Smooth Interweaving in High Society

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Anna Karenina – Section One, by Leo Tolstoy

I always start a book slowly – I have to get a feel for the writer's style, the characters, setting, and some idea of where the book will lead me. But I've now finished Section One of Anna Karenina and have these comments:

Tolstoy clearly expected Anna Karenina to be a work of some length, so he was in no hurry to get to high drama. However, he didn’t waste time in titillating his readership. After his famous beginning line, he immediately got down to informing us of Prince Stepán Oblónsky’s marital infidelity with the family’s governess.  The Prince’s outing disturbed him to no end, but being a man of privilege, he had an obligation to strike an unruffled pose.

In order to accomplish this, Tolstoy allows us to see Oblónsky contrasted with a socially awkward, rural acquaintance, Konstantín Lévin, who is in love with the very young Kitty Scherbátsky. And to show how smoothly Tolstoy weaves his story among his characters, we see Kitty somewhat attracted to Levin, while being promised to a young military roué, Alexéi Vrónsky.

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The Russian uppercrust of this novel's time entertained regularly and grandly. And to make character introduction even more seamless, we see Oblónsky’s married sister, Anna Karénina, making eyes (in her fashion) at Vrónsky. And, of course, the attraction at this point seems mutual.

 While introducing his characters in such a smooth way, Tolstoy also begins to interlace a commentary on the rising materialist, socialist movement in Russia. Through the device of Lévin, apparently Tolstoy’s alter ego in this book, he also begins a commentary on this rising social and political tide.


My rating: 19 of 20





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