Postechian’s Pick : Anna Karenina
Postechian’s Pick : Anna Karenina
  • Reporter Ryu Nu-ri
  • 승인 2019.10.18 15:02
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▲Anna Karenina book cover
▲Anna Karenina book cover


Anna Karenina is a Russian novel written by Leo Tolstoy. After it was published in 1878, it has been considered as one of the best novels that Russia has ever produced. William Faulkner described it as “the best novel ever written,” and Fyodor Dostoevsky described it “flawless.” Many Anglo-American writers also see Anna Karenina as the greatest novel ever written in Russia. It is a complex novel composed of eight parts. It features dozens of characters and various themes that richly portray Imperial Russian society.  

Anna Karenina, a married noblewoman and socialite, did not feel loved by her husband Count Karenin, a senior government official. Wanting to be loved, she one day falls into an intense affair with Count Vronsky.
As their relationship progressed, Anna’s infidelity is caught by Karenin. However, Anna gives birth to Vronsky’s illegitimate daughter, and she almost dies of puerperal fever. After she recovered, Anna then escapes to Italy with Vronsky, but faces hardships in Italy as she is not Vronsky’s rightful wife. Count Vronsky, still young, wanted to continue his social life in Russia, so the couple returns to their homeland. But in Moscow, Anna becomes further isolated and anxious while Vronsky pursues his social life. Despite Vronsky’s reassurances, she grows increasingly obsessed and paranoid and fears to lose Vronsky’s love. Anna becomes more and more jealous and irrational towards Vronsky, and this leads to a tragic end.
A parallel story within the novel is that of Konstantin Lëvin, a wealthy country landowner who wants to marry Princess Kitty, sister to Princess Dolly and sister-in-law to Anna’s brother Prince Oblonsky. His proposal was declined first since Count Vronsky was flirting with Kitty at that moment. But not long after, Vronsky meets Anna Karenina and falls in love with her instead of Kitty. Devastated, Kitty falls ill and attempts to recover her health at a spa in Germany. Afterward, Kitty returns to Russia and with support from Dolly and Oblonsky, Lëvin proposes to Kitty again. This time the two become engaged and marry. Besides the love story between Kitty and Lëvin, the novel details Lëvin’s difficulties in managing his estate.

While many assume this is just a romantic novel, I believe that the novel is not as simple as that. The first sentence of the book begins with the famous sentence, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” which I think penetrates the theme of Anna Karenina. As the sentence suggests, to have a happy family, everything must be perfect. However, whenever something lacks in the family physically or mentally, an unhappy family for a different reason is made. So, I would say that the theme of human marriage is what Anna Karenina is really about.
Tolstoy had agonized over “how humans should live” throughout his life. One of the things that he was most interested in was the theme of human marriage. He often used this theme in his other novels too. He tried to show what kind of a family that a person should pursue by showing various types of marriages in Anna Karenina. As many readers see, Lëvin and Kitty’s family seems to be the ideal family. However, Tolstoy left some implications that there is a difference between couples that are inherently incomprehensible even when he portrayed Lëvin and Kitty. Perhaps Tolstoy doubted the necessity of marriage itself when he gave thought to the subject of human marriage.

It is truly one of the masterpieces of Russian literature. Anna Karenina captured the hearts of many with the universal subject of love, marriage, and family affairs. It also well described the customs and life of Russians in a period of historical transition in the late 19th century.