I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and I’m constantly amazed at Tolstoy’s understanding of human nature and his ability to describe it. For instance, from Part Five, Chapter 13:
Golenishchev’s conviction that Vronsky possessed talent was supported by the fact that he required Vronsky’s sympathy and praise for his articles and ideas, and felt that praise and encouragement should be mutual.
Try applying that observation to yourself as you glance down your blogroll.
In Part Five, Chapter 14, Levin is adjusting to married life:
At every step he took he felt as a man would feel who, after admiring the smooth happy motion of a little boat upon the water, had himself got into the boat. He found that besides sitting quietly without rocking he had to keep a lookout, not for a moment forgetting where he was going, or that there was water under his feet, and that he had to row, although it hurt his unaccustomed hands; in short, that it only looked easy, but to do it, though very delightful, was very difficult.
Don’t rock the boat, baby!
The very first sentence of the book:
All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
This statement provides a framework for the entire book.
Tolstoy has the uncanny ability to make me empathize with his main characters by planting thoughts and feelings in their heads that I’ve experienced before, but which I had assumed were unique to me. I’m often left thinking that in order to describe them so well, Tolstoy must have experienced the circumstances that surround those impressions. But the characters are so varied in their experiences and motivations that it seems impossible for all of them to be extensions of the author — especially the title character, Anna. It seems to me that Tolstoy possessed a keen perception of the thoughts of others, and combined observation with empathy to construct his characters.
It’s been over 20 years since I last read Tolstoy. That was War and Peace, which is one of the few books that really changed me. When I finished that epic, it was as if life itself were coming to a close. I hardly knew what to do with myself, and couldn’t forgive Tolstoy for ever ending his story. Maybe that’s why I waited so long to pick him up again.