Monday, June 22, 2009

Did Anybody Finish?

May and June turned out to be much busier months than I thought. And I have to be honest, I haven't finished the book.  So this is turning into more of an announcement post for me.

If you did finish, let everyone know what you thought.  It is my goal to finish Anna K. and The Red Badge of Courage this month.

On a happier note, "CONGRATULATIONS!" are in order.  Mrs. and Mr. Mordecai welcomed their newest family member .  They had their 1st girl (2nd child) on June 9th.  Visit her personal blog at: to see the cute pics and get all the details.
Congratulations again!  I am so happy for you and your family.

Also the poll is going up today for July's book so don't forget to cast your vote.

I can't wait to read your thoughts.  Sorry, again, that I don't have many yet.


Sharon in KY said...

Well All,

I did finish Anna. The reading schedule was very demanding of my of yours as well...but it was probably easier for me because this was my third reading of the novel. I was very familiar and comfortable with Tolstoy's style, I knew the story, and I knew the characters, so I never forgot who was who.

I hope I don't bore you with this but I thought I would review my thoughts/impressions that I recall from my previous readings before starting in on my current thoughts.

On my first reading Tolstoy swallowed me whole and pulled me inside his characters. Perhaps this was partly due to Tolstoy's writing and partly due to personally being at a weak and vulnerable time in my life. Did anyone else have an overwhelming experience with this novel?

You may wonder what I mean. Here's the most extreme example: Regarding Anna and her desire for Vronsky - I was inflamed with her desire as well. It was frightening to me to want so passionately with her what I knew was contrary to God's will. I stopped reading for awhile and resumed only after my own passions had cooled.

From the first reading I've been mesmerized by the mowing scenes. Each time I read these chapters I don't feel I'm in the 21st Century USA. It's like I've time traveled and I see the juicy stems, smell the sweet cut smell, feel in my own back and shoulders and arms the rhythmic swinging of the scythe as the sweat drips down my face and my back. With Levin I experience the physical and mental peace that comes from labor and I don't want to leave it. I want to sit by the riverbank with the peasants, eat the dark bread dipped in the rusty water, and fall into that delicious sleep of physical fatigue.

Also, on my first reading I was a bit annoyed that the chapters shifted so much away from Anna herself. I liked the other characters but as the book is titled Anna Karenina I assumed she was the principal character. I didn't understand until after serious reflection that Levin was a counterweight to Ann, to allow a contrast of consequences based on vastly different values and their following choices. What do you think? Why do there seem to be two stories - one about Levin, the other about Anna?

I'll write more tomorrow evening but before I close I want to say CONGRATULATIONS to Mr. and Mrs. Mordecai. You are a lovely family and, oh, I just wish somehow you could share that new baby smell and new baby in your arms feel as easily as you share the photographs!

Mrs. Mordecai said...

Thanks for your kind wishes and thoughts.

Sharon in KY said...

Mr. and Mrs. Mordecai, before I forget, you might be interested in reading the chapters that deal with the birth of Kitty's and Levin's first child. (Part 7, around Chapter 13)

Upon my second reading of Anna Karenina, Anna slipped into the background as a sad character and Levin emerged as the principal character. I slowed down and read more carefully the descriptions and wondered at Tolstoy's incredible sensitivity - How else could he have described so well how an 18yo girl, the belle of the ball, feels about her dress and her charms? Or how could he describe how Dolly feels as a mother in her constantly vascillating pride and worry over her children? The male characters too are so incredibly diverse!

On the second reading I only asked myself one question that I remember and that was - At what point could Anna have turned away, not just from Vronsky himself, but from her desire for him as well? I didn't answer it at the time, but I think Anna as she was in a lifeless marriage, without faith, and surrounded by decadence didn't possess the will or the help she needed to resist the temptation.

This latest reading showed me even more details I've missed before and lots of bigger questions than I can yet wrap my little mind around. I'll hopefully write more tomorrow. Right now I have an unhappy girl in the bathtub.

Magali said...

I am not finished yet... no more than 2 more weeks and I'll be done.
I already have a lot to comment on, but I'll try to get further ahead before I do it. Magali

Sharon in KY said...

Knowing the story so well this third time through it, I noticed for the first time in Part I, Chapter 3, as Tolstoy is describing Oblonsky's beliefs that he clearly lays out the Theme of the novel - Faith and Family. How interesting it is that he presents them in what I consider to be the negative. Oblonsky, as a self-described liberal, has the fashionable liberal dislike of both marriage and religion. The belief is that if faith and family as they are currently defined can be destroyed then a man (or woman?)could be his own god and life would be more pleasurable. (Wow! Little has changed in 150 years! The media is liberal and many adopt the media's bias without question and many prefer life without too much familial commitment or responsibility and certainly don't want to be answerable to a diety.)

Anna wants this to be true for herself. She leaves her husband and her son; she has no faith. She lives what appears to be a life full of pleasure. In truth she is trapped and miserable. Is it because she is a woman in a society where women do not have the same social freedoms as men or is it because she has given up what is right and good and best?

I don't know. Dolly chooses, in the face of an adulterous husband who doesn't financially provide for her or the children, to stay in the marriage. She is in a very difficult position and yet she knows that her life of faithfulness, both to God and to family, are far richer and more peaceful that Anna's life of morphia and purposelessness.

Levin from childhood has highly valued family. His life's work is to protect his lands to pass them on as an inheritance to future generations. And he wrestles and struggles with the question of the meaning of life! He comes to value an inner transformation in relationship to God. Is his life a bad one, living within the shackles of both faith and family? Difficult at times, requiring self-sacrifice often, but full and joyful and meaningful.

Oh, a simple thing, but I am so grateful for Tolstoy's inclusion of the everyday things that people of his own time may have found dull or commonplace but I just love. For example, the mowing with a scythe, the placement of 6 candles on a desk so that Karenin can write at his desk, or Levin jumping out of an open window (no AC, no fans, no screens) to welcome Oblonsky, keeping the flies out of the jelly, sprinkling a powder on the "hotel" bed for the bed bugs, etc.

In Part 1, Chapter 13 Kitty's thoughts of Levin are full of tenderness, contentment, and ease, yet a future with him seems dim and vague. In contrast, Kitty's thoughts of Vronsky are disquieting and yet a future with him seems brilliantly happy. Why is this? Just her mother's influence on her thoughts? I think it could be that Kitty's current relations with Vronsky are false and so the future is a bright pretense easy to construct. Whereas, Levin AND Kitty together would be 2 hearts, 2 minds, and 2 souls - 2 real people - working out a single life together. That is murky!

I need to move on to bedtime preparations. I'll write more tomorrow but I confess I feel like an elementary school child writing "and it was a good story." I am intimidated by all that Tolstoy includes in this novel, from faith and family, to education, agriculture, politics, death, birth...It seems to me he asks repeatedly, How do we define good? How do we define work?

Magali said...

I have a reason to withhold my comments until the end of the book. Each character is developed throughout the book, and every time I think I have a definite opinion on one, something is brought to light in a new chapter that alters my previous idea of him or her. I definetly do not like Anna, I love Dolly and I am in awe of Levin, even after finding a few flaws in his character as the story progresses.
Well, bye for now!!!

Sharon in KY said...

Only Magali has indicated that she plans to finish reading Anna Karenina so I won't leave any posts beyond this one about the novel.

Throughout Anna it seemed to me that Tolstoy was asking What is good? What is goodness? Here's a smattering of things I noticed in relation to this idea.

In Part II, Chapter 33, Kitty is drawn to goodness as she perceives it in Varenka and M. Stahl. She wants for herself the peace she sees in them. Like Levin, she is bold in her personal plans for goodness, beginning NOW. But her mother sees her changed behaviour as an exaggeration. And I believe she is right because Kitty is seeking goodness for her own sake. She is not seeking Christ or seeking to please Him. Christ is not leading her in His way for her, rather she is working in her own power. So what is goodness? Effort yes, but surrender as well - surrender to God's leading.

In Part 4, Chapter 7, Levin and Oblonsky meet in Moscow. Levin is thinking about death and tells Oblonsky, We work and hunt to distract ourselves from death. Oblonsky quickly agrees saying that's why he seeks all the pleasure in life that he can find. Though Levin is not a man of faith, he doesn't accept personal pleasure as being "good". Rather Levin sees work and preparing for the next generation as "good".

Part 5, Chapter 14 - Even the contrast of Anna & Vronsky with Kitty & Levin in their first 3 months together asks us to consider the goodness or quality of their relationships. Anna and Vronsky get along beautifully, their lives move along smoothly and each seeks to please the other, though Vronsky is bored. For Levin and Kitty, their first 3 months are full of misunderstandings and hardship, neither fully grasping the role of the other in their marriage.

Anna & Vronsky appear to have the better life. But what do they build together? To what purpose? The novel reveals their purpose of personal pleasure fails them as they continually disappoint each other. Levin & Kitty struggle but they struggle together to build a foundation upon which their family life will be built for generations to come. Goodness is not about appearances but about motives, ultimate purpose.

In Part 6, Chapter 29, Levin and another nobleman meet at Sviyazhsky's and discuss their farming. It seems the debate about farming profits revolves around whether to treat agriculture like an industry, that is like a merchant trying to get the most $ possible today, or whether to retain the nobleman's ancestral view of the land as a heritage to be treasured, preserved, and passed along to future generations. Farming is not just a living but a generational way of life. "Goodness" looks beyond present profits for self to an inheritance for future generations.

You know I may have started allof this with some wrapping up thoughts in mind but I'm distracted by a son and a daughter in the background and I'm wondering, Is what I'm hearing "good" or not? :) I must go and find out!

Forward into battle with The Red Badge of Courage.

Magali said...

I finally finished reading Anna Karenina! How amasing this book is!
Levin, in the end, finds out the meaning of human existence: to do good to others! He left the faith that he learned as a child in the bosom of his family when he was around 20, 23 years old, going after the knowledge of science and worldly phylosophy, which never explained him the meaning of his own existence. Finaly, in the end, it is revealed to him through a simple observation of a peasant, which yould not have "clicked" if he had not been searching for the answer with the whole of his being.
Anna's story is a tragedy, one that really ocurred, and Tolstoi threaded his story around it. Anna killed herself out of revenge, destroying Vronsky with it. Both suffered terribly as a consequence of their sin. And when I think of how could it have been stopped, I realize that it could not, and the only way would be not to have started it at all. Anna was unhappy in her marriage, and she gave too many wings to the pleasant flattering feelings she got from the flirting young man Vronsky. And how well does Tolstoi describe all the nuances and subtleness of facial expressions and body language, communicating what is really going on inside one's mind? Excellently!!!I know, and I am sure each one of you does, also, how one look, one word coupled with a certain expressian or moviment of the eyes, can cause such or such reaction or effect on somebody. That is what it means to be vigilant and pray at all times: if Anna had had any faith and discerniment, she would have kept those words and glances in check, and ran away from the temptation that had not even taken shape yet!!
Thank you so much for the inclusion of this book in the list.
There is so much more that could be said, but no time, and I am multitasking here as I write, so forgive me my mistakes in expressing myself and my spelling!!!