Translated by Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes
Coming from the guy who wrote War and Peace, a book so notorious for its length and inaccessibility, Leo Tolstoy’s 744-page Anna Karenina is one novel that may forever remain on your ‘One Day’ TBR. Perhaps you’ve already read it? If so, well done! For me, it’s one of those freakishly large books that I’m crazy enough to lug around in my handbag and hope to finish by, say, 2020? Hey, at least it’s paperback.
For the blog’s sake, rather than waiting until I’m finished to write a review, I plan to summarise for you what I’ve gleaned so far from Parts 1, 2 and 3 (of 8). This may not be a great idea if you hate spoilers (and in researching to jog my memory, I’ve already spoiled something MAJOR at the end – be careful out there, friends! It’s treacherous!), but if you want some of the story without all the time commitment, here it is!
Shall we start with some introductions? Sure. It’s a bit of a love triangle…rhombus. Let’s set the scene:
In Part I, we meet Stiva, who is quite the irritating loaf to tell you the truth. He’s been cheating on his wife, Dolly, the mother of his children, with the children’s French governess – but all he thinks when he wakes up on the couch in the morning is “Hm, where is my dressing gown and my footman, OH RIGHT. I’m in the dog house. Quite embarrassing.” Nothing can really get him down for too long though, not even his wife’s immense distress, and he’s soon smiling again.
Dolly, on the other hand, is distraught, and cannot see how she can go on, stuck in this marriage, until her husband’s sister Anna Karenina comes to visit to smooth things over.
Anna is Stiva’s sister. She is charming, enigmatic, and married, but the young officer Vronsky falls madly in love with her the moment he meets her at the train station.
Kitty is Dolly’s younger sister, and she is all lined up to marry Vronsky. There goes that idea. Aside: I got some serious Jane Austen vibes from the start of this book. I think it’s the courting, the assumption that women must marry, the propriety of society, the multitude of men…
Then we have poor, adorable Levin. He’s a rich farmer and rather in love with Kitty (or, rather, the “feminine side” of the entire Scherbatsky family). He’s sweet, but tell me though, is this the kind of guy you’d want to fall in love with you?
NARRATOR, DESCRIBING LEVIN: It was almost as if he felt that he had to fall in love with one of the sisters, but could not make out precisely with which it should be.
Anyway, he eventually decides that Kitty was The One all along (once the two elder girls are taken), and he quite nervously arrives in Moscow to propose. He and Stiva go out for a ridiculous feast before Levin hurriedly proposes to Kitty and she awkwardly declines, thinking she should wait for Vronsky.
Here, I think it’s appropriate to insert one of the most awkward conversations in literary history:
LEVIN: I’m at your house too early… *glancing around the room, sombrely*
KITTY: Oh, no… It’s alright *also glancing*
LEVIN: But that is what I really wanted, to find you alone *not looking at Kitty*
KITTY, GETTING NERVOUS: MAMA WILL BE DOWN ANY MOMENT…UH…Yesterday she was very tired. Yesterday…Yesterday…
LEVIN: I told you I didn’t know if I would be here long… that this depends on you…
LEVIN, STILL, EXPERIENCING WORD VOMIT: This depends on you. I wanted to say…I wanted to say…I came here because of this…to ask…to be my wife!*
*actual quote. Poor, poor Levin.
Kitty can only reply negatively, “That cannot be, forgive me,” because she thinks Vronsky has got dibs on her. Then there’s a dance, some more humiliation, and Kitty soon realises that Vronsky has fallen for Anna and was always a bit of a half-hearted, flirty jerk towards her. Ouch.
So then Anna gets a train back to Moscow and upon disembarking, remembers that her husband has the most horribly large ears. Yikes.
By Part 2, Kitty is veritably lovesick and bed-ridden by feelings of rejection. A doctor recommends travelling abroad to a spa in Germany, as all fine society does from time to time. She gets a girl-crush on the saintly Varenka who looks after everyone at the spa, and turns a little pious for a while.
At a party (Betty’s house), Anna and Vronsky spend time speaking together, lovey-dovey, and though it doesn’t bother Karenin, he notices that others in the room are bothered, so he decides to approach his wife about it.
Vronsky participates in a steeplechase and his horse Frou-Frou breaks her back. Frou-Frou! Anna gets all panicky and I think this is where things really hit home for her overly proud husband.
Part 3. Back at the farm, Levin muses on what’s important to him, what will make him happy. Farm, the grass, having kids, hard work. He also spends a full day cutting grass with a scythe in a huge paddock with the peasants and having The Best Time Ever. So he’s nice and sweaty and gritty by dawn when he sees his crush Kitty driving past in a carriage. TYPICAL.
Karenin refuses to separate from Anna, but threatens to take away their son, Seryozha, if she carries on her affair.
- Why someone would name their child Seryozha? Sir-yos-ah? Serry-oosa? Let’s call him Steve.
- Still five parts to go. What narrative rollercoaster awaits?
- I don’t know if this post was a good idea. I’m sorry, all.