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This is not the sweeping spectacle of a movie that one would expect and at the end, when I saw that the screenplay was by Tom Stoppard, I understood the more theatrical, fanciful choices (the surreal waltzing, the use of props and behind the scenes staging). With a revered classic that has already been adapted many times, it is fine to try something different, something that unbalances the viewer, and, most importantly, the essence of the story was not lost. Of course, if this movie is your first exposure to this work, you might be less impressed. In any case, I liked it. Perhaps this was in part due to the excellent casting, with Kiera Knightly a spirited and tragic Anna.  Vronsky was a self-centered, rather more foppish than dashing, shallow yet not unsympathetic clod, Karenin a rigid, dogmatic, yet decent fellow. Lenin and Kitty were excellent and, my favorite character, Stiva, was perfect. I will always remember my first Anna and Vronsky, but I’m not even sure which version I saw (1935 with Greta Garbo? 1948 with Vivian Leigh, 1961 with Claire Bloom? Or was it the 1977 BBC version with Nicola Pagett). In any case, I am wondering if Keira Knightley actually showed something new in her portrayal, with Anna less a victim of Vronsky’s persistence (and Karenin’s coldness) and something of her own reckless nature partly to blame. I sometimes like to blame Stiva for his part in triggering the events that lead to Anna’s doom, but for the first time I found myself thinking she is Stiva’s sister after all, and something of  his grasshopper nature may be in her. Too bad, she did not also get his careless insouciance, his conviction, that “things will come right in the end.”

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The Kreutzer Sonata

Anna Karenina-Random Thoughts On

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The Kreutzer Sonata

This novella by Tolstoy was made into a play and performed by our local theatre group last year. The best part of the play was the playing of the sonata by two wonderful musicians in period costume; however, I don’t think the material was really right for a play. The play proceeded exactly as the book, with a narrator meeting a strange character on a train and listening to his long tale of woe. The device works in the story, but in the play it is a distraction.

I just finished Anna Karenina and am struck anew by the way that Tolstoy can get inside a person’s head, into their very thinking process. The last scenes of Anna’s life are so well done: she hesitates between life and death, she imagines death and draws back from it, she imagines that she might still choose to be happy and then by a circular process she returns to the point where death is the only way out. And those last lines of her life, “And the candle by the light of which she had been reading that book filled with anxieties, deceptions, grief and evil, flared up brighter than ever, lit up for her all that had once been in darkness, sputtered, grew dim, and went out for ever.

Now, from the other translation: “And the light of the candle by which she had read the book filled with troubles, falsehoods, sorrow, and evil flared up more brightly than ever before, lighted up for her all t hat had been shrouded in darkness, flickered, began to grow dim, and was quenched forever.”

Along with the above, I read some bits of another translation of AK to see if I could notice any great differences, especially since this new translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky has gotten so much attention. The differences are pretty subtle, but the only other translation I could find was an updated version of Constance Garnett’s now discredited attempt. I suppose if I were to read the Garnett version again in the original, the differences would be more noticeable to me.

It’s an interesting topic, especially because KAP recently reviewed a new translation of “Kristin Lavransdatter” while deriding the older version as hopelessly dated and ureadable. I loved the book when I read it a long time ago, and I’m sure it was in the older, dated translation. I didn’t have any trouble with it, but then I like to read Victorian novels, too.

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I think I must have read this book three or four times, maybe more. I don’t even know which translation I read but it was probably the Constance Garnett. I always loved it but the one I am reading now seems to have an immediacy and freshness that I don’t remember noticing in the past. Every few pages, a thought, a phrase, an insight seems to leap from the page. It is the most vivid and yet at the same time the most delicate and subtle writing!

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