Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tolstoy mini marathon continues with Anna Karenina

I saved Anna Karenina for the last book in my mini Tolstoy marathon, because I've read it before and, although it was too long ago to remember many details, I do remember that it was a wonderful read. I'm about a fifth of the way through it and it is even better than my memory of it.

I wonder if the readers of War and Peace told Tolstoy that his handling of relationships in that work was great and that he should write another book that focused exclusively on the characters rather than covering history and dwelling on conjecture about the reasons populations follow leaders. If so, they pointed him in the right direction.

Tolstoy's brilliance comes from his observation of human behavior and his ability to put the tiniest details into his writing without ever losing the attention of his readers. The next section is a good example of this. It is written from the point of view of Count Vronsky when he first sees Anna.

With the insight of a man of the world, from one glance at this lady's appearance Vronsky classified her as belonging to the best society. He begged pardon, and was getting into the carriage, but felt he must glance at her once more; not that she was very beautiful, not on account of the elegance and modest grace which were apparent in her whole figure, but because in the expression of her charming face, as she passed close by him there was something peculiarly caressing and soft. As he looked around, she too turned her head. Her shining gray eyes, that looked dark from the thick lashes, rested with friendly attention on his face, as though she were recognizing him, and then promptly turned away to the passing crowd, as though seeking someone. In that brief look Vronsky had time to notice the suppressed eagerness which played over her face, and flitted between the brilliant eyes and the faint smile that curved her red lips. It was as though her nature were so brimming over with something that against her will it showed itself now in the flash of her eyes, and now in her smile. Deliberately she shrouded the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in the faintly perceptible smile.

I believe I could build an entire writing class on the study of that single paragaph.

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