“character” in Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Posted by Lew Weinstein on April 15, 2007

·    Karenin … a pathetic character, unable to act in furtherance of his own wishes, but motivated only to avoid being embarrassed by his professional and social associates.  ·    Stiva has no money. Tolstoy shows this, when Dolly asks him for money for clothes for the children … “Tell them I’ll pay.” The reader knows he won’t. He is spending his money to buy a necklace for his actress girlfriend.  ·     “I haven’t stopped thinking about death,” said Levin. “It’s true that it’s time to die. And that everything is nonsense. I’ll tell you truly: I value my thought and my work terribly, but in essence – think about it – this whole world of ours is just a bit of mildew that grew over a tiny plane. And we think we can have something great – thoughts, deed! They’re all grains of sand … Once you understand it clearly, everything becomes insignificant. Once you understand that you’ll die today or tomorrow and they’ll be nothing left, everything becomes so insignificant … So you spend your life diverted by hunting or work in order not to think about death.”  Q: How does Tolstoy have Levin adjust these depressing thoughts to marry Kitty and have a life? A: he sees Kitty and instantly reverses everything. Characters do this often in this on-going soap opera.  ·    from Mailer – The Spooky Art  … Tolstoy is a great writer – maybe he is our greatest novelist – because no other can match his sense of human proportion. Tolstoy teaches us that compassion is of value and enriches our lives only when it is severe – when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum is probably a little more good than awful.


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