A Denouement and a Bit of a Summary

Anna Karenina – Section Eight, by Leo Tolstoy

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Vronsky has received a note from Anna, written prior to her following him to the train station – begging him to return to her.  With this in hand, and as he learns of Anna’s death, he’s devastated. Since he’s a soldier, he determines to fight with the Serbs against the Ottoman Turks, believing that with Anna gone, he should dies, too, and this is the way it should happen.

But then Tolstoy shift gears; he takes Levin and Kitty and the baby back to the farm and their life there. Still plagued by his religious crisis, a chance aside by one of the serfs crystallizes the moment and Levin’s crisis is resolved.

As both Levin and Anna ask, "Who am I? What is this life to me?” we see Anna’s inability to answer such intimate questions lead to her death, while Levin’s struggles with the same questions lead to a tentative contentment.

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I won’t detail Levin’s epiphany here – it’s worth reading the book to arrive, with him, at this moment – but suffice that this is the reason for this final eighth section – to contrast Anna’s and Levin’s metaphysical experience. But Tolstoy is too grounded in Russian life – and his fiction – to make such an abstraction the meat of his long book. I believe his project here, along with depicting Russian life of mid-nineteenth century, complete with its hypocrisy, its wars, its social and governmental dramas, is to contrast rural life in Russia at that time with that of urban society. In his view, urban life is inherently flawed and living it flies in the face of both nature and the divine, while rural life restores and supports the human soul. And he does this through the lives of his two couples – Anna and Vronsky, and Levin and Kitty.

This has been a recurring them in modern human psychology – that there’s something somehow evil in the urban contrivances of humanity, and Tolstoy is, in this book, its most eloquent proponent.


My rating: 18 of 20 stars





Good and Evil in Story

The Name Of The Rose, by Umberto Eco – Part 2


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It’s sometimes difficult in the best novels to separate philosophy from literature. I think this is because their authors  (and you have to read a bit of literary theory to see how the two are commingled) seek, as in the storytelling of older ages, to give guidance via story. In this case, Eco has a philosophic point he wishes to make about the nature of good and evil, in its grandest manifestations. And what better way to do this than by examining a realistic – albeit exaggerated – abbey and its life, its ethos.


Eco takes the pose of perhaps a seventeenth-century novelist in speaking often to the reader. He also dwells, through Adso, on the story in narrative. But he’s modern enough to present the reader with some of the wittiest dialogue around, and to refrain, despite his emphasis on narrative, from keeping the reader at arm’s length. This is the work and skill of a master storyteller/novelist – one that transcends epoch and genre.


This is, of course, a European novel – Eco is Italian – and European readers don’t recoil at the tangents such writers present in their works. We Yanks prefer taut prose, both in narrative and dialogue, and have little patience with an author who doesn’t get down to business – and who won't stay there.

Despite such leanings, this reader views the book is a literary panorama – even though it takes place in only a few days and in the most specific of settings. Again, this testifies to the author’s skill as a writer. Even we fast-paced citizens of the Colonies have to appreciate the manner in which Eco unfolds his project – despite the hurdles he places before us as we read along.


My rating: 18 of 20 stars




Guess The Line #6

Kudos again to Ron Goldstein for his persistence in naming yesterday's line: it was from Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo.


Today's line (well, more a complex thought than a line) is from a work of one of the U.S.'s great writers:


"I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?"