Adventures in Reading

Still Reading Tolstoy
August 28, 2007, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Much to my chagrin I still have not finished Anna Karenina. Ambitiously I had intended to finish the novel on Sunday and now Tuesday is mostly through, and I still have not finished it! I am becoming more and more anxious to discover how the end of the novel comes about (as I already know about Anna’s suicide). Does Anna really commit suicide simply to punish Vronsky?

Yesterday I had my first Neoclassical course and one of our assignments is to journal while reading Pride and Prejudice. (No problem for me there.) While I have not cracked the book I did go ahead and write a bit on the mentality I am reading the book with (originally I was going to scan the journal entries but I do not want to force anyone to read my chicken scratch):

It has been some years since I first read Pride & Prejudice (1813). I’ll be honest that I have never cared much for the book or the author. Most recently after overhearing a lively conversation between two classmates about Persuasion (1818) my interest was piqued and I read the book and enjoyed it. The discussion critiqued the class structure of the novel — something I had never really considered about Austen. Perhaps because tunnel vision seems to direct the reader to and ultimately envelopes the upper-middle class?

Austen, to me, always seemed overly focused on the feminine stereotype of gossiping, needle wielding, delicate flowers. I much preferred Daughters of Danaus (1894) by Mona Caird or The Heavenly Twins (1893) by Sarah Grand for their poignant and aggressive feminist perspectives. (Granted, these books were published nearly a century after Austen’s.) However, in retrospect I wonder how much of my perspective is influenced by gendered literature? That is, more traditionally masculine themes and authors are viewed as “classics” versus books that focus on female space and duties.

I’m finishing Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1873 – 1877) and portions of the book are dedicated to viewing the female space and female emancipation but from a male perspective (namely Tolstoy’s). While Tolstoy’s female characters certainly suffer from their own wealth of misogynistic oppression, compared to Anna (who does her damndest to break out of the patriarchal described female space), Austen’s characters do not even break the calm waters of social decorum.

However, in returning to the idea of traditional masculine themes and my past disappointment of Austen, I recall a quote from Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792): “But the sexual weakness that makes woman depend on man for a subsistence, produces a kind of cattish affection, which leads a wife to purr about her husband as she would about any man who fed her and caressed her” (107). And perhaps this most aptly describes some of my feelings towards Austen’s novels. If recollection serves me correctly, many of Austen’s character confirm to this cattish subservience.

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