Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

 Anna Karenina cover

I’ve had Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy on my Classics Club reading list for years now and I’ve been put off reading it for a couple of reasons – namely the 800 odd pages and also the fact that I knew how it ended as I’ve seen it on TV (hasn’t everyone?). But I really enjoyed reading it. Just about everyone knows the story so I’m going to ramble a bit just about things that struck me about it, others probably won’t agree.

It’s fashionable (and possibly a feminist thing) to see Anna as a victim but she was a spoiled fool more than anything. Having made her young son the centre of her life she had no time for her husband Alexei Karenin who was what John Galsworthy would have described as being a bit of a cold fish – like Soames Forsyth. Anthony Trollope’s disastrous marriage between Lady Glencora and Plantagenet Palliser comes to mind too. These undemonstrative men are a common type in reality and their ‘buttoned up’ characters aren’t a problem for any intelligent woman of the low maintenance and level headed type.

Anna wasn’t astute enough to see that her husband was really very much in love with her. Possibly the fact that Anna’s mother had shamelessly implied that Karenin had compromised Anna’s reputation when he was courting her – so determined was she to get her daughter off her hands and married to a wealthy man – had left Anna feeling somewhat insecure.

I really wish that Tolstoy had written a prequel based around the upbringing of Anna (nee Princess Oblonsky) and her brother Prince Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky. These two cause mayhem within their families, their own needs being the most important thing to them – and to hell with everyone else.

Compare Anna’s mother with Kitty’s family. Vronsky has courted Kitty for ages and everyone expects him to propose to her, but Vronsky is a ladies man and a bit of a flibbertijibbet so when a new face appears in the shape of the beautiful Anna he drops poor Kitty fast. Kitty is damaged goods now as far as society is concerned, her parents had relied on Vronsky being a gentleman and wouldn’t have considered twisting his arm to get him to marry Kitty, but Vronsky was far from being a gentleman. He’s soon sleeping with Anna which is something that Anna was evidently not doing with her husband otherwise she would have had a family as large as her brother’s (Prince Stepan) whose poor wife Dolly seems to be having a child a year despite the fact that she knows he is a serial adulterer. Anna persuades Dolly to stay in her abusive marriage despite the fact that Anna would never put up with being treated so badly.

Those people who are brought up with a feeling of entitlement are a blight on society but when for some reason they aren’t able to get their own way for once then the result is often a disaster, they don’t have the strength of character to take the blows that they’ve happily dealt out to other people.

The book swings between high society in St Petersburg to the country estate of Konstantin Levin. He is a friend of Kitty’s family and has been in love with Kitty for years. After he’s told that they expect Vronsky to propose to Kitty, Levin takes himself and his broken heart off to his estate, throwing himself into the work of improving the land. He’s a decent man who gets his hands dirty and I suppose he stands for the Russian people whereas the aristocrats of St Petersburg are the degenerate French speaking leeches.

When the relationship between Anna and Vronsky becomes fraught Anna falls apart very quickly and of course she ends up under a train. I must say that I think that part was really well written. I suspect that Anna’s last seconds are typical for people in that situation – they didn’t really mean it, but it’s too late to go back in time.

Life goes on for everyone else of course. At first I thought that maybe the book should just have finished with Anna’s death but – I was wrong.

I loved War and Peace but it’s a while since I read that one and I’m not sure which book is my favourite. Have you read them both, if so which one do you like the most?

Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

As I’ve already completed my reading for the Classics Club I decided to get stuck into Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 which is run by Karen @Books and Chocolate (what a fab blog name).
My book list consists of:

1. Redgauntlet by Sir Walter Scott
2. On the Beach by Nevil Shute
3. Hungry Hill by Daphne du Maurier
4. Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos
5. Montaigne Essays
6. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
7. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
8. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
9. Doctor Dolittle and the Green Canary by Hugh Lofting
10. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
11. I, Claudius – Claudius, the God by Robert Graves
12. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Have you read any of these ones? I’ve had most of these book waiting in a queue to be read for years now and this will encourage me to get around to them at last!

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace has been eyeing me up and shouting READ ME from different bookcases in many different homes of ours over the past 30 odd years. At last I’ve got around to it and I feel really chuffed with myself for being able to tick it off my mental ‘must read ‘ list.

I really enjoyed War and Peace, I thought it would be really heavy going but it is actually quite a page turner. It might not be so smooth if you don’t have much of an interest in Napoleon and what was going on between 1805 and 1820 in Europe.

As you would expect from the title the storyline is split up between battles and the general chaos that ensued, and civilian life in the high society of Moscow and Petersburg and how they were all affected by the war.

There were only three parts of the book which I felt dragged a bit. I didn’t like the bits about Freemasonry in book V. It didn’t seem to add anything to the book but apart from that I’ve always disliked the Freemasons because to me it is just another word for corruption. It can’t be right that people get jobs and advancement because of a society that they’re a member of rather than the qualifications that they have. It was news to me too that the Freemasons originated in Scotland and Tolstoy sometimes called it the Scottish society. I’m mortified but according to the introduction in this edition Tolstoy saw it as a way of combating the corruption which already existed at court.

In book VII Nicholas Rostov has a wolf hunt on his estate and it seemed really out of place and distasteful to me but it made sense later on when Rostov compared his first experience of a battle with the hunt.

Almost at the end of the book, The Second Epilogue seemed never ending: The Forces That Move Nations – didn’t move me.

But that’s me nit-picking again and I would encourage any War and Peace dodgers (as I used to be) to have a go at reading it because I think most people will be pleasantly surprised.

As you can see the edition which I read is from 1943. It still has the original bookmark it was sold with and has very thin, smooth paper, the pages were very difficult to turn which was a bit annoying. I actually had to cut some of the pages so I must have been the first person to get to the end of it. This must have been a special wartime paper but it has aged really well, in fact it’s like new. We also have a paperback Pan edition from 1972 and the paper hasn’t aged at all well. Also it has no maps and no footnotes whatsoever, the 1943 book has very interesting comments.

I know that elsewhere in the blogosphere people are reading a new translation but I would be really surprised if anything could better this translation which was done by Louise and Aylmer Maude.

Just William by Richmal Crompton

This book was perfect bed time reading when we got in from crazy jaunts across the country in the snow. William is a lovable character just 11 yers old and up to all sorts of naughtiness from a more innocent era. It was first published in 1922.

Chapter XI begins:
‘She’s – she’s a real Botticelli,’ said the young man dreamily, as he watched the figure of William’s sister, Ethel disappearing into the distance.
William glared at him.
‘Bottled cherry yourself,’ he said indignantly. ‘She can’t help having red hair, can she?

I know, I know – it’s daft, but just what I needed.

Thanks again to Niranjana (Brown Paper) for pointing me in the direction of Richmal Crompton.

If you slide your gaze over to my Library Thing thingmyjig on the right, you’ll see that I’ve started reading Ian Rankin’s Black and Blue. I thought I would probably go back to the beginning of the Rebus series but decided to start on this one as it’s in an omnibus edition of three which I’ve borrowed from the library. When I’ve finished with those ones I’ll start at the beginning.

What I’m really supposed to be doing at the moment is reading War and Peace and I can’t avoid it any longer so I’m planning to start that tomorrow, during the day time, I don’t think it’s bed time reading, somehow.

Book buying

I’m supposed to be using the library instead of buying books nowadays as we will probably be down-sizing at some point in the nearish future, due to the fact that we don’t want to be rattling around in a big family house when the family has flown the nest.

Unfortunately, we recently discovered a great second-hand bookshop which is only about a two mile walk away from our house. It’s just impossible to resist, and as my husband said – there are worse vices to have.

So, in the last week I have bought:

Vanity Fair by Willliam Thackeray – I’m blaming Jane GS for this one.
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy – We only had a paperback.
Swan Song by John Galsworthy – I had to complete my set.
The Novels of Thomas Love Peacock – Only had a few before.
Basil by Wilkie Collins – I’m blaming The Classics Circuit.
Miss or Mrs? by Wilkie Collins – DITTO.
Friday’s Child by Georgette Heyer – DITTO.
The Battles of the Somme by Martin Marix Evans – I’m blaming
Gabrillo Princip for that one.

One of my grandfathers was at the Somme and we’ve been to visit one of the preserved battlefields where the Canadians had been in the front line.

Well worth a visit if you get the chance.

The removal men complained enough when we moved here, about the number of heavy boxes of books which we had. We’ve had more than 20 book buying years here since then. I suppose we should get rid of a lot of them – in fact I have given a lot to charity over the years. Often I’ve regretted getting rid of a particular book and wonder why on earth I parted with it.

I suppose there are worse problems to have, but I can hear that book shop shouting to me. Well, I forgot to buy their copy of Anna Karenina.