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Tolstoy Journal, April 4, 2017: “This is the way to write!”

Pushkin was one of Tolstoy’s favorite writers and his work got Tolstoy working on Anna Karenina. According to the introduction in the Works, this is how it happened:

“Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s greatest poet and the inspirer of the two best works of Gogol, the father of Russian realism, may perhaps be regarded as the direct cause of Count Tolstoi’s greatest novel. A relative happened to be visiting at Yasnaya Polyana, and had been reading a volume of Pushkin. Count Tolstoi picked up the work and opened it casually. Some one entered as he was glancing over the pages, and he exclaimed, ‘Here is something charming! This is the way to write! Pushkin goes to the heart of the matter.’

“Count Tolstoi was so impressed by Pushkin’s directness that he immediately felt like emulating him. He asked to be kept free from interruptions, shut himself into his library, and began ‘Anna Karenina.'”

Thus Pushkin’s book is one of my “travel” books for exploring the Works.

I did not read my whole stint yesterday, so today I caught up and have read up to page 85 of Volume VII of the Works, or up to Chapter XIX. We don’t meet Anna until page 79, on a train as Vronsky walks past her. They smile at each other, there is a spark of attraction, and then a man is killed by a train. This reminded me of how I had read Tolstoy foreshadows the ending in such a rich way, but it also reminded me of how E.M. Forster draws two people together with death in A Room With A View. Although in this case, the two have already been drawn together. But we see Vronsky give money to the widow of the man killed because he sees how concerned Anna is about her. And then Anna says later in the carriage with her brother Stepan, that it is an evil omen. And we know she is thinking of Vronsky.

What I noticed tonight especially is how you can tell Tolstoy likes Levin and Kitty more than Vronsky and Anna, but yet how also he understands and loves them too. He shows you Vronsky is shallow but you see immediately how his love of Anna has already begun to deepen him. And you excuse him somewhat after Tolstoy tells you he hardly knew his father and his mother was famous for her love affairs while the father was alive and after he was dead.

Here is a passage only Tolstoy could have written:

“‘The Countess Vronskaya is in that compartment,’ said the vigorous conductor, approaching him. These words awoke him from his reverie, and brought his thoughts back to his mother and their approaching meeting. In his soul he did not respect his mother, and, without ever having confessed as much to himself, he did not love her. But his education and the usages of the society in which he lived did not allow him to admit that there could be in his relations with her the slightest want of consideration. But the more he exaggerated the bare outside forms, the less he felt in his heart that he respected or loved her.”

I still have not had to use my letter opener to cut pages. This volume has been read!

Here are some passages from Tolstoy’s Diaries:

The following are from 1847:

“The more progress you make in self-improvement, the more you see the faults in yourself, and Socrates rightly said that the highest state of a man’s perfection is the knowledge that he knows nothing.”

“I would be the unhappiest of men if I could not find a purpose for my life–a purpose both general and useful–useful because my immortal soul when fully mature will pass naturally into a higher existence and one that is appropriate to it. So now my whole life will be a constant and active striving to achieve this one purpose.”

” . . . spirit will necessarily of its own need take precedence over matter, and then he will attain his destiny.”

“Who is to blame for the fact that we lose our innate feelings of boldness, resolution, judiciousness, justice, etc. if not women? A woman is more receptive than a man, and therefore women were better than us in virtuous ages; but in the present depraved and corrupt age they are worse than us.”


“Once again I have taken up my diary, and once again with new fervour and a new purpose. How many times is that? I can’t remember. Never mind, perhaps I’ll drop it again; but it’s a pleasant occupation and it will be pleasant to re-read it, just as it was pleasant to re-read my old ones.”

“This is the second day I’ve been idle, and haven’t carried out what I intended. Why? I don’t understand it. However, I don’t despair . . . .”

Just remembered something that happened yesterday. I stayed up reading The Silence of Animals, which I mentioned in my last blog or two. Very bracing argument; John Gray tears down the idea of progress, says that it is liberalism’s religion. He is not religious himself, is an atheist, but he respects religion that knows it’s religion. He ends his book by advocating “godless contemplation.” To no end. Just that. Bleak outlook but somehow when I read his books I feel better. However, I still believe the Apostle’s Creed after reading him and yet I felt more doubting than usual.

And then I thought of Dostoyevsky: that he had been through much of the suffering one can go through and he stuck with Christianity. And so tonight during my holy hour I’m going to re-read Furnace of Doubt: Dostoevsky & “The Brothers Karamozov,” by Arthur Trace, which is about him.

But this whole thought-sequence left me elated. John Gray brought me down, in a sense, but thinking of Dostoyevsky brought me back into the light. Where does Tolstoy fit in here? Well, I will see when I finish the Steiner book, I think. I’m intrigued by that idea of Tolstoy being the Grand Inquisitor and Dostoyevsky being the Christ figure. There’s a lot of truth to that idea.


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