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Tolstoy Journal, May 3, 2017: “He was only a child; but he knew his own soul.”

Well, I have transferred all the texts of this blog into a word document and the word count is 58,731. Not bad.

I have now read up to page 75 of Volume IX of the Works or Chapter V of Part Sixth of Anna Karenina. What stood out to me was the section on Anna’s son, how she sneaks in to see him despite Countess Lidia’s refusals, and then how confused and afraid and tormented by doubts about Vronsky’s love for her, she goes to the opera and is publicly rebuffed by the woman in the next box. Anna is very admirable in this whole section. You can see Tolstoy, despite his scruples, admiring her love, love for her son and love for Vronsky, and how he despises the hypocrisy of society, which can stand anything but love.

I had meant to comment on Anna’s son before because there was a beautiful section back in the first volume of AK about how he was confused when Vronsky was around. It reminded me of how I felt in similar situations in childhood. The following passage deals more with education. Serozha is Anna’s son.

“Father and pedagogue both found fault with him, and Serozha was doubtless making bad work of it [his lessons]. Yet it could not possibly be said that he was a stupid boy; on the contrary, he was far superior to those whom his teacher held up to him as examples. From his father’s point of view, he did not want to learn what was taught him. In reality, it was because he could not learn it. He could not for the reason that his mind had needs more essential to him than those that his father and the pedagogue supposed. These needs were wholly opposed to what they gave him, and he revolted against his teachers.

“He was only nine years old. He was only a child; but he knew his own soul. It was dear to him; he guarded it jealously, as the eyelid guards the eye; and no one should force a way in without the key of love. His teachers blamed him for being unwilling to learn, and yet he was all on fire with the yearning for knowledge; and he learned from Kapitonuitch, his old nurse, Nadenka, and Vasili Lukitch, but not from his teachers. The water which the father and the pedagogue poured on the mill-wheel was wasted, but the work was done in another place.”

I love that line, “but he knew his own soul.” Sometimes that is hard to know, hard to get at. I want to say, and will say, that it is one of Tolstoy’s major themes, that attempt to always know one’s own soul, to know thyself.

Okay, back to Steiner’s brilliant aggravating book.

Steiner, p. 14: “On reflection, it becomes evident that for both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky plenitude was an essential freedom. It characterized their lives and persons as well as their view of the art of the novel. Tolstoy composed on a vast canvas commensurate to the breadth of his being and suggestive of the links between the time structure of the novel and the flow of time through history. The massiveness of Dostoevsky mirrors fidelity to detail and an encompassing grasp of the countless particularities of gesture and thought that accumulate towards the moment of drama.”

Steiner, p. 29: “In rejecting the mythical and the preternatural, all those things undreamt of in Horatio’s philosophy, the modern novel had broken with the essential world view of the epic and the tragedy. It had claimed for its own what we might call the kingdom of this world. It is the vast kingdom of human psychology perceived through reason and of human behaviour in a social context. . . .We pass them again when we moved from Zola’s program for novelists to that letter of D. H. Lawrence’s which I have cited earlier:

“‘I always feel as if I stood naked for the fire of Almighty God to go through me–and it’s rather an awful feeling. One has to be so terribly religious to be an artist. I often think of my dear Saint Lawrence on his gridiron, when he said, ‘Turn me over, brothers, I am done enough on this side.’

“”One has to be so terribly religious’–there is a revolution in that phrase. For, above all else, the great tradition of the realistic novel had implied that religious feeling was not a necessary adjunct to a mature and comprehensive account of human affairs.”

There are more quotes such as this that I have underlined but basically Steiner says that Russia and America writers were better than European ones because they didn’t limit themselves so much. That is, they did not deny the religious aspect of life.

Steiner, pp. 43-44: “Hence the radical distinction between nineteenth-century fiction in western Europe and in Russia. The tradition of Balzac, Dickens, and Flaubert was secular. The art of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky was religious. It sprang from an atmosphere penetrated with religious experience and the belief that Russia was destined to play an eminent role in the impending apocalypse. No less than Aeschylus or Milton, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky were men whose genius had fallen into the hands of the living God. To them, as to Kierkegaard, human destiny was Either/Or. Thus, their works cannot be truly understood in the same key as  Middlemarch, for example, or The Charterhouse of Parma. We are dealing with different techniques and different metaphysics. Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamozov are,  if you will, fictions and poems of the mind, but central to their purpose is what Berdiaev has called the ‘quest after the salvation of humanity.'”

There are at least two more long Steiner quotes that I want to copy down in this blog; will have to do it tomorrow and then onto another travel book. Not sure what I want to tackle next. I started Emile, have not finished volume one of Simmons, could read Sentimental Journey or Gorky or Goldenweiser. Meanwhile I will go back to quoting passages I underlined in Wilson’s Tolstoy. And I have some from Emile too.

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