I highlight a striking passage in Anna Karenina, but put off posting it—then find another great passage, and so on. One was about Karenin’s “secret place where lay hid his feelings towards his wife and son…” One was a sexist comment by a minor character: “Women are the chief stumbling block in a man’s career.” Another captured Levin’s fluctuating ideas about political economy and socialism.
An opinion about the peasants: “What the laborer wanted was to work as pleasantly as possible, with rests, and above all, carelessly and heedlessly, without thinking…” And concerning work on the farm: “the machine had to be mended while in motion.”
Today, I’ll share two passages from the Levin/Kitty narrative that I find particularly beautiful. I think they illustrate Tolstoy’s obvious love for the details—the sheer materiality—of the world around him: what he wanted his readers to “see” in Levin’s story.
First, Levin in love:
“And what he saw then, he never saw again after. The children especially going to school, the bluish doves flying down from the roofs to the pavement, and the little loaves covered with flour, thrust out by an unseen hand, touched him. Those loaves, those doves, and those two boys were not earthly creatures. It all happened at the same time: a boy ran towards a dove and glanced smiling at Levin; the dove, with a whir of her wings, darted away, flashing in the sun, amid grains of snow that quivered in the air, while from a little window there came a smell of fresh-baked bread, and the loaves were put out. All of this together was so extraordinarily nice that Levin laughed and cried with delight.”
As the wedding guests await the arrival of the bride and groom.
“Inside the church both lusters were already lighted, and all the candles before the holy pictures. The gilt on the red ground of the holy picture-stand, and the gilt relief on the pictures, and the silver of the lusters and candlesticks, and the stones of the floor, and the rugs, and the banners above in the choir, and the steps of the altar, and the old blackened books, and the cassocks and surplices—all were flooded with light. On the right side of the warm church, in the crowd of frock coats and white ties, uniforms and broadcloth, velvet, satin, hair and flowers, bare shoulders and arms and long gloves, there was discreet but lively conversation that echoed strangely in the high cupola.”
I’ve been bowled over by the variety and intensity of Tolstoy’s prose. Beyond the poetic, the philosophical, and the psychological, however, there is also the playful—as when Tolstoy describes a foreign prince whom Vronsky must entertain: “he looked as fresh as a big glossy green Dutch cucumber…”