Anybody can say that “Anna Karenina” by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy is a great novel. Because the world knows it and lot of important people have praised it for over a century.
Anna Karenina is the character in the book, whose life in happiness, whose life in family, whose life as wife, whose life as relation to several families, whose life as a infidel lover, whose life as a mother and much more is the central pivot of the book. But in spite of the title is only a part of the book to convey the thoughts of the author. In this sense it is a philosophical book.It also depicts the social life of Russia during the time of the writing. Thus it is a social book.
It describes the psychology of characters it portrays. Thus it is a psychology book.
But the question that comes to mind is that how Lev Tolstoy managed to achieve so much in one book.
I think that though many experts and critics of literature have appreciated “Anna Karenina” as a novel and a literary work of beauty but nobody has been able to explain the multi book nature of the novel. Nearly 138 years have passed since the writing of this great book but none has been able to explain the soul of it, which is what makes it readable and likeable book for so long and its very likely to be readable and likeable for a long time to come.
I think the basic mistake which most critics and readers make in analysing “Anna Karenina” is that they view it as a work of fiction, with much of the characterisation taken from the contemporary Russia of that time. But this analysis is only partly true.
Lev Tolstoy was a foremost observer and intellectual of his time. He observed everything around him in minute details, understood the meaning of each minute event, learned of the relationship between events and thus solved this puzzle in his mind. When he solved the puzzle, he got exactly the right picture of what was happening around him, without any bias or his involvement in it. He involves himself only in the observation and not in the events themselves.
But Lev Tolstoy does not end at solving the observation puzzle. Out of the numerous people he observes in the puzzle, he sketches an average of each person type and keeps it in his mind.
It is these average sketch persons from his mind, obtained by observation and solving the observation puzzle, that he utilises in sketching the various characters of his novel, particularly in this book “Anna Karenina”. This unique method of Lev Tolstoy give ‘Anna Karenina’ the realistic and soul stirring feel that most readers will get while reading and after finishing reading the book. In this way “Anna Karenina” is a great social book.
But characterising average sketch persons only cannot give life to a book. Because each person is imbued with a certain psychology and behavioural characteristics.
Thus, Lev Tolstoy observed the psychology and behaviour of various people around him. On the basis of those psychological observations, he developed his own unique psychology study of the society he was living in. It is this psychological insight and depth which he imparts to his characters in the book.
Thus, “Anna Karenina” becomes a psychology book. Just because the names of characters are fictitious and events are described as fiction should not take anything away from the study of psychology and public relations in this book. In this way “Anna Karenina” is a great psychology book.
I will go on to say that the depth and study of psychology by Lev Tolstoy is so profound and expert, that this book ranks among the great psychology books of the world. He can be compared with Sigmund Freud. Both were contemporaries. Only difference between the two is that while Sigmund Freud wrote psychology strictly in terms of scientific terms and principles, Lev Tolstoy employs his own psychological principles and describes them in terms of his characters and events in the book.
Thus an astute psychologist will find lots of psychological principles and psychological knowledge to gain from “Anna Karenina”, like reading one of Sigmund Freud’s great psychology works. Only one has to have the right observation, analytical and timing sense to decipher and de-encrypt the psychology principles and psychology which Lev Tolstoy has so beautifully embedded in his great work “Anna Karenina”.
But psychology cannot be completely separated from philosophy. Thus we find that at various places in the book, Lev Tolstoy uses the psychological profile of the characters to state his important psychology and philosophy principles and markers. This I believe is partly philosophy originating in the mind of the author and partly a result of psychological profiling of the characters. Thus “Anna Karenina” has philosophy attributed to its various characters and this is beautifully done like the intricacies in a Persian carpet.
But we cannot neglect the pivot of the book which is Anna Karenina. Some extremely important characteristics of her show out and these are important if we are to understand her world fully.
Anna Karenina is married. Anna Karenina is very beautiful. Anna Karenina has a very desirable body and figure. Anna Karenina has a great dressing sense. Anna Karenina is very friendly and helpful by nature. Anna Karenina is inwardly very religious and a woman of high morals. Anna Karenina is very adroit and tactful in her social dealings. Anna Karenina is a very family person and loves her family. Anna Karenina is a mother and loves her son. Anna Karenina has everything in her as a woman which a man desires. Ana Karenina is a wife to a husband she really does not love but is oblged to love and show affection.
Now, if we understand the above characterisation of Anna Karenina, it becomes easy for us to decipher her mind and understand what happens to her in the book.
A simple thing to understand is that beauty is desirable to both men and women. Both man and woman want to have a female-male sexual copulation partner who is beautiful in accordance with the phantasy image of it in their minds. The closer a person is to this image, faster they fall in love with it and remain so if reciprocated.
Now, if we look at Karenin who was the husband of Anna Karenina, he was below average in looks, not very sporting, nor romantic and was the exact opposite of the phantasy image, Anna Karenina had in her mind. She could and never would fall in love with him. However, on the other hand he was rich, well connected, good background and could provide all the commercial luxurious needed by Anna Karenina in her life. He loved her in his own way.
Also we must appreciate that Anna Karenina fitted the female-male sexual copulation phantasy image in Karenin’s mind perfectly. This was because Anna Karenina had qualities which would have satisfied the phantasy image of a female-male sexual copulation partner in most males.
Thus, the Anna Karenina/ Karenin relationship was one sided and doomed to failure from the beginning.
When a woman with qualities like Anna Karenina is caged in a unworthy marriage like she was, she will look satisfied from outside because of the luxuries she has and the lavish life she leads but inwardly she is always unhappy and unsatisfied. In part of her mind and heart, she is always looking for a female-male sexual copulation partner of her phantasies.
But she was married and had a 8 year old son and had a powerful, politically well connected husband. Few men, even if Anna Karenina satisfies their female-male sexual copulation partner phantasies would venture or dare to court her in such circumstances. Thus, for a caged Anna Karenina chances were very limited.
Even as Anna Karenina is in this turmoil, she meets a man Vronsky, who though does not fits her phantasy image of female-male sexual copulation partner completely but does so to some extent. But, most importantly he shows himself available and interested in her. Self analysing her limited chances and possibilities, Anna Karenina falls in love with him to gain inner happiness.
The relationship is catapulted by Vronsky principles in life: “One must be sure to pay a card-sharp but need not pay the tailor; one must not lie to men but may lie to women; one must not deceive others but may deceive a husband; one must never forgive an insult but one may deliver an insult”
A person holding such views is easy to approach and get. Anna Karenina calculated this in their meetings and partly fell in love with him. She never loved him completely because of his principles and because he never satisfied her phantasy image of a female-male sexual copulation partner completely.
This was the dilemma that caught Anna Karenina and tore her apart from within.
Though pivotal to the book, Anna Karenina is not the only character through which Lev Tolstoy exercises his mastery of psychology, social relationships and female-male sexual relations.
There are other characters like Kitty, Dolly, Levin and many more which are interwoven to convey the psychological, sexual, social and philosophical studies of Lev Tolstoy.
Through Levin, Lev Tolstoy tries to introduce farm labour reforms and suggest alternative mechanisms by which lives of people working in agriculture can be improved. It is through Levin that Lev Tolstoy stresses the importance of farm and agriculture to the society and country.
He also stresses that Russia is a great and huge country with people migrating to it in small amounts (basically Russians are babylonians who migrated into Russia between 200,000 and 400,000 years ago) and thus agriculture methods suitable to Russia and its population and land will be different from countries where availability of land is less.
This way “Anna Karenina” becomes a migration-demographic book with agriculture management tools embedded in it.
But all in all, it clearly, precisely, succinctly describes Russia and its society through its characters.
This is the greatest worth of the book and its a lovely, moving, sometimes melancholy read, which one savours page by page!