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Category: Literature

On Spontaneity and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago

This first week of my first Christmas break home from college, I reread Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, a classic Russian love story and the text behind that iconic 1965 film of the same name, directed by David Lean and released on New Year’s Eve that year. There is one beginning passage of Pasternak’s that stood out to me this second time around; I’ll explore it below. My copy was translated from the Russian by Max Hayward and Manya Harari.

“Yura liked being with his uncle. He reminded him of his mother. Like hers, his mind moved with freedom and welcomed the unfamiliar. He had the same aristocratic sense of equality with all living things and the same gift of taking everything at a glance and of expressing his thoughts as they first came to him and before they had lost their meaning and vitality.” Борис Пастернак, Doctor Zhivago

Yura, the son of Yury Zhivago (the very Doctor Zhivago of the title), has just lost his mother, Marya Nikolayevna; having attended her funeral, he journeys south with his Uncle Kolya (Marya’s brother) and reflects on her death here. Kolya and Marya seem to be fine, free-spirited people: very self-assured, fully trusting of their instincts, and probably charismatic to boot. What must it be like to live life with no doubts whatsoever? To solely act upon the very first thought that enters one’s mind for fear of its meaning slipping away? Extending this further, this is the definition of living without regrets and, more fundamentally, without fear. Do such characters only exist within the pages of these romantic novels? Doctor ZhivagoInto the Wild (looking at you, Chris McCandless, and your dogged nomadic spirit — that which eventually led to your death, but lives on between Krakauer’s pages)… the list goes on. I want to believe I’ll cross paths with people who abide by this same style of carrying themselves as Marya and Kolya — people who know what they want, people who dream, people who are so wildly different from me that I couldn’t even fathom it, but who will change me all the same… As for applying this philosophy myself? Embracing the unfamiliar and living freely and without regrets—that sounds like a very enticing concept, but I don’t think I’m at the point in my life where I can (or want to) fully live it. Instead, I will choose to practice just a slice of Pasternak’s words, the last line: to understand and express my thoughts “before they [lose] their meaning and vitality.” Let’s see where being more spontaneous rather than measured with how I feel takes me in 2022.

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Worthy of Aivazovsky’s Brush

In his renowned 1897 play Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov coined the phrase “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush” – which, according to Wikipedia, then soon became a popular Russian expression for something “ineffably lovely.” A while ago, when I was first reading Uncle Vanya, this phrase stuck out to me. I had never heard of this “Aivazovsky”; the reference seemed quite out of place in the text. So naturally, as we do in the 21st century, I googled it:

Examining his paintings, it became clear; he’s a romantic. Seeing as one of the main currents that runs through Uncle Vanya is a deep, unfettered admiration for Nature, it made sense that Chekhov would name-drop Aivazovsky. Even a layperson like myself can sense in his paintings the deep fascination with Nature that so defines Romanticism. Not to mention, here and there, they also exhibit flashes of realism: a definite philosophical focus in Uncle Vanya.

But there were a slew of Russian Romantic painters for Chekhov to choose from. Why Aivazovsky? Why was Chekhov so enamored with this artist, then relatively unknown? Why did he choose to include that phrase – “worthy of Aivazovsky’s brush,” those four words that propelled the painter into greatness – of all possible phrases? Returning to the trusty Google, I came across these words, spoken by none other than Anton Chekhov himself.

“Aivazovsky himself is a hale and hearty old man of about seventy-five, looking like an insignificant Armenian and an bishop; he is full of a sense of his own importance, has soft hands and shakes your hand like a general. He’s not very bright, but he is a complex personality, worthy of a further study. In him alone there are combined a general, a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello.” (Wikipedia)

From this quote, it became clear. Chekhov paints a complex, but honest picture of Aivazovsky. There’s a quiet admiration in his words, no doubt. No matter that he wasn’t bright. It was his personality, so nuanced, so inherently Russian – full of both aristocracy and peasantry, brilliance and patriotism – that made him stand out. Perhaps the most important idea to note from all of this, however, is just how existential Aivazovsky seems. After all, the “complex personality” seems to fit a total of 5 roles, and by Chekhov’s own admission: “a bishop, an artist, an Armenian, a naive old peasant, and an Othello.” Now, maybe Aivazovsky is just Chekhov’s ultimate Renaissance man. But there’s an uncertainty to how Chekhov describes him, a wariness in his words, a hesitation in his praise, that further pushes me toward the existentialist theory.

Chekhov, too, was an existentialist, and an outspoken one at that. This side of him comes across clearly in Uncle Vanya through the character of Voinitsky (who is, in fact, Uncle Vanya!). Voinitsky is at odds with life, at his core, and most definitely an uninspired soul. He considers all fine days “fine days to hang oneself,” and finds life in excessive drink (“Because it is like living. Somehow—like living.”) While “nature will be fresh and breathing,” Voinitsky says, he will be dying; this is the bane of his existence. There are striking similarities between Voinitsky and Aivazovsky, Chekhov and Aivazovsky, Chekhov and Voinitsky – every iteration of the three reads the same under the existentialist lens. You could consider Aivazovsky a hidden character, of sorts. It’s fascinating how Chekhov manages to weave him in.

Most of the time, artists carve their names in history through one thing: their work. It’s what they are remembered for. It’s a reflection of who they are, their influences; oftentimes, the artist’s work serves as the best description of the artist themself. Aivazovsky is no exception in this regard. Our trusty Google and Wikipedia may be able to provide the background information, places of study, awards won – but to truly understand who this marine artist was at his core, past the résumé – I refer you to his work, to his paintings. Pretty much ever since I read Uncle Vanya and first researched Aivazovsky, his favorite paintings have served as my desktop backgrounds. I leave you with my selection. Enjoy getting to know the naturalist, the complex, charismatic figure behind brush strokes. The painter who charmed Chekhov and thousands of Russians after him, who brought the genre of marine landscape to his country, who could paint brilliant seascapes and translucent waves by memory. Enjoy the work itself, too. Simply put, it’s stunning. I don’t have a trained eye for artwork, but personally? These paintings take me places. I hope they do the same for you.

The Ninth Wave Painting by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky
The Ninth Wave (1850)
Storm on the Black Sea (1899)
Wave (1889)
Storm at Sea (1850)
The Black Sea (1881) by Ivan Aivazovsky: Analysis & Overview
The Black Sea (1881)
Ships in a Storm (1860)
Moscow in the Winter from the Sparrow Hills (1872)
Winter Scene in Little Russia (1868)

Credit: All digitized painting snapshots are from Google Images.


Holly Golightly as a “Grown-Up Lolita”

Having just read Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I have recently become interested in Truman Capote, an American novelist with a complex past and quite the socialite in his time. A couple weeks ago, I found an original 1965 edition of Capote’s masterpiece, In Cold Blood, a gripping account of the 1959 murders of four members of the Clutter family in the tiny, rural town of Holcomb, Kansas. Capote denoted this work the first ever “nonfiction novel,” a label that has remained subject to controversy to this day. The premise and plot of the book (the town, the murders, the investigation into the killers and their execution) are all based on fact (Capote interviewed extensively, stayed in the town and took copious notes, etc.); however, the catch is that Capote wrote the story exactly like a (seemingly fictitious) novel, complete with lilting prose and recreated dialogue. The question, then? To what extent can we consider the work a truthful, detailed account of a series of horrific murders and the chaos that followed, versus one in some respect “marred” by Capote’s overshadowing interpretation? Where is the line? Interesting to deliberate, though not the subject of this post.

In Cold Blood is a riveting read, in any caseI would recommend it. I was flipping through it again yesterday, this time to investigate its connections with Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (in terms of rural setting, ethics at play, etc.). I happened to notice that at the beginning of my edition of In Cold Blood, some of Capote’s other novels are advertised, including Breakfast at Tiffany’s. An excerpt of a Time Magazine review of his novella discussing the heroine, Holly Golightly, was included. “She’s the hottest kitten ever to hit the keys of Truman Capote,” it stated, “a cross between a grown-up Lolita and a teen-age Auntie Mame… aline and a little afraid in a lot of beds she never made.” Having just read the novella, and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita this past summer, I found the phrase “grown-up Lolita” particularly intriguing. Further research online revealed that the connection between the two protagonists, Holly and Lolita, seems to have not been fully explored, and I thought it was worth contemplating in greater detail here.

When reading the words “grown-up Lolita,” what immediately came to mind was Capote’s implication in Breakfast at Tiffany’s that Holly Golightly’s childhood was to some extent characterized by abuse. In the novella, “Holly Golightly” is not actually Holly’s given name; rather, just a persona she creates to escape the trauma of her past and reinvent. Holly begins as scarred child-wife Lulamae Barnes, married at age fourteen and shouldering incredible responsibility as mother figure for the previous four children of her husband, Doc Golightly. On top of this, Lulamae was a victim of abuse, as is clear from a discussion on her past lovers in which Holly almost casually says, “not counting anything that happened before I was thirteen because, after all, that just doesn’t count.”

We see the likes of this abuse in Nabokov’s Lolita, in the obsession of Humbert Humbert, a thirty-something literature professor, with the twelve-year old Dolores Haze: the “light of [his] life, fire of [his] loins,” his “sin, [his] soul.” She is the perfect “nymphet,” he believes—his Lolita. Over the course of the novel, he becomes sexually involved with her, and at the end, accuses himself of statutory rape. The effects of this abuse on Dolores’s development are clear in Lolita: “amorous relations [with Humbert Humbert become] a commonplace she must face with boredom” (Balakian 141), and which she can frequently manipulate to obtain money from him. “Used up physically before her deeper feelings have been aroused, she cannot grow to the real meaning of love” (Balakian 141). And, as our last glimpses of Lolita suggest—we see her married, in need of money, pregnant, and broken—”she will grow old before having known what it is to be young and fulfilled” (Balakian 141) because Humbert Humbert has robbed her of her childhood.

Lolita later dies in childbirth, so we do not see the more lasting, psychological effects of the abuse much beyond that. But with Holly Golightly, we do see the aftereffects. The little-discussed trauma of child marriage and sexual abuse and the unimaginable pain and loss of innocence that go along with them are the very reason she reinvents, forever in futility. First, she runs to Hollywood, seeing in acting—a socially acceptable profession of reinvention for women—an opportunity to push away her pain forever. However, as an actress, she would need to be “managed” and taken care of, by producers, agents (O.J. Berman), and other men. Having just emerged from an environment in which she was “taken care of” by being forced into teen marriage as a tragic respite from a childhood filled with abuse, this is understandably unbearable. The “wild thing” once again runs, this time to New York—where she rejects stability, masquerading on the edge of danger through the Russian roulette she plays each night with powder room men, or in visiting a drug dealer for weekly prison chats. She chases control (like Lolita, with the bribes), constantly giving out roles for her male acquaintances to play—“serve me a drink, lend me your key, answer to the name of Fred,” she commands enticingly. She increases her allure by creating a game, of sorts—one that allows her to pull all of the strings. She needs to do this, to be able to live with the violation that characterizes her past—that which Lolita also experiences. In a way, Holly’s story, given the time of her life in which we see her in Capote’s novella, could most certainly serve as a continuation of Lolita’s own. She really is a “grown-up Lolita.”

I noticed quite a few other similarities between the two works. In terms of Holly and Lolita again, both Capote and Nabokov write them as rebellious anti-heroines, moving relentlessly against the grain. For Holly, we see this in the “ragbag colors of her boy’s hair, tawny streaks, strands of albino-blond and yellow” (3) that stand out to the narrator along with her “chic thinness” (3) and more feminine “rough pink darkening in the cheeks” (3). An androgynous figure, she challenges conventional societal standards for female beauty while still coming across as elegant, slick, and attractive, both in physical appearance and personality. With Lolita, one would expect her to be much more shaken up by the abuse she has faced since childhood—a twisted take on the “damsel in distress” trope—but I would argue that he does not write a lot of that explicitly into the novel. In many respects, Nabokov instead portrays her as a seemingly normal teenage girl whose “lust for life has no other object than creature comforts and infantile excitement” (Balakian 141). That is part of why his novel is actually so controversial—with his beautiful prose, he twists the standard, making us believe for a moment that this kind of “pathological love” (Balakian 141) is possible—real, even—and could actually leave a teenager “normal.” Breakfast at Tiffany’s would of course suggest otherwise, as would the little bits of Lolita’s adult life that we see at the end of the novel.

Published three years apart, both Lolita and Breakfast at Tiffany’s also offer very interesting, but wildly different views of America at the time. Capote tends to focus on New York, the epicenter of the country; for Holly, it is in that city and that city alone where her persona can go unnoticed for its falseness and even be widely accepted! She throws fabulous parties, strings along oodles of men, keeps up a reputation as a starlet, jumps bail, and then leaves and is forgotten almost immediately by the vast majority of people. For reinventresses like Holly, for immigrants looking to become Americans, for the endless amounts of people coming there to escape their pasts, Capote makes it clear that New York is the perfect mask. The city is a kindred spirit; it’s Holly herself who says, “they must see this, these lights, the river—I love New York, even though it isn’t mine, the way something has to be, a tree or a street or a house, something, anyway, that belongs to me because I belong to it” (19). That is Capote’s vision, and one that has stood the test of time.

Nabokov, on the other hand, characterizes the greater American landscape. This mainly occurs in Part Two of the novel, where Humbert Humbert takes Lolita across the country on a “road trip” (note: really, he kidnaps her). In my opinion, this, along with his absolutely stunning prose, is the real value in his controversial Lolita. Nabokov’s portrayal of the American Roadside no doubt heavily draws from a road trip he took with his wife Vera across the country. “through the open expanses of the Appalachians, the small towns of Tennessee and Arkansas, the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona” (Haven). His descriptions of the landscape in the novel, in Humbert Humbert’s voice, are incredibly detailed and vivid. He writes: “We came to know—nous connûmes, to use a Flaubertian intonation—the stone cottages under enormous Chateaubriandesque trees, the brick unit, the adobe unit, the stucco court, on what the Tour Book of the Automobile Association describes as ‘shaded’ or ‘spacious’ or ‘landscaped’ grounds.” He also extensively describes the American motels in which he and Lolita stay frequently: “Nous connûmes (this is royal fun) the would-be enticements of their repetitious namesall those Sunset Motels, U-Beam Cottages, Hillcrest Courts, Pine View Courts, Mountain View Courts, Skyline Courts, Park Plaza Courts, Green Acres, Mac’s Courts.” In the novel itself, motels—locations where people up and leave frequently—serve to detach Humbert Humbert’s actions from society’s moral compass; with them, the two don’t settle down anywhere, and therefore, Humbert Humbert is free to define his own criteria for relationships and continue to live in the hidden dream where what he does to Lolita is acceptable. The description is even more so a valuable account of what motels, the populist American invention, looked like in Nabokov’s eyes—the eyes of a Russian outsider, an émigré. It’s fascinating to contemplate this vision in conjunction with Capote’s. Both authors offer different portraits of America, but with intertwined heroines.

A last note, and not the original subject of this post, but just for fun—the quality of writing in both is absolutely amazing, and renowned as such; both Capote and Nabokov are famous for it. Nabokov’s is the perfect combination of humorous and serious, and somewhat uncomfortably and rigidly intellectual (purposefully so, to reflect Humbert Humbert’s profession as a literature professor as well as his hubris and high personal opinion of his own intellect). And Capote’s is lilting Southern prose, striking in its own right.

Here are my favorite excerpts in this regard from Lolita:

“It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.”

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.”

“You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style.”

“We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — the moment I feigned sleep.”

“For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.”

“My car is limping, Dolores Haze,
And the last long lap is the hardest,
And I shall be dumped where the weed decays,
And the rest is rust and stardust.”

And, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s:

“Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell,’ Holly advised him. ‘That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they’re strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you’ll end up, Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky.”

“Home is where you feel at home. I’m still looking.”

“It should take you about four seconds to walk from here to the door. I’ll give you two.”

“You’re wonderful. Unique. I love you.”

“But it’s Sunday, Mr. Bell. Clocks are slow on Sundays.”

“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived, the houses and their neighborhoods.”

And that’s it! Hope you enjoyed this post, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. До скорого, Рая!

Balakian, Nona. “The Prophetic Vogue of the Anti-heroine.” Southwest Review, vol. 47, no. 2, Spring 1962, pp. 134-41, Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.

Haven, Cynthia. “The Lolita Question.” Stanford Magazine, 2006, Accessed 24 Mar. 2020.

Some of the analysis is from a paper I wrote about Breakfast at Tiffany’s, specifically around Holly Golightly as a reinventress, for an American Lit class. Read it here.

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Chekhov: The Realist Starring in Uncle Vanya

Happy holidays, all! This is a selection of quotes from Uncle Vanya, a famous play by the great Anton Chekhov, that stand out to me. I find these to be especially revealing of Chekhov’s view on life, death, aging, and the human condition. At his core, Chekhov was an existentialist, and the ultimate realist. Maxim Gorky recognized this too, writing to Chekhov in 1900:

“Do you know what you are doing? You are killing realism. You will soon have killed it off completely, and it will stay that way for some time to come. This form has outlived its time, and that’s a fact! No one can go further along this path than you have done, no one can write as simply about such simple things as you can…”

Here, ironically, being branded as “killing realism” is perhaps the greatest compliment! See this paper for the quote’s source and for more on this idea. This realism is crystal clear in Chekhov’s writing, and so are his existentialist tendencies and his admiration for Nature. Chekhov was also a Naturalist—he believed that Nature always rules supreme over all aspects of society and civilization, and that life, aging, and death are just effects of its influence. Perhaps that is even what formed the basis for his greater, realist views. So, make what you will of that! Oh, and a last note: be on the lookout for Chekhov’s ~interesting~ views on alcohol and the drink (throughout Uncle Vanya, and also in some of the quotes).

I’ve purposefully presented these as just plain quotes here, but I’m currently working on a YouTube video in which I hope to explore these aforementioned ideas (and more!) in greater depth and offer more of my own thoughts and analysis. In the video, I’ll also touch on both the film Vanya on 42nd Street and differences in interpretation of Sonia’s last monologue, both in performances and in literary criticism. 

I’ll link the YouTube video here soon—enjoy this teaser in the meantime! And again, happy holidays! 

Тranslation: Act. 1, Chekhov, Uncle Vanya. Elena Andreevna (to Astroff). You are still a young man, you look… well thirty-six or -seven years old… and it must not be quite so interesting as you say, with always the trees and the trees and the trees. I think it’s monotonous.

Please note that all quotes are of Stark Young’s translation of Uncle Vanya, which appears in my edition of Chekhov’s collection of plays: Chekhov, Anton. Plays. Translated by Stark Young, New Dehli, Rupa Publications, 1999.

. . .

“And life itself is boring, stupid, dirty… it strangles you, this life.” (74)

“… a man for exactly twenty-five years reads and writes about art, and understands exactly nothing about art… twenty-five years reads and writes about what intelligent people already know and stupid people are not interested in…” (78)

ELENA: And fine weather today… Not hot… (A pause.)

VOINITSKY (Uncle Vanya): It’s fine weather to hang yourself… (82)

“He says that forests adorn the earth, that they teach a man to understand the beautiful and inspire him to lofty moods.” (83)

“The whole thing very likely is only foolishness after all.” (85)

“This damned, disgusting old age, the devil take it!” (88)

VOINITSKY: A storm is gathering outside. (Lightning) (90)

“Old ones like young ones want somebody to feel sorry for them, but nobody feels sorry for the old.” (91)

VOINITSKY: The rain will be over now and everything in nature will be fresh and breathing. Only I will not be refreshed by the storm. Day and night like a fiend at my throat is the thought that my life is hopelessly lost. No past, it was stupidly spend on trifles, and the present with all its absurdity is frightful. Here they are: my life and my love: where shall I put them, what shall I do with them? This feeling of mine is dying in vain, like a ray of sunlight that has strayed into a pit, and I myself am dying. (92)

ELENA: And today you were drinking? Why is that?

VOINITSKY: Because it is like living. Somehowlike living.  (93)

“Now we both would have been awakened by the storm; she would have been frightened by the thunder and I would have held her in my arms and whispered: “Don’t be afraid, I am here.” Oh, beautiful thoughts, how wonderful, I am even smiling…” (93)

“When one has no real life, one lives in illusions. After all, that’s better than nothing.” (96)

“An idle life can’t be right.” (98)

“One must have faith in everybody, otherwise life is impossible.” (102)

“And do you know what genius means? Bravery, a free mind, a broad sweep.” (103)

VOINITSKY: As a token of peace and harmony, I’ll bring a bouquet of roses, now; I made it for you this morning… Autumn roses—charming, sad roses… 

(Goes out.)

SONIA: Autumn roses—charming, sad roses.

(Both of them look out of the window.)

ELENA: And September is already with us. How will we live through the winter here… (106)

“It seems to me the truth, whatever it is, is not so frightful as uncertainty after all.” (108)

“We have here a case of degeneration that results from a struggle that’s beyond men’s strength for existence; degeneration caused by sloth, by ignorance, by the complete absence of any conscience… Nearly everything is already destroyed and in its place there is nothing created.” (110-111)

ASTROFF (With false nonchalance): Today, much esteemed Ivan Petrovich, the weather is not bad. In the morning it was cloudy, as if it would rain, and now the sun’s shining. Honestly speaking, autumn turned out beautiful… And the winter crop not bad. (Folds the chart into a cylinder.) Except for one thing: the days are getting short… (Goes out.) (114)

“The fact is manet omnes una nox, that is: we are all mortal…” (116)

VOINITSKY: Why not—I am insane, irresponsible, I have the right to say silly things.

ASTROFF: That’s an old story. You are not insane, you are simply odd. A little clown. There was a time when I too regarded every person who was odd as sick, abnormal, and now I am of the opinion that the normal state of man is to be odd. You are entirely normal. (125-126)

VOINITSKY: Give me something! Oh, my God… I am forty-seven years old; if—suppose I’ll live till sixty—if so I still have thirteen years left. That long! How shall I live through these thirteen years? What will I do, what will I fill them with? Oh, do you understand… (Convulsively pressing ASTROFF’s hand) Do you understand, if I could only live through what is left of life somehow differently. To wake up on a clear, quiet morning and to feel that you have begun to live anew, that all the past is forgotten, faded away, like smoke. (Crying) To begin a new life… teach me how to begin… from what to begin… 

ASTROFF (Annoyed, sharply): Eh, you! What new life is there? Our situation, yours and mine, is hopeless. (126)

SONIA: What can we do, we must live! (A pause) We shall live, Uncle Vanya. We’ll live through a long, long line of days, endless evenings; we’ll bear patiently the trials fate sends us; we’ll work for others now and in our old age without ever knowing any rest, and when our hour comes, we’ll die humbly and there beside the coffin we’ll say that we suffered, that we cried, that we felt bitter, and God will take pity on us, and you and I, Uncle, darling Uncle, shall see life bright, beautiful, fine, we shall be happy and will look back tenderly with a smile on these misfortunes we have now—and we shall rest. I have faith. I believe warmly, passionately… (Kneeling before him and putting her head on his hands; in a tired voice) We shall rest!

(TELEGIN plays the guitar quietly.)

SONIA: We shall rest! We shall hear the angels, we shall see the whole sky all diamonds, we shall see how all earthly evil, all our sufferings, are drowned in the mercy that will fill the whole world. And our life will grow peaceful, tender, sweet as a caress. I believe, I do believe… (Wipes away his tears with a handkerchief) Poor, dear Uncle Vanya, you are crying… (Through her tears) In your life you haven’t known what joy was; but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait… We shall rest… (Embraces him) We shall rest! (The night watchman taps. TELEGIN is strumming quietly; MARIA VASILIEVNA is writing on the margins of a pamphlet; MARINA is knitting on a stocking.)

SONIA: We shall rest!

The curtain falls slowly. (134-135)

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Львa Николаевича Толстого (Leo Tolstoy’s) Thoughts on Love and Family

“Got up late; we’re on friendly terms. The last squabble has left some small (imperceptible) traces — or perhaps time has. Every such squabble, however trivial, is a scar on love. A momentary feeling of passion, vexation, self-love or pride will pass, but a scar, however small, will remain forever on the best things that exist in the world — love. I shall know this and guard our happiness, and you know it too…” Лев Николаевич Толстой, in a diary entry regarding his wife (source).

And the ever-famous, truly profound first line of his Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Really let that sink in. How beautiful. How tragic. Sense a connection?

I’m purposefully withholding my own analysis right now, because sometimes, such striking, enduring thoughts just have to stand on their own, left for each person’s own interpretation. Know thyself, as Socrates said. Ralph Waldo Emerson, too, echoed this sentiment: “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind,” he wrote in his essay “Self-Reliance.” Take a moment to reflect on those “imperceptible traces,” those lasting scars on love, those fiery feelings that accompany the very best and very worst things in your life. Record your thoughts in a diary, like Tolstoy. Write to yourself. See how you feel.

More on Anna Karenina and Tolstoy to come: I’m a part of a Russian Literature Humanities Independent Research Team (HIRT) at Pingry that’s examining them. It’s been a wonderful experience so far.

Рая Тургенева / Rhea Kapur

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