Reading ANNA KARENINA: 20 Days In

This book, thus far, has set a record for “longest time self has spent reading one book,” at least in 2013.

The only other book that’s held her attention for more than a week was Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne’s account of biking in far-flung corners of the world (including Manila), which took her two weeks to finish, in January.  But it’s been 20 days now, and self is still a long way from the end of Anna Karenina.  She just can’t get enough of Tolstoy’s characters, and reads and re-reads and parses his sentences and laughs and cries and —  let’s just say, the book still holds her firmly in its thrall.

Here she is on p. 538 (538!  How could Tolstoy come up with such massive tomes?  When he had so many children and was such a pro-active landowner?  Methinks Mrs. Tolstoy must have been a saint!) of the Modern Library edition:

Countess Lydia Ivanovna had long ceased being in love with her husband, but from that time she had never ceased being in love with someone.  She was in love with several people at once, both men and women;  she had been in love with almost everyone who had been particularly distinguished in any way.  She was in love with all the new princes and princesses who married into the Imperial family; she had been in love with a metropolitan, a vicar, and a priest; she had been in love with a journalist, three Slavs, with Komisarov, a minister, a doctor, an English missionary, and Karenin.  All these passions, constantly waning or growing more ardent, did not prevent her from keeping up the most extended and complicated relations with the court high society.  But from the time after Karenin’s trouble she took him under her special protection, from the time she set to work on Karenin’s household looking after his welfare, she felt that all her other attachments were not the real thing, and that she was more generally in love, and with no one but Karenin.  The feeling she now experienced for him seemed to her stronger than any of her former feelings.  Analyzing her feeling, and comparing it with former passions, she distinctly perceived that she would not have been in love with Komisarov if he had not saved the life of the Tsar,* that she would not have been in love with Ristich-Kudzhitsky if there had been no Slav Question, but that she loved Karenin for himself, for his lofty, misunderstood soul, for the —  to her — high-pitched sound of his voice, for his drawling inflections which she thought charming, his weary eyes, his character, and his soft white hands with their swollen veins.  She was not simply overjoyed at meeting him, but she sought in his face signs of the impression she was making on him.  She tried to please him, not only by her words, but in her whole person.

(And the Countess is a minor character.  One of a whole host of minor characters who Tolstoy brings to life in a mere paragraph or two)

*  Komisarov saved Aleksandr II from being shot by knocking the pistol from the hand of a would-be assassin.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.


  1. March 14, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Mrs. Tolstoy was a serf or body slave – said to have hand-copied War and Peace 13 times – William Shirer has a good bio of her. The movie was not bad either.

  2. March 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    By movie, you are referring to “The Last Station”? Wasn’t that with Helen Mirren as the Mrs.? They lived on a kind of commune, where free love was practiced?

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