Levin

I’m nearing the end of Anna Karenina – I’ve got less than 100 pages to go – and it saddens me so much to know that I must come to the end of this novel that has not only kept me company but comforted me and taught me various things over the last few months. I know I can always just re-read it, and I probably will one day, but there are so many other books I want to read that I’m sure it will be a very, very long time before I do.

The other day when I was reading (probably on the bus on the way to work), I paused for a moment, and looked at the book in my hands – I had the book open, but I was looking at the actual book, not the words on its pages. It brought a sad smile to my face to see how few pages remained in my right hand, while my left hand held all the chapters I’d already read. It was a bittersweet feeling.

I think I mentioned somewhere in a previous post that I wanted to write separate posts for each of the main characters (or, I suppose, for the ones I consider to be main characters) but I wasn’t sure if I would follow through with that idea. I’m still not sure if I will, but, at the very least, I wanted to write one for Levin – Konstantin Dmitrich Levin. [If you choose to read on, please note that there will be spoilers in this post.] 

Remember, however, I’m not quite at the end of the book yet, so please don’t tell me if his character is ruined somewhere in the last few chapters. For now, and throughout most of the novel, I’ve had a very favourable and very positive opinion of Levin. In case you have not been introduced before, Levin owns a large farm/property, and is very interested in the agricultural industry in Russia. So much so, in fact, that he decides to write a book about farming.

In the beginning, we learn of his intention to propose to Kitty Shcherbatsky, and Tolstoy takes us through the lead up and the let down. It was easy, from the start, to sympathise with him, and be on his side. As he returns to his farm after seeing Kitty in Moscow, and as he is coming to terms with his rejection, he has the following realisation:

…he began to understand what had happened to him quite differently. He felt he was himself and did not want to be otherwise. He only wanted to be better than he had been before.

Part 1, Chapter 26

As I continued reading, my impression of Levin as a simple, kind-hearted and gentle person continued to grow. (Please note that I use the word “simple” not in the sense that he is lacking any faculties, but in the sense that he is not pretentious, and seems quite pure (for lack of a better word) in his intentions and ambitions. Often when I read classics like Anna Karenina, I think it’s a shame that a lot of lovely words have fallen out of usage, or have lost the meanings they used to have. But this is probably a matter for another post.)

Something else I found quite endearing about Levin was his relationship with or his view of the muzhiks who work on his farm. I got the impression that he appreciates the value of hard work, and is certainly not averse to some physical labour, himself. This was exemplified by how he picked up a scythe and participated in the mowing of his meadows, alongside the muzhiks, straining to keep up with them (Part 3, Chapter 4 onwards).

And, yes, part of that was a kind of therapy for him – something to soothe his temper – but Tolstoy also shows us Levin’s desire for this simple, honest kind of life:

Levin had often admired this life, had often experienced a feeling of envy for the people who lived this life, but that day for the first time… the thought came clearly to Levin that it was up to him to change that so burdensome, idle, artificial and individual life he lived into this laborious, pure and common, lovely life.

Part 3, Chapter 12

And maybe the reason I like Levin’s character so much, and the reason why he made such an impression on me, is that I see part of myself in him, or I wish to be like him in these respects. Not in the sense that I want to go work on a farm, but in the sense that he seems like someone who reflects and thinks a lot, yet doesn’t overcomplicate things by his thinking. If something is to be done, then he doesn’t waste time questioning and debating over it.

I will freely admit that a lot of the discussion about farming and industry and economics went completely over my head. And all the discussion about politics when he attends the district elections? I tried to understand it, and quickly realised the struggle was not worth it, as it was quite beyond my comprehension. But if anyone has a simple explanation – like a really simple one – I wouldn’t mind hearing it.

Speaking of the elections, I was quite amused when, during some part of the whole elaborate process, Levin felt bored, and hence simply stopped paying attention or left the room. I can’t find the page, but I know it’s there.

I suppose the most touching part of Levin’s story is probably his marriage to Kitty, and their life afterwards. Sure, they meet with some difficulties, and they each spend some time being upset, but so much of what he does is motivated by his love for her, and so much of the positive change in Levin is attributable to her influence on him. When I read these parts, I couldn’t help but think, simply, what a good person he seems to be.

6 thoughts on “Levin

  1. What did I tell you? That you would love it? I have read it three times, letting as much as 10 years pass in between readings (and different translations). I hardly ever re-read books but this is one of them. Incidentally, Levin is modeled on Tolstoy a bit (like Pierre in War and Peace).

    • Haha yes, you did say exactly that, and you couldn’t be more correct!
      I did wonder a bit if there was some of Tolstoy in any of the characters. The edition I’m reading has quite a few notes about how certain things in the text reflect Tolstoy’s own opinion of things (usually regarding art or various social issues of the time).
      I’m aiming to read Ulysses next year as my “epic” novel (only aiming to read one long novel amongst “normal” length novels each year) but might try War and Peace the year after.

  2. I like Levin a lot too. And I love Tolstoy, although I agree with you that he gets carried away sometimes with politics, farming, etc. But we’ll just have to forgive him, because the rest of it is so good, so true to life, so full of life. If you loved Anna Karenina, you’ll love War and Peace. No doubt! Enjoy Homer, and by the way, Tolstoy considered himself equal to him, so it’s interesting to figure out what they have in common;-)
    Happy reading!

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