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Tolstoy Journal, April 1, 2017:”all things as they are.”

War and Peace, done! Started today to read Anna Karenina, Volume VII of the Works. I’m not sure why, but the volumes in this series differ on their title pages. At least one of them read, “The Works and Novels of Lyof N. Tolstoi,” but this one reads, “The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi.” Perhaps the series was ongoing, not published all at once?

So far–up to page 19 or Chapter V–I have had to cut no pages. A mystery. Did Uncle Chester or someone in his family read this volume? I kind of miss cutting the pages, that sense of tactile enjoyment of the book and also the sense that no one has read these specific pages that I just cut open, but I won’t bewail because I’m reading the Master.

The illustration above is called, “Vronsky Pleading with Anna,” and is by E. Boyd Smith. I just looked him up and his full name was Elmer Boyd Smith (1860-1943) and he was noted for illustrating children’s books. He had studied in France before moving back to America and settling down in Wilton, Connecticut. I learned this information from the website of Brooklyn Public Library.

The introduction to this book was interesting. It is not said who wrote it, I assume it was Dole. Here are some passages:

“Interesting and instructive as this idyllic romance is [Levin and Kitty], the chief power of the novelist is expended in portraying the illicit love of Vronsky and Anna. Its moral is the opposition of duty to passion. It has been said that the love that unites the two protagonists is sincere, deep, almost holy despite its illegality. They were born for each other; it was love at first sight, a love which overleapt all bonds and bounds. But its gratification at the expense of honor brings the inevitable torment, especially to the woman who had sacrificed so much. The agony of remorse, intensified by the mortifications and humiliations caused by her position, unites itself with an almost insane jealousy, product also of the unstable relation in which she is placed. At last the union becomes so irksome, so painful, so hateful, that the only escape from it is in suicide.”

This passage reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s words on Eros in The Four Loves, how Eros, as all the other loves, when made divine, becomes a demon. But I also remember that the first time I read it I felt sorry for Anna and wondered why the hell society wouldn’t leave her alone? Even though a traditional Catholic, I was revolted by the hypocrisy of the society. Men and women could fool around all they wanted as long as they kept it quiet and didn’t divorce. Then again, as a child of divorce, I am always revolted by the insistence that divorce is no big deal. It’s not, it splits a kid in two no matter how amicable it is. So I am very interested to see how I feel as I read it this time. How much will my having married and had four children make a difference in my reaction? Same for my having opened my mind up to Buddhism.

Here is a passage in the introduction that is a quote of William Dean Howells: “‘A multitude of figures pass before us,’ he says, ‘recognizably real, never caricatured nor grotesqued, nor in any way unduly accented, but simple and actual in their evil or their good. There is lovely family life, the tenderness of father and daughter, the rapture of young wife and husband, the innocence of girlhood, the beauty of fidelity; there is the unrest and folly of fashion, the misery of wealth, and the wretchedness of wasted and mistake life, the hollowness of ambition, the cheerful emptiness of some hearts, the dull emptiness of others. It is a world, and you live in it while you read and long afterward, but at no step have you been betrayed, not because your guide has warned or exalted you, but because he has been true, and has shown you all things as they are.”

I’m also wondering if the reason I rooted for Vronsky and Anna is because of living when I do when Eros is pretty much worshipped by much of society–sometimes sincerely, sometimes to just make money–or because of how superbly Tolstoy portrays people and situations. He makes the lovers as sympathetic as possible, and shows the hypocrisy of society, and yet he is still saying one should be faithful, one should do one’s duty. I think. We’ll see.

Here is a passage from Anna Karenina itself:

“The liberal party declared that everything in Russia was wretched; and the fact was that Stepan Arkadyevitch had a good many debts and was decidedly short of money. The liberal party said that marriage was a defunct institution and that it needed to be remodeled, and in fact domestic life afforded Stepan Arkadyevitch very little pleasure, and compelled him to lie, and to pretend what was contrary to his nature. The liberal party said, or rather took it for granted, that religion is only a curb on the barbarous portion of the community, and in fact Stepan Arkadyevitch could not bear the shortest prayer without pain in his knees, and he could not comprehend the necessity of all these awful and high-sounding words about the other world when it is so very pleasant to live in this. Moreover, Stepan Arkadyevitch, who liked a merry jest, was sometimes fond of scandalizing a quiet man by saying that any one who was proud of his origin ought not to stop at Rurik and deny his earliest ancestor–the monkey.”

This seems to be a very accurate critique of liberalism, at least of its negative side, its smugness and mocking the stodgy and traditions. Its tendency to want to scandalize the conservatives. I especially like that “rather took it for granted,” phrase. Let’s hope–and I’m sure he will–Tolstoy provides a critique on conservatism.

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