Sunday, March 13, 2022

Travelling with Tolstoy

The passenger sees the world from a particular point of view. Separate, like a spectator, a world unfolds through the frame of the window. The framed scene outside is textualized, having a cinematic quality, as the passenger moves through the world without engaging with it in any other way than simply viewing it. There is a quality to this experience that prompts reflection, and it turns up time and again in literature. Towards the end of Anna Karenina Tolstoy uses this reflective experience to conjure up Anna's troubled state of mind. He sets the scene, "Sitting in the corner of the comfortable carriage, barely rocking on its resilient springs to the quick pace of the greys, again going over the events of the last few days, under the incessant clatter of the wheels and the quickly changing impressions of the open air, Anna saw her situation quite differently from the way it had seemed to her at her home." This introduces the reader to the reflective quality. What Anna thinks and feels is interspersed with the noise and movement of the carriage and the changing scene through the window, to the "incessant clatter of the wheels" and the "quickly changing impressions" outside. Her attention is drawn to the urban environment she is moving through "...she began to read the signboards. 'Office and Warehouse. Yes, I'll tell Dolly everything..." The signboards are particularly interesting conveying a familiar modern street scene. Later, on her return journey she looks at passers-by "'This one is pleased with himself,' she thought of a fat, red-cheeked gentleman who, as he drove by in the opposite direction, took her for an acquaintance and raised a shiny hat over his bald shiny head and then realized he was mistaken, 'He thought he knew me. And he knows me as little as anyone else in the world knows me'" Anna's mental state is captured in stream-of-consciousness writing that predates Mrs Dalloway by nearly fifty years - but it is the way in which Tolstoy juxtaposes the Moscow streets with her reflections that again captivates us. "Twitkin, Coiffeur...Je me fais coiffer par Twitkin...I'll tell him when he comes,' she thought and smiled. But at the same moment she remembered that she now had no one to tell anything funny to." Anna, as passenger, reads the world outside. Her grief only hits home when she thinks that she has no-one to share it with.