by Anantinee Mishra
One of the greatest paramours of English literature, with perhaps an introduction that is an ominous glance of the foreseeable future. Anna Karenina; the intense tempest, the substantial whirlwind; the emotional hurricane, spread across eight parts; delivering a passion so magnetic, yet so fatal that in the end, it grows to be larger than our protagonist’s life.
Anna Karenina, our conflicted protagonist, is quite simply a bundle of contradictions. A walking oxymoron one might say; as the propriety that aristocracy had set a precedent for is time and time again eclipsed by her passionate soul. And yet, it is that very propriety and social acceptance that traps her in desolation and delusion; isolation and insanity.
Tolstoy’s storytelling, quite noticeably as the eight-hundred-page novel progresses, is devoid of the metaphors that one might expect to find something as tempestuous and ironic as Anna Karenina to be littered in. He artfully weaves the two psyches that were Karenina and her lover, unfurling the complexities of their characters in conscious drifts of time, narrating the existence of those blemished, tainted parts that they themselves aren’t aware of; passing undisputed perception.
Captain Alexei Vronsky; the dashing cavalry officer, the flirtatious entertainer, the quintessential bachelor, and the fountain of Karenina’s infatuation, obsession and downfall, in contrast with Alexei Karenin, the sombre, wiser, and the somewhat condescending husband; are the center of the delicate myriad Tolstoy doesn’t show an iota of hesitation is exploring: the allure of adultery.
Indeed, the tumble of Karenina’s resistance and her response to Alexei is made disturbingly understandable; after all, with her Vronsky’s provocative nature being the only partner of her proactive one. And maybe that is the very reason Tolstoy named both the husband and the lover ‘Alexei’; one that she was obligated by society to live with, and the one she longed for?
Upon deeper introspection, perhaps it may be finally be asked for, did Vronsky truly possess the aura to hold on to the ocean that was Karenina?
Running parallelly to the train wreck of an affair is another love story; this one softer, gentler in its conquest of eternal love, synonymous with the gulps of grateful oxygen when trapped under the burden of water. Kitty and Levin, with their soap-opera of struggles to express what they both feel for one another, as well as their wholeheartedly expressed affection; come off as a rather delightful contrast to Karenina and Vronsky. Indeed, the progressive Levin was one of the better parts of the story, with Kitty capturing the blend of naivety and maturity flawlessly. Together, they were in their own right a formidable pair, carrying the weight of the novel seamlessly on their shoulders.
The end of Anna Karenina- the heroine, not the novel – stands on a fine line between a melodramatic, yet inevitable conclusion, and an anti-climax of sorts, a rather disappointing finish of a character with the Pacific’s death and a life that ultimately became too gigantic for her to handle. Tolstoy describes the wretchedness of her mind exquisitely; and paints the blurriness of Karenina’s vision so vividly, that it feels as if for the first time she has gained clarity.
One may, and rightfully so, be afraid of starting on Tolstoy’s epic. Such hesitation is understandable, considering the well-debated emotional heaviness of the book. And undoubtedly, Karenina leaves an impact on the reader. While it may or may not strike a chord within you in sentimental tones, yet it shall draw your mind to itself for several days after you have kept it down; quiet pondering, most of the time.
Yet, the book had its own moments. The ones purely, unflinchingly romantic; with shy glances that made all the people in a crowded room fade away; leaving none but the hero and heroine behind. A serene moment, in the midst of a chaotic love affair. The sheer longing that only those who love, and love deeply, shall resonate to. All of these came together in Karenina to give the reader a halcyon, with the shadow of the knowledge that it won’t last long hanging over.
Tender moments of togetherness, they were, leaving a bittersweet taste behind.
Anna Karenina, as said over and over, was nothing but contradictions put together to face a harsh reality. Between compassion and moral rigour, between lust and self-denial, between loving a person and being bored by them. They, despite the differences and uncertainties etched on them, were true to their time; and Tolstoy, for all that he was a master of time, was only a slave to the truth.
About the Author:
Anantinee ‘JHUMPA’ Mishra is a prodigy author, poet, and TED speaker. She is twelve years old studying in std.8th at Apeejay School, Saket, New Delhi. She has published two books and many stories and articles in magazines and journals. At the age of ten, she published a 21,000 worded anthology of stories called ‘Treasure of Short Stories’. Last year her debut Novel ‘Manhattan to Munnar’ got released. Recently she has been conferred with the title ‘PRODIGY AUTHOR’ and an ‘HONORARY DIPLOMA’ by the Hon’ble Vice President of India Sh. M Venkaiah Naidu.