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The Eternal Error,
By A Customer
This review is from: Anna Karenina (Hardcover)
According to Tolstoy, the genesis of Anna Karenina was derived from three specific events: (1) An idea for a story Tolstoy developed in 1870 about a woman who deserts her husband for another man, based, in part, on the life of his sister, Marya; (2) a newspaper story concerning the mistress of one of Tolstoy's neighbors, who, feeling only despair at being abandoned by her lover, hurled herself under a train; and (3) a sentence from Pushkin's Tales of the Balkins ("The guests were arriving at the country house..."), that Tolstoy read by chance one day in 1873. Supposedly, this sentence from Pushkin fueled Tolstoy's imagination to such a degree that he completed a first draft of Anna Karenina in only three weeks.
A novel about the meaning of life and the role happiness does or does not play in it, Anna Karenina is the story of a married woman's adulterous affair with Count Vronsky. As foreshadowed in the book's early pages, the affair ends tragically, for both Anna and Vronsky.
The novel (which Tolstoy's contemporary, Dostoyevsky, considered "a perfect work of art"), also tells the story of Constantine Levin, a gentleman farmer whose lifelong pursuit of happiness and fulfillment culminates, not in his long-awaited marriage to Kitty Shcherbatskaya, but with the advice of a simple peasant about "living rightly, in God's way."
From a few simple, yet melodramatic events (and the depths of a dizzyingly fecund imagination), Tolstoy fashioned a beautiful, profound and enduring novel dealing with stark questions of both life and religious faith as seen through the eyes of the farmer, Levin. Also a morality play, Anna Karenina delves deeply into the damaging effects of society's ostracization, especially regarding the characters of Anna and Vronsky.
Many consider Anna Karenina Tolstoy's most personal work and, indeed, many of the novel's scenes do mirror Tolstoy's relationship with his own wife, Sonya. Levin's courtship of Kitty and his expressions of love for her, written with chalk on a table are reflective of Tolstoy's courtship of Sonya. Even more evocative of Tolstoy, himself, is the soul-wrenching scene in which Levin gives Kitty his diaries to read, exposing his very soul to the woman he has come to love so completely.
The final scenes of the novel, especially Levin's intense search for the answer to the meaning of existence are reflective of Tolstoy's own search, dramatically documented in his beautiful memoir, A Confession, and considered by many to be one of the most truthful, agonizing and soul-searching statements of authentic spirituality.
The publication of Anna Karenina coincided with the end of Tolstoy's life of material and emotional luxury. From this point on, he concentrated on a deeper and more mature quest. Although he would go on to write the beautiful novel, Resurrection, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, a true existential masterpiece, Tolstoy's career reached its zenith in the character of Anna Karenina and her seemingly irrational embrace of death. Anna's husband, Karenin, is often overlooked, although he is equally compelling; a complex and emotional character who briefly embraces the doctrine of Christian forgiveness in his emotional denial over the loss of Anna.
No doubt the second most famous line of the book is Vronsky's startling realization: "It showed him (Vronsky) the eternal error men make in imagining that happiness consists in the realization of their desires."
Almost epic in scope and poignantly detailed, Anna Karenina represents the perfect balance of drama, morality and philosophical inquiry. How are we to live our lives, the novel asks, when all the illusions we hold so close to our heart have been stripped away? What are we to believe in and cling to?
With its emphasis on drama over polemic, Anna Karenina thus embodies art of the highest order. In its portrayal of man's timeless struggle to make sense out of life while coming to terms with death, both its theme and its characters remain, now and forever, timeless.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 18, 2010 8:22:40 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2012 12:27:00 AM PST
In reply to an earlier post on Aug 14, 2010 7:31:42 PM PDT
Allen Smalling says:
The comment by nilkn was one picked nit that overlooks the usefulness and emotion of the original review by A Customer back in 2000.
I can't think of anyone else who would object to that imposition of "Vronky" to specify the antecedent pronoun. There are some style manuals that would insist on brackets instead like this: [Vronsky] but that is a small matter of style.
How sad that nllkn took a highly-favored review that has helped hundreds of people and undermined (or tried to undermine) its effect with an off-subject punctilio.
Nilkn, if you want to save Amazon reviewers from themselves, there are far worse instances of inferior prose, punctuation and proofreading out there by the bunch.
In reply to an earlier post on Nov 11, 2010 12:46:54 PM PST
R. T. says:
I thought the Customer Review section was about reviewing the book and/or product. Want to talk about something pointless - "I haven't read the book yet, but...".
In reply to an earlier post on Dec 15, 2010 3:26:16 PM PST
J. A Bowen says:
I am always amazed at the hordes of people out there with nothing better to do than nitpick someone's excellent work. Perhaps it is out of jealousy that they couldn't accomplish same. Whatever it is, they appear to be pedantic and witlessly pretentious. I wrote a review of "Anna Karenina", as it is one of my most cherished classics, and I only wish mine was as good as this.
Posted on Jan 10, 2011 4:11:36 PM PST
Amazon Customer says:
Erudite, concise and clear; a rare combination. Thanks for this review.
Posted on Feb 27, 2011 2:31:36 PM PST
Laura A. Casey says:
I have had the book for a while and never sat down to start it. I will after reading your review, and especially now taht I can download on my Kindel. THe book will have to be given away or left on my library shelf. Thank you.
Posted on Apr 11, 2011 10:02:09 PM PDT
Posted on Jan 22, 2012 12:11:32 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 22, 2012 12:16:11 AM PST
In reply to an earlier post on Mar 5, 2012 7:39:09 AM PST
This is a completely non-sensical comment by someone (nk) who admits he has not read the book! A gramarian's rant.
Posted on Dec 16, 2014 1:43:09 PM PST
Will Ryan says:
Levin was hardly a "gentleman farmer." He's an aristocrat, perhaps a Count. Tolstoy never does let this reader know Levin's rank, although we know he owns extensive estates including wooded lands and farmed land. Levin calls himself an aristocrat and haughtily considers his lineage to be much superior to be that of Vronsky. Levin: "You consider Vronsky to be an aristocrat. I don't. A man whose father crawled up from nothing by intrigues and whose mother has had relations with heaven knowns whom. No, pardon me, I consider myself and people like me to be aristocrats, people who can point back to three or four honorable generations their family, all with a high standard of education..." Sounds a bit proud to be a man destined to live for the love of God.
For all his spiritual epiphany at the end of the book, Levin still works his peasants to exhaustion, has nothing but contempt for ordinary, untitled people of any class, and is determined to squeezed every cent of profit that he can from his estate so that he'll amass wealth and have a fine patrimony to pass to his son.
There isn't a character in the book, Levin included, who isn't in one way or another loathsome. At least the much maligned Vronsky does really love Anna, a love she never appreciates and never trusts. He's not the character Tolstoy wants us to admire, yet in the end, although plagued by grief at Anna's suicide even years later, he emerges as the most admirable, the most honorable, and the most magnanimous of all the characters in the book. He builds a hospital, presumably raises Anna's ward, and volunteers to fight the Turks, and die, in defense of European Slavs. No spiritual epiphany, but a great spirit nevertheless. Perhaps too great for his love, Anna.