Anna Karenina, a married woman, falls in love with the dashing Count Vronsky. Their affair scandalises society and has increasingly devastating consequences for them both.
The story of Anna herself is just one of the many interweaving personal tales in this long and complex novel. Set in 19th century Russia, the action moves from Moscow to Petersburg, to the countryside and abroad, and covers a period of several years.
The other protagonist of note is Konstantin Levin, a landowner, whose story is told in parallel with that of Anna. Levin is said to represent the views of Tolstoy himself, and offers a view of a life very different to Anna’s.
No moral judgements are made. It is left to the reader to determine how they feel about the actions, choices and beliefs of the main characters.
Where did I get hold of the book?
I got this one out of the university library, and at time of writing have already had to renew it once. If I don’t manage to get to the library before it’s due (tomorrow), I’ll have to renew it again!
- Find the book in a library near you.
- Support local independent bookshops by buying the book from Hive (UK).
What did I learn from it?
Factually, I learned a certain amount about Russian history of the period. I also realised that I’d now like to give War and Peace a go! But I don’t think I’ll rush into that one…
I also learned rather a lot about myself.
I learned that I’m perhaps not quite so dedicated to reading as I thought I was. This is the first really long book I’ve come across in this challenge (with the exception of The Lord of the Rings, which doesn’t count as I’d read it before), and I struggled to set aside the necessary time to read it.
I managed it in the end, after an epic reading marathon last weekend, but I was very conscious all the way through of all the other things I’d rather be doing. This is not quite the attitude I expected to engender when I started the challenge back in January.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been focusing on taking practical action after reading each book, but I’m now finding that I’d like to spend a lot more time creating work of my own. Whilst I do believe every writer needs to read widely, there has to be a balance between the absorbing and the creating – and recently there has been very little balance: it’s been Tolstoy all the way. I have a greatly increased desire to make my own mark on the world – and yet the cause of this desire has also been the cause of my lack of progress!
However, there is one positive thing I’ve taken away with me: I’ve learned that the length of such books is no barrier to enjoyment. I was slightly worried that Anna Karenina would feel like a chore, something worthy that had to be ‘got through’. But I’m pleased to report that I absolutely loved it.
Also, unexpectedly, forcing myself to sit down and plough through it broke through a kind of barrier for me. Although I kept resisting it, once I did start turning the pages I became swept away with the story. It did something that no other book has done in a very long time: it reminded me that not only can getting lost in a story inspire change, it can also be supremely relaxing. I emerged from my epic reading sessions feeling not shattered but energised.
Energised and ready to write my own masterpiece!
How did it make me see the world differently?
It’s always interesting to read stories of totally unfamiliar worlds; in this case, Russian high society and the landed gentry in the 19th century. We (well, I anyway) wonder what it would have been like to live in such society: what choices would I make? who would I hang out with? would I enjoy myself or would I hate it?
The character I most related to in Anna Karenina was Levin. I share his preference for country life over city life; his impatience with social etiquette, paying calls and making small talk; his constant attempts to do the right thing, never being quite sure what the right thing actually is.
This all resulted in me seeing not the world, as such, differently, but seeing my place in it more clearly. I do struggle with ‘the social round’, I have views that are markedly different from those of many of the people I meet, and I often feel like an outsider.
But I have learned that this is OK; that there is room in the world for people like me as much as for more socially adept characters. I just need to focus on finding the ones I can trust, who have my back, and who I feel at home with – and then I will truly feel I have found my place.
What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?
Three things, based on the above.
Firstly, I will learn the lesson of the long books! When I choose the titles for next year’s Book Diaries, I will be more wary of book length, so that I don’t end up spending several weeks in reading purdah at the expense of all my other projects.
Secondly, and more immediately, I will schedule my time better. I will identify what projects have priority at any given moment, and I will ensure that I allow just as many hours to honour those as I do the Book Diaries. Priorities will likely change quite frequently, but if I can strike a balance between absorbing and creating, that will be a good start.
Finally, I will make more of an effort to find and spend time with people who are sympathetic to my aims and worldview. Whether this is online or in real life (hopefully both), I will home in on what makes me feel comfortable (in a good way) and challenged (also in a good way), and I will actively seek this out.
Over to you…
Has this post inspired you to read the book for yourself?
If you’ve read it, do you agree with what I’ve said? Did you have insights that I’ve not mentioned?
Please share in the comments below!