Thursday, 12 June 2014

Lots of crying

War and Peace. Volume I part I chapter 23. 
Why do Marya Bolkonskaya and her sister-in-law Liza go into such a frenzy of kissing and crying when they meet each other? 
The scene makes me think of Jane Austen. She'd have found it absurd (the 2 girls, not necessarily Tolstoy). 

This book, once, reminded me of Dickens. All the people crowding round Count Kirill Bezukhov in the hope of stalking a claim in his fortune are so similar to those in Great Expectations

And reminded me of Jane Austen lots of times. For example:
"... I confess I understand very little about all these matters- legacies and wills- but I do know that ever since the young man whom we all used to know as plain Monsieur Pierre became Count Bezukhov and owner of 1 of the largest fortunes in Russia I have been greatly amused to observe certain changes in the tone and manners of mammas burdened with daughters who need to be married, and of the young ladies themselves, towards that person- who, incidentally, has always seemed to me a miserable specimen of manhood..." 
Who could read this part of Julie Karagina's letter without thinking of the 1st line of Pride and Prejudice- "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."? 

Tolstoy and Jane Austen are indeed very similar. Both are realists, both deal with life, details, ordinary people, human interactions, emotions, relationships...
The author here discusses the "illnesses of the heart" in Anna Karenina (Kitty) and Sense and Sensibility (Marianne). 
She makes an interesting point: 
"The challenge before the writer is then this: they must describe grief of unusual intensity without ever defining the precise nature of the grief. Illness — a state of simply not being well, being removed in a definite way from happiness, health, and general wellness — presents a solution to this. By employing disease in this way, the writer can have something more vivid than the word sadness or devastation to show for internal suffering, and he or she can leave the causes mysterious and unresolved." 
Fiction has its conventions. However, let me copy another quote: "Tolstoy and Austen, with their keen skills of observation, must have seen how impossible or rare it is for emotional anguish to lead so directly to recognizable physical illnesses"- I don't know the exact causes, but the illnesses from which I've just recovered recently happened to coincide with my grief after ending things with a guy.
Could that be a counterexample? I can't say, and who knows, really. 

[Sentimental! Weak! I generally detest anything cheesy, and often feel embarrassed of such weaknesses, but after some thinking, perhaps I should not equate my feelings with cheap sentimentality and should embrace them. One shouldn't be like Okonkwo].


  1. Di,

    Have you read any of Austen's juvenilia? She has some funny bits parodying those super sensibility bits.

    1. I saw some such books at the library and skimmed through them, which couldn't count as reading, but I kinda remember those bits, and of course know that Jane Austen's generally cool, detached, anti-sentimental. I even think that she's not that romantic, until "Persuasion".

  2. Di,

    Her most romantic portions usually occur at the end of the novel when she and he finally get together.

    1. Not that romantic though. Such scenes are short and she sometimes doesn't even write out what they say.

  3. Di,

    She frequently tells the reader that they can imagine what the two said, so the reader fills in the romantic interlude with their own romantic tendencies.

  4. There is a marvellous irony about that letter of Julia Karagina's, isn't there? She, after all, ends up marrying Boris, who actually loves Natasha, but marries Julia because she comes with a fortune, and Natasha doesn't.