Literature: Anna Karenina
"All happy families are like one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
— The opening line of the novel
"The central theme of Anna Karenina is that a rural life of moral simplicity, despite its monotony, is the preferable personal narrative to a daring life of impulsive passion, which only leads to tragedy."Anna Karenina
is a Russian novel by Leo Tolstoy
, who also wrote War and Peace
. It was first published as a serial novel in 1873. Like War and Peace
, it has Loads and Loads of Characters
One of the main threads of the novel centers on Anna Arkadaevna Karenina who is a good, kind, empathetic, but impulsive person and a loving mother who dotes on her son. Like the majority of the women in her social circle, her marriage was determined not by love, but by polite courtship and social convenience. She's married to the much older, cold, and highly respected diplomat Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin (Russian last names generally get altered by gender). One day, after traveling from St. Petersburg to Moscow on a train, she meets the brave officer Alexei Krillovich Vronsky at the train depot, who at the time appears to be on the fast track in his military career. It's Love at First Sight
, though the fact that Anna is married — and cannot be granted a fair divorce in the Russian legal system — complicates matters significantly. Gradually, the pair sacrifices everything
else they value for each other. Unfortunately, this is not a typical Western romance, but a tragedy: giving everything up for love may not be worth it, as the reactions of friends and family show, especially when said love may be transient.
The other main thread revolves around Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin, who (in contrast to most of the other characters) lives on an estate out in the country rather than in Moscow or St. Petersburg. His country lifestyle (and overly romanticized appreciation for the peasants' way of life) comes into conflict with the customs of high society in the cities, particularly in his stern but well-meaning outlook on life. At the story's start, he is seeking to be married to Ekaterina Alexandrovna "Kitty" Shtcherbatskaya, whom he has known for some time. However, he faces numerous issues of confidence
, such as the fact that Kitty is also initially being courted by the very handsome and desirable Vronsky. Although Levin and Anna are both impulsive, Levin carefully considers his options, whereas Anna is unable to resist her desire for a better life.
Some chapters take the point of view of other characters, such as Levin's easygoing friend Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky (Anna's brother, who is entering a tough spot in his marriage due to infidelity) and Alexei Karenin (who becomes severely depressed when he learns of Anna's infidelity and finds it very difficult deciding whether he will officially divorce Anna, a socially risky move for him, her, and their son). Levin's brothers, the destitute Nikolai Dmitrievich and the highly successful Sergius Ivanich (Levin's half-brother), also play large roles in some chapters, particularly by interjecting philosophical viewpoints in various discussions (which, in some cases, are throughly mocked in the narration).
This book is a Russian classic and tends to be considered a classic love story, though it also contains touches of satire of contemporary Russian society. The novel has been adapted into many versions
for both theatrical film and TV, with actresses such as Greta Garbo
, Vivien Leigh
, Jacqueline Bisset
, Sophie Marceau
and Keira Knightley
in the title role.
Entertainment Weekly ranked it the #1 novel ever written.
This novel provides examples of:
Tropes found in the 1927 film ("Love"):
- Comforting Comforter: Anna tucks her son in.
- Completely Different Title: MGM changed the title to Love so they could run ads saying "Garbo and Gilbert in Love", a nod to their Real Life romance.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Conforms more or less to Anna's story, but includes none of Levin's story.
- Revised Ending: MGM ordered two endings—Tolstoy's ending, in which Anna throws herself in front of the train, and a happy ending in which Anna survives and she and Vronsky are reunited after Karenin's death. Contrary to what the restored edition of the film says, the Happy Ending was not specifically for American audiences; exhibitors had a choice of which ending to show and in many areas the original ending was shown.
- Studio Audience: A rare example of this in a live-action film. When this film was given a musical score as it was being restored in 1994, the score was recorded in the presence of a live audience that was watching the movie. This resulted in a score with audience laughter at inappropriate moments, and the sound of applause when Anna and Vronsky are reunited in the Happy Ending.
- Time Skip: Three years between Anna leaving Vronsky and the Happy Ending.