome and lovely place for us to discuss Anna Karenina.
Thanks for stopping by and throwing into the pond to stir up some interesting ripples. In particular, bibliotherapy? I must look into that a bit more. And yes, since Tolstoy, there has been torrents of changes. But maybe that’s why we appreciate him more. His writing is stationed strongly in the traditional style and with a dash of humour, strong characters, good storytelling, a bulwark against time and change. Thanks for your interests in the Read-Along. I too hope you can join me again come 2013.
Since I wasn’t involved in the reading, there’s not much I can offer to your marvelous – and delightful – review. But I will mention something I added over at Bellezza’s. She had quoted this, about Levin:
“In the midst of his work moments came to him when he forgot what he was doing and began to feel light, and in those moments his swath came out as even and good as Titus’s. But soon as he remembered what he was doing and started trying to do better, he at once felt how hard the work was and the swath came out badly.”
As a manual laborer myself, I can affirm the absolute truth of Levin’s experience. But it has to do with more than the swath of a cutter or the swatch of a varnish brush.
The same holds true in relationships. One of Anna’s characteristics is her obsessive self-awareness – the kind of “trying too hard” at relationship that makes things turn out badly.
As I said to Bellezza, it would be worth the read just to explore the parallels between Anna and Levin. Winter’s coming, and a good, long book might be just the ticket!
I’ve a feeling that Levin could well be a representation of Tolstoy’s persona. He had adopted an agrarian, pacifist stance with respect to his faith, an idealist opposing mainstream and structured governance. You’ll never know… Anna K. could just be a front to attract readership. 😉
As for future Read-Along… I’ve a few titles in mind. Would love to have you join me next time… possibly as soon as the dreary winter months come 2013.
Hi Arti – I’m sure you know about this Anna Karenina film site but on the offchance you didn’t or if some of your readers missed it, it’s worth checking out. http://focusfeatures.com/interactive/the_sumptuous_world_of_anna_karenina?film=anna_karenina
Thanks for the link. No, I’m not aware of this site, and to tell you the truth, I haven’t been checking around either, except I’ve read a couple of JW’s interviews. I’ll definitely check this out… it looks sumptuous. Thanks for the info!
I got to this post from your post about Book to Screen 2022.
Anna Karenina is my favourite novel of all time, if I have to pick a single one. I reread it a few months ago, and disagree with your view of the ending. Here’s my blog post about it: https://thelittlewhiteattic.blogspot.com/2021/07/rereading-anna-karenina-part-8-and.html