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Thread: Which is Tolstoy's Best Novel???

  1. #1
    Registered User Red Terror's Avatar
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    Which is Tolstoy's Best Novel???

    Is it Anna Karenina or War and Peace??? Which do scholars believe is the best one, the most artistically accomplished???
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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    War and Peace is a loosely constructed mish-mash, which starts slowly and meanders, sometimes aimlessly, through the Steppes.

    Anna Karenina starts with a bang, and is more tightly constructed.

    Personally, I prefer War and Peace. Anna is a little too tightly constructed and too depressing for my taste, as all the action leads relentlessly toward the tragic end. I can (and have) read War and Peace many times, dipping into it in random spots; reading chapters entitled "The motion of history is compared to a locomotive", and enjoying the historical tidbits. Anna simply isn't as enjoyable. Those who prefer tightly constructed, flawless art might prefer Anna (although tightness of construction is not Tolstoy's strength, even here).

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    Registered User PoeticPassions's Avatar
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    I am partial, but my vote will always go to Anna Karenina.
    "All gods are homemade, and it is we who pull their strings, and so, give them the power to pull ours." -Aldous Huxley

    "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires." -William Blake

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    Registered User PoeticPassions's Avatar
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    Also, I found this to be quite an interesting read and take on Anna Karenina: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015...anna-karenina/
    "All gods are homemade, and it is we who pull their strings, and so, give them the power to pull ours." -Aldous Huxley

    "Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires." -William Blake

  5. #5
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Both are great novels. I remember Ana Karenina better because I watched a film made up of the novel about two years ago.

    I guess that if the historical background is your coup of tea, you will prefer War and Peace.

    On the other hand, Ana Karenina is outstanding in depicting the desperate situation of a woman of high society who commits adultery.
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  6. #6
    Ecurb nailed it perfectly well. Formalists, like me, tend to prefer Anna Karenina, while more meditative and historiography-oriented critics tend to prefer War and Peace, which is also, I feel, the more romantic of the two. I do deeply think, however, that tightness of construction, when it is sought, is one of Tolstoy's strongest virtues. Ivan Ilych and many of his later works are superior to Anna (and perhaps even to Madame Bovary) in this regard, but it remains the greatest example of structural finesse in the entire tradition of the longer novel (I'm excluding Madame Bovary, which is significantly shorter). Nonetheless, my reasons for prefering Anna run deeper still, down to the heart of the aesthetics of each of these two wonderful novels.

    Personally, I feel War and Peace is born mostly out of a compromise between the style of the large romantic epic and the aesthetics of the Iliad, with its Homeric freshness of imagery which, in universal similes, seeks an ideal of representational realism and apparent impartiality. The movements of the gods, in an Hugoesque attribute, are substituted by the the movements of history and, we learn, of historiographical metaphors and thesis. The result is a large, turbulent, but life-like journey through the likeable lives of many interesting characters, as they dream, suffer, die and mourn, impacted by those large-scale movements of historical forces. I agree it is far more dependent on sympathetic characterization than Anna and, as a result, it tends to be more likeable for most readers. It’s also in this sense, I think, that most people identify War and Peace with a poetic vista of life. It’s certainly a beautiful, powerful and variegated literary experience, one I certainly recommend.

    Anna, on the other hand, more of a transitional work between his WaP years and his later period, is the perfect marriage of the two Ancient influences with which Tolstoy lived and struggled during his entire life - Homer, on one hand, with his freshness of experience and apparent (and only apparent) impartiality, and, on the other hand, the Hebrew Bible, with its dualistic struggle between man and God, and with its even more dramatic struggle between moral burden and the human heart. Anna is a deeply dualistic work, and Homer and the Bible strongly change positions, like in a dance, as the story progresses and the themes are developed, developed over the deeply humane and relatable, powerfully characterized main characters. The freshness of pleasure, a Homeric gift, becomes at one point the forbidden fruit of Eden, at another the Biblical joy of parental love and responsibility; taking the fruit brings with it the burden of judgment, a Biblical gift, but a judgment that, in Homeric impartiality, is brought not from narrative bias, but from the emotions of Anna herself. It is profoundly important that the book is titled Anna Karenina, and not Madame Karenina. Like argued by Shklovsky, Tolstoy is less subtle than Flaubert, but he is also more primal and, in his directness and frankness, he brings about the feelings of pleasure and moral burden in such a natural manner that he almost seems like Nature writing itself down to us. Isaak Babel commented that, if the world could write by itself, it would write like Tolstoy, the Britannica says, and Gorky said of him that "With God he has very suspicious relations; they sometimes remind me of the relation of "two bears in one den.". And it's exactly because he is able to characterize moral judgment in such a natural, primal way, like a force of nature, that he is so often likened to God and to the World itself. I believe he is closer to us than Homer in this sense, for people that, like most of us, grew up in Christian countries, have from our first days to our last lived constantly with the weight of moral thought and the burden of its conscience, while the Ancient Greeks, with their profound feelings of filial and diplomatic duty, were also quicker to enjoy the carnal pleasures of life without too many moral qualms. In no other book, I believe, Tolstoy was so close to marrying the greatest aesthetic virtues of both the Iliad and the Hebrew Bible, with a beautiful Hugoesque architecture, antithetical and contrapuntal, but also, most unexpectedly, with the clearest sight of Balzac's clearest moments. To add up, the book moves like an emotional tornado. From the first sentence to the last, I was almost involuntarily taken in an unending torrent of life. Even when tragic, the book was profoundly joyful to me, its joy being of that very Christian sense, a joy born out of compassion and human identification. Except for the Don Quixote, it is my absolute favorite novel, and I recommend it to anyone.

    I’m obviously more biased towards Anna, but, if you like Tolstoy, I do think you should read them both! They are both great novels, and, surprisingly, profoundly different works. Tolstoy, in this sense is probably the closest example we have in the European novel tradition to a Homer. Ironically, to the very limited extent that such comparisons can stand, I feel War and Peace, despite its themes of warfare, life and history, is more of an Odyssey, while Anna Karenina is more of an Iliad. War and Peace, however, is certainly more romantic, vast and sympathetically affective, while Anna is the more morally oriented of the two. One is variegated in the scope of its large, sympathetic social landscapes, the other in its cornucopia of human color and introspection and in its fast, unstoppable flux of emotion and life.
    Last edited by Dantesque Dream; 01-25-2017 at 05:35 AM.

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    Watcher by Night mtpspur's Avatar
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    Ecurb sums up my thoughts on Anna and War and Peace. I prefer Anna because the writing is consistent, the plot focused and gets the job done with very few questions left over. War and Peace had some beautiful passages but other chapters make one wish Tolstoy had taken the day off. The plot is all over the place and character motivations sometimes were very vague and frankly I thought the war portions were sketchy at best and ill told. Anna breaks the heart poor lady.

  8. #8
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Interesting, Dantesque. I never thought of comparing Anna to Homer and the Bible.

    It’s been a decade and more since I read Anna Karennina, but one reason the novel works is that it’s so sound structurally. Many of the characters (I think) represent or reflect aspects of other characters.

    The story begins with Anna traveling to Moscow to patch up her brother’s marriage, which is in jeopardy due to Oblonsky’s affair. Oblonsky, being Anna’s brother, shares Anna’s charm, energy, and love of life. He also shares her circumstances – his affair augurs hers. Yet Oblonsky survives unscathed. Why? Anna is actually superior to her brother– more sincere, more passionate, more intelligent. But her very superiority (“such dangerous passions,” Vronsky’s mother says) condemns her.

    Kitty idolizes Anna. She, too, is in love with Vronsky and, indeed, she wants to BE Anna. So she is another “almost Anna” figure who once again is saved by circumstance and by talents pitched to a lower, less intense level.

    Levin’s two brothers represents two sides of Levin’s personality – the intellectual college professor, and the passionate but despondent revolutionary. The revolutionary brother dies – just as Levin kills off his own suicidal side and marries Kitty.

    I used to have the whole novel figured out based on this scheme, but I can’t remember all the details now. Nonetheless, it fits with Dantesque's analysis: the same talents and virtues that make Anna so attractive represent the tragic flaws that doom her.

  9. #9
    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    War and Peace is a loosely constructed mish-mash, which starts slowly and meanders, sometimes aimlessly, through the Steppes.

    Anna Karenina starts with a bang, and is more tightly constructed.

    Personally, I prefer War and Peace. Anna is a little too tightly constructed and too depressing for my taste, as all the action leads relentlessly toward the tragic end. I can (and have) read War and Peace many times, dipping into it in random spots; reading chapters entitled "The motion of history is compared to a locomotive", and enjoying the historical tidbits. Anna simply isn't as enjoyable. Those who prefer tightly constructed, flawless art might prefer Anna (although tightness of construction is not Tolstoy's strength, even here).
    Very well said indeed. I too liked the huge, rambling War and Peace better than Anna Karenina.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    I gotta say, Dantesque, from the few posts I've read by you, I definitely want to keep my eye on you and your writing! You bring great knowledge and insight onto this sadly rarely-used board.

    I've read three-quarters of War and Peace, but regrettably never finished it. This wasn't the book's fault. It was amazing, the best novel I've ever read. Now, I haven't read AK, so I can't speak to that unfortunately. Own it and definitely want to read it.

    Should I read and finish W&P, or read AK first?

  11. #11
    I'm trying to read Anna Karenina and so far I find it a fascinating book.

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