Do you remember how Herman Melville used the term “damp, drizzly November in my soul” to describe Ishmael’s funk? Well, we take issue with his descriptor. November is chock full of joy. So full, in fact, that we took a little unannounced blog break to really savor the Thanksgiving portion of that joy. We hope your portions were also savory, and thank you for coming back for seconds.
In addition to the eleventh month’s feast, we also have a couple of WEM birthdays to celebrate in November, and so we tied our Anna Karenina wrap-up into a part of Christine’s big weekend. We grabbed a quick lunch, tossed around our best ideas on Tolstoy’s work, and then hit the malls to spot all the fur, sparkle and Russian flair that seems to be trending this season.
This is a picture of the three of us after our wrap-up session.
Okay, fine. It’s totally not, but Christine did walk away with a slightly sparkly skirt. Close enough.
Here’s a quick summary of our ideas. Don’t judge them too harshly, remember, we had shopping to do.
All three of us hit on something important in our retitling of Anna Karenina, namely, that it wasn’t just Anna. Levin deserves a starring role in this novel, and so we gave him one. All three of us also mentioned something about searching and love.
Take note, these themes are going to be repeating themselves in this wrap-up, so just to make it really clear for everyone, I’ll spell them out with fancy little bullets
- There are two distinct, yet intertwined stories, that of Anna, and that of Levin.
- There is a great deal of exploring, searching, exploration, almost all done in the name of . . .
Okay, now that we have that all squared away, here are the answers to some of the other WEM prescribed questions. (Okay, in fairness to SWB, she doesn’t actually prescribe, she suggests.)
Chronicle or Fable?
This is obviously a chronicle, nothing fable-ous here.
What do the Characters Want?
Anna wants love. So does Levin, he just doesn’t know it. Well, maybe Levin actually wants faith, but he really, really doesn’t know that, and it isn’t until he discovers love that he gets faith. I hope I’m getting this right.
Faith, hope, and love. Sounds familiar. Did you catch all of Tolstoy’s scripture references? Adriana did.
What Stands In Their Way?
For Anna the rules and norms of religion and society seem to really trip her up. She wants out of the marriage she has, then she wants the certainty of Vronsky’s love without the commitment of marriage. Messy, messy.
For Levin it seems to be his own brain getting in the way of things. He’s just sort of an overthinker, I think. What do you think?
Point of View
Sparknotes told us that this was one of the earliest examples of internal dialog, but we thought that seemed a little sketchy, because certainly we got a fair amount of internal dialog in Jane Eyre, and Crime and Punishment is pretty much built entirely of internal dialog. Maybe it was a Russian Thing.
We thought it had a pretty simple style. I’m using this as my excuse for failing to get many Classic Word of the Day posts written, and I’m sticking to it.
IImages and Metaphors
For images and metaphors we skimmed over the list from Spark Notes, apparently Tolstoy didn’t like trains. Then we also wondered if Anna’s portrait meant anything, but we didn’t really come to great conclusions. Do you have any?
Beginnings and Endings
Here are a few of the things we noticed when we compared the beginning and ending of the novel:
- Anna is not at either the beginning or the end.
- The novel begins with the unhappiness that is a result of unfaithfulness and ends with happiness that is the result of faith and faithfulness.
- We meet Anna first through the eyes of someone else, and we learn more about her death through the eyes of someone else.
- Trains, Trains.
Sympathizing with Characters
We all felt some connection to Anna in the beginning, and none to her by the end. We also determined that you could replace the words “Anna” with “the novel” and “her” with “it” in the previous sentence, and have a shared sentiment. Also, we loved Levin, and could relate to Dolly as a mother.
Tolstoy’s technique of running parallel stories of Levin and Anna showed the reader the differences decisions about love and faithfulness can have. We think that his handling of the human experience in this form may be what makes this novel so well-loved and admired. What do you think?
This is the question that always trips us up, but it seems important to note two things here:
- Tolstoy models Levin after himself. If that isn’t self-reflective I don’t know what is.
- Both Levin and Anna are in the process of writing books about the things they love yet can’t connect with – agriculture and children, respectively. Neither is able to solve their own problems by the writing of books, only the actions of love can do this. Levin learns. Sadly for Seriozha and Ani, Anna does not.
- Oh, and a bonus thought: Kosnyshev publishes a book and it doesn’t do one lick of good for him or anyone else. So one might wonder, why did Tolstoy bother?
Argument, and Do We Agree?
Well, this is where we should be able to write a dissertation, or at least a fairly well-footnoted term paper, but alas, my page was pretty blank. I hate to speak for my well-educated friends, especially when I seem to have so little to back me up, but I’d say that we agree with Tolstoy’s take on love, faithfulness, marriage, and humanity. Those strokes aren’t too bold, are they? Certainly not when a rare outing to the stores with friends awaits.