Fiction > Harvard Classics > Leo Tolstoy > Anna Karenin > Criticisms and Interpretations > III
Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910).  Anna Karenin.
The Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction.  1917.
Criticisms and Interpretations
III. By Matthew Arnold
THERE are many characters in “Anna Karenin”—too many if we look in it for a work of art in which the action shall be vigorously one, and to that one action everything shall converge. There are even two main actions extending throughout the book, and we keep passing from one of them to the other—from the affairs of Anna and Vronsky to the affairs of Kitty and Levin. People appear in connection with these two main actions whose appearance and proceedings do not in the least contribute to develop them; incidents are multiplied which we expect are to lead to something important, but which do not. What, for instance, does the episode of Kitty’s friend Varenka and Levin’s brother Serge Ivanovitch, their inclination for one another and its failure to come to anything, contribute to the development of either the character or the fortunes of Kitty and Levin? What does the incident of Levin’s long delay in getting to church to be married, a delay which as we read of it seems to have significance, really import? it turns out to import absolutely nothing, and to be introduced solely to give the author the pleasure of telling us that all Levin’s shirts had been packed up.   1
  But the truth is we are not to take “Anna Karenin” as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life. A piece of life it is. The author has not invented and combined it, he has seen it; it has all happened before his inward eye, and it was in this wise that it happened. Levin’s shirts were packed up, and he was late for his wedding in consequence; Varenka and Serge Ivanovitch met at Levin’s country-house and went out walking together; Serge was very near proposing, but did not. The author saw it all happening so—saw it, and therefore relates it; and what his novel in this way loses in art it gains in reality.   2
  For this is the result which, by his extraordinary fineness of perception, and by his sincere fidelity to it, the author achieves; he works in us a sense of the absolute reality of his personages and their doings. Anna’s shoulders, and masses of hair, and half-shut eyes; Alexis Karenin’s updrawn eyebrows, and tired smile, and cracking finger-joints; Stiva’s eyes suffused with facile moisture—these are as real to us as any of those outward peculiarities which in our own circle of acquaintance we are noticing daily, while the inner man of our circle of acquaintance, happily or unhappily, lies a great deal less clearly revealed to us than that of Count Tolstoy’s creations.—From “Essays in Criticism,” Second Series (1888).   3



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