Anna Karenin: Read from January 30 to February 25, 2013

It’s easy to condemn Anna, especially since she’s always being compared to Levin. The whole structure off the book is Tolstoy’s attempt to show how different these two people are. And while Levin is, as Anna’s husband would turn the phrase “beyond reproach”, what are we to make of Anna? Was she a bad person? Was she evil?

For me, Anna truly lived. Unlike Levin who suffered doubts about everything under the sun, she was led by her passions. Her eyes would half close when confronted with some harsh reality or other while Levin instantly become introspective and longed to do the right thing for the right reasons.

But who had more fun in life? Levin almost missed his opportunity to find live with Kitty (or any other woman for that matter) and even when they were married, as as he was, he was repulsed by the birth of his child; he had to grow to love that pink, wriggling thing. He never seemed to have any convictions about anything and those that he did have seemed to surprise him and never were what he expected them to be like. Nothing was what he expected it to be life be it the symphony, politics and political theory, city life – he was always uncomfortable.

Yet Anna just rushed into every experience and dealt with the fallout later. She knew who she was and even more who she wasn’t. She was’t tormented by the inner-demons of Levin, she only had to deal with the demons of society instead, and all of them were petty people anyway.

In the final scenes of the novel, Levin has taken up beekeeping and I couldn’t help but thinking that Tolstoy was using this activity to show how bees can either sting you or make you honey. Levin got the honey, but he had to wait for it whereas Anna got stung, but that’s because she had stolen some honey already. She was like the kids cooking berries over the candles and squirting milk into each others mouths; she lived for that pleasure now and didn’t even care to question if the pleasures would continue. She would deal with the terrible sting later.

And she did, too.

But I don’t think she was any better or worse than Levin. She merely sought her rewards in life immediately whereas Levin discovered he could have them after death.

Yet they both had one thing in common: they didn’t put much stock in reason. For her she was impulsive and for him he put aside intellect to explain life and the universe. The both found meaning in the spiritual.

And I don’t want to hang morality on either character because who is to say who really lived life better? True, Anna hurt everyone she ever met, but she lived for herself and if this life is the only life we have then I think she had the right idea. But if you believe there is a life after this one then Levin might have the right idea.

But who is to say is right? Or better?

It’s a wonderful question to ask, and this novel presents this dilemma brilliantly.

I loved this book and everyone in it.

St. Petersburg in 1887