little ones, motherhood, reading, stray thoughts
comments 4

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina | edge of eveningThough it was a chore to look after all the children and stop their pranks, thought it was hard to remember and not mix up all those stockings, drawers, shoes from different feet, and to untie, unbutton and retie so many tapes and buttons, Darya Alexandrovna, who had always loved bathing herself, and considered it good for the children, enjoyed nothing so much as this bathing with them all. To touch all those plump little legs, pulling stockings on them, to take in her arms and dip those naked little bodies and hear joyful or frightened shrieks; to see the breathless faces of those splashing little cherubs, with their wide, frightened and merry eyes, was a great pleasure.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky

And it’s proving a great pleasure, too, to read Anna Karenina. I hadn’t tried it for years and years, but this time something has stuck, and after never making it past the first book before, I’m now over halfway and hoping that it never ends. It’s not Anna and Vronsky who interest me particularly, but rather the parts that I though I would find dull — Levin and the farming and his quest for a well-lived life.

I sobbed when Levin looked at his dying brother & realised that he too would one day die: “the more he strained to think, the clearer it became to him that it was undoubtedly so, that he had actually forgotten, overlooked in his life one small circumstance — that death would come and everything would end, that it was not worth starting anything and that nothing could possibly done about it.” (Which reminds me of Athena’s realisation in Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach: “She hung over a black gulf, she heard the wind. Her self was in tantrum, panicking. What? Me die? Life go on without me? Impossible. It was briefer than a pulse.”)

Badly done, a novel whose protagonists are are only loosely connected and rarely together can leave you always annoyed at being torn away from the characters you’ve been with, but I never feel that here. And, we’re also enjoying the BBC adaptation of War & Peace, though I have no idea how true to the book it is.


In other news, the sun is shining, the temperature is dropping, & it finally feels like winter. There are now eight hours a week when all three little ones are out of the house (minus c.90 mins of travel to reach this nirvana). Things are good.

We also seem to be entering a new era. T (8) went to a birthday party on Saturday that involved a trip by train to a multiplex cinema & a meal in an Indian restaurant (her first! And for someone who won’t eat anything even vaguely spicy at home, it sounds as though she did well!) They set off just before two & she was delivered back to us a little after eight. For about an hour before she got back, every time I could hear someone walking past our house I leapt up & ran to the front door, convinced it would be her. When she came in she looked so beautiful, so happy, but so grown up.

She’s joined the area wind band too — playing her clarinet with secondary school children as well as other primary school children. Their rehearsals go on until after 6, pushing our whole evening routine back by well over an hour. My days of putting children to bed by 7 are numbered. But then so are my days of lunches with a pre-schooler.

Long ago, when we were pushing our first-borns past the bus depot on the way home from playgroup, a dear friend told me that now she had got her son off the bottle & onto a sippy cup there was nothing on the horizon until potty training. Her son turned nine this week. And still that horizon keeps moving, faster than you could ever imagine.


  1. I did a double take, reading this post, because I have the same edition of Anna Karenina sitting before me on my desk! I read it several years ago in a time of upheaval, and Levin’s searching arc led me to commit to a succession of such major life changes that I still think of that time in my twenties as “pre-AK” and “post-AK”. (Then I read an interview with Alice Munro in which she wisely observes that Kitty, as a woman, isn’t permitted the same awakening as Levin, and I felt like a less savvy reader than before…)

    Anyway, long-time lurker here; so enjoy your blog!

    • Hi Kate! So lovely to hear from you — and what an interesting take. I can really see how it could be a life-changing read. And thanks for the Alice Munro observation — definitely something I’m going to keep thinking about now. The disparity between the treatment of Anna’s infidelity & her brother’s infidelity is really stark, but, like you, I hadn’t thought so much about Kitty & Levin. Thanks so much for commenting. (Oh, I also have Sofia Tolstoy’s diaries on my shelf: I keep wondering what reading these is going to add to the mix…)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *