Anna Karenina is the “Greatest Novel Ever Written”


Anna Karenina is a novel by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger. Tolstoy clashed with its editor Mikhail Katkov over issues that arose in the final installment; therefore, the novel’s first complete appearance was in book form. Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction, Tolstoy considered Anna Karenina his first true novel, when he came to consider War and Peace to be more than a novel. The character of Anna was likely inspired, in part, by Maria Hartung (Russian spelling Maria Gartung, 1832–1919), the elder daughter of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Soon after meeting her at dinner, Tolstoy began reading Pushkin’s prose and once had a fleeting daydream of “a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow”, which proved to be the first intimation of Anna’s character.

Although Russian critics dismissed the novel on its publication as a “trifling romance of high life”, Fyodor Dostoevsky declared it to be “flawless as a work of art”. His opinion was shared by Vladimir Nabokov, who especially admired “the flawless magic of Tolstoy’s style”, and by William Faulkner, who described the novel as “the best ever written”.[4] The novel is currently enjoying popularity as demonstrated by a recent poll of 125 contemporary authors by J. Peder Zane, published in 2007 in The Top Ten, which declared that Anna Karenina is the “greatest novel ever written”.

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 Style

Tolstoy’s style in Anna Karenina is considered by many critics to be transitional, forming a bridge between the realist and modernist novel. The novel is narrated from a third-person-omniscient perspective, shifting between the perspectives of several major characters, though most frequently focusing on the opposing lifestyles and attitudes of its central protagonists of Anna and Levin. As such, each of the novel’s eight sections contains internal variations in tone: it assumes a relaxed voice when following Stepan Oblonsky’s thoughts and actions and a much more tense voice when describing Levin’s social encounters. Much of the novel’s seventh section depicts Anna’s thoughts fluidly, following each one of her ruminations and free associations with its immediate successor. This groundbreaking use of stream-of-consciousness would be utilised by such later authors as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and William Faulkner.

Also of significance is Tolstoy’s use of real events in his narrative, to lend greater verisimilitude to the fictional events of his narrative. Characters debate significant sociopolitical issues affecting Russia in the latter half of the nineteenth century, such as the place and role of the Russian peasant in society, education reform, and women’s rights. Tolstoy’s depiction of the characters in these debates, and of their arguments, allows him to communicate his own political beliefs. Characters often attend similar social functions to those which Tolstoy attended, and he includes in these passages his own observations of the ideologies, behaviors, and ideas running through contemporary Russia through the thoughts of Levin. The broad array of situations and ideas depicted in Anna Karenina allows Tolstoy to present a treatise on his era’s Russia, and, by virtue of its very breadth and depth, all of human society. This stylistic technique, as well as the novel’s use of perspective, greatly contributes to the thematic structure of Anna Karenina.

Major themes

Anna Karenina is commonly thought to explore the themes of hypocrisy, jealousy, faith, fidelity, family, marriage, society, progress, carnal desire and passion, and the agrarian connection to land in contrast to the lifestyles of the city. Translator Rosemary Edmonds wrote that Tolstoy doesn’t explicitly moralise in the book, he allows his themes to emerge naturally from the “vast panorama of Russian life.” She also says one of the novel’s key messages is that “no one may build their happiness on another’s pain.”

Levin is often considered as a semi-autobiographical portrayal of Tolstoy’s own beliefs, struggles and life events. Tolstoy’s first name is “Lev”, and the Russian surname “Levin” means “of Lev”. According to footnotes in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, the viewpoints Levin supports throughout the novel in his arguments match Tolstoy’s outspoken views on the same issues. Moreover, according to W. Gareth Jones, Levin proposed to Kitty in the same way as Tolstoy to Sophie Behrs. Additionally, Levin’s request that his fiancée read his diary as a way of disclosing his faults and previous sexual encounters, parallels Tolstoy’s own requests to his fiancée Sophie Behrs

source : wikipedia

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