Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Kreutzer Sonata: Raving Lunatic or Justified Murderer?

I was not overly shocked by the revolutionary aspects of The Kreutzer Sonata - namely its explicit denunciation of marriage and violent ending. I mean revolutionary in the sense that in the late 19th century, Tolstoy's writings would have shocked and outraged Russian society. Ironically, I'm a pessimist about marriage just as the man in The Kreutzer Sonata was. However, I will never condone abuse or violence, which were the most troubling aspects of this novella. Why did the man have to be a murderer? Was divorce really so bad an option? I believe that even in today's society, which is much more free-wheeling than aristocratic Russia in the 19th century, marriages are entered into brashly and unhappiness is far too common. However, - and I may be the devil's advocate here - rather than advocating better selection or striving for "chastity" in marriage, the ease of divorce should lower the possibility of abuse or even murder. I had not previously thought of The Kreutzer Sonata as championing ease of divorce, but this role fits the novella well.
Perhaps ease of divorce is not the issue, but rather the stigma attached to it, which is still seen today (though perhaps not in Russia). This blog post is focusing on whether the murderer could have chosen another path. I believe he was a little loony in the head and more abusive than most men. He seemed to have murdered his wife without sufficient proof and based on a few wrongly-interpreted looks. The fact that the wife did not confess on her deathbed was proof to me of the murderer's impetuousness. Do you believe the murderer had due cause? Was the wife innocent or guilty? Did he have another way out?  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

A matter of life and death

I read the last pages of The Death of Ivan Ilych with a skeptical feeling taking over, more and more intensely every line I read. After almost a semester of attempting to understand Tolstoy better, I feel that I can read into what he was getting at in his writing fairly easily. In the story of Ivan Ilych, the same themes that are present into his previous works appear: doctors are useless, society life goes hand in hand with falsity, and death is a chance for revival ( maybe? - I am questioning this still).

However, I just could not buy into this wonderful death of Ivan Ilych. I understand that Tolstoy tried to emphasize that the spiritual trumps the physical and unless one understands that, they are not able to die. Accepting death comes with an understanding that one is headed towards a better world, an acceptance of light and what comes next. Andrew went through this process when he died and now we see similar thought-processes in Ivan Ilych. It seems to me though, that Tolstoy is using a cliche statement about what death is supposed to mean and be like. It sort of feels like a cop-out. The ending of this story does not do justice to the Christian ideals ( which I believe are close to Tolstoy's ideas) where you need to lead a good, meaningful life to be able to walk into the light and it offers a simplistic, idealized view of death. While the pain and real sufferings of Ivan are painted in a grotesque light, his final revelation does not make any sense to me. I refuse to believe that death could be as plain as Tolstoy describes it.

One of my favorite Romanian novels ( Adam and Eve by Liviu Rebreanu) is made up of multiple stories that make up a larger story. It is based on the idea that one keeps reliving one's life until they meet and are able to be with their soulmate. It walks the reader through the ancient ages all the way to modern (WW2) Romania, where the protagonists meet, have a romantic encounter although they are engaged to other people and when death arrives for the man in the couple, this is a different kind of death, that leads him to a different universe. While this story is very romantic, the variety of deaths that we see in this books have nothing to do with final revelations and perfect endings achieved upon first attempt. It presumes that the soul learns through a variety of lives and is able to move towards the final light once it has an existence that satisfies the need for love - not after a life lived in falsity, with no meaning until 3 days before death.

I might be a little over Tolstoy's tendency to turn everything into a revelation, to connect everything to a higher meaning in near-death moments. What do you think? Are you satisfied with Ivan's death or is it too Tolstoyan?

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Art in Tolstoy's World

           Art may not get many pages in Anna Karenina but it still has a presence. What caught my eye was how the only two times art has been described and discussed in detail have been in the aristocracy or in another country. The interesting part is how there does not seem to be much art inspired by Russian culture and history. We have one Russian painter featured but he does not get aid or support from the Russian government. Obviously, the novel has art being produced in Russia. However, the art featured gains its influence and inspiration from European ideals with no real hint of uniquely Russian culture included. 
           We've already discussed in class how it was trendy for the Russian aristocracy to emulate European ideals, but is that all there is to the lack of Russian art in Anna Karenina? I think that the way art is treated suggests that the reason for this lack is not just from seeking European culture and customs but also from the socioeconomic situation of 1870's Russia. Tolstoy treats the peasant as being the heart of Russia but there's no way peasants could afford to take the time and effort to create art. Another part of it could be that the aristocracy is portrayed as being more interested in how art should be defined and analyzed rather than in its creation. In both sections of the novel that focus on art, there is someone trying to imitate or define art. Vronsky would rather imitate other painters and follow classic styles than attempt to be original and develop a new idea. At the concert, Levin is unable to appreciate the show he just saw due to his confusion and instead argues with Pestsov that art forms should not be mixed. Any thoughts on this?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Forms of Life

One motif which has been repeated throughout the novel so far is the desire "to live." We see this with Anna throughout her affair with Vronsky, from the beginning when she wants an actual life containing passion and love, and also when she is living with Vronsky, in a conversation with Dolly (616). Dolly likewise expresses an understanding of Anna's desire "to live" and to "love and be loved in a real way" in her reflections on the way to visit Anna and Vronsky in Book VI (608). Similarly, we see Vronsky pursuing a "life" through attempts at independence and activity outside of his relationship with Anna; Karenin, also, finds a "life" in his work. Likewise, Levin forms a life out of reflection, intellectual and physical work, and family life with Kitty.

Hence, it seems that Anna Karenina presents us with an assortment, a display, as it were, of "forms of life": Anna's life of passion, Vronsky's life of indolence, Karenin's work-dictated life, Levin's thoughtful, reflective, life, Dolly's life, dedicated to aiding others, Stiva's life of pleasant hedonism, Nikolai's life of asceticism followed by extreme excess and squalor, etc. (The list goes on...) What are we to make of the variety of ways of life with which Tolstoy presents us? To reference Alosha's post earlier this week, which ways of life are "real" for Tolstoy; what is "a real life"? Should we look to Levin's life as a model, or at least as a closer approximation to the actual model (if, indeed, there is one) than others, in spite of Levin's own shortcomings (given that, of all the characters, Levin seems to most resemble the introspective heroes which Tolstoy presented in War and Peace)? How do these ways of life "stand up" or fare, respectively, in the face of the novel's deaths and near-deaths, in particular that of Nikolai?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Lie To Me

Today's class discussion on Seryozha and the chapters in Part V when we see his perspective have made me think about each character's relationship with reality and the role that delusion plays in the novel. Even though Seryozha should be old enough to understand the concept of death, he naively believes that neither he himself nor anyone he loves can die. This idea of youthful exceptionalism and the idea that human and societal laws do not apply to oneself is also present in Vronsky, who initially upon his return to Petersburg with Anna expects that society will welcome the couple as they had before. Anna herself buys into this delusion, and her refusal to examine her position as a compromised woman in high society results in the fiasco at the opera. Karenin only associates with people who reinforce his beliefs and idea of reality (Lydia). Although it is evident to everyone else that his career is over because of his wife's scandalous behavior, he believes he is doing the best and most meaningful work in his life. 

Levin, our "searching" character, is perhaps most involved in the quest to live deliberately but even he is not completely immune to delusion; he tormented himself unnecessarily for years after Kitty refused him because he irrationally concluded that she would and could never love him. He also has a complex towards the whole affair of his brother, and how he thought Kitty would be damaged by associating with Marya and Nikolai. Interestingly, I think Stiva, despite his frivolity, is not as deluded as other characters. Do you have to be a frivolous person to live successfully in a frivolous society? Do you think that a certain character's delusions are detrimental to him/herself or are they necessary?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

To love or not to love Anna

This is my third time reading Anna Karenina and I have seen this woman at different times in my life, I have accepted and hated her more or less at different points in time, but this is the first time I am reading this book I am not even trying to like her anymore and I sympathize with Karenin more than I ever have previously.

My dislike from Anna comes partly from appreciating underdogs more than I like people who are in the spotlight. Anna enters the story and steals the show. Her first action in the book is reconciling her brother and Dolly, although her brother had made a bad choice. Then she proceeds to dance with Vronsky at a ball where Kitty should have been the shining star. She then allows Vronsky to be a part of her life. While I understand how constricted Anna feels in her daily life, living in the same universe with Karenin, I find it hard to justify her behavior towards other people. I find it even more problematic that her actions do not even bring her happiness and she ends up ruining multiple lives, including her own - her son is taken away from her, her life with Vronsky does not bring her as much joy as she hoped it would and her general selfishness is detrimental to everyone. The more time I spend reading this book, the less I am able to see how she could be the victim of society and of the people around her.

Do you think Anna is redeemable? Do you still like her and find her easy to empathize as we make our way towards the end of the book?

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Young Kitty

My post this week related to Kitty. I must say that as we have learned more about Kitty, I grow more and more infatuated with her. Whereas in the beginning of the novel she paled next to the stout and impressive Anna, now, Kitt's sweetness and, to an extent, softness elevate her to my favorite. Is Tolstoy playing favorites also? Does Tolstoy consider Kitty the ideal female? Given that Tolstoy sees himself in Levin, I do not find it unimaginable that Levin's love-interest would also be Tolstoy's ideal woman. Consider also Levin's conviction that it's either Kitty or no one. Levin does not imagine any other woman short of Kitty could be worth marrying. Indeed, if we look at favorites from War and Peace, Natasha seems like a clear nominee. Given Kitty's youth and heartbreak due to Vronsky (which parallels with Natasha's own child-like qualities and fling with Anatole), she seems like an extension of Natasha. Tolstoy seems to have developed Natasha (before she became a great matron) and come up with Kitty.

Moreover, Kitty, despite her youth, seems to have a perceptive mind that makes her intelligent. I particularly liked how Kitty, "boldly with her truthful eyes," contradicted Levin's arguments on women's rights (396-397). She does this again when planning their honeymoon. Instead of going abroad, Kitty insists that they move into the country home as she understands that it would be more pleasant for Levin (although he does not say it). However, now, as I nearly reach the end of my blog post, I'm starting to grow annoyed with Kitty. Like was mentioned in the previous post on Stepan, his flaws make him human (and to me, likeable). What are Kitty's flaws? Tolstoy need not continue to show us she has a heart of gold; we already know it. Before, I was really impressed with Tolstoy's increasing ability to write females but perhaps Kitty's isn't the best example. Do her angelic characteristics make her unreal? Regardless, Kitty warms my heart.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

What Defines Romance? Love? Pleasure?

This is my second time reading Anna Karenina. Like Professor Herold, I viewed Anna's tryst with Vronsky as highly romantic in my first reading. However, this time, I am coming to despise this affair and romanticizing Levin's courtship with Kitty. I don't know if Tolstoy planned this, but I am sensing a reader's naivete during their first reading (especially -- and only? -- if they don't know the book's ending) changes abruptly upon finishing the novel. In other words, Tolstoy seems to brilliantly carry along young and innnocent readers in the romance of Vronsky and Anna before awaking them to the cruel reality of such an affair in late 19th century Russia. Once this innocence has been stripped, the second reading looks for the signs the innocent reader had overlooked in the first reading: signs of trouble, and other relationships to take solace in. To a large extent, and which I have rarely -- if ever -- encountered in another work, Tolstoy wrote this work to be read multiple times.
The above paragraph regarding romance could also be applied to the reader's view of Stepan Oblonksy. However, this man is much more difficult to hate or love wholeheartedly: he is neither tragically naive (as Pierre was in War and Peace?) nor absolutely loathsome (as Anatole or Karenin are?). Interestingly, I see more nuance in Stepan's character than in any of the romantic relations. For me, nuance signals humanity in its essence: does Stepan represent the reality of humanity? Are Levin and Karenin too diametrically opposed to be realistic men? Now I wonder if Stepan, as the man whose thoughts we get the least of in Anna Karenina, is the ideal: the other men's thoughts are not especially enviable or even interesting. The same pattern was arguably seen in War and Peace: Nicholas ended up as the protagonist, and he was the man whose thoughts we read the least.   

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

War and Peace Characters

Several characters in Anna Karenina have said, thought, or done something that recall characters in War and Peace. I first noticed a resemblance between Kitty and Natasha at the ball. Kitty admires her marble shoulders and waits impatiently to be asked to dance. However, Kitty also has her target whereas Natasha was essentially open for business. In a way, Kitty almost seems like a rewritten, more complex version of Natasha. What do you think about this comparison? Do you notice any other similarities/differences?

I also recalled Pierre in the scene between Levin and Nikolai. Levin's spiraling self-degradation resembles Pierre's, but Levin's seems more dramatic, simple, and unproductive. In this way, I anticipate Tolstoy will develop this self-consciousness further as opposed to wallowing in it; in Pierre's case, that really is what Tolstoy does: wallow. Pierre is also present in Nikolai's self-searching. But Tolstoy describes this after the fact; Nikolai has now become an alcoholic. I see Pierre as split between these two characters, and it seems as if Tolstoy is going to take this naivete in a different direction than War and Peace. Do you think Tolstoy's messages about self-discovery have changed between writing the two novels?