Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

A reader's group devoted to the discussion of meaningful books.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

TOLSTOY: Anna Karenina (Part 8)

In Part 7 Anna says “we are all created to be miserable, and we all know it, and we all invent ways of deceiving each other.”  The she goes on to ask “When one sees the truth, what is one to do?”  Her answer is to leave this miserable life as quickly as possible.  Anna thought she would die at the birth of her second child and that would solve all her problems.  When that didn’t happen she took matters into her own hands and threw herself under a train.  That’s one answer.

It ended her own problems but caused more problems for other people.  Vronsky’s mother put it this way: “No, say what you will, she was a bad woman.  Why, what is the meaning of such desperate passions?  It was all to show herself something out of the way.  Well, and that she did do.  She brought herself to ruin and two good men; her husband and my unhappy son.”  Levin took a different route.  He, too, saw that life was often a miserable affair.  He found out what misery was like when his first proposal to marry Kitty was rejected.  Levin was very unhappy for a while but kept on going through the daily motions of living.  Then the circumstances of life changed, as they always do.  One day he woke up to find he was not only Kitty’s husband but also the father of their first child.  The joy of life had driven away the misery of life.  At least for a while.  Then the circumstances of life changed, as they always do.  Going through the daily motions of living brought back the same old question: “we are all created to be miserable, and we all know it, and we all invent ways of deceiving each other.  When one sees the truth, what is one to do?”  Until he answered that question he would find no peace.  Kitty was aware of Levin’s restless spirit.  Furthermore, she “knew what worried her husband.  It was his unbelief… What does he keep reading philosophy of some sort for all of this year?  She wondered.  If it’s all written in those books, he can understand them.  If it’s all wrong, why does he read them?  He says himself that he would like to believe.  Then why is it he doesn’t believe?  Surely from his thinking so much.”  In Kitty’s opinion Levin brooded too much.  He worried too much about whether there was a God, or not; whether life was worth living, or not.  Going through the daily motions of life could temporarily drive these questions away but couldn’t answer them definitely.  And it wasn’t that Levin didn’t want to believe, didn’t want to affirm God and affirm life.  He did.  But he wavered because the question overwhelmed him.  He couldn’t understand why.  “All the people nearest to him who were good in their lives were believers.  The old prince, and Lvov, whom he liked so much, and Sergey Ivanovitch, and all the women believed, and his wife believed as simply as he had believed in his earliest childhood, and ninety-nine out of a hundred of the Russian people all the working-people for whose life he felt the deepest respect, believed.”  Why couldn’t he believe as simply as they did?  The simple answer was simple.  Reason.  “Reasoning had brought him to doubt, and prevented him from seeing what he ought to do and what he ought not.  When he did not think, but simply lived, he was continually aware of the presence of an infallible judge in his soul…”  The complex answer was, not surprisingly, more complex.  Levin was considering the question as an intellectual problem to be solved.  But this question was not an intellectual problem.  It was much more than that.  It was a matter of life and death.  He knew a peasant woman who had recovered from a life-threatening illness and was now hard at work on his farm, and he pondered the hard effort it takes to live: “Why was it all being done… she recovered, but today or tomorrow or in ten years she won’t; they’ll bury her… they’ll bury her and this piebald horse, and very soon too... and what’s more, it’s not just them; they’ll bury me too, and nothing will be left.  What for?”  What for?  That simple question was totally beyond Levin’s comprehension.  He could never reason his way to an answer. He didn’t know if life overall was good or bad.  Only an “infallible judge” could answer that question and the “infallible judge” in Levin’s soul answered: it is good. 

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

<< Home