Thinking About Anna Karenina

Nov. 11, 2016
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Over a dozen movies have been made from Tolstoy’s epochal novel Anna Karenina. At least one managed to have a happy ending; most were as forgettable as the most recent adaptation, director Joe Wright’s 2012 version, which resembled a pretty box with nothing inside.

One of the problems facing any film adaptation is the novel’s immensity—a mini-series might contain it, but not a two or even three-hour feature. As Liza Knapp points out in her astute study, Anna Karenina and Others (University of Wisconsin Press), Tolstoy endowed his novel with a “double plot,” its key characters inhabiting different story lines whose parallel developments beg the question: “How do their lives connect?” Along with themes of family, society, ethics and religion, Tolstoy was concerned with “the messy intermingling of people” and how his characters measured their circle of compassion.

A professor of Slavic languages at Columbia University, Knapp touches on Anna Karenina’s influence on the development of the modern novel and explores its philosophical, theological and cultural underpinnings. Alas, Tolstoy never wrote a proper novel after Anna Karenina, turning instead to polemics that will probably never trigger a green light in Hollywood or anywhere else.

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