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Anna Karenina
Leo N. Tolstoy
publisher: , 1877

translated as:
Anna Karenina
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 2001
translation: Richard Pevear / Larissa Volokhonsky

refered to by:
Madame Bovary: Patterns of Provincial Life
Gustave Flaubert

Old People and the Things that Pass
Louis Couperus

The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Milan Kundera

The Magic Mountain
Thomas Mann

The Radetzky March
Joseph Roth

Snow
Orhan Pamuk

Emilio's Carnival, or 'Senilità'
Italo Svevo


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A handful of novels—such as Dickens's Bleak House or Joyce's Ulysses—cause us to feel upon closing them that the world we are returning to is somehow smaller than the one we have just left. Anna Karenina/i] belongs to this group. One measure of its breadth is the enormous range of life experience Tolstoy depicts. Another measure is its attention to so many contemporary issues of nineteenth-century Russia. These immediately apparent features account for the length of Anna Karenina, but a more subtle feature gives the novel its capacious quality. Because it is so rich in incident, and because the psychologies of its main characters are so nuanced as to endow each with a fully formed view of the world, all that happens in Anna Karenina happens, in a sense, without adequate explanation, as in real life. When he is about to confront Anna about her relationship with Vronsky, Alexei Alexandrovich hesitates, feeling that he stands "face to face with something illogical and senseless," with "life [itself]" (p. 142). If the novel strikes us similarly, it is not because Tolstoy does not suggest or even state causes for the novel's events. Rather, the causes do not constitute an explanation, and the ultimately incompatible perspectives of the characters only intensify the mysteries with which the novel leaves us.

The first sentence of Anna Karenina is one of the best-known openings of any novel: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Such a pronouncement, with the appearance of thoughtfully dispensed wisdom, holds the promise of a narrator who will illuminate all that follows. But this statement can be more accurately described as an observation, rather than an explanation or an interpretation. As the novel progresses, this distinction becomes increasingly evident. When contemplating his unhappiness, Vronsky thinks that he has erred in his belief that the realization of his desires would make him happy. Tolstoy does not tell us what would make Vronsky or anyone else happy, and the absence is both conspicuous and emblematic of the way Tolstoy frames issues without directing us to a specific understanding of them. He tells us how Vronsky arrives at this thought, but, as to the question of what happiness
is, we get nothing but vague implication.

The question of happiness, however, is clearly central to the novel. One may suppose that the portrayal of varying degrees of happiness informs Tolstoy's decision to structure the novel so that Anna and Vronsky's relationship and Levin and Kitty's marriage run parallel to one another. But words like happy and unhappy lose their descriptive power when we consider that "happy in his family life, a healthy man, Levin was several times so close to suicide that he hid a rope lest he hang himself with it, and was afraid to go about with a rifle lest he shoot himself" (p. 789). The spiritual crisis that pushes Levin to this point seems far removed from all that Anna faces. Her extreme isolation from everyone except Vronsky—whom she fears she is on the brink of losing—helps propel her toward suicide. The fact that Levin finally arrives at a formulation of the meaning of his life that he finds acceptable keeps him from sharing Anna's fate, yet he chooses to keep this revelation a secret from Kitty. Does this gesture indicate a kind of solitude from which Levin and Anna both suffer?

More than anything else in Anna Karenina, Anna's suicide casts a shadow over the entire novel because it both invites and ultimately escapes interpretation. To the society that scorns her for her affair, her death is due punishment. Anna's plea for forgiveness "for everything" just before she dies suggests her own sense of guilt—though it does not adhere to some specific act—and perhaps a belief that justice is at hand. Yet a moment earlier "she was horrified at what she was doing" (p. 768). Does she understand what brings her to this end? The temptation to consider it any sort of commentary on adultery is complicated by Stiva and Dolly. Adultery seems almost becoming to Stiva, and he engages in it with impunity. Dolly tolerates Stiva's wandering without approving of it, yet she sympathizes with Anna, even imagining the pleasure she would take from a similar affair. If Levin is the novel's moral center, he nevertheless fails to tip the balance toward any single interpretation of Anna's fate. He not only allows Anna her mysteriousness; it even seems to overwhelm his capacity for judgment. (from: www.penguinputnam.com)

bookweb    
ON TOLSTOY'S BOOKSHELF

The Iliad
Homer, ca. 750 v.Chr.
Homer's Iliad tells the story of the darkest episode in the Trojan War. At its centre is Achilles' withdrawal from the fighting and his return to kill the Trojan hero, Hector. The tragic events are interwoven with moving descriptions of the ebb and flow of battle.

Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852
The story follows the life and vissitudes of Uncle Tom, a noble negro, and portrays the humanity of an enslaved black people and the moral evil of their enslavement. (Tolstoy said it was better than King Lear.)

Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol, 1842
Russian 'critical realism'. In this quintessentially Russian novel, the reader follows Chichikov, a dismissed civil servant turned con-man, through the countryside in pursuit of his shady enterprise.

Oblomov
Ivan Goncharov, 1859
Russian 'critical realism'. Written with sympathetic humour and compassion, Oblomov made Goncharov famous throughout Russia on its publication in 1859, as readers saw in this story of a man whose defining characteristic is indolence, the portrait of an entire class in decline.

Fathers and Sons
Ivan Turgenev, 1862
Russian 'critical realism'. Arkady Petrovitch returns from college under the spell of a young nihilist called Bazarov, a character who shocked Arkady's father and the Russian public of 1862 with his criticisms of the traditional values of Russian society. In Bazarov, Turgenev created the prototype 'angry young man'.

Vanity Fair
William Thackeray, 1847-1848
In Miss Pinkerton's academy for young ladies, the advantaged Amelia Smedley is in stark contrast to the poor, but sharp-witted Becky Sharp. However, fate is not always kind as their lives become entwined with the likes of the coarse bully, Sir Pitt Crawley and his brother.

Bleak House
Charles Dickens, 1852-1853
A savage, but often comic, indictment of a society that is rotten to the core, Bleak House is one of Dickens' s most ambitious novels, with a range that extends from the drawing rooms of the aristocracy to the poorest of London slums.

Emile: or, On Education
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762
This is Rousseau's influential, fictional treatise on education, whose doctrine of the return to nature led to the book's condemnation by the Paris Parlement and to Rousseau's subsequent exile from France.

The Charterhouse of Parma
Stendhal, 1839
Follows the adventures of young Fabrizio del Dongo as he joins Napoleon's army just before Waterloo and struggles to keep hidden his love for Clelia amid the intrigues and secrets of the small court of Parma.

The Mill on the Floss
George Eliot, 1860
As Maggie Tulliver approaches adulthood, her spirited temperament brings her into conflict with her family, her community, and her much-loved brother Tom. Still more painfully, she finds her own nature divided between the claims of moral responsibility and her

BOOKS BY LEO N. TOLSTOY:

War and Peace
(1864-1869)
This massive chronicle, to which Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) devoted five whole years shortly after his marriage, portrays Russian family life during and after the Napoleonic war.
WHAT TO READ AFTER WAR AND PEACE?

EPIC SOCIAL NOVELS
Les misérables
Victor Hugo, 1862
France in the first quarter of the 19th century: Jean Valjean, a poor man, steals a loaf of bread and then spends years trying to escape his reputation as a criminal. In later years he rises to become a respectable member of society; but policeman Javert will not allow him to forget his past.

Rebellion in the Backlands
Euclides da Cunha, 1902
Examining the brutal campaign against religious mystic Antonio Conselheiro and his rebels, this work is an account of the resistance of the backland natives at the seige of Canudos in 1896-1897, and a treatise on the geography, climatology and anthropology of Brazil's back countries and peoples.

The Betrothed
Alessandro Manzoni, 1825-1827
Set in Lombardy in the years 1628-30, The Betrothed tells the tale of two young lovers in a time of war, famine, and plague.

U.S.A.
John Dos Passos, 1930-1936
In this experimental trilogy, Dos Passos uses 'camera eye' and 'newsreel' sections to create a fragmented atmosphere. Through the testimony of numerous characters, both fictional and historical figures, he builds up a composite picture of American society in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Generations of Winter
Vassily Aksyonov, 1992
Follows the lives and fortunes of members of the Gradov family of Moscow through the turbulent years of 1928 to 1945, through Stalin's rise in the 1930s and the terror of World War II.

LOVE IN TIMES OF WAR
A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway, 1929
This is the story of Lieutenant Henry, an American, and Catherine Barkley, a British nurse. The two meet in Italy, and almost immediately Hemingway sets up the central tension of the novel: the tenuous nature of love in a time of war.

Gone with the Wind
Margaret Mitchell, 1936
The story of the tempestuous romance between Rhett Butler and Scarlet O'Hara is set against the dramatic backdrop of the American Civil War.

Doctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak, 1957
Epic novel of post-revolutionary Russia focuses on the torments and dreams of a doctor-poet who attempts to avoid the struggles of his turbulent era.

RUSSIA UNDER THE TSAARS
The Brothers Karamazov
Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky, 1880
Three sons find their violent and vengeful lives exposed when their despicable father is murdered, and each man struggles to come to terms with his guilt over his involvement in the crime.

Michael Strogoff: a Courier of the Czar
Jules Verne, 1876
While in the service of Alexander II, Michael Strogoff faces almost insurmountable obstacles as he carries a message from Moscow to Irkutsk during the time of a Tatar rebellion.

Foma Gordeyev
Maxim Gorky, 1899
Gorky's first novel illustrates his admiration for strength of body and will in the masterful barge owner and rising capitalist Ignat Gordeyev, who is contrasted with his relatively feeble and intellectual son Foma, a 'seeker after the meaning of life'.

The Life of Arseniev: Youth
Ivan Bunin, 1933
Arseniev is born into the shabby gentry (like Bunin) and weathers youth's storms in the heart of his loving yet eccentric family.

[Oorlogsverhalen]
1856

Anna Karenina
1877
Anna Karenina abandons her empty existence as a society wife and embarks on a doomed love affair with the passionate but emotionally bankrupt Vronsky.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
1886
The physical decline and spiritual awakening of a worldly, successful man who is faced with his own mortality. Only in his last agonizing moments does Ivan Ilyich finally confront his true nature, and gain the forgiveness of his wife and son for his cruelty towards them.
Kreutzer Sonata
1890
–› Excerpt

When Pozdnyshev suspects his wife of having an affair with her music partner, his jealousy consumes him and drives him to murder.
Hadji Murat
1904 (posthumous)
It is 1852 and Hadji Murat is one of the most feared mountain chiefs and the scourge of the Russian army. When he comes to surrender, the Russians are delighted. Or have they naively welcomed a double-agent into their midst?
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