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Essay One: Personal vs.

Universal

While many of us would probably agree that art (whether its expression or its consump-

tion) is a relatively personal experience at both ends of the process, Tolstoy, as we have seen,

brings that personal touch to an entirely new level. Many of Levins thoughts, experiences, and

actions in Anna Karenina are a direct reflection of things that occurred in Tolstoys own life.

While some of this autobiographical input was beneficial for Kitty and Levins relationship in the

novel, at other points it did detract slightly from their story.

One of the earliest examples from Sophias Diaries that crossed over into the world of

Anna Karenina was the instance of Tolstoys diary revealing his rather wild youth as a sower of

wild oats (Diaries, 4). This is reflected almost word for word in Anna Karenina with Levin hand-

ing over his diaries to Kitty to read, as a sort of confession to her. I believe this particular autobi-

ographical input was beneficial for the novel, for two reasons. Firstly, it proves a rather universal

point that even the people that we love the most will have secrets of some kind; Kitty places

Levin on a rather high pedestal when they first become engaged (just as he does to her), but even

the man she believes is perfect is discovered to have what she considers a dark past; or, at least,

a less innocent past than she herself had, and than she would have liked him to have. However,

she manages to forgive him for his previous relationships, because she loved him even with his

imperfections, as she viewed them. Thus, as a mere demonstration of imperfect human character,

it serves its purpose well in the novel. Secondly, the revelation helps demonstrate the sort of rela-

tionship that Kitty and Levin have from the very beginning. Levin practically worships Kitty,

treating her as an angel when he thinks he belongs very much on earth. The information shared

in his diaries helps justify that relationship dynamic, which continues throughout the novel.
Since that is the view that Tolstoy wanted Levin to have of Kitty, this piece of autobiographical

information helps solidify that view, and thus was a successful artistic endeavor.

Another example of when Tolstoys personal life leaks into his novel is in Sophias point,

in her diaries, when she mentions that while for her he was her whole life, for him, she may be

just one part of it (Diaries, 10). She acts, and is expected to act, solely as a wife, while he may

act as a husband, landowner, writer, beekeeper, and any number of other things. This translates

directly to Levin and Kittys relationship, as Levin points out that while he keeps himself busy

doing supposedly important work, Kitty seems to waste many of the days away. Tolstoy seems

here to attempt to get into Kittys head and see what she is feeling, but I feel that he fails at doing

so. He assumes that Kitty (and Sofia) will find fulfillment in being a mother, and that this is their

sole purpose in life now that they are married. The idea of the scene is interesting, and it seems to

add to Levins confusion about who he is, what his family life should be like, and other similar

veins that were already present in the novel. Thus, the insertion of this autobiographical piece

does not necessarily detract from the novel; however, it does not necessary add to it either.

A third example is the near marriage of Tolstoys brother to Sofias sister (Diaries, 28).

This is eerily similar to the incident in the novel when Kittys friend comes very close to marry-

ing Levins brother. In this instance, I felt that the real-life experience that Tolstoy had with this

situation helped him portray the scene in a more real way. He was able to show both sides of the

lovers faults and present them both as full human beings. It was beneficial for the novel because

it proved a couple of different points. Firstly, it showed that people do not necessarily change.

The two lovers were caught up in the moment of love, but as soon as they came to their senses

they both realized, separately, that marrying one another would have been a mistake on their part.
Love cannot force people to change; this perhaps could cause us to question whether Levin could

truly try to change himself to make himself more worthy of Kittys love, if he believes here that

his brother could not ever change the ways in which he has been set. However, the scene also

demonstrates the eery importance of destiny. The two lovers seemed destined to fall apart, as the

entire scene in the forest depended solely on the timing of their glances at one another. Levin

never believed they would marry, because he knew the personality of the man, as opposed to Kit-

tys hopes for the man.

A fourth example is the implication of a bit of jealousy on Tolstoys part when Sofia men-

tions the possibility of having a suitor (Diaries, 94). This incident plays out clearly in the novel

when the Levins receive a visitor who is a little too friendly with Kitty. This is a beneficial scene

for Tolstoy to have added to the novel because it demonstrates that even the perfect relation-

ship that we are supposed to have in Kitty and Levin has its weaknesses and flaws. Despite their

love for one another and their promises to one another, Levin still felt jealous. By itself, the

scene plays into Levins self-conscious worry that he is not good enough for Kitty, no matter

what she says to him. Taken in context with Sofias diaries, it seems as though this was a little

too much of autobiographical itch for him to resist. The scene does have some impact later in the

novel as Levin realizes that he is truly happy with his home life, no matter what others might try

to do to ruin it and what others might say in regards to how he lives his life with his wife.

Art is a compilation of all of our experiences. Subconsciously we allow ourselves to seep

into our art; Tolstoy simply does this in a more obvious manner than some. Most of his autobio-

graphical itches result in a richer, more realistic novel It is only rarely that his autobiographical

nature detracts from the storyline of his characters.


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Essay Two: Architectonics

Anna Karenina is structured and held together by the very life within it. From the charac-

ters to the setting, the very novel seems to breathe with life. Tolstoy creates this feeling of life

within the novel by using incredible detail, forming what I would call unconnected connections,

and maintaining objectivity throughout the novel. We do not see the structure of a novel with a

plot and a certain set of characters, but rather we feel as though we are viewing human life in its

entirety.

Anna Karenina is fraught with details so minute we feel as though we could be standing

beside the characters and seeing them with our own eyes. Merezhkovsky praises Tolstoys in-
credibly detailed writing (771), while Strakhov writes that ordinary events in the world, when

described by Tolstoy, become extraordinary (762). Because the novel is so detailed, we pass

through the novel in movements, actions, not in words. We see Stiva swaggering through gov-

ernment buildings, and see the curl of Annas hair; we see them interact with one another and

feel the charm they cast on those who step too close. The structure of the novel is almost nonex-

istent for the reader in that we do not sense its presence. The novel is not broken jerkily into sec-

tions and chapters, but rather flows from one set of characters to the next. This brings me to my

next point. As Arnold wrote so eloquently, Anna Karenina is a work of life, not literature (766).

We, as readers, are able to see multiple families throughout the novel, instead of just one family,

and this multiplicity of characters broadens the horizons of the novel, giving a sense of life of

humanity in general. Instead of being a novel about two people, or four, it becomes a novel about

everyone, because we are able to observe human life from various points of the spectrum; from

Anna and Vronskys life of luxury in the country to Dollys struggle with an unfaithful husband

who spends too much money; from Karenins sense of betrayal to Levins final moments with a

formerly close brother. We walk with these characters throughout the entirety of the novel, fol-

lowing actions of humanity rather than the words of a lecturer as the characters destinies unfold.

Tolstoys nearly impeccable objectivity also plays a key factor in how the novel is held

together. We are not lectured by the moralist in him (usually), but rather we are able to truly ab-

sorb the actions of each character as they develop on the page. Eikhenbaum goes so far as to note

Tolstoys impressive objectivity (782-783), which grants us an exclusive look into the characters

lives. For example, while Tolstoy does punish Anna at the end of the novel for her sins, so to

speak, throughout the rest of the novel he, the author, never condemns her. Society condemns her
when they laugh and gossip about her from their theater boxes. Dolly defends her when she trav-

els in her shabby carriage to visit her extravagant friend in Annas new country home with Vron-

sky. We see the characters viewpoints on her, they do not simply talk about their views on her,

and Tolstoys objectivity (up until the end) allows us to form our own views on Anna, and on

other characters as well. That objectivity helps grant the novel a feeling of observing real lives of

these characters, as opposed to being lectured to about the moral lessons one should take from

the story.

Another way that Tolstoys novel is held together is actually one of the ways in which it

is, in an odd way, not held together. The families in Anna Karenina, while they do have some

limited interactions with one another, act mostly as separate entities throughout the course of the

novel. Tolstoy does not physically link these characters with shared events (Eikhenbaum, 778);

yet, when we consider the characters, we think of them together, sharing an experience together.

They may not be connected physically, but each of the families and characters shares themes,

rather than physical interactions, to conned them throughout the novel. One of the more obvious

examples of this would be perhaps the Karenins and the Oblonskys, for while they do not spend

much time together in the novel they share a few key traits. Betrayal by one of the spouses, dri-

ving the other one into the arms of someone who can guide them and help them decide what to

do. Children to be thought of, to be loved, and then to be forgotten when the time comes for

Anna and Stiva to leave their families to pursue their affairs elsewhere. Anna and Levin also

share some similar characteristics, which may cause us to group them together in a way we may

not otherwise. Each of them, for example, experiences birth. For Anna, she gives birth to Vron-

skys daughter, while Levin becomes a father to a son. They each have drastically different reac-
tions to these experiences (Levin feels a strange pity while Anna feels nothing towards this child

that is not Serezha), but they both experience these things nonetheless. Both Anna and Levin also

confront death. For Levin, this comes in the form of his dying brother, and later in the novel

through his philosophical questioning of his beliefs and of what comes after this life. For Anna,

her brush with death reaches a far more permanent end, and she succumbs to her despair, rather

than continuing to seek a way out of it.

And, finally, we come to the ending of the novel. There are several pieces to this, which I

will discuss separately. Firstly, Levins rather religious conversion at the end of the novel seemed

rather surprising at first, but, upon further consideration, I did not find it to be all that shocking.

Grameka notes that reason cannot change mans spirit (768); thus, no matter how hard he may

have tried, Levin simply could not escape the spirit of man that leads him (at least in the novel)

to find the truth that is religion and God. This quote also applies to Annas final acts as spurred

on by her life of passion. Her actions throughout the novel (ever since she meets Vronsky) are

centered almost entirely around passion and spirit; she leaves no room for reason in her aban-

donment of husband and child, any more so than she leaves room for it when she believes Vron-

sky to be cheating on her, and feels that her only escape is suicide. The entire novel centers

around passion opposed to rationality. In Annas case, as well as in Levins, the passionate spirit

outweighed their reason.

According to Eikhenbaum, the ending was, from Tolstoys own mouth, meant to show

nothing more than that the actions we take have consequences and we cannot escape those con-

sequences (785). However, Eikhenbaum also points out that others had quite a different idea as

to what the ending represents. Anna tried to live with too much passion, too much life, and it
smothered her soul (Eikhenbaum, 785). Her life was taken by the very passion within her breast.

I think that the ending can be interpreted both ways. Ones actions have consequences, and no

matter how you run you cannot escape the consequences of those actions; Anna tried so desper-

ately to escape society and its pressures, but she could not. Furthermore, Anna lived her life in

extremes; she either loved or felt nothing, flung herself into passion or did nothing. She had to

pick one way to live (or, in this case, one way to die). She lived and died through her passion,

which was true to her character, and true to the rest of the novel as well.

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Essay Three: Film Comparisons

Of the three films that I am going to discuss (Hollywoods Greta Garbo film, the British

version, and the version from the Soviet Union), each has their strengths and weaknesses. Char-

acters vary in accuracy, the plot varies in chronology and closeness to the novel, and overall im-

pressions grow stronger and more impactful throughout the films.

Firstly, I will discuss characters. In the Greta Garbo version, her character is nothing like

Anna. Her portrayal lacks the charm, lacks the confidence, and lacks the distinct black hair that

so obsessed Tolstoy in his writings. Levins character was even worse than she; rather than an

awkward man from the country, he appears to be the utmost in refined nobility, sweeping in

smoothly to rescue Kitty after she is refused a dance by Vronsky. The interactions between the
characters make everything seem very rehearsed and practiced, with very little of the passion be-

tween Anna and Vronsky that is required to light the flame in the heart of the reader and watcher.

In the British version, the characters seemed much more like how they were supposed to be de-

picted in the novel. Anna possesses that charm, that self-confidence, that sets her apart from her

friends and peers. Stivas character, too, while still disloyal, witty and laughing in his personality,

seemed more caring towards Dolly in this film, revealing the love for her that he supposedly pos-

sessed (though it was indeed hidden behind a thick veil of affairs and other women). The Soviet

version was the film in which the majority of the characters seemed most in tune with their book

selves. Apart from Anna, who I felt was lacking some of the charm that the British version con-

tained, the characters were precisely in line with how they were always meant to be depicted.

Levin, while earnest, was still an awkward country noble, while Vronsky was refined and confi-

dent, as any soldier should be. Stiva was appropriately worried about Dolly while still being his

uncaring, laughing self, moving on to the next thing and presuming that everything will work out

all right.

The plot of the three films differs drastically, as well, which is an interesting subject for

conversation considering they were supposedly all based upon the same novel. In Hollywoods

Garbo movie, the script (when they chose to use it) was relatively close to what was said in the

book, so that when the characters spoke, they seemed to be coming straight out of the pages. The

overall plot, however, and showiness of the film, detracted greatly from the storyline. Dancing

Russians drunk on vodka and caviar in an opening scene hardly gives one hope that the film will

be an authentic one. Additionally, Annas psychotic break at the end of the film is completely lost

because Vronsky is seen to go off to war while beginning to flirt with the princess whom his
mother so wished for him to marry. Thus, Annas break is no longer a result of her inner turmoil,

jealousy, and passion wound too tightly, but a reaction to a real shunning by the man who

claimed to love her. The ending, and her suicide, lose almost all meaning in such a context.

The British film was slightly closer to the book. Annas psychotic break is much more

similar to how it was portrayed in the novel, and we are able to hear her inner dialoge, granting

us access into her broken mind, which gives us a better insight into the thought leading up to her

suicide. However, she stands and faces the train head-on, which alters the significance of her

throwing herself in a fit of passion onto the tracks without a second chance to turn back. This

feels much more pre-meditated than it was intended to feel. The most pre-meditated version of

all, however, was, surprisingly, the Soviet version. While the majority of the plot was pretty simi-

lar to the novel, the ending is completely wrong. In this version, Anna makes the decision to go

to the train station while Vronsky is still in the house; she even gives him a goodbye kiss, know-

ing already that she will never return. She makes a deliberate decision to kill herself, and goes to

the train station with that already in mind. We still get her inner monologue during this scene, but

it is much less dramatic knowing that she has already made her decision. The light is already out;

it was not snuffed out suddenly after a burst of light, but was rather blown out slowly by a calm

decision in the middle of the night.

My overall impressions of the three films differed greatly. Hollywoods version was too

showy for my tastes. The emphasis seemed to be on how grand of a show they could make it,

rather than on the story itself. The characters lacked passion (a supposedly central idea in the

novel). I would not recommend this film to anyone wishing to know the true story of Anna

Karenina. The British version created a much nicer impression. While most of the characters
were only decent, the portrayal of Anna in this movie was by far my favorite. She had the sparkle

in her eye, the way of moving that I envisioned when I first read the novel and pictured Anna in

my minds eye. To me, her portrayal of Anna carries the film closer toward what Tolstoy may

have envisioned for it (if he had believed in mixing the arts enough to allow his novel to be made

into a film). I would highly recommend this version (with the sole caveat that the ending seems

too pre-mediated). The Soviet Union version had a wider variety of accurately depicted charac-

ters, but the Anna in that film lacked that spark that I was searching for in watching the films.

Additionally, the complete pre-meditation of her suicide takes away from her character, I feel;

and the lack of passion in Anna affects the level of passion in the rest of the novel. I would still

recommend this movie; it is a good film, I only feel it lacks a certain passion.