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Framing Anna Karenina

Tolstoy, the Woman Question, and the Victorian Novel

Amy Mandelker

“Rarely does a study of a literary masterpiece of the stature of Anna Karenina generate a perspective which breaks new ground to the extent that Amy Mandelker's does. . . . A stimulating, unique perspective on Tolstoy and the era in which he lived. . . . Highly recommended.” —Choice

Amy Mandelker’s feminist reinterpretation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina challenges prevailing critical notions of Tolstoy as a misogynist and Anna Karenina as a classic realist novel. Instead, Mandelker reads Tolstoy as a radical feminist at the vanguard of Russia's “woman question” debates and Anna Karenina as a modernist novel that breaks tradition.

Mandelker's revisionist analysis begins with the contention that Anna Karenina rejects the textual conventions of realism and the stereotypical representation of women, especially in Victorian English fiction. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy uses the theme of art and visual representation to articulate an aesthetics freed from gender bias and class discrimination. As Mandelker shows, Tolstoy compares the theme of the representation of women in society with the representation of women in art to critique Western bourgeois traditions that trivialize the beautiful as a feminine category in aesthetics and a purchasable commodity in society. In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy both creates and theorizes an aesthetics that transcends boundaries and liberates the individual.

An important and compelling work, Framing Anna Karenina is essential reading for scholars and students of Russian and Victorian literature, particularly those interested in feminist approaches to nineteenth-century novels.

Amy Mandelker is associate professor of comparative literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her publications include an edition of Anna Karenina with notes and introduction (2003). She is also the editor or co-editor of Bakhtin in Contexts: Across the Disciplines (1995), Pilgrim Souls: An Anthology of Spiritual Autobiography (1999), and Approaches to Teaching Anna Karenina (2003).

1993   241 pp.

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Theory and Interpretation of Narrative