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Anna Karenina ()


"Vengeance is mine, I will repay"
-Romans 12:19
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

[Warning: this review assumes you have read, or at least know the story of, the book] We have reached a point--probably due to Oprah's Book Club selecting it--that there are enough translations of Anna Karenina for essays to be written about them (see below). While I couldn't find any love for David Magarshack's Signet Classics version, I found it incredibly readable and plowed through in just a few days this time. Once again I was struck by the beauty of Levin's epiphany and unmoved by Anna's suicide. And, on this reading, it occurs to me--hardly original thoughts--that the text is explained by the frontispiece and the famous first line.

What we are presented with in the characters of Anna and Levin are a selfish creature who eschews morality, propriety, marriage, family, society and all the rest in search of self-satisfaction. Anna is the thoroughly modern person of Reason. The wreckage that follows in her wake is quite predictable and in the end vengeance for those violations is visited upon her.

Meanwhile, people often object to the notion that the happy are all alike and the unhappy all different, but, beginning with Anna, that is quite literally what Tolstoy is saying. Anna exercises her reason, follows her emotions, to justify any sort of behavior she cares to engage in. Abandoning any objective standards, she manages to make herself and all those around her miserable, to the point of self-destruction.

Levin, on the other hand, starts out equally bereft of the guardrails of traditional morality--or at least he thinks so. But, being a better person than Anna, he struggles to reconcile his desire to behave well with his lack of belief in an Objective law-giver. It is only at the novel's brilliant close that he recognizes the paucity of Reason and the necessity of faith instead:
He had lived (without being aware of it) on those spiritual truths that he had sucked in with his mother’s milk, but he had thought, not merely without recognition of these truths, but studiously ignoring them.

Now it was clear to him that he could only live by virtue of the beliefs in which he had been brought up.

‘What should I have been, and how should I have spent my life, if I had not had these beliefs, if I had not known that I must live for God and not for my own desires? I should have robbed and lied and killed. Nothing of what makes the chief happiness of my life would have existed for me.’ And with the utmost stretch of imagination he could not conceive the brutal creature he would have been himself, if he had not known what he was living for.

‘I looked for an answer to my question. And thought could not give an answer to my question—it is incommensurable with my question. The answer has been given me by life itself, in my knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. And that knowledge I did not arrive at in any way, it was given to me as to all men, given, because I could not have got it from anywhere.

‘Where could I have got it? By reason could I have arrived at knowing that I must love my neighbour and not oppress him? I was told that in my childhood, and I believed it gladly, for they told me what was already in my soul. But who discovered it? Not reason. Reason discovered the struggle for existence, and the law that requires us to oppress all who hinder the satisfaction of our desires. That is the deduction of reason. But loving one’s neighbour reason could never discover, because it’s irrational.’
And so he is reconciled to God. However, Tolstoy himself recognizes that Man remains Fallen, even a man who believes:
‘Well, what is it perplexes me?’ Levin said to himself, feeling beforehand that the solution of his difficulties was ready in his soul, though he did not know it yet. ‘Yes, the one unmistakable, incontestable manifestation of the Divinity is the law of right and wrong, which has come into the world by revelation, and which I feel in myself, and in the recognition of which—I don’t make myself, but whether I will or not—I am made one with other men in one body of believers, which is called the church. Well, but the Jews, the Mohammedans, the Confucians, the Buddhists—what of them?’ he put to himself the question he had feared to face. ‘Can these hundreds of millions of men be deprived of that highest blessing without which life has no meaning?’ He pondered a moment, but immediately corrected himself. ‘But what am I questioning?’ he said to himself. ‘I am questioning the relation to Divinity of all the different religions of all mankind. I am questioning the universal manifestation of God to all the world with all those misty blurs. What am I about? To me individually, to my heart has been revealed a knowledge beyond all doubt, and unattainable by reason, and here I am obstinately trying to express that knowledge in reason and words. [...]

‘This new feeling has not changed me, has not made me happy and enlightened all of a sudden, as I had dreamed, just like the feeling for my child. There was no surprise in this either. Faith—or not faith—I don’t know what it is—but this feeling has come just as imperceptibly through suffering, and has taken firm root in my soul.

‘I shall go on in the same way, losing my temper with Ivan the coachman, falling into angry discussions, expressing my opinions tactlessly; there will be still the same wall between the holy of holies of my soul and other people, even my wife; I shall still go on scolding her for my own terror, and being remorseful for it; I shall still be as unable to understand with my reason why I pray, and I shall still go on praying; but my life now, my whole life apart from anything that can happen to me, every minute of it is no more meaningless, as it was before, but it has the positive meaning of goodness, which I have the power to put into it.’
Levin has chosen the meaningful life, the attempt to be good, precisely because he believes in goodness and because there is no rational justification for that urge to goodness, only the irrational one of faith. Thus do we leave him knowing that his marriage to Kitty will be a happy one, unlike Anna's. Levin is happy in the usual way; Anna unhappy in her own.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (A+)


Websites:

See also:

Leo Tolstoy (3 books reviewed)
Russian Literature
Leo Tolstoy Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Leo Tolstoy    -FILMOGRAPHY:Leo Tolstoy (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Tolstoy (Online Literature Network)
    -ENTRY: Leo Tolstoy Russian writer (Gary Saul Morson, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ENTRY: Leo Tolstoy (Biography.com)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Kreutzer Sonata
    -ENTRY: The Kreutzer Sonata (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -ETEXT: THE KREUTZER SONATA by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy: First Published in 1889 Translation by Louise and Aylmer Maude (Tolstoy Library OnLine)
    -ETEXT: EPILOGUE TO THE KREUTZER SONATA by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (In the translation by Professor Leo Wiener 1904 (Tolstoy Library)
    -ETEXT: The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories, by Leo Tolstoy: Benj. R. Tucker (Project Gutenberg)
    -AUDIO BOOK: Kreutzer Sonata (AudioBookBuzz)
    -VIDEO: Beethoven.Violin.Sonata.No.9.Op.47.kreutzer (Anne-Sophie Mutter, Lambert Orkis)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (Grade Saver)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (Course Hero)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Kreutzer Sonata (eNotes)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy’s Narratives of Faith: For Tolstoy’s heroes, life’s meaning is to be found not in some remote theory, but in the world and people right before us. (Gary Saul Morson, DECEMBER 30, 2022, Plough)
    -ESSAY: Marriage and Manliness in Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” (Scott Yenor, December 12th, 2022, Imaginative Conservative)
    -ESSAY: What Tolstoy Could Have Taught Putin (GARY MORSON, 3/30/22, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: Rethinking "Putin's War" (Richard Gunderman, 3/30/22, Law & Liberty)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata: Love, Murder, and the Violin (Laura Keller, September 27, 2018, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center)
    -ESSAY: Kreutzer Sonata: Expressions of Human Anguish in Music, Literature and Beyond (Marja Karelia, Simon Fraser University, GLS West Coast Symposium at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM)
    -ESSAY: Music in Russian Literature: The Kreutzer Sonata (Russian National Orchestra)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the Cult of Simplicity (G.K. Chesterton, Twelve Types: a Collection of Biographies)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy (William Dean Howells)
    -ESSAY: TOLSTOY'S BESTIARY: animality and animosity in the kreutzer sonata (Dominic Pettman, 17 May 2013, Angeliki)
    -ESSAY: Discourse and intercourse in The Kreutzer Sonata (Alina Wyman, Christianity and Literature)
    -ESSAY: Chapter 17. Leo Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata (1889) (Charlotte Alston, Patriarchal Moments: Reading Patriarchal Texts)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy on Musical Mimesis (Liza Knapp)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata or homicidal jealousy according to Tolstoy (M Bénézech, Ann Med Psychol)
    -ESSAY: The Kreutzer Sonata: Three degrees of separation: What links Tolstoy, Beethoven, a virtuoso violinist and a young, married Czech woman? The inspiration for the elderly Janacek's string quartets (Eugene Drucker, 25 Feb 2010, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Bringing him down: Leo Tolstoy’s art, ideas and lived life (Caryl Emerson, TLS)
    -ESSAY: Suspicion on Trial: Tolstoy's The Kreutzer Sonata and Nabokov's “Pozdnyshev's Address” (Tatyana Gershkovich, 23 October 2020, PMLA / Publications of the Modern Language Association of America)
    -ESSAY: How Tolstoy’s banned novella started a sexual revolution in Russia (ALEXANDRA GUZEVA, 1/25/21, Russia Beyond)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy and Spirituality: Chapter 6: Tolstoy’s Divine Madness: An Analysis of The Kreutzer Sonata (Predrag Cicovacki)
   
-ESSAY: Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata on Stage: Domestic Violence and the Economics of Pity (Fiona Bell, 2/04/21, NYU Jordan Center)
    -ESSAY: “What Did I Want?”: Theatricality and the Crisis of Modern Subjectivity in Tolstoi's Kreutzer Sonata (David Herman, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Music and Literature as Related Infections: Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata Op. 47 and Tolstoj's Novella ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ (Mahoko Eguchi, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Presto and Manifesto: The Kreutzer Sonatas of Tolstoj and Beethoven (Elizabeth A.Papazian, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: The Truth of the Inner Being: ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ as a Tragedy of Forgiveness (Robert Bird, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Narrating the Murder: The Rhetoric of Evasion in ‘The Kreutzer Sonata’ (Vladimir Golstein, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: Art and Transgression in The Kreutzer Sonata (Literature and Transgression)
    -ESSAY: The Old Magician: A defense of the late, scolding Tolstoy (Irving Howe, January 10, 2014, New Republic)
    -PROFILE: Translating Tolstoy (Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, Nov. 17, 2009, WSJ)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the End of History (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Forgotten Tolstoy Novel: A Reappraisal of Resurrection (1899) (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Is it Time to Stop Treating Leo Tolstoy as a Novelist? (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Leo Tolstoy and the Marriage Plot (Ted Gioia, Fractious Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Disease And Purpose In Ivan Ilyich: Covid-19 has exposed our fear of sickness and death, but Tolstoy's novella suggests that the real depravity is a life devoid of meaning. (AUGUSTE MEYRAT, 12/15/21, American Conservative)
    -ESSAY: close encounters with tolstoy: War and Peace through a different lens (RHODA FENG, 10/07/2021, Smart Set)
    -ESSAY: “I Would Not Take Prisoners.” Tolstoy’s Case Against Making War Humane: Samuel Moyn Considers Prince Andrei, Carl von Clausewitz, and the Rules of War (Samuel Moyn, September 10, 2021, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Time To Reread ‘Anna Karenina’: Tolstoy’s novel teaches that sexual freedom actually enslaves women (Carmel Richardson, 8/10/21, American Conservative)
    -REVIEW: Of THINKING WITH TOLSTOY AND WITTGENSTEIN: Expression, emotion, and art by Henry W. Pickford (Caryl Emerson, Times Literary Supplement)
    -REVIEW: of The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy (Eileen Battersby, Irish Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Olga Kerziouk, British Library: European Studies Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Sophie Pinkham, The New Yorker)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Frances Wilson, Interlude)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Thoughts on a Train)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Vulpes Libris)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (A Russian Affair)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Terry Freedman, Writers Know-How)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Vishy's Blog)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Scott Manley Hadley, Triumph of the Now)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Orin James)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (John Self, Asylum)
    -PLAY REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata (Kate Kellaway, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Kreutzer Sonata Variations by Leo Tolstoy, Sofia Tolstoy and Lev Tolstoy (Alison Flood, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (William Grimes, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (Ron Rosenbaum, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of Kreutzer Sonata Variations (Catherine Brown, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Lectures on Russian Literature by Vladimir Nabokov (Leonard Michaels, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Lectures on Russian Literature (Bruce Allen, CS Monitor)

FILM:


    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Kreutzer Sonata (2008) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Kreutzer Sonata (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -PROFILE: Tolstoy and me: His Ivans xtc was a vivid reworking of a story about dying. Now director Bernard Rose is returning to the author for a film about sex and Beethoven. (Andrew Pulver, 1 Jul 2008, The guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Anthony Quinn, Independent)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Tim Robey, Telegraph)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Philip French, The Observer)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Ray Bennett, AP)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Leslie Felperin, Variety)
    -FILM REVIEW: Kreutzer Sonata (Allan Hunter, Screen Daily)
    -FILM REVIEW: Ivansxtc (Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times)
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OLDER LINKS


    -REVIEW: of Hadji Murat by Leo Tolstoy (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian )
    REVIEW ESSAY: Birth, death, balls and battles: It has no clear beginning, middle or end, but the first translation of War and Peace for 50 years reaffirms its greatness. Tolstoy brilliantly interweaves the historical and the personal (Orlando Figes, 8/27/05, Times of London)
    -REVIEW: of Leo Tolstoy by ANDREI ZORIN (Maria Rubins, LA Review of Books)

Book-related and General Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Anna Karenina
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Anna Karenina (IMDB)
    -ENTRY: Anna Karenina novel by Tolstoy (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -
   
-ETEXT: Anna Karenin by Leo Tolstoy; translated by Constance Garnett (Bartleby)
    -EXCERPT: Levin Mowing Hay
    -
   
-
   
-
   
-
   
-STUDY GUIDE:
   
-STUDY GUIDE: Anna Karenina (Study Smarter)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Your Guide to Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (Oprah)
    -SUMMARY: Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’: A short summary (ALEXANDRA GUZEVA, 10/13/22, Russia Beyond)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Anna Karenina (Spark Notes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Anna Karenina (kibin)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Anna Karenina (Cliff Notes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: Anna Karenina (Grade Saver)
    -INTERVIEW: Tom Stoppard: 'Anna Karenina comes to grief because she has fallen in love for the first time': Tom Stoppard says his original approach to writing the screenplay for Joe Wright's new film adaptation of Anna Karenina was for a fast, modern movie about being in lust. Then wiser counsels – including his own – prevailed (Robert McCrum, 9/01/12, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: WHY ANNA KARENINA ISN’T THE ROMANCE PEOPLE THINK IT IS (Leah Rachel von Essen, Jun 11, 2021, Bookriot)
    -ESSAY: Is “Anna Karenina” a Love Story? (Joshua Rothman, Nov. 23rd, 2012
    -ESSAY: The Moral Urgency of Anna Karenina: Tolstoy’s lessons for all time and for today. (Gary Saul Morson, April 2015, Commentary)
   
-ESSAY: The Swishing of the Scythes: The Mowing Scene in Anna Karenina (Anna Primrose Bendiksen, November 1996, Russian Literature)
    -ESSAY: LEVIN'S MOWING AND THE TASK OF LIFE (Richard F. Gustafson, Fall 1982, Ulbandus Review)
    -ESSAY: The Russian Peasant’s Workout (Jeremy Hastings, June 11, 2016, NY Times)
    -VIDEO: The Mowing Scene in Anna Karenina and the Poetics of Labor at the Dawn of Russia’s Age of Capital: This talk will introduce Vadim Shneyder’s forthcoming book, Russia’s Capitalist Realism: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov (Northwestern University Press, 2020), an examination of how the Russian realist literary tradition responded to the dangers and possibilities posed by Russia’s industrial revolution. (Vadim Shneyder, Aug 12, 2020, NYUJordanCenter)
    -VIDEO: 10 Tips for How to Read Anna Karenina (Benjamin McEvoy, Hardcore Literature Book Club)
    -VIDEO: Reading Anna Karenina: Errors to Avoid (Michael Bunker)
    -VIDEO: Before You Read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - Book Summary, Analysis, Review (A favorite novel?) (The CodeX Cantina)
    -VIDEO: The Other Stories in Anna Karenina: A Translator’s Perspective (Rosamund Bartlett, University of Michigan CREES)
    -VIDEO: Anna Karenina Animated Summary (Chloe Matonis)
    -VIDEO: GMALL Lectures - Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" and the Meaning of Life (Julie Cassiday, Professor of Russian at Williams College,, Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning, GNAT TV)
    -ESSAY: Dreams and Anna Karenina: Tolstoy’s understanding of the sly techniques of dream-creation is at the heart of his novelist’s enterprise (Janet Malcolm, June 25, 2015 issue, NY RB)
    -VIDEO: Anna Karenina - Tolstoy’s warning to those seeking happiness (full summary & analysis) (Fiction Beast)
    -ESSAY: These are the only Anna Karenina adaptations you actually need to know about. (Dan Sheehan, May 26, 2021,, lIT hUB)
    -ESSAY: Rereading Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (James Meek, 31 Aug 2012, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Why You Should Read Tolstoy's 900 Page Magnum Opus (Wendy Chen, April 7, 2020, AIESEC)
    -ESSAY: Anna Karenina’s Parallel Conflict of Faith and Remorse (Stephen Norris, 3/11/19, The New Contemporary: Notes from the Havighurst Center)
    -ESSAY: Avalon, Jillian, "Life and Death: Spiritual Philosophy in Anna Karenina" (2013). CMC Senior Theses. Paper 772.
    -ESSAY: The Language of the Soul: Work, Faith, Love and Anna Karenina (Mary Wallace, 9/21/13, Catholic Mom)
    -ESSAY: Levin finds faith (The child, animal, poet and saint, January 3, 2014)
    -ESSAY: A Story of Untrue Love (Mary Leonarczyk, 5/06/18Faith & Culture)
    -ESSAY: "Anna Karenina", Rousseau, and the Gospels (Priscilla Meyer, April 2007, The Russian Review)
    -ESSAY: Marriage and Modernity in Anna Karenina (Mark Kremer, 3/14/18, Voegelin View)
    -ESSAY: Why Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina transcends the ages: Five writers give their personal takes on the appeal that makes Anna Karenina a literary masterpiece (The Guardian, 9/02/12)
    -ESSAY: Anna Karenina: great novel, shame about the ending: Tolstoy is such a staggeringly good novelist that it's a serious shock to find this book ending with such a whimper (Stephen Emms, 2/2/10, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Guide to the Classics: Anna Karenina (Judith Armstrong, January 18, 2018, The Conversation)
    -ESSAY: Anna Karenina and the Givenness of Life (EMILY ANDREWS, APRIL 17, 2017, Center for Lit)
    -ESSAY: True Happiness (Gary L. Welton, 3/26/13, Institute for Faith & Freedom)
    -ESSAY: Anna Karenina and Others: Tolstoy's Labyrinth of Plots (John Rignall,The George Eliot Review)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy’s Bold Theology (ANTHONY D BAKER, 10/31/21, Patheos)
    -ESSAY: Levin and Kitty (Nadia, 12/18/19, Orphic Inscendence)
    -ESSAY: Tolstoy and how the unbeliever feels (Dislocated Christians, Feb 24, 2018)
    -ESSAY: “AND SUCH IS THE MEANING OF ALL EXISTENCE!” LEVIN AND ANNA KARENINA (Rohan Maitzen, Open Letters Monthly)
    -ESSAY: A Layman’s Tolstoy Journey: Maturity to Faith (Andrew Olsen Uncategorized November 17, 2021, Peripateo: The Swarthmore College journal of Christian discourse)
    -ESSAY: Anna Karenina and Levin’s Quest for Meaning (Living Literally)
    -ESSAY: The Beauty of Self-Giving Love in Anna Karenina: If we combine the beauty of art and the power of narrative with rational argument, we can convince people of the worthiness of marriage and family life more effectively than by argument alone. Anna Karenina is an example of how to do this. It beckons the reader to choose the better path, contrasting the destructive adultery of Vronsky and Anna with Levin and Kitty’s enchanting journey into the life of married love. (JOSHUA PAULING, 10/15/20, Public Discourse)
    -ESSAY: Minion, Mara, ""Living for the Soul": Dolly's Heroism in Anna Karenina" (2016) (Undergraduate Honors, Thesis Collection. 344.)
    -ESSAY: Despair and Hope in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (Crisis, 1/18/16)
    -ARCHIVES: karenina (The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: Anna Karenina (YouTube)
    -ARCHIVES: karenina (New York Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Matthew Arnold)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Anna Karenina – the devil in the details: Do we need another translation of Anna Karenina? Rosamund Bartlett explores the challenges of Tolstoy's vivid colloquial language (Rosamund Bartlett, 5 Sep 2014, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: New Translations of Anna Karenina (Masha Gessen, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Socks: What Pevear and Volokhonsky do to Tolstoy (Janet Malcolm. June 23, 2016, New York Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Anna Karenina (Stephen Emms, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Tolstoy by A. N. Wilson and Tolstoy: The Ultimate Reconciliation by Martine de Courcel, translated by Peter Levi (John Bayley, NYRB)