Friday, 9 February 2018

7/52: Anna Karenina

7/52 Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (1875-1877). This classic has deserved it's position as one of the most loved novels in the world. It is a long read, there is 999 pages in the Finnish translation, but Tolstoy has used his paper well. The novel opens the whole world between human's birth and death.  I love novels that work in various levels giving a great story and something deeper to work in your mind years after. In Anna Karenina there is both day's politics of the 1875-1877 and greater than life love story. Discussions that social circles have in their parties open the mental climate of the era without a historical dust cover. Time has changed but it is interesting to notice how for example equality issues were brought up in a party conversation. They discuss how women and men have different possibilities and rules in what is accepted. The life story of Anna and Vronsky also examines the same issue. Anna has more drastic consequences from their rule breaking decision to live together. 

In infinite time, in infinite matter in infinite space, is formed a bubble organism, and that bubble lasts a while and bursts, and that bubble is Me.

-Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

The characters have their own  backgrounds that have formed them as they are. Everyone has their own noble moments and charm but not a single character is without flaws or ugliness. After all, what we can know from each other is very limited. We know people around us by shared experiences and what they decide to tell us of their inner life. People have expectation towards each other and they build their own dreams including others to their plans. Karenin has his career goals and he is satisfied with his mundane family life. Anna Karenina seems pleased with her life with Karenin but reads and dreams of great adventures and something more. Dolly, Anna's friend and her brother's wife, feels betrayed when she hears about her husbands lovers and that the truth she has learned is something very different than what she has based her whole life. There comes a question in what way you are allowed to chase your goals and dreams? In the novel characters hurt each other badly when they try to orientate towards their own ambitions and passions.  

When Anna meets Vronsky she finds a chance to make her own adventure and turn her life into something interesting. Little by little what she has learned to accept during the years become unbearable and her husband's manners start to irritate her. In her need of change she feels even a full catastrophe is better than live the boring life she has had so far.  When she tells her husband about her relationship with Vronsky Karenin's sanction to keep things as they are is so horrible that she gets depressed. The safe, boring and fully planned lifestyle offered to women doesn't seem to please any of the characters. In one get-together women ask from each other how they spend their time when everything is so boring. In the atmosphere there is a need to shake the norms. Women's rights for education, self development and public career is discussed a few times. One of the biggest themes in the novel is a woman's right to seek passion and fulfill her dreams in every sector of life. 

It is tragic that after all the years Anna and Vronsky spend together Anna is haunted by the decision she has made. Social circles have abandoned her and she feels lonely. She misses her son she had to leave to Karenin. In the loneliness there is space for jealousy after Vronsky. She is constantly afraid of loosing him and the passionate relationship turns into game of suspicion and mistrust where they both begin to show their worst sides. When Vronsky finally gets to be with Anna he doesn't feel happy but empty and after years together begins to seek his freedom. He, as a man, has a right to chase freedom. Anna has made a decision to choose freedom but is restricted by social circles and norms.

With Levin there comes a philosophical aspect to the novel. He swells deep in questioning the meaning of life and the inevitable truth that we all die. He is used as a way to bring the large scale of life's and nature's circle in where all life's fortunes and tragedies take a place. He is both attached to the world and soil by his farm and love with Kitty but also at times comes to understand how temporary it all is. The thought of temporariness makes him anxious and he is challenged to stay focused on life. When he goes too deep thinking of death he doesn't see a point to do everyday chores, dream or develop himself. Because of these thoughts, old as life on Earth, he loves to take part in farm work that keeps him in reality. 

The constant thinking of death would make it impossible to live but death is also a motivator in life. Anna decides to go after Vronsky when still in this life, with the risk of hurting Karenin. Decisions in life are always decisions of life and death, how you choose to live this moment or waste it. Do I follow love or leave the important decisions undone and stay satisfied with the boring and mundane. Spending time on Earth is how we slowly kill ourselves. On the contrary our decisions can waste time from other people and make their decisions and how they have spent their time pointless. Like Stiva who has made Dolly to question their life together or Anna who questions Karenin's achievements. 

Levin also brings up the theme of ideals and how much people can change. He and Kitty go into same fights again and again. And in the end when Levin finds religious path he is surprised how little it affects on his everyday manners. After having a life changing moment when he realizes some of the meaning of life he still yells to his worker and does other things he has just wanted to change in himself. The tasks and patterns that keep us in life keep us separated from the greater truth of life. Truth being something we can then stop and think every now and then, forget and continue doing what we do as long as we have time. And life in all it's horrible, terrifying, wonderful and beautiful ways is between birth and death and small moments of understanding the bigger picture.

I have tried to read Anna Karenina before but never finished. This time the story began to speak right from the beginning. Maybe there is time for every book. A book that was just a book starts to bring up the same issues you have pondered in your mind lately and every clause has a meaning. Maybe some discussions get a new meaning because we study the story behind the 2018 lenses. Still the fascination of a great classic is to notice how similar issues we carry through the time. Of course the ideologies of the era bring an own touch to the writing but when human being is described in their barest what we can find is something that doesn't change. 

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