“All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Tolstoy’s opening line to Anna Karenina is among the most famous sentences ever written. There is even a statistics principle named after the sentence. But reading the sentence in context this week (and starting the road to completing the first of my 2014 reading resolutions) I began to wonder if I agree with Tolstoy’s statement.
If you had asked me a few years ago I definitely would have said no. Although people can be sad for a million different reasons, I would have said the emotion itself it was boring. Happiness seemed much more exciting.
However, after spending a few years writing a novel, I think that in the literary world Tolstoy might be right. Chapters where I dwell on my characters being happy, while fun and personally-satisfying for me to write, are the ones I’ve had to cut in the revision process. The reason? As Tolstoy would say, because they were boring.
What’s funny about Tolstoy though is that (1) he makes the sentence seem like more a philosophical statement than a literary one by using the present tense and (2) a hundred pages in there are no happy families in this book so far.
I’m not sure if happy families can be interesting in literature, or if maybe Tolstoy is right and unhappy families are more unique in real life. What do you think? Also how have you been doing with your 2014 resolutions? Let me know in the comments!
And if you want to read some more of my favorite first lines from books click here.