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An Essential Tragedy
by rejoyce on August 22, 2007Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is a masterpiece that is both compelling and accessible despite its daunting length. The theme of adultery and its disastrous consequences, including Anna's resultant self-loathing, still has currency. Most novelists are content to do one thing well, but Tolstoy's mastery and novelistic skills are manifold: his intimate knowledge of characters, their interaction with society, his rendering of physical action. The horse racing and hunting scenes are thrilling. One almost believes that the word "omniscience" needed to be coined in order to describe Tolstoy's commanding, godlike narrative perspective.
Of course most remarkable is Tolstoy's creation of the title character, who with Flaubert's Madame Bovary, is a fully developed, credible female character. In fact Tolstoy's characters have that full dimensionality, what E.M. Forster referred to as "roundness," that is so satisfying to the reader, even observing the bemusement of children in the face of Anna and Count Vronsky's affair. The farmer Levin's marriage to Kitty, his preoccupations with land reform and God, serve as a kind of moral counterpoint to Anna's adultery, and signal the peasant discontent that would overturn the stability of pre-revolutionary, Czarist Russia in the next century.
Preceding Anna's suicide, her nervous breakdown prefigures modernist interiority to an uncanny degree. In the end, however, it is Anna's essential tragedy that raises Tolstoy's novel to its deserved classic status.
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