Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Tag: Anna Karenina

Yes, The Greatest Book Ever Written

I’ve been lazy with keeping this up to date over the last week, but all shall be remedied soon. I haven’t forgotten my aforementioned post about Parade’s End and I’ve got one to write about The Casual Vacancy too (really good but really grim). But Anna Karenina takes writing precedent as MY FAVOURITE EVER BOOK.

I was intrigued as to whether re-reading would change my opinion, but absolutely not. If anything, I love this (now really quite battered) book even more now. The main reason why – it is about life. All of life, a cross-section of society and every bit as relevant as it was in 1877. What an astounding writer to have written something so universal, so human, that Charlotte (mid-twenties, English, twentieth/twenty-first century) would recognise the internal dialogue of a character dreamt up by Leo (late forties, Russian, nineteenth century).

Contrary to the title, I don’t like Anna and Vronsky and their mad, passionate affair. For me, this book is all about Kitty, Levin and the quest for happiness. Through them, Tolstoy gets to shout about his brand of morality. Getting to the heart of it, I think Tolstoy is really saying that happiness and being good are linked, and that to achieve both you mustn’t neglect your spiritual side. The very end of the book is similar to the style of War and Peace, as they both conclude with a very obvious message from the author. On this particular reading of Anna Karenina I enjoyed this part, although it was something I struggled with the first time. Tolstoy became an incredibly religious man in the last years of his life and perhaps put his own revelations and thoughts into Levin’s moment of spiritual awakening:

My life now, my whole life, regardless of all that may happen to me, every minute of it, is not only meaningless, as it was before, but has the unquestionable meaning of the good which is in my power to put into it!

I read that part sitting on the Metro on my way to work on Monday morning. The sun was shining but the air was crisp and cold like winter. I sat amongst people reading newspapers, playing with their phones, listening to music or just staring into space but I felt as if I was completely separate. I read the last few sentences, closed the book and felt so happy and uplifted – such is the power of Tolstoy and his beautiful words.

There is just so much to Anna Karenina that I think every time you read it you could focus on something different. I haven’t even mentioned the glittering Petersburg social life, the muzhiks, the excellent character that is Stepan Arkadyich, the role of women as wives and mothers, Anna’s position as a fallen women, Russian divorce laws, politics, reform and revolution… I suppose that is the basis of its great appeal – there really is something to suit everyone. I am so pleased that I decided to read this again, if I could pick only one book to read for the rest of my life it would be this one. I will definitely revisit Anna Karenina every few years; the first time I read it was in 2008 – so perhaps we’ll meet again in 2015.

What Anna Karenina Made Me Do Next

I am going to make a bold claim. I have an all time, number one favourite book. My top ten, top five books change all the time, but first place never does. Anna Karenina is my favourite book because I think it is the best book ever written.

This claim is particularly bold because of the following confession: I have only read it once. Several years ago.

Having been to see the new film earlier this week I have been thinking about how much I love it and how I really should read it again.

Russian literature is something I have not got a lot of experience of, yet all the Russian classics I have read I have really enjoyed. So, after reading this article  about the top five books Russian writers on the Penguin Classics website, I have decided that next year I shall read something by each writer. The top five Penguin choose are:

  • Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
  • The Devils by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
  • The Steppe and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov
  • The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov

I reckon this should get me off to a good start in finding more Russian books and authors I’d like to try. I’ve studied The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov and have absolutely no memory of it at all, so that doesn’t count. I’ve read Lolita but would love to read another Nabokov too. I’m pretty sure Crime and Punishment is on my Classics Club list because I have my dad’s old copy floating around somewhere so that will take care of Dostoyevsky and after that – we’ll see.

I am putting this goal off until next year because I am determined to read the following by the end of the year:

  • Anna Karenina because my favourite book deserves more than one reading.
  • Clarissa because it needs my full attention and wasn’t supposed to take a year to read!
  • Martin Chuzzlewit because I want to read this with o.

I am confident about having three definite good books to see the year out with. If I get time I’d love to read Les Miserables, but I think I’d struggle to read so many huge books in what now seems like not much time! Plus, I do need to leave some time free for some wintery books when the weather changes.

Here’s to favourites and spending time reacquainting yourself with them.