Starting Anna Karenina again

In my teens, around the time of the wonderful BBC adaptation of War & Peace with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre, and ITV’s Anna Karenina with Nicola Pagett as the doomed heroine, I went through a real Russian phase in my reading. We had copies of most of the Russian greats already in the house as my late mum was a big fan. I’ve long planned to start re-reading them, but it’s difficult to make the time. However, the arrival of a lovely new hardback edition of Anna Karenina from the OUP told me it was time!

Although I already know the plot (somewhat hazily by now), I elected not to read the Foreword before the novel. It’s a nice touch in this volume that a spoiler alert prefaces the Foreword advising readers not wishing to know the plot to return later. However, I have read and bookmarked the list of characters with all the different names they appear in the text with.

This translation is by Chekhov specialist Rosamund Bartlett from 2014. (Read Helen Rappaport’s review of it at Shiny here, and an article by Rosamund herself on translating it here). Bartlett’s translation is elegant and immensely readable and although I’m only fifty pages in, I know we’ll get along famously. Sensibly perhaps, she leaves Tolstoy’s famous and oft-quoted opening line unaltered:

All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

I’m only 60 pages in, but already we’ve learned of Oblonsky’s affair with his family’s French governess, and Levin’s return from the countryside to propose to Kitty only to be initially rebuffed for Kitty’s passion for Vronsky who has just put in a first appearance in chapter 14.

I will also soon rewatch the 2012 film which was innovatively filmed totally inside a ballroom. with just the railway scenes done outside (filmed nearby at Didcot railway museum).  It stars Keira Knightley and Jude Law and was rather good I recall with an excellent screenplay by Tom Stoppard.

I have approximately 770 pages to go, and I’m going to love every minute of rediscovering this book. I’m going to take my time, reading it alongside other books – unless, like Karen’s recent War & Peace experience I get sucked into not putting it down!  Expect updates…


Source: Publisher – thank you.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, translated Rosamund Bartlett – new hardback edition to be published Sept 25, previous Oxford World Classics edition available.

10 thoughts on “Starting Anna Karenina again

  1. I learned the hard way that literary introductions always include spoilers. Now my strategy is to read the introduction after I’ve finished the last page of the novel. How helpful that this intro actually gives a spoiler alert!

    Recently I very much enjoyed Fathers and Sons by Turgenev, one of the few Russian novels I’ve attempted. It has (I think) given me confidence to try some of the other Russian masters. I might start with Dostoevsky and then give Tolstoy another go.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I generally do read the introductions to classics before the book regardless to spoilers, as I often have a good idea of what’s going to happen through osmosis over the years. I find that often the intros give me (as a non-Eng Lit scholar) food for thought while reading and help shine light on some key themes. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a spoiler alert to the intro though – so thought worth mentioning. I hope I can make time to revisit more of the Russians … I have a nice edition of Crime and Punishment on my shelves, so Dostoyevsky for me too perhaps.

  2. They’re gorgeous hardback editions, aren’t they? I’ve had a few arrive in a very heavy box…. I’m not sure if I will revisit AK at the moment, as it’s not that long since I read it, but Crime and Punishment is looking very appealing. As for introductions, I tend to be wary, and I do like it when publishers warn you about plot elements in the intros. Yes – let’s all revisit the Russians!

  3. Ah, love some Anna Karenina, although I suspect I’ll get more and more irate with feckless men if I reread it at this age, rather than feel the romance quite so much. I do tend to read the introductions. I suppose because at the age when I first read classics, I was reading them for school and kind of knew the story but wanted to be aware of things to look out for and ideas for improving the critical essays I had to write at the end of it. (Not that I ever had to write essays about the Russians, I hasten to add, but it just became a way of reading).

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I’m with you on generally reading intros. I thought, given the spoiler alert, that I’d not do that this time – but I do already know the basic plot including the ending.

  4. Such a beautiful novel and I thought the Keira Knightly version of the film was gorgeous. I’m still gearing myself to read War and Peace – one day! Then I’ll watch the BBC adaptation.

  5. Good to hear about the ‘spoilers ahead’ note. Easy to skip once you know, but you have to get to that point first.

    It took me two goes to get through this book; picking a different translation (from Maude to Pevear & Volokhonsky) made all the difference. I’m really interested in the Bartlett version and may well pick it up at some point.

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