"Anna Karenina" in Our Time

"Anna Karenina" in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely

Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 278
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    "Anna Karenina" in Our Time
    Book Description:

    In this invigorating new assessment ofAnna Karenina, Gary Saul Morson overturns traditional interpretations of the classic novel and shows why readers have misunderstood Tolstoy's characters and intentions. Morson argues that Tolstoy's ideas are far more radical than has been thought: his masterpiece challenges deeply held conceptions of romantic love, the process of social reform, modernization, and the nature of good and evil. By investigating the ethical, philosophical, and social issues with which Tolstoy grappled, Morson finds inAnna Kareninapowerful connections with the concerns of today. He proposes that Tolstoy's effort to see the world more wisely can deeply inform our own search for wisdom in the present day.

    The book offers brilliant analyses of Anna, Karenin, Dolly, Levin, and other characters, with a particularly subtle portrait of Anna's extremism and self-deception. Morson probes Tolstoy's important insights (evil is often the result of negligence; goodness derives from small, everyday deeds) and completes the volume with an irresistible, original list of One Hundred and Sixty-Three Tolstoyan Conclusions.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18577-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. List of References and Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    “Anna Karenina” in Our Time: Seeing More Wiselyis the first of a series of studies demonstrating the relevance of Russian classics to our lives today. It envisages an audience of people interested in the issues Tolstoy’s novel considers, from the nature of love and self-deception to the ways in which successful reforms must be implemented. This book addresses educated laypeople, students who want to make the book relevant to their lives, scholars of Russian literature, and specialists in other fields—in short, anyone interested in Tolstoy’s wisdom. Several contemporary thinkers are already rediscovering Tolstoy. If this book achieves its...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Tolstoy and the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 7-32)

    Anna KareninaandWar and Peaceare typically considered to be among the finest, if not the very finest, novels ever written and Tolstoy ranks among the world’s greatest authors. Students I teach express the vague but widely held belief that if they have readWar and Peacethey are educated. Perhaps no other literary work commands such respect.

    Tolstoy has struck writers and readers for the unsurpassed realism of his two great novels. Arnold spoke for many when he declared thatAnna Kareninais not so much a work of art as a piece of life, and Babel imagined...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Dolly and Stiva: Prosaic Good and Evil
    (pp. 33-54)

    Anna Kareninabegins with one of the most widely quoted sentences in world literature: “All happy families resemble each other; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The meaning of this aphorism, apart from introducing the theme of happy and unhappy families, has remained obscure.

    In Tolstoy’s diaries and letters of the period, inWar and Peace, and in a variant ofAnna Karenina, he mentions a French proverb quite similar to this sentence: “Happy people have no history.” (See Orwin,Art and Thought, 179, 244n26; Babaev, 133; Shklovsky,Tolstoy, 483; Bayley, 203). They have no history because...

    (pp. 55-140)

    When I was about thirty, I discussedAnna Kareninawith a friend. I presented the novel as I then understood it and as I assumed it pretty much had to be understood. Anna undergoes great suffering, and we are expected to sympathize intensely with her. The society that condemns her is utterly hypocritical: the very people who have countless affairs, like Betsy Tverskaya, condemn her because she actually loves and acts on her passion. She loves not wisely but too well, and her tragedy results from the impossibility of transcending a culture of lies.¹

    I thought: Anna is married to...

    (pp. 141-222)

    Perhaps the most important worldwide story of the past few hundred years concerns the response of non-Western societies to Western power. To maintain independence, to compete economically, to rescue their people from poverty, and to play a role commensurate with their numbers and cultural achievements, many societies have had to face the same problems: Is it possible to adopt Western technological and scientific achievements while still maintaining other aspects of traditional culture? Or does that technology so depend on the political institutions, cultural values, social practices, and habits of thought that gave rise to it that it cannot be successfully...

  10. One Hundred Sixty-Three Tolstoyan Conclusions
    (pp. 223-234)

    These conclusions, which paraphrase Tolstoy’s thought or draw dotted lines from his thought to the present, are offered not as so many truths but as prompts for dialogue.

    1. We live in a world of uncertainty. Assured prediction is impossible. History and individual lives contain contingent events that might just as well not have happened. No account that tries to think contingency away can be adequate.

    2. There can never be a social science, in the sense that nineteenth-century physics is a science.

    3. We need not only knowledge but also wisdom. Wisdom cannot be formalized or expressed adequately in a set of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 235-244)
  12. Index
    (pp. 245-264)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)