Evelyn's Blog for Aug 30, 2017 - "Must I "LIKE" Anna Karenina?

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In ALL of my college literary studies, I NEVER heard a professor say, “The character must be likeable. One of the characters. The main character. The protagonist. Someone with whom the reader can identify.”

So when contemporary writers out in the working world, especially mainstream writers, said my readers must LIKE one of the characters, I was shocked. Since then, I have heard it everywhere by everyone in the general public arena. And I thought I should accept LIKEABILITY as a tool in my writing.  But I always thought I was pandering rather than serving art. I caved.  Good enough.

Then this morning I heard on TV an op-ed commentator discuss Leo Tolstoy’s great novel “Anna Karenina” and I experienced an AHA! moment.

The op-ed commentator on TV was a college professor. She claimed that one irate student in her English classroom stormed out saying, “I don’t like Anna Karenina.”

The professor turned to the class: “The author’s intent is not that the reader LIKE Anna. But the reader should understand and be EMPATHETIC with her.”

I agree. I understood Anna’s vulnerability to being bewitched by the dashing count who nourished her starved emotions.

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I understood her dilemma of having to sacrifice her son.

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She was caught in a situation where there wasn’t a satisfactory solution. 

As you recall, Anna is forced to give up her young son to run off with her lover Count Vronsky.  She is unable to take her beloved son with her. She must leave him with the father, a cabinet minister who is an insufferable man, cold, rigid, unloving.

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Society turned against her, shunned her for her abandonment of her family. The injustices visited upon Anna still disturb me. She does commit suicide in the end, if that’s any consolation to some readers. 

I disliked Anna’s husband. I understood Anna’s vulnerability to being bewitched by the dashing count who nourished her starved emotions; I understood her dilemma of having to sacrifice her son. She was caught in a situation where there wasn’t a satisfactory solution.

The novel was published in 1877.  It lays out the injustices a woman faces trapped in a society that would keep her in a bad marriage. In today’s society, Anna could have left her husband and taken the boy with her.

As you recall, Anna is forced to give up her young son to run off with her lover Count Vronsky.  She is unable to take her beloved son with her. She must leave him with the father, a cabinet minister who is insufferable, cold, rigid, unloving.

Society turned against Anna, shunned her for her abandonment of her family. The injustices visited upon Anna still disturb me. She does commit suicide in the end, if that’s any consolation to some readers. She throws herself under the train tracks. 

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The novel was published in 1877.  It lays out the injustices a woman faces trapped in a society that would keep her in a bad marriage. In today’s society, Anna could have left her husband and taken the boy with her.