So.. I gave up on Anna Karenina. I know, I know, every single one of you saw that coming months ago. But after the third (fourth? tenth?) time discussing translations with Violet and Mrs. B I decided that it would probably be better to start over next year with a good translation. It feels a little wrong giving up on a book after reading 400 pages, but both of the translations I used made me focus more on the horrible language than the actual story.
All of this means that one thing became crystal clear to me: translation matters. I never realised it before, but they do. So much so that I am afraid to start reading any translated classic at the moment because using gutenberg.org for classics is, I guess, not the way to best enjoy a book if it was originally written in another language.
All I have to do now is prepare for my next read of Anna Karenina and the first thing I have to do is choose a translation. I have two translations to choose from and I am divided. I know many of you love the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky edition, but Violet is adamant that Rosemary Edmonds did a better job translating Anna Karenina and I do not take her advise lightly. I could say that I will read both of them, sometime, since I am sure I will reread Anna Karenina after finishing it for the first time. But I still don’t know which book to pick up for the first time reading (&finishing) this classic.
What do you think?
Yes, yes, I know what you must be thinking. Is she still reading that? Well, I am, sort of. The thing is, I had to leave my Wordsworth edition at home, due to the heaviness of the book and am now reading the free version from Gutenberg.org. Also, I’m planning to stick with reading it for the upcoming weeks. So expect a weekly update until I am done. And, oh, these post might still contain spoilers for those unfamiliar with the story.
Do you remember that I complained about the Wordsworth translation before? Having now picked up a different translation, by Constance Garnett, I admit I am severely confused. Why? Because so many of the names are suddenly changed! I don’t know which of these versions contains the original names, but it took me some time to figure out who some of the characters that were mentioned were supposed to be. Now that I am used to it though, I don’t have a complaint with the translation yet. (I was hoping Violet might know more about which translator uses the right names?)
What I liked best about part 4 was without a doubt the scene in which Levin and Kitty exchange notes and come to a new understanding. That touched me, deeply.
Apart from that, there were some other memorable scenes:
- The discussion on the rights of women. It didn’t seem to go anywhere, for now, no clear expression of what Tolstoy thought about it himself, but maybe it is an issue that will be raised again?
- As for Anna, Vronsky and Karenin. I still don’t know what to say. What I did find intriguing is how Karenin has a change of heart and forgives everything, only to find out that maybe forgiveness isn’t all it takes to make everyone happy.
All in all, I’m still not in love with the book as some are, but still whenever I pick it up, I want to continue reading..
From now on, I’d like to say in advance that these posts on Anna Karenina are to be read on your own risk, they might include minor spoilers.
Remember last week when I said that the parts in which Tolstoy has one of the characters reflect on things like agriculture were never quite long enough to get on my nerves? Well, part three changed that for me. Levin’s thoughts on agriculture and how European reforms might not work in Russia were long. Very long. I am not sure if I would wish to reread this part of the novel any time soon.
However, it did not make me dislike Levin. I actually still like him most. It intrigues me that he takes the time to consider the position the workers and he himself are in. And I do think these considerations might be interesting if I had known more about communist thought and other opinions on agriculture at the time. Unfortunately, socio-economic history has never been my forte.
What annoys me a little about Levin is how easily he sometimes seems to give up his own feelings. Somewhere near the end of part three I just wanted to shake him and make him realise he loves Kitty already. I’m not exactly sure why, but I really want them to end up together in a happy manner.
As for Anna and Karenin, I am still unsure. Karenin’s considerations in not divorcing Karenina seemed selfish in that he seems to only consider his reputation. However, I still cannot blame him because Anna’s selfishness keeps getting on my nerves too much.
There was one paragraph on children in this part of the novel that struck a chord with me. When I am around children I am often afraid that they will think I am “pretending” in the manner Tolstoy explains here. This awareness makes me even more self-conscious and this of course leads to actual pretending:
“Though the children did not know Levin well and did not remember when they had last seen him, they did not feel toward him any of that strange shyness and antagonism so often felt by children toward grown-up people who ‘pretend,’ which causes them to suffer painfully. Pretence about anything sometimes deceives the wisest and shrewdest man, but, however cunningly it is hidden, a child of the meanest capacity feels it and is repelled by it.”
I haven’t updated on my reading of Anna Karenina in a long time. Not because I’m too lazy to write about it, but because it took a long time to finish part 2 of the book. Mind you, I didn’t read slow because I don’t enjoy reading it. It seems that these last weeks in which I was ill and had a lot of course work to finish didn’t leave me with enough time to really sit down and read the book. Most of the time I read one chapter before turning off the light and trying to sleep. And I’ve found out that going through Anna Karenina one chapter at a time doesn’t work for me. I need to be more immersed in the story. So these last few days, despite still being incredibly busy, I reserved at least an hour to read Anna Karenina and it’s working very well. I made lots of progress and I’m enjoying the story more because I don’t need to try to remember what happened three chapters ago during my reading.
I really enjoy reading Anna Karenina thus far. There are certain parts that seem a bit long, especially the ones that discuss farming, but they always end before I can think ‘please move on to a different subject’. I wonder how I’ll deal with the paragraphs on this subject in other parts, but for now I don’t mind them. They’re not my favourite however. There are also paragraphs about religion, which might seem a bit long to others, but I find them very interesting. I have decided that I’m reading the book for the story just now, but I’d love to reread it some time and look at the passages on religion specifically. I’m not sure if there’s more on the subject in other parts of the story, however.
In other news I’ve found out that I am possibly reading the worst translation of Anna Karenina. There are lots of simple spelling or grammar mistakes and some of the sentences are constructed in a very weird manner or simply seem to end halfway. I hope I get to reread it in a different translation sometime, but I guess I had better finish this one first.
As for the characters, **this may contain spoilers for those who have never heard/read (about) Anna Karenina** I am still to fall in love with either Anna or Vronsky. I feel Anna is very selfish, although I admit that she probably finds herself in a marriage that doesn’t allow her much space or feel much love for anyone. Vronsky is the character I find the hardest to understand. I simply cannot see what Anna sees in him. Maybe that will change as I get a closer look at his character throughout the book. It does seem that there’s more attention to showing his side of things in part two. As in part one, I feel most partial to the storylines of Kitty and Levin. Kitty is definitely growing on me. I didn’t much like her in part one, but seeing her go through heartbreak and her trying to find herself in pietism made me grow more fond of her. As for Oblonsky, I’m still not sure what to feel towards him, he seems very stubborn. At this moment I’m mostly curious to find out what will happen with Kitty and Levin and how Karenin will react to Anna’s confession. Like Oblonsky, I’m not sure what to make of Karenin either. On the one hand I feel sympathy towards him, he does seem to care about his wife cheating on him. But then I’m not sure if that’s because he cares for her or for his reputation. If the latter is true, I think I could very well grow to dislike him more than I like him. He seems so eager about his work and reputation and that is getting on my nerves.
I finished reading part 1 of Anna Karenina this week. I’m enjoying it a lot thus far and yet at times I feel a bit discouraged by the length of the book, I’m trying to ignore it though. The reading is absolutely wonderful and a lot different from what I expected. I somehow associated Russian literature with lots of confusion about characters and a use of language that is hard to follow, but Tolstoy does a good job in introducing characters in a manner that make them stand out and thus easy to tell apart.
That being said, I do have a hard time feeling sympathetic for most of the characters. There seems to be an egoistic streak in most of them. I think the character I feel most for right now would be Levin. Somehow the storyline of his pursuit of Kitty and Vronsky’s role in it made me think that is this were a Jane Austen novel we’d be sure to know who would get the girl in the end, and who would end up as the “Mr. Wickham” of the plot. I have a feeling that this might be where this is headed, but as I know next to nothing about the plot, I’m not sure.
I do know that Anna Karenina is supposed to have an affair with someone (who I guess will be Vronsky) and that she ends up commiting suicide by throwing herself before a train. Currently, I have a hard time understanding what attracts Anna Karenina in Vronsky, but maybe his character will turn out to be more worthy throughout the novel? I can’t say I find it likely at the moment though. I’m also highly suspect of his supposed helping of the widow of the man who got killed by a trainaccident: it came across as staged.
As for the scenes that involve the marital life of Stiva and Dolly Oblonsky, I have no particular feelings on that. I do wonder why everyone is so sympathetic towards Stiva, and feels the need to rescue him.