Review of Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’

Ah, the hubris to criticize a work like Leo Tolstoys’ ‘Anna Karenina’. Many people think ‘Anna’ is the greatest novel ever written. But these reviews for writers are meant to analyze writing techniques, with an eye to using similar approaches in your writing, and to avoid methods that might not be best today. Remember that Tolstoy published ‘Anna’ in 1878 and modern audiences might may balk at some passages such as the drawn out political or philosophical discussions. (The parts some readers skip!)
For example, there is a scene in ‘Anna’ where they are voting on something and Levin doesn’t understand what is going on. But in his case, he just doesn’t care that much. He thinks it is meaningless. And he might be right.
I suppose it shows well life in the 1800’s in Russia, but it has tempted me to skip them. I didn’t, and the final scene where Levin comes to appreciate living for goodness, or God, lines up well with my personal beliefs.
This is a great novel and Tolstoy uses the very close third-person point of view I think is almost always best. There are a few times when I wished he had written from a different characters POV. In the scene where Anna meets Vronsky everything is from the POV of poor Kitty, who has been jilted by Vronsky. She sees and understands the glow of a woman falling in love that Anna has. But I really wanted to understand Anna’s thoughts. That ‘meeting of minds’ that lovers experience is not explored by Tolstoy. I leaned towards being a fan of Kitty’s father Prince Schrebatski, and he saw Vronsky as the ‘un-serious’ suitor of Kitty he was. What did Kitty and Anna see in him?
And then as the relationship of Anna and Vronsky developed, I felt the lack of in-depth understanding of this great romance left me wanting more. That Anna was in a cold, loveless marriage was a tragedy, and I fully appreciated why she would want more. This initial phase reminded me of D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. But I expected more of the passion and sex that a Lawrence novel would have delivered. I recognize ‘Anna’ was written fifty years earlier and in an environment of strict Tzarist censorship. Today’s audience expects more.
Anna was published in Russia in 1878. Lady Chatterley was published in England in 1928. A weakness I feel in Anna is we do not experience the falling in love of Anna. (But we do see Levin falling, sort of.) And there is no sex in Anna. I wanted to better understand her. What drew her to Alexi Vronsky? Tall, dashing? We see their first meeting through the eyes of Kitty Shchrebatsky, I would like to better understand and experience what Anna experiences. Her husband, Alexei Karanin, is cold and does not love her. Both Anna and Stephan Oblonsky commit adultery. Stiva reconciles with his wife, Dolly, with Anna’s help. (Anna is Stiva’s sister.)
The gut wrenching pain, the electric pulse that rips at the guts, on learning one is being cheated on. That I would like to have seen explored.
In parallel to the collapse of Anna’s mind and relationship, we see the growth and coming together of Levin and Kitty. But again I was left wanting more of both.
And the double standard was infuriating. Anna was ostracized from society while Vronsky could still enjoy all the social interaction as did Oblonsky. Women really got the short end of the hypocrisy. It reminded me of how frustrated I was at the end of Hardy’s ‘Tess’. Same social orders we are better off leaving behind.