Not so surprised

21 Nov

When you started reading Anna Karenina did you know what was going to happen to our main character in the end?

If you haven’t finished the novel, back away slowly.  This post gives it all away.

I knew.  Before we ever started reading Tolstoy, I knew.  If taking a GRE had been a prerequisite to starting this DIY master’s degree program, I would have aced the question, “How does Anna Karenina die?”

It’s not because I’m a smarty-pants.  It was simply a part of my general knowledge.  Random literary stuff I’d heard at one point or another.  Like how I knew there was a guy named Ishmael in Moby-Dick , or that Hester had to wear an “A” for adultery, or that Oliver Twist would say, “Please sir, may I have some more?”

So? Why all the rambling?

I felt cheated out of the end of Anna Karenina.  I knew she was going to commit suicide a lá train, and it was just a matter of when it was going to happen.

When it did finally happen (and I do mean finally–when do editors come on the scene?), I wasn’t moved by the act at all.  My thoughts were more of, “Yep.  Anna’s dead.  That’s a bummer.  Wonder what’s going to happen to Vronsky now.”

I realize I’m avoiding all sorts of issues with Anna’s death: Was she suffering from mental illness?  Would Vronsky have eventually tired of her jealousy and left her?  Was she remorseful in the moment before she died?  Why did Tolstoy kill her off?  Had it come to the point of logical exhaustion for the character?  Is her death the fulfillment of the Scripture passage at the beginning of the book?
Oh, there are so many questions we could discuss.

But what I’m really wondering is there anyone out there that read the book not knowing about Anna’s demise beforehand?  and if so, what was your reaction?

Now stay with me.  I’ll come to a question.  Eventually.

My family is one that reads.  Lots.  We are a family that reads a book together in the evenings and listens to audio books in the car.  One of my absolute favorite family memories involves my husband reading aloud to us by flashlight while we camped.  I have to say that having my children witness me working through the WEM list is a good thing.  It has to be.  They see mom reading (always a bonus).  They see mom journaling: taking notes, asking questions, thinking hard.


They too know that Oliver asked for more, and that Gulliver met talking horses.  They know that Christian made it to the Celestial City and that Madame Bovary died.  Some of these things they know because they learned them by reading the books themselves and some of them have “rubbed off” because it’s what I’m reading and I talk about the current book, and they ask me questions.


Someday when they have to read Anna Karenina and they already know that she dies, will this add to or take away from their reading experience.  Will they think, “Hey, I know something about this story!  This is going to be great!”  or “Oh, man.  I knew she was a goner from the beginning.  Why bother reading this?”

What do you think?


Posted by on November 21, 2012 in Anna Karenina


Tags: , , , ,

8 responses to “Not so surprised

  1. Ruth Lopez

    November 21, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Maybe your kids will be more curious to read these titles for themselves when they are older b/c they will be familiar with the stories. Sometimes that is what encourages us to read the book when we hear a little about the story.

    • Christine

      November 26, 2012 at 9:07 am

      True. Just like movie reviews, I suppose. I get a little taste in a preview and then want to go see the film.

  2. Amy Werner

    November 21, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I am one of those who came to the book not knowing the ending. I kind of figured all along that at some point Anna would self-destruct, but I did not know what the ending held until the moment of reading it. To me it was gruesome, disturbing and sad. And most of all, a very selfish act in so many ways. I think if I were to read the book again, knowing the ending already, it would just alert me to other things along the way. The journey of Anna Karenina (and the others) is richly told by Tolstoy and I cannot imagine that knowing the ending would take away from that. Just my opinion as one who just finished reading it for the first time. And by the way, I’m part of a WEM bookclub as well! So blessed to be able to read, dialogue and struggle well through these books! Thank you for your wonderful blog…as well as others I have found through yours.

    • Christine

      November 26, 2012 at 9:14 am

      Thanks for commenting, Amy. I agree. Anna’s death was gruesome, disturbing, and sad. Tolstoy knew how to play to his readers to get the reaction he wanted. Yes, knowing of Anna’s death did make me aware of “hints” throughout the story. It also made me flinch every time a train was mentioned.

      We’ve loved finding other WEM readers. At the beginning we felt like we were the only people in the world reading Don Quixote, and it was a delight to discover that we were wrong! Happy Reading!

  3. Christina Joy

    November 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

    I didn’t know. Although by the time I reached part seven I was pretty sure that’s where she was headed – that whole logical exhaustion thing, I think.

    I’ve wrestled with the same question. Their knowledge makes these works more accessible, but does it pique their instrest in ‘the rest of the story’ or diminish it in search of something new? Time will tell, I suppose, and since we won’t be finished with this list for another 15 years or so I bet we’ll get a chance to actually blog about the results :-).

    • Christine

      November 26, 2012 at 9:16 am

      15 years of wrap-up celebrations? I’m in!

  4. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    November 22, 2012 at 3:45 am

    I knew about Anna. BUT I did NOT know that the Anna/Vronsky scandal was a narrative foil for a much deeper story.

    “Classics are books which, the more we think we know them by hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.” — Italo Calvino

    • Christine

      November 26, 2012 at 9:15 am

      Good point. I came to the story thinking it was just going to be about unfaithfulness.


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