Wednesday, March 4, 2015


(19) "Anna Karenina" as The Open-Ended Novel

Someone once said that the best way to end a long novel is to kill off the main character. Then there can be no question as to what happens next in the hero's life. In "Anna Karenina" Tolstoy kills off his eponymous heroine, but the novel does not end.

In fact, the novel is two novels in one, detailing the fortunes of two main heroes, Anna and Konstantin Lyovin. These two personas know many of the novel's other principal characters, but they themselves meet only once, briefly. The novel is really "Anna Karenina and Konstantin Lyovin."

The ending of "AK" has certain similarities with the ending of Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment." In ends with Lyovin contemplating how he is to live out the rest of his life, with a new beginning--just as in "C and P" Raskolnikov contemplates new beginnings in his life.

In the final pages of the novel Konstantin Lyovin, far from reveling in his family happiness, is contemplating suicide and searching for some meaning in life. Much of the novel seems to assert that the best meaning lies in family life in communion with nature and land. But in the process of writing "AK" Tolstoy himself suffered deep depressions and disillusionment with family life.

Had he actually gone on to depict the rest of Lyovin's life, he may well have ended up refuting the idealization of family life that is at the heart of his two greatest novels: "Anna Karenina" and "War and Peace."

Life goes on, and marriages go on; divorce was much less an option in Tolstoy's Russia than it is today. This is obvious from the difficulties Anna has trying to divorce her husband. Tolstoy's own marriage was all downhill for at least the final twenty years of it, and late in life he pubished "The Kreutzer Sonata," which is virulently misogynistic and which rejects marriage, family, and any sort of sex, even conjugal sex.

In terms of male-female relationships, maybe the best line in "AK" is Vronsky's remark to Anna in the midst of their troubles:

"'I don't understand,' he said, understanding her."

'Я не понимаю,' сказал он, понимая ее.

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