It took a lot of effort not to cheat and dive into Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina before the first of the year. I am reading this classic novel for two of the three challenges I am participating in, the Chunkster Challenge and the Winter Classics Challenge.
Although I was having great difficulty keeping my eyes open at 12:30 a.m. this morning, I at least wanted to read the Introduction in the novel. Once I get through the those beginning extras of the novels I read (I read dedications too), I feel I can really start reading.
There have been times I have had to stop reading introductions because too much of the story is given away (like with Bram Stoker's Dracula), but more often than not, I find introductions a great segueway into the novel itself, providing me with the backdrop, the climate the novel was written in and the history surrounding the novel itself.
In the introduction by Richard Pevear to Anna Karenina, I learned that Tolstoy considered this to be his first actual novel, despite having written War and Peace and The Cossacks earlier in his life. The trilogy, The Cossacks, was a semi-fictionalized autobiography and perhaps that is why Tolstoy felt the books could not be labeled novels. As to War and Peace, Tolstoy argued that "It is not a novel, still less it is a poem, and even less a historical chronicle. War and Peace is what the author wished and was able to express in the form in which it was expressed." [vii]
I also found quite interesting the evolution of the characters as Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina. They started off as very different characters than how they ended up in the final product. While I am sure that is nothing new in the process of writing, I still find it intriguing.
According to Pevear, Tolstoy was a conservative man. He was disgruntled about the changes in ideals he saw around him. Anna Karenina was, says Pevear, a rebellion of sorts against the people who sought to corrupt the family and social values and traditions Tolstoy believed in (and how relevant in contemporary times!). If this is so, I find it quite ironic that Anna Karenina is listed as a banned book in some parts of the world. I think it was Nazir Nafisi who commented that this novel, as well as Madame Bovary, were better examples of the negative impact adultery can have on people's lives and neither glamorizes such actions as those seeking to ban it argue.
And so it is with these thoughts that I begin my journey into the lives of Anna, Karenin, Stiva, Dolly, Kitty, Levin, and Vronsky . . .