On Anna Karenina ...
I have wanted to read Anna Karenina for some time. In fact, a few years ago a friend gave me a beautiful classic hardcover edition of the Tolstoy novel, complete with its own slide in case. It was truly lovely. This great long novel sat on my desk, intriguing me. Vivien Leigh -- my favorite actress of all time -- had played the title role. So had Keira Knightly. There must be something beautiful to this tale ...
As I've mentioned before, my friend Ron had invited me to participate in his 2015 Classic Challenge. One of the steps of this challenge included reading a book written by a Russian author. Ah-ha I thought ... here is my chance to finally read Anna Karenina.
I began the book in earnest, with such energy and enthusiasm. Cup of tea, cozy blanket, perfect reading chair. A quiet Sunday afternoon. And, I made it 163 pages through part one before my attention began to waver. William Faulkner had declared the novel "the best ever written." I wanted to be drawn in ... I wanted to be mesmerized and captivated.
It's not that I didn't enjoy it. It was just the tedium of the tale that got to me after a while. Levin's humdrum life on the farm was not interesting to me at all. Give me Anna and Vronsky. Make me like Vronsky (sorry, I just didn't.) I found the drama of Kitty amusing -- true love "sickness." Perhaps if the dramatic romance between Anna and Vronsky had actually begun by page 163, I might have found something that enticed me to read on. I mean, it was all talk and speculation. Too much exposition and too little action.
Honestly, though, the worst part for me is that I already knew the ending. I knew where it was going before I opened to page one. I find myself holding a character I might become drawn in by at arms length when I know exactly what will befall her on page 972. There is the rub. And there is the biggest problem I experienced with this great Russian Classic ... I knew what was going to happen in the end and I didn't want it to so I didn't want to read on and watch the destruction in Anna's ultimately unfortunate existence.
So, I stopped. I picked up a couple other quicker reads, fully intending to get back to Tolstoy until I finally admitted that right now I just didn't want to suffer another long cold winter. The one I just went through in Michigan was enough. I'd had enough of this book ... for now.
I still want to read it. I do. I still hope to read it. One day. Perhaps I might better understand it with a commentary -- something that explained to me the undercurrent of Tolstoy's politics and what he was stating about the aristocracy and peasant life. Yes, that might help. Perhaps if it wasn't 972 pages and I felt with each sitting I was actually making progress ... Not sure. Honestly.
It just didn't captivate me and I grew restless with the Russian way of using every single name every single time and the tedium Tolstoy felt necessary to present. (Why does it seem that everyone is a Prince or Princess?)
I am still curious about what actually transpires in the pages from Anna's shining beginning to her dramatic end. If I can find it in me to be more patient, I may consider trying again. But, sitting on a beach where it's warm and sunny instead of surrounded by frigid temperatures and snow.
There was one "Ah-ha" moment though. Something I will take away from Part One of Anna Karenina. Words that just might draw me back to the tale at some point since they were brilliant. It was the observation made by Anna's brother Stepan Arkadyevitch:
"All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow."
Perhaps that sums up the story for me. Not the "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" Romans 12:9 Biblical epigraph. That just doesn't capture the essence of what I believe Tolstoy ultimately conveyed. No ... it was Stepan who truly understood the reality of human existence. Life IS made up of light and shadow. Those that crave too much light never learn to cope with the inevitable moments of shadow and darkness. It's the Blend we must learn to accept ...
Only then can we avoid the Train Tracks ...