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Monday, April 01, 2013

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

"I'm Kiera Knightley I like to play Victorian period literary figures like Anna Karenina. blah blah blah acting craft."

Anna Karenina
 by Leo Tolstoy
p. 1873-1877
first English language translation 1886

  The classic Russian novels of the mid 19th century are interesting because they present an early example of the "British Invasion" phenomenon.  In the British Invasion, British rock bands, influenced by old Blues records and the example of 50s and 60s American rock pioneered, created a brand of popular music that "invaded" the United States, from whence rock music had been invented.  In doing so they forever changed the landscape of the art form, in addition to showing up the native Artists and making a pretty penny.

 The mid 19th century equivalents of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones were Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dovstoyevsky.  When their classic novels began to make it into English, critics and the general audience alike were stunned by their superiority.   In Dickens & His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism Since 1836,  George Ford that it was this "Russian Invasion" that was the proximate cause of a half-century long decline in critical acclaim for the work of English novelist, Charles Dickens.

  Having read Dickens and now Anna Karenina essentially back-to-back it is easy to see why this is so. Whereas Dickens is skilled at depicting characters and scenes, Tolstoy deftly charts the interior thoughts of his intertwined husbands and wives.  Anna throws off her husband, Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, for dashing Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky midway through the book and everything is down hill from there.

Jude Law plays Count Alexei 1: Kiera Knightley's husband.

    The travails of Anna, Alexei 1 and Alexei 2 are paralleled by two other married couples:  Prince Stepan "Stiva" Arkadyevich Oblonsky and Princess Darya "Dolly" Alexandrovna Oblonskaya and Konstantin "Kostya" Dmitrievich Levin and Princess Ekaterina "Kitty" Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya.  Dolly and Kitty are sisters.  Kostya and Kitty are close to being Tolstoy and his wife.   Despite the long names, Anna Karenina is clearly derived from the models provided by English Novels of the 18th and 19th century.  But Tolstoy adds a vast, inner life for his characters to his military sponsored horse races and Moscow balls for the Russian urban elite.

  A century of readers have appreciated Anna Karenina as one of the first fully developed "psychological novels" and the accomplishment is all the more stunning because Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina and it took 20-30 years to really penetrate into the Audience for the English language novel, and when it did people (rightly) hailed it as a Masterpiece and breakthrough, rendering former efforts pale by comparison.  Anna Karenina is like the mid 19th century version of Guns N Roses Appetite For Destruction taking a year to reach number one on the Billboard 200 Top Selling Albums Chart: A legendary accomplishment that defies believe. 

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