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I must have ingested the knowledge with my mother's milk, as Russians would say. My grandpa had an old print of a painting hanging in his garage. A young beautiful mysterious woman sitting in a carriage in wintry Moscow and looking at the viewer through her heavy-lidded eyes with a stare that combines allure and deep sadness.
Actually, it was "A Stranger" by Ivan Kramskoy - but for me it has always remained the mysterious and beautiful Anna Karenina, the femme fatale of Russian literature.
Imagine my childish glee when I saw this portrait used for the cover of this book in the edition I chose! But Anna gives the book its name, and her plight spoke more to me than the philosophical dealings of an insecure and soul-searching Russian landowner, and so her story comes first.
Anna's chapters tell a story of a beautiful married woman who had a passionate affair with an officer and then somehow, in her quest for love, began a downward spiral fueled by jealousy and guilt and societal prejudices and stifling attitudes. The chief thing I shouldn't like would be for people to imagine I want to prove anything.
I don't want to prove anything; I merely want to live, to do no one harm but myself. I have the right to do that, haven't I? Few readers will be surprised that it is Anna who gets the blame for the affair, that it is Anna who is considered "fallen" and undesirable in the society, that it is Anna who is dependent on men in whichever relationship she is in because by societal norms of that time a woman was little else but a companion to her man.
There is nothing new about the sad contrasts between the opportunities available to men and to women of that time - and the strong The adventures of huckleberry finn weaknesses of superiority that men feel in this patriarchial world.
No, there is nothing else in that, tragic as it may be. She will be no one's wife, she will be lost! Anna, a lovely, energetic, captivating woman, full of life and beauty, simply crumbles, sinks into despair, fueled by desperation and irrationality and misdirected passion.
This is what Tolstoy is a master at describing, and this is what was grabbing my heart and squeezing the joy out of it in anticipation of inevitable tragedy to come.
That love was less; consequently, as she reasoned, he must have transferred part of his love to other women or to another woman—and she was jealous. She was jealous not of any particular woman but of the decrease of his love. Not having got an object for her jealousy, she was on the lookout for it.
At the slightest hint she transferred her jealousy from one object to another.
All of it is so unsettlingly well-captured on page that you do realize Tolstoy must have believed in the famous phrase that he penned for this book's opening line: He soon felt that the realization of his desires gave him no more than a grain of sand out of the mountain of happiness he had expected.
It showed him the mistake men make in picturing to themselves happiness as the realization of their desires. No, everyone, in addition to their pathetic little ugly traits also has redeeming qualities. Anna's husband, despite appearing as a monster to Anna after her passionate affair, still is initially willing to give her the freedom of the divorce that she needs.
Stiva Oblonsky, repulsive in his carelessness and cheating, wins us over with his gregarious and genuinely friendly personality; Anna herself, despite her outbursts, is a devoted mother to her son at least initially.
Levin may appear to be monstrous in his jealousy, but the next moment he is so overwhelmingly in love that it's hard not to forgive him. And I love this greyness of each character, so lifelike and full. And, of course, the politics - so easily forgettable by readers of this book that carries the name of the heroine of a passionate forbidden affair.
The dreaded politics that bored me to tears when I was fifteen. And yet these are the politics and the questions that were so much on the mind of Count Tolstoy, famous to his compatriots for his love and devotion to peasants, that he devoted almost half of this thick tome to it, discussed through the thoughts of Konstantin Levin.
But he always felt the injustice of his own abundance in comparison with the poverty of the peasants, and now he determined that so as to feel quite in the right, though he had worked hard and lived by no means luxuriously before, he would now work still harder, and would allow himself even less luxury.
Maybe it's because I mentally kept fast-forwarding mere 50 years, to the Socialist Revolution of that would leave most definitely Levin and Kitty and their children dead, or less likely, in exile; the revolution which, as Tolstoy almost predicted, focused on the workers and despised the loved by Count Leo peasants, the revolution that despised the love for owning land and working it that Tolstoy felt was at the center of the Russian soul.
But it is still incredibly interesting to think about and to analyze because even a century and a half later there's still enough truth and foresight in Tolstoy's musings, after all. Even if I disagree with so many of his views, they are still thought-provoking, no doubts about it.
He liked and did not like the peasants, just as he liked and did not like men in general. Of course, being a good-hearted man, he liked men rather than he disliked them, and so too with the peasants. But like or dislike "the people" as something apart he could not, not only because he lived with "the people," and all his interests were bound up with theirs, but also because he regarded himself as a part of "the people," did not see any special qualities or failings distinguishing himself and "the people," and could not contrast himself with them.
Well, because of Tolstoy's prose, of course - because of its wordiness and repetitiveness. Yes, Tolstoy is the undisputed king of creating page-long sentences which I love, by the way - love that is owed in full to my literature-teacher mother admiring them and making me punctuate these never-ending sentences correctly for grammar exercises.
But he is also a master of restating the obvious, repeating the same thought over and over and over again in the same sentence, in the same paragraph, until the reader is ready to cry for some respite.
This, as well as Levin's at times obnoxious preachiness and the author's frequently very patriarchial views, was what made this book substantially less enjoyable than it could have been. I highly recommend this film.The Use of the Slang in America - What does slang mean.
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