A great story marred by little things

(This review of Anna Karenina is edited down from the 2,224-word post I wrote for my old Angelfire site around 2004.)

My translation: 4 stars

Overall rating: 4.5 stars

Translation issues, summed up:

The Louise and Aylmer Maude translation is dreadful. They “translate” names, refuse to use superdiminutives like Katyenka and Dolyenka, use inaccurate transliteration (e.g., Alesha instead of Alyosha), use Russian measurements without properly explaining their conversions in footnotes, and employ outdated language like “to-morrow.”

Particularly goofy is when Levin starts calling Kitty “Kate” after he realises she’s a full, mature woman. Did the Maudes think the nickname Katya were too foreign and confusing for Anglophone readers?!

Tolstoy’s actual material:

This book is for the most part very well-written, but there are parts I could’ve done without—Levin diddering about on his estate, shooting birds, mowing grass, planting crops, pontificating about agriculture, philosophy, and religion; Vronskiy’s horse race; the voting; and the death of Levin’s profligate brother.

Anna and Vronskiy are very draw to one another since meeting, dance all night at a ball, and have engrossing private conversations, but we’re given no motivation for their feelings and illicit affair.

Their so-called love story is rather unconvincing, since it doesn’t delve into their motivations or feelings for one another on a deep level. For two people having an affair, we don’t get any insight into their hearts and minds!

I was disgusted Levin is 32 to Kitty’s 18 when the book starts. Kitty’s also in love with 30-year-old Vronskiy, though he doesn’t realise it and breaks her heart by leaving town. However, Kitty and Levin really did seem to be in love later on and trying to make a happy family.

We know Levin loves Kitty and why, but we don’t get any motivation into why she loves him and accepts his second marriage proposal. I don’t buy a teen girl being head over heels for a guy in his thirties.

Levin talks it over with her dad, and decides to show her his diaries before the marriage so she’ll know all of him. In spite of her religiosity, she doesn’t mind he’s an agnostic, but finding out he’s not a virgin makes her weep. Come on, he’s 33 or 34. It’s hard to believe anyone that old would be a virgin.

Kitty’s family and Levin try to set Kitty’s 20-year-old friend Varyenka up with Levin’s 40-year-old halfbrother Sergey. I was supremely glad when Sergey decided against it, wanting to stay true to the memory of a tragic romance.

The title character only occupies about half the book. Levin’s story is an interesting subplot, but I expect a book carrying a character’s name to be mostly about her. Levin is boring when he’s musing about agriculture, religion, philosophy, and politics. He also starts obsessing about how it’d be better if he were dead.

He’d rather live like a peasant than a rich man. At the beginning of the book, he’s resigned from his seat on his local Zemstvo because he’s sick of politics.

Anna goes mad and becomes depressed. She’s shunned and avoided; spoken of as a vile, terrible woman; left hanging by her jerk husband over whether he’ll grant her a divorce; and legally denied rights to her son. Her husband is legally considered the father of the baby she had with Vronskiy, which means he can take her if anything happens to Anna.

Vronskiy is rather insensitive to the entire situation. He isn’t treated like a pariah. He gets to keep all of his old friends and hangouts. People don’t slander him in the streets or run away from him. He doesn’t seem to grasp what all this is doing to her. He thinks she’s selfish and unreasonable to demand he spend more time with her and be considerate of her feelings.

The famous scene with the train only ends Part Seven, not the entire book. For the next fifty pages, Anna’s barely mentioned. We barely gauge anyone’s reactions to what she did.

The ending was a complete cop-out and very disappointing. It’s supposed to tie up Levin and Kitty’s story, with him struggling to overcome his aversion to making a family life over his morbid musings about death and his boring ones about agriculture. However, I don’t buy Levin suddenly having an epiphany and getting religious faith, after spending the entire book as an agnostic.

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A to Z Reflections 2016

A-to-Z Reflection [2016]

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Problems/issues encountered:

During the first week, I clicked on a lot of blogs with awesome-sounding titles, only to discover they not only never started the Challenge, but also hadn’t posted anything in at least six months. A number of these bloggers hadn’t posted anything in several years, which makes me wonder why they bothered signing up.

Bloggers who quit participating, without an apology or explanation for why they couldn’t finish or slacked off.

Blogs without an ability to leave comments.

Captchas!

Comments only being approved after moderation. There are better ways to prevent spam, and if you’re worried about nasty, abusive comments, you can set your commenting policy so only people with previously-approved comments bypass moderation. Some of the gender-critical blogs I frequent have such a policy, though others keep to the model of approving every single comment, even after we’ve proven ourselves as good eggs.

A link that was broken.

Having to register to leave a comment. I found a number of such blogs I was ready to comment on, only to discover I had to go through the whole rigamarole of registration with a unique-to-the-blogger commenting service. The only exception I made was for a post with a jaw-droppingly hurtful, offensive, ableist meme with a quote from the always-classy Auti$m $peak$, saying those of us on the spectrum have been “taken away” and need “cured.”

Difficulty finding the actual blog part of a website, or the A to Z posts section. This also goes for blogs with multiple posts a day, without the A to Z post on top.

Posts or pages which were too busy. Sometimes a post would be fairly short, but there were a lot of graphics, links, and thumbnails taking up extra space after the main text. I don’t have time to constantly scroll through all that!

People who only signed up to try to promote a business, and aren’t bloggers at all. For that matter, it’s also super-sneaky to use your theme (0r part of your theme) to promote your MLM. I don’t care about your overpriced nail stickers, weight loss shakes, candles, or clothes from the menopause section marketed to young women!

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I wrote my posts well in advance (last May–July), so I’d have plenty of time for going back and editing them multiple times, and wouldn’t have to rush through them last-minute. Several posts originally had additional topics which I decided to delete, since it felt like overload. Deleted topics were diphtheria, the Elephant House at Aleksandr Palace (really disappointed I couldn’t find more information and a decent picture!), and the Pauline Laws.

My N post was originally about Countess Natalya Sergeyevna Brasova, Grand Duke Mikhail’s wife, but it felt like too much of a repeat of his post, since it was mostly about her relationships. The last thing I’d want to do is primarily define a woman by her history of romantic attachments!

I considered other topics for certain letters, but decided against them since I felt they were only tangential to my alternative history (e.g., Sigmund Freud, Queen Victoria, Last Rites). I’d also originally planned to do the Aleksandr Palace for A, but it seemed only natural to start with our hero, the entire reason for the story.

L was the last letter I settled on topics for. Other difficult letters were F, J, R, and the replacement for N. The H, X, and Q topics were pretty much limited, since Russian doesn’t have those letters. It was an obvious given I’d have to do Hemophilia and Grand Duchess Xenia (Kseniya), and luckily, I found a Q name related to Imperial Russian history. Y for Yekaterinburg was also the obvious choice.

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Post recap:

Tsar Aleksey II (54 views)
Batumi, Georgia (23 views)
The Cathedral of the Dormition and the Chrysler Imperial Touring (34 views)
The Dowager Empress and the Duesenberg (22 views)
Electrotherapy and Easter (22 views)
The Fyodorovskaya Ikon of the Mother of God (19 views)
The Grand Cathedral of the Winter Palace and the House of Gagarin (14 views)
Hemophilia (19 views)
Prince Igor Konstantinovich and the Iverskaya Chapel (20 views)
The Jordan Staircase and Joy (31 views)
Prince Konstantin Konstantinovich the younger and the Kunstkamera (9 views)
The Lower Dacha of Peterhof and Leo (23 views)
Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich (12 views)
Nevskiy Prospekt (10 views)
Grand Duchess Olga Nikolayevna (22 views)
The Passage and Peter and Paul Cathedral (9 views)
Giacomo Quarenghi (21 views)
The Red Porch, Rochet-Schneider, Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and Russo-Baltique (19 views)
The Semicircular Hall, the Sorbonne, and St. Serafim of Sarov (21 views)
Tsesarevich, Tsaritsa, and Transliteration (17 views)
Uzbek cuisine (23 views)
Prince Vladimir Pavlovich Paley (10 views)
The Winter Palace (34 views)
Grand Duchess Xenia (Kseniya) Aleksandrovna (19 views)
Yekaterinburg, Russia (17 views)
Grigoriy Yevseyevich Zinovyev (16 views)

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I have like ten future themes in mind for future Aprils!

Yekaterinburg, Russia

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Ipatyev House, prior to its destruction

Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, straddles the border between Europe and Asia. It was founded in 1723 by Vasiliy Nikitich Tatishchev and Georg Wilhelm de Gennin, and named after Peter the Great’s second wife, Yekaterina (Catherine) I. In 1796, it received town status. From 1924–91, it was renamed Sverdlovsk, after Bolshevik leader Yakov Mikhaylovich Sverdlov.

Old train station, Copyright magical-world / Vera & Jean-Christophe from Europe, source Flickr

Yekaterinburg grew to become a leading industrial centre of the Urals, with its rich deposits of natural resources. It also became a vital part of the development of the Urals as a whole, and an extremely important trade route. Its nickname is “The Window on Asia.”

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Rastorguyev-Kharitonov Palace, Copyright Vera & Jean-Christophe, Source Rastorguev-Kharitonov mansion, Yekaterinburg

Because of its dizzying development and importance on the trade route, it attracted a fair amount of people with money. The city was fast becoming even more important to the Russian Empire during the Great War, but alas, everything changed when the Bolsheviks took over. After they conquered the city, they imprisoned, murdered, or chased away anyone from the upper- and middle-classes, and took all the money and natural resources for themselves.

With all these riches in the hands of a very few, the people of Yekaterinburg suffered greatly. In 1918, a famine broke out, and many people risked their lives to go to nearby towns and villages for decent food. This wasn’t easy, since this was also a period of insane hyperinflation and rationing. The working-class and poor, whom the Bolsheviks supposedly loved so much, were even worse-off than ever before.

Main building of Ural State Technical University, Copyright LordTroy

Yekaterinburg is the setting of the first six chapters of my alternative history, and later on, during Part IV, the four Imperial children of the new generation are sent to their surviving grandparents in Yekaterinburg ahead of the Nazis reaching St. Petersburg. The new Tsaritsa, Arkadiya, was born in Yekaterinburg in 1897.

In the West, Yekaterinburg is best-known as the place where Russia’s last Imperial Family were imprisoned and murdered in 1918. They were held at a former mansion, whose final owner was Nikolay Nikolayevich Ipatyev. In late April 1918, he was ordered to leave his house, and it was renamed “The House of Special Purpose.”

Border between European and Asian Russia, Copyright Jirka.h23

In the 1930s, Yekaterinburg became a centre of industry once more, and during the Great Patriotic War, many factories and technical schools were relocated there. In order to escape the Nazis, many people fled to the safety of Siberia, where the enemy could never reach them. Many of the collections of the Hermitage Museum were also relocated there.

Statue of Yekaterinburg’s founders

Today, the city is home to 16 universities, among them Ural State Technical University, Ural State University, Ural State University of Foresty, Ural State Pedagogical University, Ural State Agricultural Academy, Urals Academy of Architecture, Russian State Vocational Pedagogics University, Military Institute of Artillery, Ural State Mining University, and Ural State Academy of Medicine. The city is also an important stop on the Trans–Siberian Railroad, and has several airports.

Administrative building, Copyright Владислав Фальшивомонетчик (Vladislav Falshivomonetchik)

The city has become a mecca of culture in the Urals, with dozens of libraries, many famous theatres, a philharmonic orchestra, over 30 museums, a circus, unusual monuments (such as the Keyboard Monument), and a recording studio.

Sevastyanov House, Copyright Владислав Фальшивомонетчик

The city is surrounded by lakes and wooded hills. Very similar to Upstate New York, their winter lasts from October till mid-April. It’s not unheard of for winter temperatures to dip below zero. Summer only lasts about 65–70 days, with an average temperature of 64º F (18º C). Since it’s behind a mountain range, the temperature is nothing if not consistent in its inconsistency (just like Albany, NY).

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Armenian Apostolic Church of St. Karapet

In 1977, Ipatyev House was ordered razed by Boris Nikolayevich Yeltsin (whom I have very mixed feelings about, but ultimately feel was a decent person). He didn’t want it to become a rallying-point for monarchists, but people continued to come anyway. (The Russian Orthodox Church has never made a secret of its desire for a restoration of the monarchy, something I also would support.) In 2003, construction of a church in that spot was completed. The altar is right over the spot where the Imperial Family were murdered.

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Church on the Blood, built over the razed Ipatyev House, Copyright A viento

Grand Duchess Xenia (Kseniya) Aleksandrovna

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Xenia_Alexandrovna_of_Russia_by_C.Bergamasco_(c.1884)

Grand Duchess Kseniya Aleksandrovna, 6 April 1875–20 April 1960

Grand Duchess Kseniya, usually called Xenia in English literature, was the fourth of Tsar Aleksandr III and Empress Mariya Fyodorovna’s six children. She was born at Anichkov Palace, and moved to Gatchina Palace after her parents assumed power in 1881. In the wake of her grandfather’s brutal assassination, and with the general instability of the Russian throne, Gatchina was felt to be safer than the Winter Palace. Perhaps because she had three surviving brothers and only one sister, Kseniya was a so-called “tomboy.”

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Kseniya as a toddler, with her mother

Kseniya had a passionate attachment to her first-cousin once-removed Sandro (Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich) from a young age, even though he was nine years her senior. By the time Kseniya was 15, they ardently wanted to marry, though her parents didn’t really approve of Sandro. They only came around after Sandro’s father, Grand Duke Mikhail Nikolayevich, intervened in the matter. After the engagement was finally approved, it took a long time for the marriage date to be set, which caused the couple no amount of grief. During their betrothal, they horrified Kseniya’s older brothers with their wanton passion. One time, they almost broke an Ottoman.

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Kseniya and her husband Grand Duke Aleksandr Mikhaylovich (Sandro)

Kseniya and Sandro married on 6 August 1894, at Peterhof Palace, and had to spend their wedding night at Ropsha Palace. On their way there, the carriage took a nasty spill in mud, and the newlyweds arrived looking quite undignified. In his diary, Sandro recorded how unhappy he was to have to wear a very heavy silver robe and other wedding night clothes dictated by tradition. The Imperial Family’s insistence on kowtowing to rigid, archaic rules even as the 20th century approached was yet another factor keeping Russia centuries behind the modern world.

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Kseniya and Sandro at an 1894 ball

The unbridled passion Kseniya and Sandro displayed during their betrothal continued after marriage, in the form of seven children—Irina, Andrey, Fyodor, Nikita, Dmitriy, Rostislav, and Vasiliy. This was quite a thorn in the side of Kseniya’s sister-in-law Aleksandra, who could only wish she’d had six boys in a row, all of them healthy. The two sisters-in-law started out cordially, but over time, their relationship disintegrated.

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Kseniya at the 1903 17th century costume ball at the Winter Palace

Kseniya was heavily involved in charities, for causes including poor and working-class children, widows and orphans of Navy men, and tuberculoid patients. In addition to keeping busy with charity work and raising seven children, she also recorded in her diary, with growing concern, the horrifying trajectory her brother’s reign was taking. Sandro was also upset with Nicholas’s inept rule, and fruitlessly tried many times to intervene and get him to show some backbone and common sense.

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Kseniya, Sandro, and their seven children

Sandro had an affair during Kseniya’s final pregnancy, and a year later, Kseniya herself had an affair. Each admitted their infidelity, and their marriage began unraveling. They slept in separate rooms, lived separate lives, and spent much time outside of Russia. Kseniya refused to grant a divorce, though they eventually separated physically, not just emotionally. Sandro tried and failed to get Nicholas to relax the ridiculous House Laws forcing equally-ranked marriages on dynasts, though all of Sandro’s children married titled, non-royal Russian aristocrats anyway. All but firstborn Irina married without permission.

Xenia_Alexandrovna_of_Russia_by_A.Passetti_(1892)

During the cataclysm of the Great War, Kseniya became even more concerned over the direction the Russian Empire was taking, her brother’s disastrous rule, and how much influence Empress Aleksandra and Rasputin had. Her father, Aleksandr III, might’ve been extremely reactionary and responsible for many pogroms, but at least he’d kept Russia strong and out of war. Under Nicholas II and his wife, the empire fell into tatters, and the tide of revolution wasn’t nipped in the bud with necessary reforms and an appropriately strong arm.

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Kseniya and her surviving brothers as children. Mikhail is the little boy, Georgiy is standing, and Nicholas is on the right.

In 1917, Kseniya’s family fled to her Ai-Todor palace in the Crimea, where her mother and sister Olga already were. On 11 April 1919, minus Olga, they escaped the new Soviet Union on HMS Marlborough, sent by King George V. Olga escaped with her commoner second husband and their two little boys in February 1920. Though Olga and the Dowager Empress settled in Denmark, Kseniya made her home in England. Sandro settled in Paris.

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In my alternative history, Kseniya, like the Dowager Empress, isn’t shy about offering her opinions on the late Empress Aleksandra and what contributed to the dynasty’s overthrow. She also strongly disapproves of Aleksey’s unequally-ranked marriage with a morganatic princess, and how he all but throws out the Pauline Laws.

The Winter Palace

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Copyright User:Matthias Süßen

Once upon a time, long ago and worlds apart, the Winter Palace was the crowning jewel among all the palaces of Tsarist Russia. This massive edifice was the Imperial Family’s official residence, and the location of court during “the season,” October–March. All of high society and the Imperial Court would turn out for lavish, decadent, extravagant parties, balls, and other society functions. Sadly, after the October Revolution of 1917, the Reds ransacked this beautiful seat of splendour. Priceless artwork, crystal, china, books, furniture, pictures, everything was destroyed or looted.

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Malachite Room, painted by Konstantin Andreyevich Ukhtomskiy

The Winter Palace went through several incarnations, with the first built from 1711–12 for Peter the Great. He eventually bored of this small, humble abode, and the second Winter Palace was built in 1721. The third Winter Palace was finished in 1727, under the reign of the unmemorable Peter II. In 1730, under the reign of Empress Anna, the Imperial court was re-established at the Winter Palace. However, she didn’t care for the existing palace, and so commissioned a fourth Winter Palace in 1732. Construction continued under the reign of Empress Yelizaveta, and that final product became today’s Winter Palace.

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St. George’s Hall (The Great Throne Room), painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

This immense triumph of Imperial power has 1,500 rooms, 117 stairwells, 1,786 doors, and 1,945 windows. In Tsarist days, it was painted red, but today it’s been repainted white and jade green. It takes up prime real estate between Palace Square and the Palace Embankment, along the majestic Neva River. A massive fire broke out in 1837, and the palace was almost immediately rebuilt.

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Small Throne Room, Copyright Hajotthu

The ground floor contained mostly bureaucratic and domestic offices; the first floor (in the western wing) was for the Imperial Family; and the second floor was for high-ranking officials and senior courtiers. The eastern and northern wings were for state rooms. The palace’s four corners contained rooms for lesser members of the Imperial Family.

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Gold Drawing Room, painted by Aleksandr Kolb

The Winter Palace boasts stunning examples of architecture, beauty, splendour, and decoration including the Jordan Staircase, Malachite Room, Arabian Room, Gold Drawing Room, Great Throne Room (St. George’s Hall), Concert Hall, Nikolay Hall, Great Antechamber, Armorial Hall, Grand Cathedral, Field Marshals’ Hall (where the 1837 fire began), Small Throne Room, Military Gallery, White Hall, Rotunda, Aleksandr Hall (new after 1837), and Apollo Room.

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Concert Hall, painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

The Great Throne Room was the site of the First Duma’s opening in 1906, the first time commoners had been inside the palace en masse. The members of the Imperial Family in attendance thought they saw hatred in the Duma’s eyes, and couldn’t understand it. The Imperial Family were staggeringly, mind-boggingly out of touch with how the masses of ordinary Russians lived, and insisted on upholding a severely outdated autocracy and ridiculously draconian house laws even in the face of their own relatives rebelling. So many things should’ve been done differently to prevent the Revolution.

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Armorial Hall, painted by Eduard Hau

Though the Winter Palace was the official home of the sovereign and his or her family from 1732 onwards, the last Tsar who really used it as his home was Aleksandr II. After his assassination in March 1881 (on the eve of his granting a constitution), it was judged to be too unsafe for the Imperial Family. Aleksandr III (an extreme reactionary whom I hate as a Tsar but like as a family man) moved his family to Gatchina Palace. Nicholas II (whom I also hate as a Tsar but like as a person) chose the Aleksandr Palace as his family’s primary residence.

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Arabian Hall, painted by K.A. Ukhtomskiy

The last hurrah for the Winter Palace was a February 1903 17th century costume ball, in which Nicholas and Aleksandra dressed as Tsar Aleksey the Meek (another Tsar I hate) and his first wife, Mariya Ilyinichna Miloslavskaya. The photograph of the decadent celebrants in the Hermitage’s theatre was the final photograph of the entire Imperial Family together.

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Aleksandr Hall, painted by Eduard Hau

Following Bloody Sunday in January 1905, the Imperial Family used the Winter Palace even more rarely than they already did. In 1914, war was declared from the balcony, and the palace was turned into a hospital for the war wounded, rechristened the Tsesarevich Aleksey Nikolayevich Hospital.

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Garage, Copyright Tura8

In my alternative history, the Winter Palace is used as the Imperial Family’s home during part of the winter, and for celebrations like weddings, but isn’t restored as the official residence. In 1944, during the rescue of Hungarian Jewry, all the palaces are used to house the refugees.

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The Winter Palace in the 19th century, prior to being painted white and jade green