The Ecstasy of Reading (and Rereading) Anna Karenina
This Week on The History of Literature Podcast with Jacke Wilson
For tens of thousands of years, human beings have been using fictional devices to shape their worlds and communicate with one another. Four thousand years ago they began writing down these stories, and a great flourishing of human achievement began. We know it today as literature, a term broad enough to encompass everything from ancient epic poetry to contemporary novels. How did literature develop? What forms has it taken? And what can we learn from engaging with these works today? Hosted by Jacke Wilson, an amateur scholar with a lifelong passion for literature, The History of Literature takes a fresh look at some of the most compelling examples of creative genius the world has ever known.
In 1870, the 42-year-old Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) told his wife that he “wanted to write a novel about the fall of a society woman in the highest Petersburg circles, and… to tell the story of the woman and her fall without condemning her.” The result was his novel Anna Karenina (1877), which is widely viewed as one of the pinnacles of world literature. In this episode, Jacke is joined by longtime friend of the show Mike Palindrome, the President of the Literature Supporters Club, for a discussion of this 19th-century classic.
From the episode:
Jacke Wilson: The sorrows that Tolstoy suffered from when writing this novel and the pain that he had works its way into the book. It’s full of pain, saturated with it, but it’s full of epiphanies too, full of ecstasy and joy and promise. And there’s a joy that comes from Tolstoy just celebrating life through his observational powers. Saul Bellow is like this too—the kind of book that works like smelling salts. These books wake you up. They shake you out of your stupor. They make you want to go experience some more things.