Anna Karenina: Taking the Feels-train to the Vanity-town

‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

There is no better way to start a novel, a masterpiece, than by throwing a nugget of wisdom at the reader.

Anna Karenina isn’t about people who are capable of making the moral choices in life (looking at you, Jane Eyre). It is about people who are self-obsessed, selfish and naïve; the kind of people who make other peoples’ lives miserable with their hare-brained decisions. These are the people who are part of your life or if you look closely, you might be one of them. Seriously, get your act together!

Have you ever made decisions on impulse? Have you ever taken such a long time looking for an answer that you have forgotten what the question was? Congratulations, you will fit right in the unhappy world of the Karenins, of the Konstantins and of the Oblonskys.

He stepped down, avoiding any long look at her as one avoids long looks at the sun, but seeing her as one sees the sun, without looking.”- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

Where there is infidelity, there is bound to be the brave, tumultuous love story. One doesn’t break social norms, disregard relations and give-up stability to chase love, unless, the said love promises endless happiness. Anna Karenina chases this passionate love, only to realise that there is, perhaps, no “happily ever after”.

What’s worse is that people making practical choices in life, too, aren’t guaranteed happiness. IMO, Princess Darya Alexandrovna’s (“Dolly”) character solely exists to show that we often forgo happiness in trying to chase the society’s idea of a happy family.

“Is it really possible to tell someone else what one feels?” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.

Anna Karenina is one of the books that, I think, appeal to different readers in different ways. In fact, I am pretty certain that it will read different the next time I pick it up. So, when Francine Prose, author of Blue Angel and My New American Life, says that she finds a new meaning in the book every time she reads it, I can’t help but agree with her. The book is peppered with so much detail; of expressions, thoughts and innate biases, that it is bound to look new with every reading.

The story is told by an omniscient narrator who describes each situation from multiple perspectives. Quite often in the book, we are shown how prejudice alters characters’ interpretation of a situation. In dissecting the inner monologue of the characters, Tolstoy nudges his readers to question their own mental framework. The beauty Anna Karenina- the book, to me, lies more in the narration and the character-sketch than the plot.

I won’t summarise the book; you can read the gist plus notes about the story here. But, broadly the story is about families that are brought together and torn apart by “love”.

Ending notes

Anna Karenina, however, isn’t just about love or domesticity. It is a mash-up of all of these and much more. Then, there is a whole story about parallel protagonist who is constantly worried about social structure and the existence of God, making the whole novel an emotional minefield.

The book has left me with more questions than answers and I intend to re-read the book when I am older, and hopefully, wiser.