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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Other thoughts on "Anna Karenina": The complexities of Tolstoy's characters

Having now read till part 5 chapter 15 (the novel has 8 parts), I've realised that "Anna Karenina" is much more complex than I thought. My knowledge and understanding of the story comes from the films I've seen- 1935, 1948, 1967 and 2012, and the story itself isn't very long, but the book is huge, like this edition I'm holding consists of 963 pages, because Tolstoy digs deep into people's minds and emotions, what they think and how they feel and how they react, how a person changes attitudes towards somebody and how emotions develop, etc. Most of these things can't be transferred to the big screen. Take Kitty for example. Most films give the wrong impression that she has a crush on Vronsky at the beginning and afterwards realises he doesn't have any feeling for her, and therefore she accepts Levin's 2nd proposal and gets married to him as though she just wants to get married, whereas in the novel Tolstoy lets us see how Kitty feels from the beginning to the end, how she sees both Vronsky and Levin and what prompts her to reject Levin, so her acceptance of Levin's proposal is not a betrayal of her feeling because she does not change, she simply realises what she failed to see... I of course don't blame the screenwriters and film directors, because I'm perfectly aware that films have their limitations and they can't focus too much on Kitty. The novel itself is a combination, or juxtaposition, of 2 stories- that of Anna and that of Levin, most films therefore choose to remove most events in Levin's story and keep him as well as Kitty in the background. I find this sad but very understandable. 
The same goes for Karenin, Anna and Vronsky. They're much more complicated than I thought. Especially Karenin. He's still a cold, rigid, duty-bound person obsessed with honour, public opinion and propriety, but Tolstoy lets us enter his head and sees things from his point of view, and I, while sympathising with Anna still, can't help thinking that Karenin isn't exactly emotionless- he suffers but people don't see it because he's unable to to identify and articulate his feelings and always tries to be dignified. I don't like him more, I don't side with him, even though there's a period where he, because of his generosity and forgiveness, becomes greater than and superior to Anna and Vronsky, since I feel that he doesn't forgive because he wishes to forgive but more because of his religion and he rejoices at the comforting thought that when doing so he remains dignified and stands above Anna and Vronsky, who, in his eyes, are always on the wrong. 
On the other hand, Anna's tragedy is not simply caused by adultery. She suffers because she thinks too much and is too honest- she can't lie about it, can't have a relationship behind her husband's back like most people in that society (see, the disloyal Oblonsky doesn't suffer). To say that Anna is selfish and wants too much, and instead of being pleased with what she has she wants something out there, like Keira Knightley said, is a simplification of the matter, in fact it's a very shallow, thoughtless statement. Anna has no happiness living with Karenin and has the misfortune of falling in love with a man not her husband, and it's not her passion, but her over-thinking, that torments her. 
Reading "Anna Karenina" I have a revelation: insight, in the meaning that concerns people, doesn't only mean the ability to know people's personalities and characters quickly, as I thought, but actually means the ability to understand how a person is likely to think and feel and act, the ability to enter people's heads and look upon life and things from their points of view. Writers like Toni Morrison can do that, I can't hate any of her characters, but it's only when I read Tolstoy that I understand it clearly and fully. 
This is a brilliant, brilliant book. A masterpiece. It evokes in me an overwhelming feeling which I can't identify but which I've never felt before. I should have written a more careful post but it takes a bit too much time (which should be spent on reading the novel instead) and I would like to publish my thoughts at this point, for I may again change my mind later. More will be updated. 

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