Tolstoy Knows

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Henry Hillier Parker, Harvest Time

Levin, having proposed to Kitty Scherbatsky and been refused, returns home resigned to live out his days gathering and collecting, still striving after the wind, but striving harder:

In the morning Konstantin Levin left Moscow and towards evening arrived home. On his way back in the train he talked to his fellow passengers about politics and the new railways and, just as in Moscow, he was overcome by the confusion of ideas, dissatisfaction with himself, and a vague sense of shame; but when he got out at this station, recognized his one-eyed coachman Ignat, with the collar of his coat turned up; when in the dim light from the station windows he caught sight of his upholstered sled, his horses with their plaited tails, and the harness with its rings and tassels; when the coachman Ignat, while still putting his things into the sledge, told him the village news–the arrival of the contractor and the calving of Pava–he felt that the confusion was gradually clearing up, and his self-dissatisfaction and shame were passing off. He felt this at the mere sight of Ignat and the horses; but when he had put on the sheepskin coat Ignat had brought for him, and, well wrapped up, had sat down in the sledge and was driven away, thinking about the new orders he would have to give and now and again glancing at the side horse (a Don saddle horse once, but overstrained, though still a spirited animal), he began to see everything that had happened to him in quite a different light. He felt that he was himself again and he did not wish to be anyone else. All he wanted now was to be better than he had been before. To begin with, he decided that from that day on he would stop looking for any extraordinary happiness such as marriage was to have given him, and that consequently he would no longer think little of what he possessed at present. He would furthermore never again allow himself to be carried away by low passion, the memory of which had so tormented him when he was making up his mind to propose. Then, remembering his brother Nikolai, he made up his mind never to allow himself to forget him, never to let him out of his sight, and to be ready to help him when things should go badly with him. And that would be soon, he felt. Besides, his brother’s talk about communism, to which he had paid so little attention at the time, now made him think. He considered a complete change of economic conditions nonsense, but he had always felt the injustice of his own abundance in comparison with the poverty of the peasants, and now decided, so as to feel himself absolutely in the right, that though he had always worked hard and lived far from luxuriously, he would now work harder and allow himself still less luxury. And it all seemed to him so easy to carry out that the whole way home he spent in a most pleasant daydream. Feeling greatly uplifted by this hope of a new and better life, he arrived home before nine o’clock in the evening.

A light from the windows of the room of his old nurse Agafya, who now acted as his housekeeper, fell on the snow-covered drive in front of the house. She was not yet asleep. Kuzma, awakened by her, came running out sleepy and barefoot, onto the front steps. Laska, a setter bitch, ran out too, almost throwing Kuzma off his feet, and, whining, rubbed herself against Levin’s knees, jumping up and wishing but not daring to put her forepaws on his chest.

“You’ve come back soon, sir,” said Agafya.

“I was homesick, Agafya,” he replied. “Visiting friends is all right, but there’s no place like home.”

He went into his study, which was gradually lit up by the candle. The familiar objects in the room were revealed: the antlers, the bookshelves, the tiled stove with the ventilator which had long been in need of repair, his father’s sofa, the big table with an open book, a broken ash tray, and a notebook with his writing. When he saw all this, he was for a moment overcome by a feeling of doubt of the possibility of starting the new life he had been dreaming of during his drive home. All these traces of his old life seemed to seize hold of him, saying: “No, you won’t get away from us, and you’re not going to be different; you’re going to be just the same as you’ve always been with your doubts, your everlasting dissatisfaction with yourself, your vain attempts at reform, your falling from grace, and the constant expectation of the happiness you have missed and which is not possible for you.”

But this is what the things said to him. Another voice inside him was saying that one must not submit to the past and one can make what one likes of oneself. And obeying this voice, he went to the corner where his two eighty-pound dumbbells lay and started exercising with them, raising and lowering them, trying to put heart into himself. (Anna Karenina, 110-112)

God’s gift of “wisdom and knowledge and joy” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26) is a gift still six or seven hundred pages away for Levin. Instead, for now, he has his dumbbells.

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One thought on “Tolstoy Knows

  1. Pingback: Tolstoy Knows, ii | The Honeysword

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