Anna Karenina is So 19th Century!

17 May

I recently watched Vivien Leigh’s and Ralph Richardson’s “Anna Karenina” from 1948.

It is based on a 19th century novel by Leo Tolstoy.  I read the novel back in college. 

It amazes me to see the shift in values between the 19th century (as portrayed in 1948) and now.  

You see, “Anna Karenina” is a novel about a bored aristocrat who has an affair with a dashing and exciting young officer.

Nowadays, with today’s values, that would be no problem.  She would leave her husband for the officer and get on with it.  They would have an ecstatically happy life.

In the movie, things are a bit different than that.  The first time Anna Karenina and Vronsky meet, they are fatally attracted to each other.  He begins boldly proposing an affair to Anna Karenina, almost from the beginning.  And both of them say, from the very beginning, that they recognize they are obsessed with each other and that they know their affair will come to no good end.  

They are right.  In the end, Anna Karenina, having lost custody of her son to her estranged husband and having become pathologically insecure about Vronsky, throws herself under a train.  

That is why novels of the 19th century are so different from novels of the 21st century.  And movies made from them are usually different, too.

Novels of the 19th century may have extramarital affairs and other sin in them, but it is revealed, from the beginning, that choosing sin is choosing less than the best.  

Obviously, in order to have drama in a plot, you need to have challenges, usually in the form of humans who don’t do the right thing.  

But how refreshing to see that there was an era of absolutely great novels (in every way) that still taught that good is rewarded and evil is punished, whether by God or by natural consequences.  

“Anna Karenina” is regarded by many as the finest novel ever written.  The movie made from it is fabulous, too.  

Larger than life characters teach us about life. 


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