From the retrospective view that we as readers have today, it makes sense that much 19th century literature deals with love and romance of the aristocratic sort. The presence of Victorianism in the English-speaking world and largely congruous social standards in the rest of Europe provided for strict gender roles and behaviors, to which all members of the elite echelons especially were expected to adhere. In protest of the aforementioned values or perhaps simply in pursuit of a gripping narrative, many authors of the age told stories of characters who challenged the accepted marital and social expectations of their time. Leo Tolstoy’s greatest work, Anna Karenina, is such a tale.
Set amongst the parties and offices and residences of the highest members of society in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, the novel follows the character from which it gains its name, the wife of a prominent Russian politician who has engaged in a passionate affair with Vronsky, a respected military officer. Concerned exclusively with the interactions between characters and the events that develop among them, in the eves of the contemporary reader for whom magical or action-packed narratives are the norm, Anna Karenina, especially considering its voluminous length, may seem difficult to stomach. Nonetheless, its subject matter and its nine hundred or so pages are two of the qualities that make the novel great.
Indeed, no matter what language in which it is read, Anna Karenina is masterful. It is a romance, yes, but the realism with which Tolstoy writes is unlike any other author. His simplistic yet grand portrayals of a conversation between two lovers at a party, of the farm life and labors of the peasant population, of a suitor’s gallant horse race, of Russian life in its entirety, among a panoply of other scenes, make the read worthwhile. It is not possible to do justice to such an important and wonderful novel in a review such as this.
-Sebastian R., 11th grade