More than once it has been voted the greatest novel of all time by critics not only for its strong story line but also for its great psychological insight. It is the story of Anna, a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty marriage to Alexander Karenin and decides on a younger man, Count Alexei Vronsky in order to fulfil her hunger for passion and more passion. Their relationship is doomed from the start to finish and drives both into great depths of unhappiness.
Anna and Vronsky's story has been contrasted with that of Levin and Kitty. Levin is a wealthy landowner much like Tolstoy himself who doesnt believe in God, has great mental and physical strength with a passion for hunting and other sports. He tries to court Kitty but is soon rejected. Kitty is in love with Vronsky, who instead chooses the married Anna. Kitty falls sick and travels abroad. When she gets better, her love for Levin is later rekindled and they marry. They are blessed with a baby boy, but instead of the baby being a source of joy, they seem to have been drawn apart.
Tolstoy does not judge his characters moral uprightness. He paints them with words as one would a picture, and lets the readers judge for themselves. The novel tries to contrast good and bad marriages, tries to answer the question of existence and the pursuit of happiness. The romance that characterises Anna's and Vronsky's love affair ends with tragic consequences for both of them but just like the novel started in the middle of nowhere, Tolstoy ends the novel with a feeling of continuity. His plot does not come to an end, rather, it continues beyond the pages, beyond the covers, and we carry it around in our heads, in our hearts, forever.
The famed American author Henry James talked of loose baggy monsters in reference to War and Peace and Anna Karenin for having incorporated philosophical and psychological insights into day to day living. What Henry James forgot is that to great writers such as Leo Tolstoy, art had a purpose, and one purpose was to transmit his ideas, to communicate what lay in his heart. Men discuss ideas and women have their gossip everyday. Its this completeness of life that Tolstoy sought to paint, and he did it well. What might scare the average reader is the length of the novel and the many French quotations by the characters, but again life itself isnt short. Like a river it continues eternally and only the characters keep changing. Tolstoy rivalled life and I believe he reluctantly ended this wonderfully written novel.
"Leo Tolstoy's classic novel of love, betrayal, and death is a stunning work of genius...' Christine Hung, resident scholar. Read more.