Wednesday, September 08, 2021

‘What We Usually Overlook’

 “His books teach us how to see what we usually overlook because we take it for granted.”

That might describe a long list of writers. In fact, it’s a virtual job description for what the best writers do. Mediocre writers help kill time, if that’s what you’re looking for. The good ones, as an old friend used to say, “help us see new colors we didn’t know were there.”

In the passage quoted above, Gary Saul Morson refers to Count Tolstoy, who was born on this date, September 9, in 1828. Few novels have surprised me as violently the first time I read them as War and Peace. I expected spectacle and costume drama. I got a vast collection of intimate moments. I didn’t expect to fall in love, as I did with Natasha Rostov, or discover myself in Prince Pierre.

1 comment:

Thomas Parker said...

Orwell said that when he first read War and Peace he felt that he could gladly keep reading about the Rostovs, Prince Andrei, Pierre Bezukhov and the others for the rest of his life. For me it was Anna Karenina that was the supreme experience. I consider Middlemarch the greatest novel I've ever read, but only because I don't read Russian. Anna is beyond compare; the scene when Karenin, that pinched and parsimonious man, visits what he (and everyone else) thinks is Anna's deathbed, expecting to feel a grim satisfaction over her getting her just deserts, and instead find his soul overwhelmed by what can only be called the Divine, and truly forgives's the most shattering thing I've ever read, especially as it's followed by Karenin's slow, sad realization that the world will not permit him to live on that lofty mountaintop, the only remaining trace being his love for Anna and Vronski's little daughter, whom neither of them want. Who but Tolstoy would have dared to do such a thing with a character like that?