“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy

Book Title: Anna Karenina

Author: Leo Tolstoy

The story of Anna Karenina was supposedly conceived when Tolstoy arrived at a railway station shortly after a young woman had committed suicide. She had been the mistress of a neighbouring landowner. The incident haunted him thereafter.

Considered one of the greatest literary works of all time, Anna Karenina is so much more than a love story. Tolstoy presents the extravagance of 19th century Russian nobility, the ecstasy and agony of romantic passion, and the quest to find purpose in a largely superficial, frivolous society. But that’s just scratching the surface.

Anna is beautiful and elegant, possessing a haunting allure. Her loveless marriage to Karenin leads her to an extended affair with the charming Count Vronsky. When she inadvertently reveals their secret relationship, Anna is ostracised and becomes the focus of idle gossip. The enchantress at the beginning of the novel transforms into a bitter, jealous and painfully needy woman who is tormented by the estrangement from her son, weakened affection from her lover, and rejection from high society. She is consumed by her emotions to the point of madness. Her selfishness does not remove sympathy for Anna, who has fallen victim to the hypocrisy of a time when men were applauded for their promiscuity, and women shunned for doing the same.

Of equal significance is the story of farmer/landowner Levin, a reflection of Tolstoy himself. Through Levin, Tolstoy expresses his own views, i.e. his respect for the peasantry, rejection of high society and perception of faith and mortality. Levin falls in love with and marries the lovely, virtuous Kitty. While this story appears in stark contrast to that of Anna, it has its own melodramas. Referring back to the opening line of the novel “All happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion”.

Tolstoy’s character development makes Anna Karenina truly memorable. Anna is one of the most intriguing, tragic and enigmatic protagonists in literary fiction. Secondary characters contribute to the understanding of the era-the charismatic, unfaithful Stiva, his martyred wife Dolly and Agatha Mihalovna, the fundamentalist Christian and advisor to Karenin.

Tolstoy’s insight and expressive prose form a magnificent picture of pre-revolutionary St Petersburg and Moscow, a period identified by lavish balls, country estates, passionate affairs and intrigues.