I’m fairly certain that by the time I finish reading Anna Karenina someone who reads this blog on a regular basis is going to tell me to shut my pie hole about this book. Fair enough. I will probably have that coming. I’ll be honest and tell you that there are parts of this 864 page saga that I have to force myself to get through. The extensive commentary on the various social classes and society in pre-communist Russia? Sorry, I’m just not interested in that. Even though I’m sure it’s fascinating to people who are.
The last post I wrote about this book was The mind of an artist. What I find so amazing about Tolstoy was his outrageous honesty. His characters express thoughts, beliefs and feelings that make me uncomfortable. Not because I find them distasteful, but because he forces me to acknowledge my own lack of honesty. Not so much with others, but with myself–about how I approach my writing, my life and my faith.
I have several passages bookmarked in this book. In the following passage, I relate (often painfully so) to Kitty:
Kitty followed her. Even Varenka struck her as different. She was not worse, but different from what she had fancied her before.
“Oh, dear! it’s a long while since I’ve laughed so much! said Varenka, gathering up her parasol and her bag. “How nice he is, your father!”
Kitty did not speak.
“When shall I see you again?” asked Varenka.
“Mama meant to go and see the Petrovs. Won’t you be there?” said Kitty, to try Varenka.
“Yes,” answered Varenka. “They’re getting ready to go away, so I promised to help them pack.”
“Well, I’ll come too, then.”
“No, why should you?”
“Why not? why not? why not?” said Kitty, opening her eyes wide, and clutching at Varenka’s parasol, so as not to let her go.
“No, wait a minute; why not?”
“Oh, nothing; your father has come, and besides, they will feel awkward at your helping.”
“No, tell me why you don’t want me to be often at the Petrovs’. You don’t want me to–why not?”
“I didn’t say that,” said Varenka quietly.
“No, please tell me!”
“Tell you everything?” asked Varenka
“Everything, everything!” Kitty assented.
“Well, there’s really nothing of any consequence; only that Mihail Alexeyevitch” (that was the artist’s name) “had meant to leave earlier, and now he doesn’t want to go away,” said Varenka, smiling.
“Well, well!” Kitty urged impatiently, looking darkly at Varenka.
“Well, and for some reason Anna Pavlovna told him that he didn’t want to go because you are here. Of course, that was nonsense; but there was a dispute over it–over you. You know how irritable these sick people are.”
Kitty, scowling more than ever, kept silent, and Varenka went on speaking alone, trying to soften or soothe her, and seeing a storm coming–she did not know whether of tears or of words.
“So you’d better not go…You understand; you won’t be offended?…”
“And it serves me right! And it serves me right!” Kitty cried quickly, snatching the parasol out of Varenka’s hand, and looking past her friend’s face.
Varenka felt inclined to smile, looking at her childish fury, but she was afraid of wounding her.
“How does it serve you right? I don’t understand,” she said.
“It serves me right, because it was all sham; because it was all done on purpose, and not from the heart. What business had I to interfere with outsiders? And so it’s come about that I’m a cause of quarrel, and that I’ve done what nobody asked me to do. Because it was all a sham! a sham! a sham!…”
“A sham! with what object?” said Varenka gently.
“Oh, it’s so idiotic! so hateful! There was no need whatever for me…Nothing but sham!” she said, opening and shutting the parasol.
“But with what object?”
“To seem better to people, to myself, to God; to deceive everyone. No! now I won’t descend to that. I’ll be bad; but anyway not a liar, a cheat.”
“But who is a cheat?” said Varenka reproachfully. “You speak as if…”
But Kitty was in one of her gust of fury, and she would not let her finish.
“I don’t talk about you, not about you at all. You’re perfection. Yes, yes, I know you’re all perfection; but what am I to do if I’m bad? This would never have been if I weren’t so bad. So let me be what I am. I won’t be a sham. What have I to do with Anna Pavlovna? Let them go their way, and me go mine. I can’t be different…And yet it’s not that, it’s not that.”
“What is not that?” asked Varenka in bewilderment.
“Everything. I can’t act except from the heart, and you act from principle. I liked you simply, but you most likely only wanted to save me, to improve me.”
“You are unjust,” said Varenka.
“But I’m not speaking of other people, I’m speaking of myself.”
Like Kitty, I feel like a fraud when I attempt to do things “to seem better to people; to myself; to God”. I want to help others and to serve Jesus out of love–for Him and for them. It may sound noble, but at times it feels so childish. Because what if love isn’t enough?
Are you a person that acts from the heart or from principle and obligation? And if you’re of the latter category, do people like me drive you crazy?