Visualizing Anna Karenina

Self saw the Joe Wright movie and felt it was ludicrous, especially the scene with the dueling tongues. None of which is Keira Knightley’s fault.

Here’s a photo of actress Vivien Leigh, who more closely resembles the image of Anna that self has in her mind:

photo-20180118182249103

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Seryozha: ANNA KARENINA, p. 479

At this point of the novel, 3/4 of the way in, Karenin is still looked upon with ridicule, he still can’t bring himself to stop caring completely about Anna Karenina, but a philanthropic and very religious lady named Countess Lydia Ivanovna has fallen in love with him and has taken over the managing of Karenin’s household. Anna writes to the Countess to ask if she might be permitted to see her son, Seryozha, but the Countess refuses. She then gets Karenin to agree to tell Seryozha that his mother has died

Time jump: several years later, on Seryozha’s name day.

Apparently, one cannot be excused from one’s lessons, even on one’s name day.

  • After his teacher was the lesson with his father. Before his father came, Seryozha sat down at his desk, playing with his penknife, and started thinking. Among Seryozha’s favorite activities was searching for his mother during his walk. He did not believe in death in general and in her death in particular, in spite of what Lydia Ivanovna had told him, and his father had confirmed, and so even after they told him she had died, he kept looking for her during his walk. Any full-figured, graceful woman with dark hair was his mother.

Self finds everything that happens after Anna’s pregnancy fascinating. Each character has to make a choice after that, and Karenin seems most self-aware: His choices — despite his anger, despite his shame — are fundamentally humane. Anna merely continues with Vronsky, while Vronsky’s career stalls entirely and he loses all ambition. Kitty and Levine are happy.

Then the Seryozha section. It is so heartbreaking to read: “He did not believe that the people he loved could die . . . ” What is going to happen to this poor boy after his absent mother becomes truly DEAD?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Levin Again: ANNA KARENINA, p. 35

Levin lunching with his old friend Stepan Arkadyevich aka Stiva, whose wife Dolly has just discovered his affair:

Levin: You can’t imagine how it is for me, a country dweller, all this is as savage as the fingernails of the gentlemen I saw in your office.

Stiva (laughing): Yes, I saw how intrigued you were by poor Grinevich’s nails.

Levin: I can’t help it . . . Just imagine you’re me and take a country dweller’s point of view. In the country, we try to keep our hands in a state that makes them handy to work with; so we trim our nails and sometimes roll up our sleeves. But here people let their fingernails grow as long as they can stand it on purpose, and they wear cuff links like saucers so that they can’t do anything with their hands.

Stiva (smiling): Yes, it’s a sign that he doesn’t need to do rough labor. His mind does the work.

Self is fascinated by this glimpse into the foppish fashion of Muscovites.

Stiva seems like a good guy, a good friend to Levin. Ugh, but he’s really so entitled.

Stay tuned.

Levin: ANNA KARENINA, p. 26

“Well, and how’s that council of yours doing?” asked Sergei Ivanovich . . .

“To be honest, I don’t know.”

“How’s that? Aren’t you a member of the board?”

“No, not anymore. I resigned,” replied Konstantin Levin, “and I don’t attend meetings anymore.”

lol

lol

lol

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Anna Karenina: Introduction by Gary Saul Morson

Self making mincemeat of her reading list.

First, she abandoned all six books of My Struggle after reading just one page of Book One.

Then, she stopped reading Barracoon at the first page of the narrative proper, she just couldn’t agree with the decision Hurston made to write him as he appeared, not as he truly was: a grown man, a man who had endured unimaginable suffering.

Today, she put aside her copy of If On a Winter’s Night a Travel.

What does she want? What is she looking for?

Hopefully it’s Anna Karenina.

From the Introduction:

The lovers live in a realm beyond good and evil. After all, good and evil depend on choice, and where fate governs, choice is out of the question. No matter how much pain the lovers cause, one cannot condemn them . . .

That is the story Anna imagines she is living. As one of her friends observes, she resembles a heroine from a romance . . .  As Anna Karenina imagines herself into the novels she reads, such readers imagine themselves as Anna or Vronsky . . . Anna feels that fate has marked her out for a special destiny, perhaps tragic but surely exaulted.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, pp. 138 – 139 mentions Gogol

Loving this book because of all the writerly mentions. In addition to Bulgakov (Must watch the movie with Charlotte Rampling), there are Osip Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Anna Akhmatova . . .

All tortured, sent into exile, heartbreaking. But at least their words survived.

On p. 138, there’s a mention of Gogol (Self has to type on the floor, sitting on throw pillows; sitting at a desk gives her hand and wrist cramps. But the other day, she noticed spiders crawling over her legs and feet and she’s like constantly on the alert with Off! spray).

p. 138:

In his later years, Gogol had become convinced that God had abandoned him. Tortured, half-crazed, he burnt his remaining manuscripts only days before he died. As though the promise of man’s redemption must perish with him. He claimed the Devil had tricked him into doing so. He’d been only forty-one.

p. 139:

In 1931 when Gogol’s body was exhumed he was discovered to be facing downward. The writer had had a terrible fear of being buried alive, so much so that he’d willed his casket be fitted with a breathing tube as well as a rope by which to sound some external bell if needed.

As the grimness gathers around Bulgakov, the novel can only get more depressing. But so far, self has been able to persist.

This novel won the 2017 First Novel Prize from New York’s Center for Fiction, “the only literary center in the United States devoted to the art of fiction.”

Kudos to Ms. Himes.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Reading Life 2016

October 2016

  1. Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II’s Greatest Rescue Mission (history), by Hampton Sides
  2. A Short History of Women (novel) by Kate Walbert

September 2016

  1. The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine (nonfiction), by Ben Ehrenreich
  2. Brazillionaires (nonfiction), by Alex Cuadros

August 2016

  1. Northanger Abbey (novel), by Jane Austen
  2. Swimming Studies (memoir), by Leann Sharpton
  3. The Course of Love (novel), by Alain de Botton
  4. The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Sketches (travel book, poetry), by Matsuo Basho
  5. The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone (essay collection), by Olivia Laing

July 2016

  1. The Green Road (novel), by Anne Enright
  2. Girl Waits With Gun (mystery), by Amy Stewart

June 2016

  1. The Girl on the Train (novel), by Paula Hawkins
  2. My Brilliant Friend (novel), by Elena Ferrante

May 2016 Read the rest of this entry »

Battle Is Joined! The Battle Between the King of the Bulgarians and the King of the Abarians

Last night, self finished finished The Death of Ivan Ilyich and it was quite a letdown.

First of all, the hero dies.

Duh!

It’s right there in the title, self!

Since the book she read just prior was Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War, she is by now inured to all narratives on deaths and/or dying.

What self objected to was the reading of an entire Tolstoy story and finding herself not moved. Not in the slightest. And furthermore Tolstoy resorts to

SPOILER ALERT!!!

a very time-worn device: the moral redemption of the hero, introducing a startling revelation an hour before his death. Which in no way made the work more edifying or redemptive and which had self going WHAT?

Ivan Ilyich realizes he should just give his family peace. By dying quietly. And with this realization, the character’s black fear of dying dissipates (Just in time, too, as he’s going to die whether he likes it or not. And, Tolstoy crisply informs us, in an hour)

This was one of the rare book purchases self has made in the last few months, and it was not cheap. But, such is her annoyance at all the eminent critics who pronounced this one of the greatest works of all time, that she’s decided she’ll leave it behind when she flies out of Los Angeles. It will be her small contribution to the intellectual enrichment of whoever picks it up next.

She then began the next book on her reading list, Voltaire’s Candide (Self travels everywhere with at least three books in her suitcase. In case she finds herself out of reach of a decent bookstore. She’s a regular Girl Scout when it comes to being prepared)

This book is the complete opposite of Tolstoy’s. It is flat-out satire. The central character is a robust (and dim-witted) lad named Candide. He is a servant enamored with his employer’s 17-year-old daughter. The employer gets wind of the servant’s amorous intentions and of course does the right thing: he fires Candide.

Then Candide winds up encountering an army and in the worst case of mistaken identity ever, the soldiers force him to run a gauntlet, not once but twice, and finally when Candide’s back is flayed open like a gutted fish, he is pardoned by the King of the Bulgarians. And, what great good timing, the King of the Bulgarians is about to engage in war with the King of the Abarians, at which point Chapter 2 ends and Chapter 3 begins thus:

Nothing could be so beautiful, so smart, so brilliant, so well-drilled as the two armies. Trumpets, fifes, oboes, drums, cannons formed a harmony such as was never heard even in hell. First the cannons felled about six thousand men on each side; then the musketry removed from the best of worlds some nine or ten thousand scoundrels who infected its surface. The bayonet also was the sufficient reason for the death of some thousands of men. The whole might well amount to about thirty thousand souls. Candide, trembling like a philosopher, hid himself as best he could during this heroic butchery.

Well, well, well! Methinks Candide is not as dim-witted as he first appeared!

Stay tuned.

Ivan Ilyich and the Servants

Dying is not a peaceful process. Ivan Ilyich’s mind is full of anguish and despair. His most meaningful interactions, during the last few days of his life, are with the servants. His wife sleeps in their bedroom. There is a basic incompatibility in this marriage, and after reading Tolstoy’s short story self thinks there is nothing more awful than being sick when one is surrounded by an indifferent family.

About the wife:

“Everything she did for him she did only for herself, and she said to him that she was doing for herself that which she was in fact doing for herself, as if it was such an incredible thing that he woud have to handle it inversely.”

“His daughter comes in to see him, just before she, her mother, and her fiancée leave for the theatre. She comes “all dressed up . . . Strong, healthy, obviously in love, and indignant at the illness, suffering, and death that interfered with her happiness.”

Ivan Ilyich is afraid to be alone.

The servant, Pyotr, has left him to get some tea.

“Ivan Ilyich, left alone, moaned not so much from pain, terrible though it was, as from anguish.”

Ivan Ilyich wishes that the process of dying could end sooner. But in the next moment:

“No, no. Anything’s better than death!”

How in the world can self get past the death of Ivan Ilyich?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

The Bureaucrat Ivan Ilyich Learns He Must Die

Ivan Ilyich was a man who derived the greatest pleasure in life from routine: the routine of work, mostly.

He didn’t know he was dying until his colleagues began to have strange expressions on their faces as they interacted with him. Some of them looked shocked, some of them looked pitying.

One day, he closeted himself in his bathroom, looked at himself in the mirror, and could deny it no longer: he did indeed have the look of a man who was suffering from a grave illness. In fact, he was dying.

p. 71 of the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage)

  • Lately Ivan Ilyich had spent most of his time in these attempts to restore the former ways of feeling that had screened him from death. He would say to himself: “I’ll busy myself with work — why, I used to live by it.” And he would go to court, driving away all doubts; he would get into conversation with colleagues and sit down, by old habit absentmindedly, pensively glancing around at the crowd and placing his two emaciated arms on the armrests of the oaken chair, leaning over as usual to a colleague, drawing a brief towards him, exchanging whispers, and then, suddenly raising his eyes and sitting up straight, would pronounce certain words and begin the proceedings. But suddenly in the midst of it the pain in his side, paying no attention to the stage the proceedings, would begin its own gnawing work.

And reading this reminds self all over again about Ying, who died in 2008, less than a year after she was diagnosed with leukemia.

She was worried because one of her maids — the nursemaid of Ying’s newborn daughter, Anita — had a persistent cough. Ying decided to have her tested for tuberculosis. Since her maid was being tested, Ying thought she might as well have herself tested, too. And that’s how they found she had leukemia.

Ying died in Tel Aviv on her 37th birthday. And never ever did self hear a word of complaint from her.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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