Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

From the ballet -- Looks like the capture the desperation well. Don't tip onto the tracks!

Centurylink has caused this post to be barely existent. We waited for one entire month for them to hook up our Internet connection, and finally ended up ditching them and switching to Cox…who hooked up the Internet within two days. See, Centurylink, it was not the impossible task you thought it to be.
In the meantime, I finished Anna Karenina. Quite a feat. My first impression was that people must have had many fewer distractions in Tolstoy’s time, because there was a lot going on. Understatement!
But this was a novel that I had gotten halfway through in high school. It was the summer between graduation and college, and I was working at the Excelo Bakery, getting to work to open for them at 6:00 am. It helped to have a good book between 9:00 and noon, when I got off work. Not many people were buying donuts after 9:00. But, that summer, with trepidations of the oncoming move away from home and the frequent get togethers with high school friends, didn’t leave any mental space for poor Anna. At some point mid-book and midsummer, I just dropped it for a book where every character only had one name instead of four.
This time I started from the beginning again, and it took forever…as expected. But! I had NOT expected to become so engrossed in the twin story of Levin and Kitty! I would find myself rushing (or maybe Russian? Ha!) through the depressing, fatalistic sections about doomed Anna and difficult Vronsky to get to the story which Tolstoy must have meant as the positive counterpart to the passionate partners. Levin and Kitty survived together, and loved each other without the selfish bounds that Anna and Vronsky created around themselves.
And even though I knew what would happen to her (spoiler alert!), the train scene was gritty and intense, not what I expected from a book of this time period. It was more like the end of a Tarantino film, and I mean that in a good way. I read it three times before I felt that I understood what was going on philosophically and spiritually.  Also, I was inspired to finally read it all the way through because of the movie, The Last Station, about Tolstoy’s last days.  Really great film.  And now I want to see THAT again too!  Maybe it’s just a continuous roundabout of Tolstoy excitement — novel, movie, novel, movie — until you become so dizzy you fall on the tracks.  (Poor taste?)
All in all, a good read that I am glad to have crossed off my list, but feel no need to reread in the next thirty years or so. After that…maybe. AND! My new favorite song is a song by Phoebe Kreutz, called, “I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About Anna Karenina.”. I know how you feel, Phoebe. If only we could have warned her.

Seriously...a bad feeling.


Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Marvel made a comic book out of it! Very cool...

(Okay, Beth!  Here it is!)

I enjoyed it.  That’s first.

Second comes all of the baggage that I brought to this book. I kind of didn’t want to like it.  I feel sheepish saying that, but when I finally decided to read this beloved book from the canon, that everyone has always told me I SHOULD read, I pushed back.  Maybe it was because I read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre at very impressionable moments.  After being so steeped in the Brontes, Austen’s books seemed so “surface”…  It was all dances and husbands and then finally in the end, a nice love scene which you always knew was coming.  Of course Emma was going to be happy in the end.  Of course Marianne and Elinor were going to be okay.  In the Bronte books you never knew!  At the time, I was only appreciating Austen’s writing for the plot — and there wasn’t much to appreciate.

But that was awhile ago.  So, with it being free on my Kindle, I decided to give it another go.  And, I thought my mother-in-law would approve!  Since it came so highly recommended from someone whose book sense I trust, I had to read it all the way through.

At first, it was a bit of a chore.  I kept telling myself to give it a chance.  Just enjoy it.  Forget that Keira Knightly played Elizabeth in the recent movie and you think she looks like a skeleton monster.  The main character has the same name as you — she can’t be all bad.  Roll with it.

I found myself in turmoil at the beginning over the flightiness and frivolity of the Bennets.  They all — mother, daughters, father — were so deep in self-interest.  I wondered how I would actually read this all the way through.  Then, Mr. Bennet had a problem with Mr. Collins, and Jane shared this thought with me:

In [Mr. Bennet’s] library he had been always sure of leisure and tranquility; and though prepared, as he told Elizabeth, to meet with folly and conceit in every other room of the house, he was used to be free from them there.

Isn’t that beautiful?  And, not only beautiful, but true?  It’s like a little moment of Virginia Woolf in the mind of this patriarch.  It just so happened, also, that I read this at the same moment that I had begun to share my classroom with two more teachers.  I didn’t have my own space away from folly and conceit any more either, and I thought, Don’t worry, Mr. Bennet — we’ll get through this together.

And, with that simple little moment, Jane Austen won.  I opened up to the rest of the story, and didn’t worry too much about the silliness and sometimes stupidity of the women, or the bull-headedness of the men, or the taxing rules of their society.  I found myself marking page after page of my favorite moments, and wanting to comment on her astuteness.  Check it out:

When Mr. Collins simply won’t accept Lizzy’s “no” to his proposal:

To such perseverance in wilful self-deception Elizabeth would make no reply, and immediately and in silence withdrew; [because how on earth can you argue with someone who won’t listen to you?  Apropos for our current political culture!] determined, if he persisted in considering her repeated refusals, as flattering encouragement, to apply to her father, whose negative might be uttered in such a manner as to be decisive, and whose behavior at least could not be mistaken for the affectation and coquetry of an elegant female.  [A problem for women everywhere — how can you be taken seriously by someone who sees you only as an object of feminine wiles?]

A conversation between Jane and Elizabeth:

“It is very often nothing but our own vanity that deceives us.  Women fancy admiration means more than it does.”

“And men take care that they should.”

Nice.  Well played, ladies.  I laughed out loud at this next bit from Lady Catherine.  How many times have we all met people like her — when they discover that you are talented at something, they want to make sure you know that they could be talented if they tried, too.  Probably more than you, anyways.

“Of music!  Then pray speak aloud.  It is of all subjects my delight.  I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music.  There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste.  If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.  And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply.  I am confident that she would have performed delightfully.”

She won. I submit to her intriguing wit, biting observations and true-to-life human interactions.

I also appreciate that Jane Austen wants to show that love will only work with relationships that evolve organically.  All of the relationships that were imposed or created by others outside of it were flawed.  But Darcy and Elizabeth in the end seemed good to go.  I’m okay sharing a name with Elizabeth Bennet in the end — she mellowed out, and so did I.

Check out Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates’ thoughts on Pride and Prejudice also — he was reading it at the same time I was.  Unknown book club!

So, in the end, I also swallowed my pride and gave this book another try.  And, lo and behold, my prejudices against it were unfounded and immature.  Hat tip, Jane Austen.  You win this round.  Perhaps we’ll play again some time soon…I bet you’ll win that round too.

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