Well, what a night to write a blog.
I have not written in here for three days but I have kept up with the reading. I am on page 205 of Volume IX of the Works of Tolstoy or in Chapter XXXI of Part Sixth of Anna Karenina, will read up to page 225 tonight. I’ve read about 20 pages in Emile, 15 in The Books in My Life by Miller and 15 pages in Goldenweiser’s book, Talks With Tolstoy. I have been sincerely thinking of dropping this blog as it seems not many read it and what’s the point, etc. But here I am: I want to read the whole set and write a book about it and if no one reads it, that’s too bad. I’m doing it anyway.
What has struck me in these pages I have read? What’s in my mind right now is Dolly’s visit to Anna. She feels embarrassed by the shabbiness of her clothes compared to Anna’s and is impressed by the meal, the house, the wealth and sophistication. But it is all empty. It is sad:
“The dinner, the wines, the service, were luxurious, but everything seemed to Darya Aleksandrovna formal and impersonal, like the state dinners and balls that she had seen, and on an ordinary day and in a small circle it made a disagreeable impression on her. . . . All that day it seemed to her as if she were acting in a comedy with better actors than herself, and that her bad acting spoiled the whole piece. She had come intending to stay for two days if they urged her. But in the evening, during the game of tennis, she made up her mind to go home the next day. Those very same maternal cares which she had so hated as she thought them over during her journey, now, after two days’ absence, presented themselves in another light and began to attract her. When, after tea and after a moonlight row in the boat, she went alone to her room, took off her gown, and began to put up her thin hair for the night, she felt a great sense of relief.”
The other thing is how Anna’s telling her of her use of contraception horrifies Dolly. Telling that all Anna thinks she has to keep Vronsky’s love is her charms. Just such a difference between the way it is looked at now and then.
One thing that I don’t quite get, though, is Anna’s refusal to ask Karenin for a divorce. Vronsky asks Dolly to encourage her to do this so he can marry her and their child be legitimate. Anna refuses because to do so would mean she would never see her son again. But surely not forever? He could see her in a few years when independent? It almost seems as if she is being deliberately obstinate here, but why? I wonder if Tolstoy is saying a part of her knows divorce would be wrong but she couches it in terms of her son? Not sure on this. It just seems a weak point.
There’s also something else I forgot to write about when discussing Steiner’s book, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky. Steiner says Tolstoy gets fuzzy at times, rhetorical, when he wants to preach. As when, he says, Prince Andrei is wounded and sees the sky and when Pierre looks up at the stars and feels one with them. I disagree with him on these particular passages but I do agree about the didacticism being his flaw. Especially at the end of Master and Man.
Here are some passages from Goldenweiser, a composer who often visited Tolstoy and wrote down a journal about it. First from the introduction by Henry Le Roy Finch.
p. 5: “It was Dostoevsky who, speaking of Anna Karenina, wrote that ‘everything, even the smallest detail, shows the beautiful unity of the temperament from which it flows.’ This expression, by Tolstoy’s undoubted literary peer, describes with great accuracy what remains the most striking fact about Tolstoy–his quality of being ‘all-of-a-piece,’ his unity and wholeness. All the contradictions and conflicts of his life–between his physical nature and his imperious will, between the demands of his teaching and those of his wife and family, between the requirements of the artist and of the moralist–none of these ever impaired this fundamental wholeness. The struggles with himself, with his wife and children and with his age never signified any basic brokenness, but rather always new efforts toward self-development.”
p. 6: “Perhaps never has a writer, an artist, or a prophet been less alienated or more at home in the world than Tolstoy.”
pp. 6-7: “‘Natural’ for him never meant ‘animal’; it meant, as it did for the Stoics, ‘naturally human.’ And what was ‘naturally human’ was not to follow animal impulses but to follow uncorrupted reason and conscience.
“There was in Tolstoy, as also in Dostoevsky in a different way, something like a passion for goodness. With his alarming candor he wrote as a young man: ‘I love goodness and have formed the habit of living it,’ but then added: ‘But there is something I love even more than goodness–fame.'”
I’m not sure why but this passage reminded me of another aspect of the pages I’ve recently read. That is how Levin acts at the political meeting he attends. How confused he is by all the games and intrigues and how he finally takes refuge in the back rooms with the servants, something that I remember Wilson said Tolstoy himself did in real life. I love him for that. I guess we need people who can play the political game with integrity (ahem) but personally I’m with Levin:
“But it was a bore to him to recall what the plan [a political intrigue] had been. He felt a sort of humiliation, and a desire to escape from the throng. As no one paid any heed to him, and he thought he was of no use to anyone, he slipped out into the smaller hall, where, as before, he found consolation in watching the servants. The old servant asked him if he would have something to eat, and Levin consented. After he had eaten a cutlet with beans, and had talked with the servants about their former masters, Levin, not caring to go back to the crowd which was so unpleasant to him, walked about the galleries.”