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Mr and Mrs. Levin…and Elizabeth

I think Elizabeth Dalloway should go visit Anna Karenina’s Kitty and Levin.

People were beginning to compare her to poplar trees, early dawn, hyacinths, fawns, running water, and garden lilies; and it made her life a burden to her, for she so much preferred being left alone to do what she liked in the country, but they would compare her to lilies, and she had to go to parties, and London was so dreary compared with being alone in the country with her father and the dogs.   (Mrs. Dalloway)

I think a stay at the happy couple’s countryside home is just what Elizabeth needs: a little Arbeitskür

Hay-cutting is the perfect prescription for unhappy, unfulfilled socialites.

 

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Mrs. Dalloway

 

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Wrapped-up and Lined with Fur

Do you remember how Herman Melville used the term “damp, drizzly November in my soul” to describe Ishmael’s funk?  Well, we take issue with his descriptor.   November is chock full of joy.  So full, in fact, that we took a little unannounced blog break to really savor the Thanksgiving portion of that joy.  We hope your portions were also savory, and thank you for coming back for seconds.

In addition to the eleventh month’s feast, we also have a couple of WEM birthdays to celebrate in November, and so we tied our Anna Karenina wrap-up into a part of Christine’s big weekend.  We grabbed a quick lunch, tossed around our best ideas on Tolstoy’s work, and then hit the malls to spot all the fur, sparkle and Russian flair that seems to be trending this season.

This is a picture of the three of us after our wrap-up session.

Okay, fine.  It’s totally not, but Christine did walk away with a slightly sparkly skirt.  Close enough.

Here’s a quick summary of our ideas.  Don’t judge them too harshly, remember, we had shopping to do.

Retitling
All three of us hit on something important in our retitling of Anna Karenina, namely, that it wasn’t just Anna.  Levin deserves a starring role in this novel, and so we gave him one.  All three of us also mentioned something about searching and love.

Take note, these themes are going to be repeating themselves in this wrap-up, so just to make it really clear for everyone, I’ll spell them out with fancy little bullets

  • There are two distinct, yet intertwined stories, that of Anna, and that of Levin.
  • There is a great deal of exploring, searching, exploration, almost all done in the name of . . .
  • Love.

Okay, now that we have that all squared away, here are the answers to some of the other WEM prescribed questions.  (Okay, in fairness to SWB, she doesn’t actually prescribe, she suggests.)

Chronicle or Fable?
This is obviously a chronicle, nothing fable-ous here.

What do the Characters Want?
Anna wants love.  So does Levin, he just doesn’t know it.  Well, maybe Levin actually wants faith, but he really, really doesn’t know that, and it isn’t until he discovers love that he gets faith.  I hope I’m getting this right.

Faith, hope, and love.  Sounds familiar.  Did you catch all of Tolstoy’s scripture references?  Adriana did.

What Stands In Their Way?
For Anna the rules and norms of religion and society seem to really trip her up.  She wants out of the marriage she has, then she wants the certainty of Vronsky’s love without the commitment of marriage.  Messy, messy.

For Levin it seems to be his own brain getting in the way of things.  He’s just sort of an overthinker, I think.  What do you think?

Point of View
Sparknotes told us that this was one of the earliest examples of internal dialog, but we thought that seemed a little sketchy, because certainly we got a fair amount of internal dialog in Jane Eyre, and Crime and Punishment is pretty much built entirely of internal dialog.  Maybe it was a Russian Thing.

Style
We thought it had a pretty simple style.  I’m using this as my excuse for failing to get many Classic Word of the  Day posts written, and I’m sticking to it.

IImages and Metaphors
For images and metaphors we skimmed over the list from Spark Notes, apparently Tolstoy didn’t like trains.  Then we also wondered if Anna’s portrait meant anything, but we didn’t really come to great conclusions.  Do you have any?

Beginnings and Endings
Here are a few of the things we noticed when we compared the beginning and ending of the novel:

  • Anna is not at either the beginning or the end.
  • The novel begins with the unhappiness that is a result of unfaithfulness and ends with happiness that is the result of faith and faithfulness.
  • We meet Anna first through the eyes of someone else, and we learn more about her death through the eyes of someone else.
  • Trains, Trains.

Sympathizing with Characters
We all felt some connection to Anna in the beginning, and none to her by the end.  We also determined that you could replace the words “Anna” with “the novel” and “her” with “it” in the previous sentence, and have a shared sentiment.  Also, we loved Levin, and could relate to Dolly as a mother.

Technique
Tolstoy’s technique of running parallel stories of Levin and Anna showed the reader the differences decisions about love and faithfulness can have.  We think that his handling of the human experience in this form may be  what makes this novel so well-loved and admired.  What do you think?

Self-Reflection
This is the question that always trips us up, but it seems important to note two things here:

  1. Tolstoy models Levin after himself.  If that isn’t self-reflective I don’t know what is.
  2. Both Levin and Anna are in the process of writing books about the things they love yet can’t connect with – agriculture and children, respectively.  Neither is able to solve their own problems by the writing of books, only the actions of love can do this.  Levin learns.  Sadly for Seriozha and Ani, Anna does not.
  3. Oh, and a bonus thought:  Kosnyshev publishes a book and it doesn’t do one lick of good for him or anyone else.  So one might wonder, why did Tolstoy bother?

Argument, and Do We Agree?
Well, this is where we should be able to write a dissertation, or at least a fairly well-footnoted term paper, but alas, my page was pretty blank.  I hate to speak for my well-educated friends, especially when I seem to have so little to back me up, but I’d say that we agree with Tolstoy’s take on love, faithfulness, marriage, and humanity.  Those strokes aren’t too bold, are they?  Certainly not when a rare outing to the stores with friends awaits.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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Levin the Introvert

Classic Case of Madness is thrilled to bring you a guest post today.  “Levin the Introvert” was written by fellow classics reader Gina.  In August Gina came to the blog as a friend of Christina’s sister, and now she’s become our friend too.  Enjoy!

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So I just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which is an excellent book. As an introvert, it was an affirming read and showed me that being an introvert is not a negative personality trait.

When I started reading Quiet, all of a sudden, AK was suddenly showing me lots of examples of Levin as an introvert and made me recall the quote attributed to Flaubert about Tolstoy. Tolstoy did such an amazing job of portraying his characters that he picked up on this type of personality trait before the concepts of introversion and extroversion became widely accepted.

Here are a few examples that jumped out at me – did anyone find any other examples?

Part One, Chapter 7 – Levin enjoys listening to a philosophical conversation with his brother Koznyshev and a professor – “Is there a line to be drawn between psychological phenomena in man, and if so, where?” (Introverts are great listeners and prefer having deep conversations to small talk.)

Part Three, Chapters 4-6 – Levin mows the field with the peasants; yeah, more than one chapter devoted to mowing! (Introverts tend to enjoy activities that are solitary and do not require much conversation.)

Part Three, Chapter 26 – Levin goes hunting on the property of his friend Sviazhsky, and Sviazhsky’s unmarried sister-in-law is wearing a low-necked dress – “…but he had not complete freedom of ideas, because he was in an agony of embarrassment. This agony of embarrassment was due to the fact that the sister-in-law was wearing a dress specially put on, he thought, for his benefit, cut particularly low, in the shape of a trapeze, on her white bosom. This square opening, in spite of the bosom’s being very white, or just because it was very white, deprived Levin of the full use of his faculties.” (Introverts are not very good at multi-tasking.)This was a LOL moment for me!

Part Four, Chapter 11 – Kitty and Levin converse with each other while everyone else talks about politics (Introverts prefer one-on-one conversations).

Part Six, Chapters 8-13 – Levin takes up several chapters going hunting (similar to the mowing example).

Part Six, Chapter 28 – Levin is in Kashin for the elections. “But Levin forgot all that, and it was painful to him to see all these excellent persons for whom he had a respect, in such an unpleasant and vicious state of excitement. To escape from this painful feeling he went away into the other room, where there was nobody except the waiters at the buffet.” (Introverts may not be as comfortable expressing their feelings outwardly, and also need to take occasional breaks when in group situations.)

Part Seven, Chapter 1 – Kitty is noticing differences in Levin since they moved to Moscow for her confinement. “She liked his serene, friendly, and hospitable manner in the country. In town he seemed continually uneasy and on his guard, as though he was afraid someone would be rude to him, and still more to her.” (Introverts tend to be homebodies and like to avoid conflict when possible.)

Part Seven, Chapter 3 – Levin meets Metrov, who is a well-known agricultural or economics writer. “’What I began precisely was to write a book on agriculture, the laborer,’ said Levin, reddening, ‘I could not help coming to quite unexpected results.’ And Levin began carefully, as it were, feeling his ground, to expound his views.” (Introverts can be embarrassed by the spotlight, but actually do enjoy taking an active role in conversations that cover subjects they are familiar with.)

Part Seven, Chapter 5 – Levin takes Natalie to a concert and tries to immerse himself in the music. “…he stood against a column and tried to listen as attentively and conscientiously as possible. He tried not to let his attention be distracted, and not to spoil his impression by looking at the conductor in a white tie, waving his arms, which always disturbed his enjoyment of music so much, or the ladies in bonnets, with strings carefully tied over their ears, and all these people either thinking nothing at all or thinking of all sorts of things except the music.” (examples of overstimulation, disdain of people who don’t think deeply.)

On an unrelated note, this was one of my favorite parts of the book so far – Part Six, Chapter 31, where Oblonsky sends Dolly a telegram – “Darya Aleksandrovna, getting the message, simply sighed over the ruble wasted on it, and understood that it was sent after dinner. She knew Stiva had a weakness after dining for faire jouer le telegraphe (setting the telegraph going).” So who knew?! Before drunk texting there was drunk telegraphing!

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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Tangled

No, this has nothing to do with a certain Disney movie that my girls are big fans of.

I’m thinking instead of Levin’s spiritual quest in this novel.   It plays quite a large role, doesn’t it?   Even after the  whiplash we receive after reading Part VII, we still have the whole of Part VIII to read through, most of which is devoted to Levin and the results of his search for truth and for God.

One thing I noticed is that the defining moments of his quest in the novel seem to revolve around his family.  Family issues force him to confront his questions.   The two are completely tangled.   Go all the way back to Levin’s marriage.  Before this, we know that Levin avoids church and religion, but getting married forces him to meet with the good priest, and brings those questions back to the “front” of his mind.   The priest quietly reminds him that someday he may have children and will need to have an answer to their questions regarding eternal truths.  When Levin’s brother dies, he realizes that he is horrified with the thought of Death, yet his wife does not seem to be.   Kitty awakens in him a desire to explore this mystery.   Then we have the wonderfully real, touching and amusing chapters where Levin narrates the progression of Kitty’s labor and delivery of a healthy child.   He involuntarily cries out to God for help when things seem at their worst, then wonders why he has this reaction if he doesn’t really believe in a God.   His newborn son growing and changing does, in fact, just  as the priest suggested, force him to confront these same questions.

Or, perhaps it’s not really family, but love that leads Levin to the search:  love for Kitty, love for his brother, and love for his son.   Aren’t our loving relationships on earth just imperfect pictures of God’s love for us and His desire to be Our Father and for us to be His true children?   I like it – love is the force that points Levin toward Meaning and True Love.

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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And that’s why they call them studs.

The motto pictured to the left is so cliche that it means practically nothing.

Not like this equally concise line from Tolstoy that encapsulates the value of home as Levin returns home from his disappointing trip to propose marriage.

. . . at home the very walls are a support.

Can someone please embroider that onto a sampler for me?

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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Dead, yet?

There are parts of Anna Karenina, Part V that are sweet, and tender… and sad.  Levin’s brother Nikolay is dying.  Kitty threw a fit so that Levin would take her with him to care for Nikolay.  Levin resisted initially, but he quickly became ever so grateful that his bride has taken over Nikolay’s care.  In chapter 20 of Part V the priest is there.  Last rites are given.  A brother is slipping away.  The priest makes one little mistake.

     “He is gone,” said the priest, and would have moved away; but suddenly there was a faint stir in the mustaches of the dead man that seemed glued together, and quite distinctly in the hush they heard from the bottom of the chest the sharply defined sounds:
“Not quite…soon.”

Upon reading those lines, I snorted.
Yes, I did.
I snorted because those lines sounded familiar.  They reminded me of the hundreds of times my husband has quoted “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. The “Bring out your dead.” scene is one of his favorites.  Not familiar with the movie?  You can watch a clip on YouTube.

Nikolay and the Dead Body that Claims it Isn’t

I never would have imagined.  Tolstoy and Monty Python could have been buds.  Buds with a twisted sense of humor but buds.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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Never again!

Anna Karenina Part V, chapter 14

Kitty and Levin are married.  Everyone blissfully sigh with me, “Awwwww.”  Levin was late to the wedding, and there was that little moment when he had to receive the sacrament while being unsure of his faith, but now everything is smoothly sailing along for our newlyweds (unlike for our recently shacked-up couple Anna and Vronksy who are in Italy… but anyway…)

Kitty is the “lady of the house”, making decisions about all things domestic.  Levin’s bewildered by all of the details which are so important to his bride.

“He did not know how great a sense of change she was experiencing; she, who at home had sometimes wanted some favorite dish, or sweets, without the possibility of getting either, now could order what she liked, buy pounds of sweets, spend as much money as she liked, and order any puddings she pleased.”

I am with you, Kitty!  I got married and started making menus and grocery lists.
Ah, the power!
Chop Suey for dinner?  “Never again!” I declared.
What about Ham and Beans”  “Nope!”
I am the master of my menu.  I am the captain of my shopping cart.

Enjoy the pudding, Kitty.

 
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Posted by on November 7, 2012 in Anna Karenina

 

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