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Is Anna Karenina the Greatest Novel Ever Written?

There are those who argue that Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is the greatest novel ever written. Whether or not you believe this to be true, there's no denying the tremendous impact this Russian masterpiece has had on the literary world.

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Art is subjective, so it's impossible to claim a single novel as the 'best'. However, Anna Karenina will appear in the top three of any list of great novels. But what makes Anna Karenina a great novel? Read on to discover why Tolstoy's book is considered one of the greatest novels of all time.

Who in the world is Anna Karenina?

Leo Tolstoy published his novel in installments between 1875 and 1877. Anna Karenina centers around the adulterous and passionate affair between Anna (the titular character) and Count Vronsky. Anna is married to Aleksey Karenin, Count Vronsky is a bachelor.

As you can imagine, this causes quite the uproar in Russian high society and results in some rather tragic drama. But perhaps you're wondering why a story about adultery is considered one of the pinnacles of literature.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Proseposters

What makes Anna Karenina a great novel?

The answer to this question will unavoidably vary from bookworm to bookworm, but here are a few core reasons why Anna Karenina is such a fantastic, and timeless, novel.

  • A nuanced main female character

Back in the day, it was unusual for male writers to skillfully write about the opposite sex. Even today, it seems like male authors often struggle with writing women. However, Tolstoy was a bit of an anomaly in that regard.

Not only did Tolstoy create a beautiful and complex character in Anna Karenina, he wasn't afraid to show her sexuality. Remember, this is 19th century Russian high society where there were strict rules for how women should behave. Tolstoy broke all those rules with his passionate Anna—and probably shocked people by writing such a fleshed-out female character despite being a man himself.

  • Tolstoy perfected realism

Around the time that Tolstoy began writing Anna Karenina, the literary evolution towards realism had already begun. Realism was a movement in the 19th century in which artists sought to depict the world around them realistically and objectively. However, it could be argued that what makes Anna Karenina a great novel is that Tolstoy perfected the realism technique when he wrote it.

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy skips using similes and metaphors to describe events. Instead, opts to tell the reader in clear, simple, and beautiful language what is happening. He takes the reader inside his character's heads. There are no secrets; we know what the characters are thinking and what motivates them. Tolstoy is so skillful in his approach and was a master of the realism movement.

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  • Anna Karenina is a feminist novel.

A feminist novel written by a man in the 19th century? The concept might be hard to wrap our minds around! Although being a feminist novel doesn't automatically equate greatness, it's the way Tolstoy explores the inequality women faced in society at the time that makes Anna Karenina a great novel.

Throughout history, women have always faced double standards. This is one of the most heavily explored ideas in Anna Karenina. The book opens with Anna's brother having an affair with his children's nanny—a transgression for which he is rather quickly forgiven. But when Anna starts an affair with Count Vronsky, she ultimately loses everything (while Vronsky continues to enjoy wealth and the acceptance of society). Anna isn't the only woman who suffers from this type of sexist oppression. Tolstoy comes back to the them again and again in his novel to show how women were limited to being wives and mothers, but nothing more.

  • It has many different interpretations

The sign of any great book is when readers come away with different interpretations. And what makes Anna Karenina a great novel is that you take away something new each time you read it! On the surface, Tolstoy's novel may seem to deal primarily with love and death, but the many interpretations of these same two themes are what makes Anna Karenina so fascinating.

Love and death are important themes because these are universal situations human beings face all the time. This is what makes Anna Karenina timeless. However, while some people might look at the novel as a passionate love story or sort of Harlequin romance of its time, others might see it only as a tragedy. You might think it's a testament to the things we sacrifice for love, others might see love as a purely destructive force. The different ways to interpret and debate Anna Karenina's central themes are what makes it such a fun read!

What do you think?

It's obvious we love Anna Karenina here at Proseposters. So much so, that we've created stunning Anna Karenina wall art using the words from Leo Tolstoy's book! But what do YOU think? Have you read Anna Karenina? Is it on your TBR list as a reading resolution? Share your thoughts in the comment below.

If you love this book as much as we do...check out our Anna Karenina wall poster in the Proseposters shop. We took the words of Leo Tolstoy's brilliant novel and transformed them into a stunning Anna Karenina art print you'll be proud to hang on your wall.


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