A brief note on translations: when reading a book that has been translated into English, choosing a translation can be absolutely critical to the enjoyment of the book. A poorly translated edition can ruin the reading experience. When I decided to read Anna Karenina, I did some research on translations. Generally, in the case of classic literature, the best translations are not available as free kindle versions.
The translation that is available for free is typically the Garnett translation. The reviews that I read reflect that this is not the best translation of Tolstoy’s masterwork – readers often complain that Garnett has taken a book written by a Russian novelist and somehow trransformed it into a book that sounds like it was written by a British Victorian author
Having said that, I have really enjoyed parts 1 & 2 of Anna Karenina. These two sections focus on two female characters: Anna herself, and Kitty. Anna is married to Alexei, a prominent figure in St. Petersburg society. Kitty is an unmarried girl living in Moscow. Both of these characters end up involved with the unmarried Vronsky.
Anna is portrayed at the beginning of the book as a a young, married matron who is beyond reproach. She is popular in society, and is quite pretty and vivacious. Kitty, on the other hand, is on the hunt for a husband
This book is full of glittering despair. The role of women in Tsarist Russian society is primarily decorative, and feels arid and unfulfilling. Anna is tirelessly pursued by Vronsky, in spite of the fact that it is her character, not his, that is going to suffer if the relationship develops into an affair. There is a sense of futility in Anna’s behavior.
There were some quotes I really liked:
“That which for almost a year had constituted the one exclusive desire of Vronsky’s life, replacing all former desires; that which for Anna had been an impossible, horrible, but all the more enchanting dream of happiness – this desire had been satisfied. Pale, his lower jaw trembling, he stood over her and pleaded with her to be calm, himself not knowing why or how.”
This is how Tolstoy tells the reader that the affair has been consummated. It is impossible not to read a certain amount of despairing foreshadowing in this passage. The simultaneously occurring events where Vronsky essentially rides his mare to her death and has to put her down during the race, which occurs during the time that Anna becomes pregnant and tells her husband that she has been unfaithful, feels, as well, like a parallel to this relationship that is destined to end badly. Vronsky makes a careless mistake in jumping the horse and the horse is lost and must be euthanized because of his lack of attention to it’s welfare.
I just finished the section where Anna tells Alexei that she has been unfaithful, her desperation palpable:
“No, you are not mistaken,” she said slowly, looking desperately into his cold face. “You are not mistaken. I was and could not help being in despair. I listen to you and think about him. I love him, I am his mistress, I cannot stand you, I’m afraid of you, I hate you . . . “Do what you like with me.”
So, does Vronsky love Anna, or is she merely a toy, to be discarded as broken?
One final note – I’m not having nearly as much trouble with the Russian names as I expected.