Anna Karenina

It is done! I have finally read all of Anna Karenina! My first attempt a few years ago ended around page 200, but as I have been bored and in need of some sort of project, I recently decided to make a second attempt. This time I really enjoyed it!

I was still not very interested in the title character’s story arc, but that is really only one strand in this complex novel. Rather than writing a simple love story, Tolstoy dissects a section of Russian upper class society, includes several story arcs, and shows the events from multiple perspectives by letting us follow the thoughts of many in the large cast. The result is a rich story, filled with characters that are flawed, but for the most part easy to like (my favourites were Levin, Kitty and Dolly).

I am sure I missed a lot during this first read and I hope to return to it again, if not to reread all of it so at least to revisit some favourite scenes, but for no I am satisfied that it is finished.

Anna Karenina was part of my Classics Club reading challenge. I read it in the Louise and Aylmer Maude translation.

25 thoughts on “Anna Karenina

  1. It’s definitely a book I think you would respond to differently at different ages. If I’d read it when I was younger, I think I would have been drawn in by the Anna/Vronsky strand, but instead I found the rest of the characters and elements much more interesting, and ended up sympathising with Karenin!!

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    1. I had sympathy for both the Karenins, but none for Vronsky.

      I did find the other characters more interesting, but I also invested more in them as I was hoping they might get a happier ending. I don’t really like tragedies, especially not long ones, so I noticed that I relaxed any time the story focused on someone else.

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  2. I am glad you enjoyed it and got all the way through this time. After having watched a tv adaptation a while ago, I am not particularly keen to read it, but like you I may be more interested in other story arcs than that of the title character. I am still reading Crime and Punishment, which is my first Russian classic and whilst I mostly enjoy it, I doubt it’ll become a favourite.

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    1. I haven’t seen any TV-adaptions, but I would assume that they focus mostly on Anna’s story, whereas the book also follows the stories of all the other people who’s lives she touches. I would estimate that less than 50% of the book is focused on Anna.

      Anna Karenina was my first major Russian classic, but I have read other Russian literature and eased in on the major classics by reading various novellas by the more famous authors. That’s also why I choose a Tolstoy novel as my first big Russian classic, after Pushkin I have liked his novellas the most.

      Good luck with Crime and Punishment!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! Yes, it makes sense that the side stories have been toned down in the adaptations. Perhaps, I should have started with a few novellas as well, although I wouldn’t say Crime and Punishment has made me loose my appetite for Russian classics. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. It’s good that you persisted – some books just don’t hit us at the right time and need another chance. Like you I was not that drawn by the character of Anna, and find she gets too much weight in the popular idea of the novel (partly due to the title and because the “doomed love story” overrides everything else in the popular imagination). But the whole tapestry of different characters was wonderful and something I’d definitely like to revisit.

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    1. I think my main problem the first time was the doomed love story, I don’t like tragedies, and especially not in long novels, so when things started to go bad I let myself get distracted by other books and lost track of the plot. This time I focused on all the other stories and liked it a lot more.

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  4. I read it ages ago, and thought Anna Karenina was both tepid and stupid; egotism +100 ๐Ÿ˜‰ I did like Karenin, though, he seemed like a decent guy put in a very difficult position. As for Vronsky, he and Anna were two peas in a pod. Not very charitable of me, I know, but that’s how I remember this book.
    I do wonder how I’d read it today, though! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, Anna was stuck in a loveless marriage to a man she didn’t even like, but had been pressured to marry. Although I didn’t like her I can have sympathy with her attempt to break free. However, as society won’t allow her her freedom I think it is selfish of Vronsky to tempt her.

      I find that reading 19th and early 20th century fiction makes it very easy to see why generous divorce laws are for the most part a very good thing. In this case it would have circumvented the whole tragedy.

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      1. I actually deleted that part of my comment where I said that having known a few divorced pairs I think my reading of Anna Karenina would’ve been different now ๐Ÿ˜‰ seems like we think along the same lines!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I did find Anna rather annoying and selfish, but her situation was rather terrible so I still wished she would get her divorce and live moderately happily ever after (which I knew wouldn’t happen).

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  5. Well done! It’s such a sense of achievement isn’t it, I almost cried with relief when I finished War and Peace! I am tempted by Anna Karenina and can imagine that there are far more story lines than hers to get involved in – may be one for my next challenge list?!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is, I was so pleased when I could finally move it from my To Be Read-shelf.

      Maybe I will read War and Peace one day, but for now I’m just very satisfied to have read one of the great Russian classics.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve had my books I can’t get through, notably “Tom Jones,” which I had to start four times. (Got bogged down with the “Man on the Hill” episode the first three times.) Just now rereading “Don Quixote” with my partner, which makes it a lot funnier than when I read it alone 20-30 years ago.

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  7. Aaaahh! Go you! ‘Anna Karenina’ has been on my shelf for YEARS. I’ve wanted to read it but then I accidentally had the ending spoiled for me so it’s been hard to muster the enthusiasm for something so lengthy when I know where it’s going. A student of mine read it last year and loved it, encouraging me to give it a go and saying – much like what you said above – that what I knew was just a small piece of a large, complex, beautiful story. Your review here, as hers did last year, keep nudging me towards tackling it. We’ll see if/when I do… But congratulations on finishing it! You’re amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, I am rather proud of it ๐Ÿ™‚ I also did know some parts of the ending, which was part of the reason I struggled the first time. I’m not too bothered by spoilers in general, it was more that I didn’t like the way it was heading. This time I decided that Anna’s story line was really a side story and focused on everyone else instead, that worked much better.

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      1. My student who read it last year said the same! She said Anna felt like part of an ensemble cast in a far larger story where many people were important. I’ll be sure to let you know if/when I summon the courage to start this myself :).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Your student is right ๐Ÿ™‚ It is a really good novel, and I like the bragging rights I get from having read it, but I think it is too long to read unless you really want to.

        I have decided that ~300 pages is my upper limit for novels that I read because I feel like I should. Longer than that and I either really want to read it, or I have found myself with way too much reading time (e.g. because of a pandemic…)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ooo, I like this! I should consider what my upper limit is for reading because I *should,* too. That would make discerning what to read when and easier experience. It would probably make the reading more enjoyable as well.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It is a very helpful rule. I have another, similar rule, I try to be brave and read books outside of my reading comfort zone, as long as they are less than 200 pages. Most of my reading from outside the Nordic countries and the Anglosphere are books I dared to try mostly because they were short.

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      5. I think that’s important, too. When I was in my 20s, after undergrad when I was working as a youth minister, I read a little of everything. I was always reading and I made a point of going outside my comfort zone. Now, as life’s gotten busier, I don’t read nearly as much as I used to and the outside the comfort zone thing has faded a bit. I’d like to recapture that and your idea of 200 pages or less could be a very helpful way to frame it. I may steal this idea from you, too :D.

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