Thursday, November 24, 2011
Thoughts: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Part One)
Tolstoy isn’t actually that hard to read, which surprised me. There were some pretty heavy passages about philosophy that had me scratching my head, but, with the help of footnotes, I think I understood everything. His eye for little society details reminded me of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, but his characters are so much more direct. They declare their love and get on trains to chase after their lovers. They don’t depend on fate or pack meaning into a single glance. Maybe this directness is a Russian trait or maybe it’s just Tolstoy.
There are also passages where Tolstoy’s acerbic sense of humor reminds me of Jane Austen. In one scene, a character is appalled to hear that Vronsky is going directly to French theatre after listening to Christina Nilsson, one of the most celebrated opera singers of the time, but this same character wouldn’t be able to distinguish Nilsson’s voice from that of a chorus girl’s.
The train accident when and Anna and Vronsky first meet? It’s like a gigantic neon sign saying ‘THIS ISN’T GOING TO END WELL.’ Then again, it’s part of human nature to stick around after horrible accidents, taking in the carnage and thanking our lucky stars it’s not us. I do fear for my heart when it comes to this book, because I do like the characters. Previous experience, though, is warning me not to get too attached. (Does Madame Bovary ring a bell? Or The Awakening? Or Ethan Frome?)
Can’t wait to get started on Part Two.