Anna Karenina By Lev Tolstoy A Classic • Considered one of the world’s greatest novels • At least nine film and TV film versions, plus theatrical dramatizations • Opening sentence famous, frequently quoted: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” • Commonly seen simply as a novel about an extramarital affair that ends in suicide (cf Flaubert, Madame Bovary) • In fact a complex interweaving of themes and characters The product of its age • Novel written and published from 1873 to 1877 in “thick journal” Russky vestnik (The Russian Messenger). • Journal refused the last part, so that the instalment version ended with Anna’s suicide. Refused mainly because of Tolstoy’s sarcastic depiction of the Russian volunteers going to fight in Serbia. • Definitive book version appeared in 1879. Background: Alexander II’s reforms • Period of rapid change in Russian society • Complication of the situation of the Russian nobility (дворянство) • The liberation of the serfs: the emergence of the future “kulaks” • The rise of a new business class – partly Jewish • The creation of zemstvos: local democracy • Railway as symbol of the new industrialized Russia in the making Levin as Tolstoy • Position of Tolstoy the conservative thinker expressed by Levin • Clearly autobiographical figure: shares details of Tolstoy’s own life • The invisible narrator-author shines through in Levin – cf Nikolenka in Childhood • Direction of sarcasm (e.g. description of Obolensky at the restaurant) is clearly felt by the reader to be that of Tolstoy. Social changes reflected in plot • Opening sentence states the theme: happy and unhappy families • Polemic with the radical/nihilistic thinking about free love • The changing nature of marriage: Princess Shcherbatskaia does not know how to arrange her daughter’s marriage • Shifting social attitudes towards divorce and the family More social changes reflected in plot • • • • The clash of values: imported, Western values French, English influence marked as negative Hostility towards foreign languages The question of faith: how can an educated nobleman believe the way the simple peasant believes? • The polemic with rationalism, Western social theories Marriage among the upper class in the 1870s • In transition from the arranged marriage, towards one based on love • Anna is in an arranged marriage (considered an abomination by the radicals) • The older couple Shcherbatskys almost certainly in wellarranged marriage • • Why did Stiva Oblonsky marry Dolly? – For her money. • Officially the woman’s wealth remains her property in marriage Divorce in Tsarist Russia • Divorce is difficult and usually the result of fake evidence about who is “guilty.” • “Guilty” party loses parental rights • Tolstoy shows the hypocrisy surrounding extra-marital affairs and depicts the complicated procedures for divorce. • Does he disapprove or approve of society’s norms? A paradigm of couples • Tolstoy creates a spectrum of couples in the text, who illustrate the varieties of relationships possible, and the outcomes. • The plot weaves back and forth from one couple to another. • Certain “affinities” are detected between individuals outside the couples: e.g.,Vronsky and Kitty, Levin and Anna • The real heart of the novel is the Anna – Levin – Dolly triangle Spatial and temporal organization • Takes place from February 1872 to July 1876 • At one point the time of Vronsky-Anna is over a year ahead of Levin-Kitty • Action shuttles spatially from place to place • Moscow – perceived as the good, patriarchal heart with true Russian values • St Petersburg: the centre of a cold bureaucracy with imported, foreign values • The Russian countryside • Western Europe: German spa Solden and Italian town Vronsky and Anna (Vasily Lanovoy from film by Aleksandr Zarkhi 1967 and Greta Garbo 1935 dir. Clarence Brown) The adulterers • Prime dramatic focus of the novel: seen intimately, right down to their emotions and dreams, but ultimately viewed from the perspective of Levin/Tolstoy • Anna is married to Aleksei Karenin, some 20 years older than her (NB Vronsky’s name is also Aleksei.) Stiva and Dolly Obolensky • Stiva Oblonsky is Anna’s brother. Both were brought up by an aunt. Stiva is a bon vivant, and the novel begins with the news of his affair • Dolly is Kitty Shcherbatsky’s older sister. • Along with Levin, Dolly serves as one of the moral foci of the novel. She is the devoted mother of her children. (left: Aleksandr Abdullov as Oblonsky) Levin and Kitty • Levin’s first proposal is rejected because of Vronsky • The ritual of the second proposal and the wedding taken from Tolstoy’s own life • Kitty is a junior version of her sister Dolly: a coper and someone devoted to family values Minor couples • Nikolai Levin (Konstantin’s brother) and his common-law wife Marya Nikolaevna or Masha • Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev (Levin’s halfbrother and Varenka – to whom he nearly proposes. • Aleksei Karenin and Countess Lydia Ivanovna, who becomes his confidante after the break-up of his marriage Lev Tolstoy in 1873 The real drama in Anna Karenina: a strong virile man with a powerful sex drive, who is in conflict with his own puritanical outlook on sex. The book can be a seen as an attempt to come to terms with this contradiction.