Anna Karenina: In Half the Time

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Anna Karenina

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780753822678
  • Publisher: Orion Publishing Group, Limited
  • Publication date: 9/1/2007
  • Series: Compact Editions Series
  • Edition description: Compact
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.00 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Anna Karenina

In Half the Time


By Leo Tolstoy Phoenix Press

Copyright © 2007 Leo Tolstoy
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780753822678


Since Anna Kareninawas published in 1877, almost everyone who matters in the history of literature has put in his two cents (and a few who stand out in other realms--from Matthew Arnold, who wrote a cogent essay in 1887 about "Count Tolstoy's" novel, to Lenin, who, while acknowledging his "first class works of world literature," refers to him as "a worn out sniveller who beat his breast and boasted to the world that he now lived on rice patties").

Dostoyevsky, a contemporary, declared Anna Karenina perfect "as an artistic production." Proust calls Tolstoy "a serene god." Comparing his work to that of Balzac, he said, "In Tolstoi everything is great by nature--the droppings of an elephant beside those of a goat. Those great harvest scenes in Anna K., the hunting scenes, the skating scenes . . ." Flaubert just exclaims, "What an artist and what a psychologist!" Virginia Woolf declares him "greatest of all novelists. . . . He notices the blue or red of a child's frock . . . every twig, every feather sticks to his magnet."

A few cranks, of course, weigh in on the other side. Joseph Conrad wrote a complimentary letter to Constance Garnett's husband and mentioned, "of the thing itself I think but little," a crack Nabokovnever forgave him. Turgenev said, "I don't like Anna Karenina, although there are some truly great pages in it (the races, the mowing, the hunting). But it's all sour, it reeks of Moscow, incense, old maids, Slavophilism, the nobility, etc. . . . The second part is trivial and boring." But Turgenev was by then an ex-friend and Tolstoy had once challenged him to a duel.

E. M. Forster said, "Great chords begin to sound, and we cannot say exactly what struck them. They do not arise from the story. . . . They do not come from the episodes nor yet from the characters. They come from the immense area of Russia. . . . Many novelists have the feeling for place . . . very few have the sense of space, and the possession of it ranks high in Tolstoy's divine equipment."

After finishing Anna Karenina, Tolstoy himself said (to himself, in his journal), "Very well, you will be more famous than Gogol or Pushkin or Shakespeare or Molière, or than all the writers of the world--and what of it?"

More great essays than I can recount here have been written about the book, especially those by George Steiner, Gary Saul Morson, Eduard Babev, and Raymond Williams.

Tolstoy criticism continues to thrive, and now includes its own home called the Tolstoy Studies Journal. Resorting to any library today, one can page through recent articles with titles like "Tolstoy on the Couch: Misogyny, Masochism, the Absent Mother," by Daniel Rancour-Lafarriere; "Passion in Competition: The Sporting Motif in Anna Karenina," by Howard Schwartz; "Food and the Adulterous Woman: Sexual and Social Morality in Anna Karenina," by Karin Horwatt; and even "Anna Karenina's Peter Pan Syndrome," by Vladimir Goldstein.

What's left, in the year 2000, for me to say?

Once, when I was a girl of eleven or twelve, sprawled on a sofa reading, an adult friend of the family noticed that I went through books quickly and suggested that every time I finished one, I enter the name of the author and title, publisher, the dates during which I read it, and what my impressions were on a three-by-five index card.

That kind of excellent habit is one we can easily imagine cultivated by the young Shcherbatsky princesses, when we first meet them "wrapped in a mysterious poetical veil." Levin wonders from afar, "Why it was the three young ladies had to speak French and English on alternate days; why it was that at certain hours they took turns playing the piano, the sounds of which were audible in their brother's room . . . why they were visited by those professors of French literature, of music, of drawing, of dancing; why at certain hours all three young ladies, and Mademoiselle Linon, drove in the coach to Tverskoy Boulevard, dressed in their satin cloaks, Dolly in a long one, Natalie in a shorter one, and Kitty in one so short that her shapely little legs in tight red stockings were exposed."

Of course, I was an American girl, not a Russian princess, and instead of foreign languages and piano tutors what I had was outside. From dawn to dusk, all summer, we ran to the woods, scavenging lumber, hauling boards, digging holes to build forts that were rarely completed; but we became muddy and tired.
I never followed the family friend's good advice.

Now I wish I had. A reason to keep a reading journal would be to compare the experience of the same book met at different ages. It could provide the deepest kind of diary. Anna Karenina, War and Peace, In Search of Lost Time and Middlemarch hold sway over a reader for weeks, months, a whole summer, and so we tend to remember our lives along with them, the way we would someone we'd roomed with for a period of months and then not seen again. I remember Tolstoy's novels personally--where I was when I first read them, for whom I was pining or from whom I was recovering. (For me, the novels were a bit long to read in the throes.)

Tolstoy himself kept just such a diary, his biographers tell us, a journal of "girls and reading. And remorse." He presented these journals, with all their literary impressions and squalid confessions, to his young fiance, Sofia Behrs, as Levin does to Kitty in Anna Karenina.

In the novel, as in Tolstoy's life, the squalor got all the attention from the young bride to be. But for history, as it might have been for Tolstoy later in his life, his youthful writing about books proves to be not only more important but more personal.

Though I didn't keep a journal of reading, I did keep journals of "feelings," largely of boys whose names the black-bound volumes record. A list of those names no longer conjures the faces or characteristic gestures.

But I remember where I was the first time I read Anna Karenina. I was at Yaddo, a writers' colony in upstate New York, during the high season, and I felt distinctly outside the community's social world. Another young female writer arrived with, it seemed to me, a better wardrobe. I found myself checking what she was wearing at every meal. I hadn't considered that I was visiting a town that for more than 150 years had been a summer "watering hole." A small backpack held all my clothes for the summer. A pretty orchestra conductor with whom I jogged examined a pin-sized stain on my best white blouse. "I wouldn't wear it," she said.

I was twenty-four years old and, I'll admit it, I read the novel to learn about love. I was at the beginning of my life and I'd come from one of the unhappy families Tolstoy mentions. I was, in my own oblique way, writing about that circus in all its distinction. But I wanted my own life to be one of the happy ones and I felt at peace there, in my studio on the second story of an old wooden, formal house. I had the time to lie on my white bed with the pine fronds ticking the window and learn how.

I felt enchanted, as any girl might be, with the balls, the ice-skating parties, most especially with Kitty's European tour to recover from heartbreak. I identified with Anna and with Kitty, never for a second with Varenka, whose position might have actually been closest to my own.

In fact, I was young enough to remember a particular magazine I'd read while in a toy store as a child, no doubt published by the Mattel Corporation, that chronicled a holiday week in the life of a doll called Barbie. Like the characters in Anna Karenina, Barbie also went to an ice-skating party and wore a muff. Barbie also owned formal gowns. Barbie, too, sat to have her portrait painted.

I mention this not to call attention to the rather girlish and unsophisticated imagination I still had but rather to show how far into a child's fantasy Tolstoy ventures before then shocking us by rendering our heroine's aversion to touching her husband. And here I'm not talking only about Anna. He makes mention of Kitty's "revulsion" toward Levin as well.

I read--that first time--for the central characters, to see whom they married; to decide what was dangerous in a man, what fulfilling; what kind of love to hope for, to fear.

I didn't like Vronsky. Or I did, but I was afraid of him. Vronsky says something at the beginning of the novel that the repeat reader will never forget. We meet him, in his first appearance, as Kitty's suitor, and already fear--as her mother will not quite let herself--that he will turn out to be a cad. The conversation in the parlor turns to table-rapping and spirits, and Countess Nordston, who believed in spiritualism, begins to describe the marvels she has seen.

Vronsky says, " '. . . for pity's sake, do take me to see them! I have never seen anything extraordinary, though I am always on the lookout for it everywhere.' " He says this in Kitty's living room, in her presence. Of course, he has not yet seen Anna.

That night, after flirting with Kitty, he goes straight home to his rented room and falls asleep early, musing, "That's why I like the Shcherbatskys', because I become better there."

His yearning for the extraordinary, the small account he gives to the peace-giving quality of the Shcherbatskys, tells his whole story, the way a prologue often announces the great Shakespearean themes. Kitty's father has never liked or trusted Vronsky, while her mother favors him, considering Levin only a "good" match, but Vronsky a "brilliant" one.

The dangers and glory of that kind of exceptionalism--in love--were for me, that first time, the subject of the novel.

That question of the viability of extraordinary and ordinary loves was even more riveting for me, at twenty-four, than the differences between happy and unhappy families. This dilemma, in fact--along with work and how to get by on little money in New York City--was the main thing my friends and I talked about. How X loves Y, but Y loves Z, but Z loves . . . all coming down to whether we would have great loves or have to "settle," as we put it.

Of course, we all want to have something extraordinary, in love. None of us, at twenty-four anyway, wants to settle or be settled for.

Part of what is touching, on a second reading, is Vronsky's first meeting with Anna. If you had asked me about that scene before I reread the book, I would have relied on convention and said that Vronsky met a beautiful woman at the train station. But on first seeing Anna--who will be for Vronsky the great love--Vronsky sees her full of life, but not necessarily exceptional. He glances at her once more "not because she was very beautiful" but because of an expression on her face of "something peculiarly . . . soft." Vronsky has not had an ordinary family life. He doesn't much remember his father, and his mother, now "a dried-up old lady," had been "a brilliant society woman, who had had during her married life, and especially afterward, many love affairs notorious in all society." Tolstoy makes it clear that Vronsky does not love or respect his mother.

Anna says, " 'The countess and I have been talking all the time, I of my son and she of hers.' "

Vronsky recognizes Anna first as a mother, a mother miserable to be away--for only a few days--from her beloved son. We might say that what seemed extraordinary for him was just the quality of ordinary maternal devotion his own mother never had.

And here we feel the tragic parallel. Anna is bound to become a woman like Vronsky's mother, notorious for her affair. Later on, her great concern will be that her son may lose respect for her.

Vronsky will wish for nothing more than to make his daughter legitimate and to marry Anna, in the usual way.

" 'My love keeps growing more passionate and selfish, while his is dying, and that's why we're drifting apart,' " Anna says, near the end. " 'He is everything to me, and I want him more and more to give himself up to me entirely. And he wants more and more to get away from me. . . . If I could be anything but a mistress, passionately caring for nothing but his caresses; but I can't and I don't care to be anything else. And by that desire I rouse aversion in him, and he rouses fury in me, and it cannot be different.' "

There, Anna is, I believe, talking about sex. But by then, Vronsky wants the precious ordinary: a marriage, a family--which is as unattainable for him as his heightened passion is for Kitty or Levin or Dolly or even Stiva.


From the Trade Paperback edition.





Continues...

Excerpted from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy Copyright © 2007 by Leo Tolstoy. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 470 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 12, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Garnett not a good translation

    Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is all that and then some, but let's talk translations. This is the same 1901 rendering by Constance Garnett used in most of the e-editions out there. Though familiar (especially for its opening sentence), it is widely criticized for its deficiencies and considered a poor choice among better alternatives. The 1918 Maude translation is far better. It is the one most read in college literature classes. The Norton Critical Edition uses the Maude translation, with some revisions by George Gibian. That edition has not been published for e-readers, but a good NOOK edition of the Maude translation is attached to this review (or search "Anna Karenina Maude"). The 2000 translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky is the one associated with Oprah's Book Club. Oprah selected the novel itself more than a particular translation, but a print edition of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation was featured on her website, so people think of that one as Oprah's pick. The NOOK edition is attached to this review (or search "Anna Karenina Pevear"). It is a matter of taste which translation is preferable, the Maude or the Peavear and Volokhonsky. The influence of the translator is second only to the author in shaping the text. The quality of the translation is crucial.

    102 out of 105 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2011

    One of the Greatest Novels Ever Written

    This is one of the greatest, most beautiful and most heartbreaking novels ever written. No wonder Oprah Winfrey selected it, even though it was written well over a hundred years ago!

    92 out of 96 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2011

    beauty

    Nook edition of Anna Karenina is the best book.

    89 out of 91 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2011

    AMAZING!

    Oprah was right about this one ... a truly amazing, indeed, life changing book. Highly, highly, highly recommended.

    88 out of 89 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2011

    wow

    nice to see this book title anna karenina..

    87 out of 92 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 29, 2010

    Don't buy this e-book

    Don't buy this e-book. It is full of typographical errors. I am so disappointed! I am only a few pages into this book and I cannot believe the poor quality. How hard can it be to get it correct. I have asked for a refund, we'll see how that goes...... ArgoKR

    37 out of 41 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 15, 2010

    Extremely poor transcription

    I don't recall ever reading an ebook with more blatant errors. Although most of the misspelled/partial words can be deciphered, it greatly detracts from the readability. It is obvious that no effort went into the making of this book other than a likely OCR scan from what may have been a poor quality original text. A simple running of a spell checker could have probably caught at least 95% of the errors, but that would still amount to thousands of corrections.

    28 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great novel but this digital copy has many spelling errors.

    This is one of the best novels I've read but this digital copy has so many spelling errors that it became annoying within reading the first few pages. Find another copy if you can. This novel really is worth paying a little extra money.

    23 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 11, 2010

    A classic ruined by poor conversion quality

    I wish I had read the other reviews before I bought this one! I'd always wanted to read the book, so didn't think I needed to check out ratings. The frequency of typing/spelling errors was mindboggling, and should have been caught by any basic spell check; there was at least one on every page. Every couple of days, I would go back to it and try to give it another shot, but I would give up in irritation after a few pages. There's no excuse for publishing such a poor quality version of this classic.

    19 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 20, 2010

    Masterpiece, but the e-book is full of typos

    There are 6 typos per page on average, the book had gotten digitized, and never corrected. Save your 99 cents and download for free from Project Gutenberg. I expected better quality control from B&N.

    17 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2010

    THIS E-BOOK SHOULD BE WITHDRAWN - FULL OF ERRORS, TYPOS, MIS-SPELLING

    The lack of editing in this eBook is a disgrace!!!!! I cannot believe B&N had the audacity to charge for this disaster - Never-ending spelling mistakes and typos - it becomes impossible to read with so many errors.

    13 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 3, 2010

    This printed version is TERRIBLE!

    I have always loved this book but there are so many extreme typos on each page, that the book is unreadable. It looks as though they put a typewriter in a cage of monkeys. A huge disappointment.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 2, 2010

    Great Book! Horrible publication!

    Of course Tolstoy is marvelous. However, this particular E-book publication is horrible. There are at least two spelling errors on each page. Get another printing of this book.

    13 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2010

    Don't buy this version

    This story is good and I have no problem with the book itself, however, the B&N version is terrible. There are spelling errors and typos on nearly every "page". Not worth the $.99.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2010

    Great Story-Horribly misspelled

    I am a new Nook book reader. I have noticed some spelling and spacing errors in a few of the books I have read. Anna Karenina is a great story but this book is so badly misspelled it was hard to read. The book is 822 pages and trying to read through all the misspelling was horrible. I didn't read any reviews before purchasing it and maybe I should have. I was tempted to go out and purchase a copy of the book so I could appreciate the story better. I don't know where the books are transcribed but it couldn't have been run through a spell check. It was sad to see a classic so poorly treated.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 15, 2010

    I am reviewing the ebook version

    I am extremely frustrated by the typographical errors in this e-version! I enjoyed the first 50 pages as far as the story, but just gave up in frustration from page after page of mispelled words and unedited copy! I am sure that when I read the original version I will love it!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 3, 2010

    Anna Karenina

    The copy I downloaded on my Nook is very poor. There are many misspellings and the spacing is incorrect.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 6, 2010

    Tolstoy must be rolling over in his grave

    Like several other reviewers, I was very frustrated by the huge number of typos in this e-book. I'm shocked at the poor quality - it's a disgrace to this amazing work of art. I love my nook -- fortunately I read other typo-free books on it before this one. I was so pleased to see such a great e-book deal for Anna Karenina but have since gone back to my paper version because of all the errors.

    Did I hear that there are other e-versions of the book that are typo-free?

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 28, 2010

    Too many spelling errors!

    With all the spelling errors, it feels like you are trying to translate from the original Russian. I know it is under a dollar, but why would B&N even put something of such poor quality on their web site?
    Spend the extra money and buy another version of this book- the story is excellent!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2010

    Filled with Typos

    As some of the other reviews have stated, this version of Anna Karenina was FILLED with typos -- at least 1 in 10 words was misspelled, some so badly that it was impossible to decipher what the word should be. This greatly affected the overall reading experience. Love the story, but buy another version.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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