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Tolstoy Journal, May 18, 2017: “Suffering is not an evil which you must be rid of, but the work of your life which you must accept.”

The above photograph is the frontispiece of Volume X of The Novels and Other Works of Lyof N. Tolstoi. It is from a daguerreotype in 1848, so Tolstoy was 20 years old. Thus I have finished Volume IX and read Anna Karenina for the second time in my life. I have read the first 24 pages of Volume X, up to Chapter VII of Childhood and up to page 146 of Talks With Tolstoy.

I haven’t been able to write here because of the weekend and work on a book review, but what struck me the most in those last pages was Anna’s final ride in her calash, first to see Dolly then back home, then to a train station to try to find Vronsky. When she is in the calash and just looking at people and places she is having a series of thoughts that remind me of what Berlin says about Tolstoy in The Hedgehog and the Fox, about the mercilessness of his vision. It’s as if he has these X-ray vision glasses that tear life down to the bone. Anna has this same vision as she rides around town, but when home she can think of nothing; she has to get back into the calash and then she remembers what she was thinking.

It is haunting reading and reminded me a bit of reading 20th century existentialists, the same disenchantment with the world, seeing through all the disguises. It also reminded me of something Celine said about travel being the most basic aspect of our existence, that life is a journey. The interesting thing is that Tolstoy foresaw this alienation of modern humankind but he also still saw the positive aspects of life and the religious dimension. When you read the existentialists you just get the disenchantment but none of the enchantment, although Camus is an exception here. (Marcel too.) With Tolstoy you get the whole show.

The passages in the calash are a stream of consciousness in Anna’s mind, a blending of her thoughts about Vronsky and others in her life with what she sees on the street. Here is a sampling of it:

“‘In her [Kitty’s] eyes, I am an immoral woman. If I had been an immoral woman I might have made him [Levin] fall in love with me, if I had wanted to! I confess I thought of it.–There goes a man who is delighted with his own looks,’ she said to herself, as a tall, florid man went by, and, mistaking her for an acquaintance, lifted his shiny hat from his shiny bald head, and instantly recognized his mistake.

“‘He thought he knew me! He knows me quite as well as any one in the world knows me. I don’t know myself; I only know my appetites, as the French say.–They covet some of that bad ice-cream,’ she said to herself, as she watched two little street children standing in front of a vender, who had just set down from his head his tub of ice-cream, and was wiping his face with a corner of his coat.

“‘We all want our sweet delicacies; if not sugar-plums, then bad ice-cream, just like Kitty, who, not catching Vronsky, took Levin. She envies me, she hates me; and we all hate one another. . . . There is nothing amusing, nothing gay; it is all disgusting. The vesper-bell is ringing, and that storekeeper is crossing himself so quickly that one would think he was afraid of losing the chance.

“‘Why these churches, these bells, these lies? Just to hide the fact that we all hate one another. . . .'” And so on and so forth. And the last page that describes Anna’s suicide is just so beautiful and harrowing at the same time. But I think I will let the reader find it on his or her own and turn to Talks With Tolstoy:

p. 24: “What has Tolstoy to put up against this [Dostoevsky’s vision]? His books tell us: the happiness and joy of life, the clear reconciling light of day, the observing eye which rises above all the abysses and agonies of the spirit. What we cannot accept, life accepts for us, and even those who, having nothing else, cling to their misery and pain may find that life itself still struggles to release them. Dostoevsky knew this because at the end of his last book he, too, celebrated the ‘sticky green leaves’ and the laughter of the children. And Tolstoy knew what must be done with suffering. ‘Suffering,’ he said, ‘is not an evil which you must be rid of, but the work of your life which  you must accept.'”

p. 25: “The two great thaumaturgists [Tolstoy and Dostoevsky]–the one conjuring up spirits from the deep and the other looking straight through everything with an eye ‘like a thousand eyes’–shared more than they knew. By different roads both were on the way to the great goal of kenosis, or self-emptying, imitating the Russian Christ. ‘No one has ever stooped half low enough to find the truth,’ said an ancient sage.'”

The following passages are from Goldenweizer himself; the previous ones were from Finch.

p.31: “I put down chiefly Tolstoy’s words, and to some extent the events of his private life, making no attempt to select what would be interesting from some special point of view, but adopting no method and attempting to supply no connection between one entry and another.”

p. 34: “And then, when I stood in the middle of the large room, at a loss, not knowing what to do with myself, not daring to raise my eyes, Leo Nikolaevich came up to me, and, speaking with a simplicity which was his alone, began to talk to me.”

p. 35: “In passing, Leo Nikolaevich said to me:

“‘The most complete and profound philosophy is to be found in the Gospels.'”

p. 37: “In the evening all used to go out for long walks in the woods. L. N. always loved to find short cuts, and would take us all into wonderful places in the forests. It must be admitted that the ‘short-cuts’ nearly always made the walks longer.

“Once L. N. and myself were left far behind the others. L. N. said: ‘Let us catch them up!’ And for half a mile or three-quarters I, twenty-one years old, and he, sixty-eight, ran neck and neck.”


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