Monday, September 2, 2013

Anna & Me: Part One

As I mentioned here, I'll be reading Leo Tolstoy's novel, Anna Karenina, and blogging about my journey through one of the great classics. The novel is broken in to eight parts, so I'll post after finishing each one.

After finishing part one, I must admit I find the title of Tolstoy's novel to be a bit of a misnomer. The first few chapters are narrated by Stepan Arkadyevitch, a member of the Oblonsky family and devoted brother to Anna. Though Stepan mentions Anna, her character is not properly introduced until 6% in to the novel (I am reading AK on a Kindle so I am not sure how many traditional "pages" in to the novel I am, but every hard copy I've ever seen is pretty hefty). While I can appreciate a slower introduction to Russian society before meeting such a momentous figure, I assumed Anna would take over the novel once she entered the plot. But no - thus far the story has been narrated from various perspectives. There are several plot lines, none of which seem to be the primary.

Stiva (Stepan) begins the novel by whining about his self-made predicament - he has been caught cheating on his wife, Dolly, and she will not speak to him. I am not yet sure for whom I am to feel sympathy. While my initial reaction was to feel sorry for Dolly, her timid nature and malleability is rather pathetic and off-putting. 

We also meet Dolly's young sister Kitty, a young, romantically idealistic girl who probably reminds Dolly of herself before she was wed. Levin, and old family friend, comes in from the country to propose to Kitty, having left town several years ago thinking he had no chance. Levin, while on the surface appears to be a sympathetic character - his proposal is rejected after all - becomes whiny, a little misogynistic, and irritatingly idealistic once he begins narrating. Though he initially expressed ardor for Kitty, after much thought it seems he just wants a wife, any wife. Now, this is certainly not abnormal in 19th century Russia, but I hoped Levin would fill the role of romantic hero. 

Kitty rejects Levin under the assumption and hope that another more "acceptable" suitor, Vronsky, will make her an offer. Kitty's parent are split on the issue - interestingly so. Kitty's father believes Levin to be the better man while her mother much prefers the pretty refinement of Vronsky. I think it's a compelling role reversal - the father desires a strong, protective family man for his daughter while the mother wants someone shiny and new. 

Once Anna is introduced it becomes evident that she has a great affect on the people around her. Stiva called upon Anna to help mend his relationship with Dolly, which she does with little to no effort. Kitty immediately takes a liking to Anna - as does Vronsky. The interchange between the two of them will be the driving force of the novel, and though I am intrigued by their potential affair, I find the other characters more engaging. If Tolstoy doesn't set up Karenin (Anna's husband) as a right prick, I might find myself disliking Anna for her impending infidelity. 

Though Anna attempts to remove herself from temptation by fleeing Moscow and returning home to Petersburg, I cannot yet connect with her "plight." Obviously I don't know what 19th century Russian society was like for women, as I sit here in 21st century America next to a husband of my own choosing. Vronsky doesn't seem very honorable - when he narrates he fully recognizes Kitty's feelings for him (prior to meeting Anna) and yet still engages in behavior which would make her believe he loves her. He openly admits to loving his bachelor life with no plans to change it. 

Part One ends with Anna back home in Saint Petersburg and Vronsky in a nearby hotel, having followed her to confess his feelings. Levin returned home to his own estate in the country to nurse his wounds. Though I know, based on general knowledge of the story line  that Anna will eventually engage in an extra-marital affair, I cannot help wondering how this story will transgress among the other characters. 

I don't want to ask "does it get better," because like any classic book I'm sure it does, but I can't help wondering if Anna will ever become the character I long for her to be? Is Karenin truly that awful? Does Kitty snap out of her stupor and regret refusing Levin? Does Dolly and Stiva's reconciliation last? (I think no on this one). 

p.s. Happy Labor Day! 

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