The above illustration, once again by E. Boyd Smith, is called “Levin and Kitty.” It is the frontispiece of Volume VIII of The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi. I have read up to page 88 of this volume or Chapter XIX of Part Third of Anna Karenina. And I have a confession to make, two actually. I have been feeling resistance to this project, especially while reading Henderson the Rain King and wondering why I am not writing a novel. And I never finished reading the history book, Russia Against Napoleon.
My only answer to the resistance is that I want to finish what I started, for myself and the gods, even if it never gets published and if no one reads it (people do, but one always wants more!). And as far as Russia Against Napoleon goes, it was a good book but had too much detail for me, not enough about Tolstoy. Basically he was saying Tolstoy was wrong about the history, that Alexander knew a lot more about what he was doing than Tolstoy gave him credit for. I might go back to it later, but I doubt it. I think I got enough about Tolstoy and history in Berlin’s book.
One other note: while reading Wilson’s book, I learned that the reason this Works doesn’t include Father Sergius is that the latter was not published during Tolstoy’s lifetime. And now I’ve learned the same about Hadji Murad.
All right, what struck me about tonight’s reading? I read about Anna waking up the day after she told her husband that she was cheating on him. She keeps thinking of how she is two things at once, at how things are “dual.” And Tolstoy presents her dilemma very sympathetically. I don’t feel he is condoning her adultery, but he is understanding it. One problem–and I can’t remember if Tolstoy deals with this later–is that the reader knows of Levin and Kitty’s courtship, but not of Anna and her husband’s. You keep wondering why she ever married this man.
“Annushka went out; yet Anna did not begin to dress, but sat in the same attitude, with bent head and folded hands; and occasionally she would shiver, and begin to make some gesture, to say something, and then fall back into listlessness again. She kept saying, “Bozhe moi! Bozhe moi!” [“My God] but the words had no meaning in her mind. The thought of seeking a refuge from her situation in religion, although she never doubted the faith in which she had been trained, seemed to her as strange as to go and ask help of Aleksei Aleksandrovitch himself. She knew beforehand that the refuge offered by religion was possible only by the absolute renunciation of all that constituted for her the meaning of life. She suffered, and was frightened besides, by a sensation that was new to her experience hitherto, and which seemed to her to take possession of her inmost soul. She seemed to feel double, just as sometimes eyes, when weary, see double. She knew not what she feared, what she desired. She knew not whether she feared and desired what had passed or what was to come, and what she desired she did not know.”
Here are some more quotes and thoughts from Wilson’s Tolstoy. (I am up to page 52 in Emile by the way.)
“It is a good thing to mix with those who like us. Alexandra liked her cousin [that is, Tolstoy]. She civilised him in a way that Turgenev’s languid manners and political chic could never do. It was she, too, who, in her good-humoured way, saw the essential point about Tolstoy. She saw why his moral aspirations–as they occur in his fiction, and in his life–are so moving, while his moral presumption is so repulsive. She quoted to him a sentence of Charlotte Bronte’s: ‘Do not think I am good: I only wish to be so.’ There are broad gulfs between wanting to do good and doing good, as she wrote to him in the summer of 1858.”
During a trip to London, Tolstoy met Matthew Arnold. “Another reason why we should value more knowledge or information about their meeting is that Arnold, with his remarkable cosmopolitan tastes in reading, was the first Englishman to write an intelligent account of Tolstoy’s novels. His essay on Anna Karenina remains one of the very best things ever written on Tolstoy. Perhaps if some Boswell had been present he would have found Tolstoy wanting to quiz the great poet and critic about prize fights [he had Alexander Herzen had done this]. But I doubt it. I think they would have had something to say to each other.”
Here is a link to what Arnold says about Anna Karenina: Criticism and Interpretations
It is very good.
“With Herzen himself, and with Proudhon, Tolstoy had time to reflect upon the unjust way in which the world is ordered, but with neither of their solutions was he truly in sympathy.
“Doubtless there are many reasons for this, but the imaginative ones are clear. He was not a socialist for the simple reason that he did not believe in society. This had always been true, but the death of Nikolay and the isolation of abroad confirmed it. Tolstoy did not want to belong to a clique or a group or a movement or a gang. Moreover, his glimpses of ‘abroad’ had made him long to get settled into Russia, and in particular into Yasnay Polyana, its immediate, local difficulties. He looked back now with distaste upon his flirtation with the free-thinking, Europeanising world to which Turgenev had introduced him. (As Eykhenbaum brilliantly observes, all this rejected side of Tolstoy’s own nature gets embodied, when he comes to write his novel, in Napoleon; the Bonaparte of the novel, with his free-thinking progressive ideas, is in many ways quite different from the actual Emperor of history.) ‘God has been restored,’ Tolstoy wrote, as he returned home, ‘hope and immortality.’ In the whole course of his life, he never left Russia again.”