I just finished reading this book. It took me about 6 months to do so. Not because it is an especially long book, but because it is difficult and weighty material to comprehend and digest. My impressions after reading are these:
This is the most brilliant writing that I have ever read. Leo Tolstoy was a genius, but even better than that he was a lover of humanity. Writing as insightful as this can only come from someone with a unique understanding of people. He owned a selfless dedication to finding the words that unlock the mystery of each other. He saw to the bottom of people. Most writers leave you wanting more. Not in a positive way. You don’t feel what they wanted to you to feel. Or maybe they didn’t want you to feel anything. Maybe they just wanted your money or your adoration. You do get the feeling that Tolstoy wanted to inform you of something special. Something that he had figured out and has aided him immeasurably in his life. I’ve been helped by Tolstoy’s discoveries. There are statements made in this book that I will carry with me forever….In fact, I may get a tattoo that says “What doubt can you have of the Creator when you behold His creation?”. How beautiful is that. That statement to me, simple as it is, gives me peace. It helps me to not overthink God and his existence. I just accept Him. I just let him wash over me. I just dive in. Are there more important truths to learn in this life? I don’t think so. And neither, does it seem, did Tolstoy. The culmination of the entire novel is Levin’s enlightenment in which he learns to trust in God. He’s been struggling with this throughout the novel (Or really throughout his life. This novel doesn’t feel like a novel, but a window into the lives of real people) and at the very end he finds that you don’t need to look for God. You don’t have to understand why we’re here. It all doesn’t have to make sense to you. God exists below your head. He’s in your soul. Everything that you ever need to know about him you were born with. The light of God is in you. As long as you don’t ignore it, you’ll never be alone and you will never be in the dark. “To live for God, for my Soul.” This is what he discovers. He learns to defy “the cheating knavishness of intellect.” To stop the questioning and finally accept the answer that was always there. Spirituality has always been difficult for me. Everything about what I know of God I’ve rejected. God, to me, equals conformity. I’ve always wanted to be different. Well, not wanted to be, but I was and then I learned to accept it. I’ve learned to love being different because I look at others and do not want to be them. Loving my differences became loiving myself and that in and of itself, was a long and hard journey that is not even yet complete. Loving differences meant disliking comformity and God, the church and Christianity fell into that conformity. But pulling away from God meant literally pulling away from myself. Like Levin said after he married Kitty (funny, I wasn’t always very interested in Levin’s storyline as much as I was Anna and Vronkry’s, but most of what I remember came from Levin’s storyline.)
” He felt now that he was not simply close to her, but that he did not know where he ended and she began. He felt this from the agonizing sensation of division that he experienced at that instant. He was offended for the first instant, but the very same second he felt that he could not be offended by her, that she was himself. He felt for the first moment as a man feels when, having suddenly received a violent blow from behind, he turns around, angry and eager to avenge himself, to look for his antagonist, and finds that it is he himself who has accidentally struck himself, that there is no one to be angry with, and that he must put up with and try to sooth the pain.”
Our relationship with God is like this. We can deny him. We can strike out against him and do bad works. But in doing these things we are not doing anything more or less than hurting ourselves. I’ve been trying to explain this to myself, but I couldn’t do it as well as Tolstoy. He must have gone through the same spiritual debates and doubts that Levin did. I think Levin was Tolstoy in many ways. Unfortunately I do not think that he was as happy as Levin turned out. But that’s the burden of a writer. You have the ability to create worlds and control destinies with your pen, but you cannot stop the suffering in your own life. But he must have had incredible strength in his faith to get him through a difficult life with a difficult wife. I want a tattoo. I think when I reach my weightloss goal in August, I’ll get a tattoo with a quote from this book. I love the idea of it. But I fear the pain.
My next step in resolving my crisis of Faith (crisis is a totally dramatic word for this) is to outwardly show my faith in Christ. This will be difficult because I still don’t really like going to church. I don’t like it because it gives others the impression that I’m like all the other people that go to church. And I’m not. The problem with people thinking that I’m a certain kind of way is I tend to fit whatever mold I’m put in because I don’t like conflict. It really isn’t something I can help. I’m a people pleaser so I can’t really help but become whoever anyone wants me to be. That’s why I’m pretty afraid of relationships with people and getting closer to them because I know that in the beginning I’ll be whoever they want me to be, but eventually I’ll get tired and frustrated of pretending and then lash out. But whatever. The next step is to prove my love and faith in the God I believe in. This will take strength and creativity because I don’t plan on giving in.
But then, I don’t get Tolstoy entirely. He was brilliant and a great believer in God, but he chooses to show who he is and what he is about in this book about a frivolous woman who takes up with a egotistical man. I loved Anna and Vronsky’s storyline. From the moment they met there was magic. Their love brings the whole story alive. But I think I felt more entertained by their ups and downs than I learned from them. I think that this is because love is not really treated with respect and reverence now-a-days. Today it’s a sport, a commodity, a facebook status. I think reading about Anna and Vronsky through the lens of the 21st century cheapens not only their love, but themselves as individuals. They are very well drawn characters. I love the fact that they each start out as the popular kids, the ones that everyone likes. Anna is beautiful and charming. Vronsky is handsome and dashing (if not a little cadish). Though both are distinguished and wealthy they are seriously handicapped by each other and their love. But then it wasn’t really them or their love that cut them. It was convention and society. If it weren’t for the judgement and the coldshouldering that they received, things would have been easier. It’s like LOVE–a creation of God versus Conformity–a creation of man. In their happiess state, these two elements work with eachother. Like with Levin and Kitty. Due to the fact that they were both unattached when they fell in love, they were able to find a happy ending with eachother. This was not the case with Anna and Vronsky and that’s what led to their doom. I don’t think Tolstoy was saying that ‘those sinners got what they deserved.’ because he obviously has a huge affection for both characters. He’s judging society not them. They weren’t perfect. Anna was too jealous and doubtful and Vronsky was selfish and indifferent towards her. I always knew that Anna would kill herself. Everyone knows about the ending of this book. I knew how it would end the moment I opened the book. But getting there was what was interesting. What led her to that place to kill herself, sadly her state of mind reflected thoughts I’ve had myself. That’s what I mean when I say that Tolstoy understood human nature like he created it himself. He saw not only thorough to the bottom of the people in his time, but to the bottom of people throughout time. Because people don’t change.
“Yes, what did I stop at? That I couldn’t conceive a position in which life would not be a misery, that we are all created to be miserable, and that we all know it, and all invent means of deceiving each other. And when one sees the truth, what is one to do?”
I’ve had thoughts like this. Thoughts that I were fully convinced were true. Just as Anna was convinced. But it isn’t good to be too convinced that anything that you believe is true if you do not include God in your reasoning. Anna never mentioned God once in her inner tyrade against the human race. She forgot him completely in her misery. Which is easy to do. Misery is all consuming. Physically and mentally painful and impossible to escape. But if you remember God and that nothing he put here was made to make you miserable then you know that eventually you can find your way back to happiness. If she was a stronger person. And not so immature and underdeveloped then she would have known this. But not everybody can be strong. And Anna was not strong. The strongest person probably in the novel was Marenka, Kitty’s little friend. Her strength was shown in that she was unaffected by people. She did not let their judgement affect her in the negative or the positive. She served her God. I think Tolstoy had an enormous amount of respect for her. Which is funny because at one time he tries to pair her with the character that he clearly has practically the least amount of respect for in the whole novel. Sergey Ivanovitch, Levin’s older brother, is, as the Prince says about Vronsky ” turned out by machinery, all on one pattern, and all precious rubbish.” He’s basically a lemming. Someone who’s sole purpose is to further ideas that should have been stamped out long ago. He swims with the tide. He suffers from “A lack of vital force, of what is called heart, of that impulse which drives a man to choose someone out of the innumerable paths of life, and to care only for that one.” He’s basically a shame. But at one point there’s all this “Will they won’t they” drama instigated by Kitty who’s the little Emma of the novel (you gotta love Kitty, but she is annoying sometimes. I mean..her name is Kitty) in which we all wonder whether Sergey will pop the question to Marenka. I remember reading that part and really wanting him to do it. He doesn’t and it’s a huge let down. But they both go away thinking that it was really the best thing that will never happen. Really the two characters are very similar. They both lack a huge piece of the puzzle that is a person. Their pieces are entirely too easy to put together. For a woman, that lack of passion that in one respect keeps her from bending to the will of a man or whoever should want to, it makes her strong. For a man, lacking that passion makes him weak. He can’t create anything new. He can only follow old ideas. Men are leaders and he cannot lead.
I loved this book, but it was a loonnnnngggg helluva read. Geez.