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Saturday, January 2, 2010

But truly, truly it's not my fault, or only my fault a little bit...

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Anna Karenina is the story of a family. It follows Anna, her brother Oblonsky and his wife Dolly, her sister Kitty and her eventual husband Levin, Anna's husband Karenin and her lover Vronsky, and Levin's two brothers, Koznyshev and Nikolai. Dolly's husband (Anna's brother) has a few pre-marital affairs, and in the beginning of the novel, Anna comes to reconcile Dolly with her brother after one of those affairs. Dolly and Oblonsky remain semi-happily and semi-unhappily married for the rest of the novel. Anna, however, meets Count Vronsky while visiting her brother, and ends up starting an affair with him that turns into a long-term relationship. She leaves her husband Karenin after several months of seeing Vronsky, but is unable to obtain a divorce from her husband, and unable to obtain custody of her son, Sergei. She becomes pregnant with Vronsky's child during their affair, and takes the child, Annie, with her when she runs off with Vronsky. Levin is a friend of Anna's brother, and he wants to marry Kitty from the beginning of the novel. Kitty is dating Vronsky at the novel's start, however. Kitty falls ill after Vronsky deserts her for Anna, and it is only after a long recuperation period that she and Levin end up getting engaged. How are you doing? Lost yet? I know I'm not doing the best job I could. Sorry! Levin works on a farm and loves it, maintaining an odd relationship with the peasant/worker class of people he employs. He works alongside them, attempting to eradicate the hierarchy between them, but is fairly unsuccessful, and comes up with a rather muddled argument as to where he stands on their rights. Anna ends up greatly shamed by her friends and society when she runs off with Vronsky, especially because she thinks she's getting a divorce and moves to Moscow, back into society, only to find out that her husband will NOT grant her a divorce. She constantly second-guesses her relationship with Vronsky, wondering if he could possibly still love her, and she gets consumed by fits of jealous rage and irrational thought. She eventually throws herself under a train (in part because she's severely unhappy and in part to spite Vronsky). Vronsky is devastated and joins the army, hoping to give his life for a valiant cause. Kitty and Levin are together, and they have a lovely son Mitya. (Levin's brother Nikolai does not make it to the end of the novel - he dies from consumption. Oh, and Levin has a huge crisis of faith, but he manages to overcome it and realizes that he truly does love his son. He didn't love him at first because the child caused so much pain to Kitty, and Levin feared that the child would kill the woman he loved so much. Levin also sort of gets over his overwhelming fear/confusion about death and the meaning of life. Emphasis on the sort of.) THE END!
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Well, I have good news and bad news for you, blog readers. Which do you want first? The bad? Okay, I like hearing the bad first, too. The bad news is, I FORGOT Anna Karenina in my mother's car at the end of my holiday break. I know, hello, dummy! Ready for the good news (now that we've dispensed with the bad)? (I'm not really sure where the parentheses goes or where the question mark goes in that sentence. Whoops!) The good news is, I GOT A NEW COMPUTER! After several months of saving (following the untimely decease of my previous model) I have finally managed to purchase a lovely, brand-spanking new white MacBook. When I went into the store, I asked for a PowerBook (which was the model before the iBook, for anyone who remembers. Hagh!)

So I'm writing this blog on my very own computer for the first time.

Since I'm without Anna, I'm going to change pace a little and write a slightly different blog entry from my usual ramble. I'd like to talk briefly about two of the characters, the two I identified with the most: Anna and Levin.

I thought I'd identify with Anna the most, because, well, the novel is seemingly about her. I found myself much more in Levin, though, particularly as the novel wore on. Just as a backstory for those who don't know, I was assigned to read this book around the time of my existential crisis at the end of my study abroad in France. We were supposed to read classics at an insane pace (funny coming from me, I know) and Anna was the last assigned book. I regret to say that I resorted to reading the SparkNotes for the book at that juncture. I thought reading it might be hard, might bring back memories from that time. Somehow, though, it was totally different than I expected. Here's why.

- Anna sees the world in a very particular way. She makes decisions that baffle me (perverse and often baffling - see "This American Life" w/Malcolm Gladwell - hilarious) and they make it virtually impossible for me to see her point of view. For instance, she doesn't leave her husband for an Incredibly long period of time, then she decides she will leave him, then he sort of offers her a divorce, then she doesn't take it, then she wants it and he won't offer it. She can't find a way to love her child with Vronsky because she's so blinded by her affection for her son Sergei, but she barely tries to retrieve him, and rather spends most of the book in a strangely cloaked state of utter despair. She carries on her normal life, but everyone can see she's deeply troubled. I guess what really got me was that she's totally dissatisfied at every juncture. She's not happy in the beginning (she doesn't really like her husband OR her son - they bore her) she's happy when she's with Vronsky in the affair, but unhappy that she's making things confusing around her son, and then she's unhappy when she's finally with Vronsky full time because she wants to be recognized by society and she wants her son and she wants a potty she wants a teddy, me, me, me, My, My, My, Now, Now, NOW! (Sorry, the "Hook" quote overwhelmed me. Had to put it in.) I guess what I'm trying to say is that Anna seemed like a completely selfish being to me. She didn't want her son with her because of his happiness - she wanted him because he made HER happy. And though she says she loves Vronsky, she's Constantly claiming that he's with other women, or convincing herself that he doesn't love her anymore, and I get that she's in a weird situation because she's not married to him, and I suppose there's an argument to be made that she's actually mentally unhinged, but I guess I just didn't see it. I didn't truly believe that Anna was mentally unstable, ergo, I didn't sympathize with the poor choices she made and the people she hurt along the way. And maybe Tolstoy's point wasn't for us to side with Anna, but it seems to take away from the poetic brilliance of her death if it serves only to make us feel that Anna was simply saying to everyone, haha! joke's on you! Which is really what it felt like to me. It felt like she killed herself out of spite, not out of true desperation.

- Levin, on the other hand, is an extremely intriguing character. He makes mistakes, too, I'll give you that, but he really seems like he's trying. He's really one of the only characters who seems to truly be giving social hierarchy some thought, and though I don't always (or often) agree with the arguments he makes, I give him credit for arguing at all. I loved the rustic quality of his existence (perhaps because my family had a farm for many years, and I have a longstanding nostalgia for the idea of a family farm) even though he was still very much a wealthy man living in a country house that was run by his peasants, and not by him. But what I liked about Levin was his honesty, his willingness to question conventional thought without fear of retribution. He wonders quite openly about the existence of God, about what happens after death, and whether his life is truly imbued with any meaning. And when his son is born, he doesn't feel the standard affection for him, instead feeling an overwhelming sense of repulsion. Don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning feeling revulsion towards your offspring, just recognizing that it can happen, and that feelings other than the status quo are to be discussed, not shoved under the rug. Just so you know, Levin freaks out when he thinks that Kitty and the baby have been squashed by a falling tree in a lightning storm, and it is after this moment that his love and affection for his son resurfaces. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the world could do with more Levins, and probably also with fewer Annas. But then again, maybe this is exactly how Tolstoy wanted this book to be read. Maybe this was all part of his master plan. Too bad we can't read his blog.

By the way, the title of this blog is a quote from Anna, after she's stolen Kitty's love (Vronsky) away from her at a ball.

Well, I'm off. I'm falling disastrously far behind with the Potters, and must catch up. Have to fly, have to fight, have to crow. Have to save Maggie, have to save Jack.

Hook is back.

1 comment:

  1. excellent title quote, and i love your summation, "Too bad we can't read his blog." your blog is mercifully unladen with professional criticism! so refreshing. :)