People in 1874 didn’t sit in front of their TV, waiting for new episodes of their favorite show on HBO to be released. Instead, they were waiting for the last publication of The Russian Messenger every week, with as much ardor as a new battle or a speech by Bismarck, to read the new chapter of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, which later will be considered one of the greatest works of the history of literature.
In the coming lines, I’ll try to get better hold on myself and not drift into all sorts of superlative or laudatory epithets. God knows how hard that can be for a pedant like myself.
The novel isn’t just about Anna Arkadyevna Karenina. It is more complex. It is about Tolstoy himself.
Didn’t you notice? Lev Tolstoy; Lev.. Levin… No, nothing?
Actually, the story’s Levin is so “Tolstoy” (adj.)! Everything about him: his life, his beliefs, his struggles. Even the way he proposed to his wife is so very similar.
So, since I promised myself to not get too much into the details, if I have to summarize the whole novel in one line it would be:
Two people, Anna and Levin, searching for happiness.
“We are not to take Anna Karenina as a work of art, we are to take as a piece of life. A piece of life it is.” (Matthew Arnold)
A piece of life= #family, #marriage, #society, #progress, #hypocrisy, #jealousy, #faith, #fidelity, #desire, #passion…
Everything in the novel is so lively, so real. The description of the characters, of their clothes, the theatre, the music, the wedding, the salons, the city, the country, the horses, the hunting dogs …
Unlike Gogol and Turgenev, Tolstoy wasn’t interested in the fantastic. As a true Realist, he wouldn’t invent a new reality and create some supernatural creatures.
Instead, he takes life, something ordinary and simple from our life, and turn it with his fineness of perception and insightful eye, into something unordinary and magical.
Otherwise, how can someone possibly turn childbirth from:
“the act of giving birth to a baby”
“…there at the foot of the bed, in the deft hands of Lizaveta Petrovna, like a flickering light in a lamp, lay the life of a human creature, which had never existed before, and which would now with the same right, with the same importance to itself, live and create in its own image.” (part 7, Chapter XV)
Life is fascinating, we only need to see it.
“The best books,” Winston perceived , “are those that tell you what you know already” (Orwell, 1984)
Oh! The names. What is with him and the names?
“Russian literature is amazing because it really makes you understand what it is like to be one of those people who can’t remember anyone’s name and is confused all the time” (Existential Comics)
Anyone can relate that this is the most challenging part, when the same person is called: Stepan (name), Stiva (nickname) or Oblonsky (family name), or when Ekaterina is also Kitty and also (this is painful) Shcherbatskaya.
(Count Yoda Yodavich Yodaychtivinshky: No worry, after 500 pages, used to it you’ll get .)
In a boxing terminology, Tolstoy is definitely the pound for pound in writing. This is why:
Heavyweight: War and Peace
Light heavyweight: Anna Karenina
Featherweight: How Much Land Does a Man Need
“Tolstoy is a magnificent writer. He is never dull, never stupid, never tired, never pedantic, never theatrical!” (James Joyce)
After I finished reading it, I wrote this note at the end of the book:
“Tolstoy and his novels, (maybe) the best part of my life.”
P.S. To all the movie directors in the world: please stop making Tolstoy movies. They are the worst.
*G.O.A.T. stands for Greatest of all Time.