Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Abyss vs. Bliss

I read through the half-way point in Anna Karenina today.  Still enjoying it immensely.  Tolstoy is a master at juggling the separate story lines.  Anna's husband Alexei has finally decided to divorce her, after she arranged for her lover Vronsky to come by her house, even though that's the one thing her husband told her she could not do if she wanted him to ignore their affair.  But she did it, Vronsky came to the house, and, oops, her husband had left for work later than planned and caught Vronsky coming in.  So he said that's enough, time to divorce.  Can't say I blame him, although the character of the husband is what they used to call in old Russia a "dick".  Anyway, a few scenes later, Alexei runs into Anna's brother Stiva, who invites him to a party at their house.  Alexei explains he can't, as he's going to divorce Anna, but her Stiva insists they can still be friends, and that he should come  on over.  One can't help but like Stiva...he's very outgoing, and  makes everyone smile...he's a "people person" (although perhaps too much so since he's constantly unfaithful to his wife).  So Alexei goes to the party and has a better time than expected, but his divorce looms over him, and he can't be talked out of it by Stiva's wife, who tries her best.  He leaves, and things look quite gloomy.

But meanwhile, at the same party, Stiva has also invited his friend Levin.  Levin is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the book.  Levin has been trying to get over the rejection of his marriage proposal to Kitty, Stiva's wife's sister.  He has busied himself with working his farm in the country.  He loves the outdoors, and sometimes joins the peasants in their work in his fields, much to their confusion and mistrust (they think it's not proper for the landowner to be doing such a thing).  Levin is so taken with the peasants, and so wants to improve the productivity of the agriculture on his farm, for the sake of himself, the peasants, and Mother Russia, that he comes up with a plan to share the profits with his peasants, thinking this will make them work more productively, knowing they have a stake in the outcome other than straight wages.  The peasants think he's trying to cheat them at first, but eventually come to accept this idea.  Anyway, Levin is a good man, and the reader can't help but like him, and so he goes to Stiva's party and who's there but Kitty!  Stiva, you sly dog...here's a man knows how to plan a party!  Anyway, Levin and Kitty are shocked and embarrassed at first in seeing one another, but they soon talk, they come to realize they have been yearning for one another, and by the end of the evening they can practically read one another's minds (in a scene that's frankly a bit weird...they each write out long strings of letters in chalk, and the other one can tell what those letters stand for).  So Levin proposes again, and Kitty accepts.  The few pages after that scene are so awesome...Levin is walking on air, and it's the perfect picture of someone blissfully in love, made all the more poignant because it's someone the reader really cares about.  I hate to bring up "Sleepless in Seattle" again, but it's like that...that kind of romantic comedy where characters who are made for one another are brought together, then kept apart through trials, tribulations, and misunderstandings, and then when they are inevitably brought together and love is declared it makes one feel so frickin' good.  Especially in this book, where no one else is happy.  I just hope all continues to go well for them.  Time (and pages) will tell.  But returning to my original point, the contrast between Levin's blissful courtship with Kitty, and Alexei's looming divorce, all present in the party scene, is quite moving and effective.  Go Tolstoy!

3 comments:

Amateur Reader said...

Good summary of this part of the novel. A lot of readers - bad readers! - hate the sections about Levin and the peasants. You recognize that they actually tell us a lot about his chatacter.

Also, the Levin/ Kitty proposal/ telepathy scene really is strange.

Robby Virus said...

Levin seems quite modern in some ways, especially considering this book was written in the 19th century. I love the scenes where he enjoys himself so much getting out in the fields and working hard, cutting grass with a scythe along with the peasants...for a Russian aristocratic landowner that's surprising behavior indeed. It seems so American!

Tina said...

I'm reading Anna Karenina right now. We were meant to read it in our book club last summer, but I never got around to it then, so I'm kind of catching up now. Interesting to read your comments on this book in parallel to my own reading!
I agree that Levin is the one person that really gets your sympathy. Saw somewhere that he was Tolstoy's alter ego, so maybe that's why... Also read somewhere that at the time when the book was written, there was practically no open debate in Russian newspapers, so the way for intellectuals to express and try opinions was through literature. Maybe that's why there are so many scenes where people debate/discuss on various topics in this book? It's a way for Tolstoy to exhibit different movements in his own time. I guess Levin's experiments at his own farm is part of this as well...