Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Improvement in Society

Tolstoy’s Outlook

Leo Tolstoy was one of the greatest Russian moralists of the nineteenth century. His works are considered to be the best literary works in the world literature. It goes without saying that these works are valued so highly because the author touched upon very important issues. Basically, he depicted life in Russia in detail. Interestingly, Tolstoy raised questions which were discussed by various thinkers at that time. However, the Russian genius provided answers which sometimes differed greatly from the solutions suggested by European thinkers.

For instance, issues concerning development were really burning at that period. The most beautiful minds of Europe claimed that social development was crucial and various projects of improvement were discussed. On the contrary, Tolstoy argued that social improvements suitable for Western Europe are inappropriate for Russia. Everyone understood that education was the key to freedom for people.

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Thinkers stated that all people should obtain education. Whereas, Tolstoy mentioned that Russian peasants did not need education. More so, Tolstoy also articulated the idea that many people in Russia degraded due to harmful influence of modernity. Of course, such viewpoints raise many questions. Nonetheless, it is possible to understand Tolstoy’s viewpoints while analyzing one of his best works Anna Karenina.

The Idea of Improvements in Europe

Admittedly, the French Revolution aroused the entire western world to action. People strived for development and social improvements. The majority of people of Europe welcomed the change which took place in France. People were talking about freedom, reforms and development. Of course, there were some opponents to the revolution as it was. For instance, Burke claimed that the French made far too many mistakes.

He opposed their desire to get rid of monarchy. He also thought that some means were thoughtless and erroneous. Nonetheless, Burke stated that development was, indeed, important but he also stated: “This must be an act of power, as well as wisdom; of power, in the hands of firm, determined patriots, who…will lay the foundation of a real reform” (Burke 263). Burke believed that European society did lack freedom. In other words, Burke (just like the majority of western thinkers) thought that Europe was rather archaic.

Tolstoy’s Ideas on Social Improvements and Labor

However, Europe was a progressive land of social justice compared to Russia. At that period European industry and agriculture were highly developed. What is more important, Europeans were ready for that as they reached this development step by step. However, Tolstoy pointed out that Russia was a really archaic country which was not ready for European ways of development. Ironically, in the end of the nineteenth century Russia was at the level of Europe of the eighteenth century.

Thus, Levin was progressive, i.e. he cherished ideas discussed in such countries as France, Great Britain, and Germany. Levin, who was inspired by success of European countries and wanted to use their successful experience, was surprised to learn one important thing.

Levin came to the conclusion that “the laws deduced from the state of agriculture in Europe … were inapplicable” in Russia and even in his own estate (Tolstoy 400). It took Levin a long time to understand the reason of such a disgraceful tendency. Of course, it was not about erroneous understanding of European values or ways. Levin failed to understand peculiarities of Russian peasants.

However, Levin (or rather Tolstoy who articulated his ideas “via” Levin) found the answer. In the first place, Levin found that one of the major reasons why the Russian peasant did not want to invest their labor in their land was “due to the consciousness of his vocation to populate vast, unoccupied tracts in the east” (Tolstoy 782). Russian peasants did not understand why they should improve their agricultural techniques to cultivate land, to improve productivity, if there was plenty of land which did not need those improvements.

The case with the notorious machine is really illustrative in this perspective (Tolstoy 113). Levin who was eager to bring “civilization” to his estate made his people use a machine which would help them enhance productivity. However, the result of this innovation was the broken machine and Levin’s frustration. Peasants did not accept any innovations as they tended to do everything like their fathers did.

Apart from peasant’s unwillingness (or even inability) to accept innovations, Tolstoy found one more reason against agricultural and industrial reforms in Russia. He claimed that such European innovations as railroad, industrialization and stock exchange were harmful for archaic Russia (Tolstoy 400).

Tolstoy noted that Europe developed all that welfare gradually throughout decades and centuries. According to Tolstoy, European countries had already developed their agriculture. Therefore, the development of industries and markets in the nineteenth century was logical and inevitable. In case of Russia, it was still under-developed country in terms of agriculture and industries (Tolstoy 400).

Levin believed that such innovations as railroad and stock exchanges negatively affected Russian people as the country did not have the necessary ground for such considerable improvements. Thus, Levin concluded that those European innovations simply corrupted Russian people who left villages for big cities and sold their land to try to make a fortune at stock exchanges.

Meyer notes that for Levin “agriculture is the basis of a nation’s wealth; his spiritual analysis bases morality in working his land responsibly” (xi). Basically, this is Tolstoy’s major idea on the best way for the development of Russian agriculture. The writer pointed out that landowners were to work hard on their land gradually adopting European experience.

Interestingly, Wasiolek also cites Tolstoy’s words that “nature, man, and his activity are one” (161). Admittedly, Tolstoy found great pleasure in working alongside with his peasants. This labor made him understand the world and himself better. Tolstoy believed that labor and responsibility for one’s land could make Russian people better, irrespective of their wealth and social position.

Tolstoy’s Ideas on Russian Society and Education

Notably, Tolstoy paid a lot of attention to issues concerning education as it was one of the grounds for the development of Russian society in a way it had taken place. Of course, Tolstoy saw advantages of education which did give certain freedom. The writer mentioned a widespread argument (or rather universal truth) that education could bring in new needs and new inclinations (Tolstoy 394). He was quite liberal in terms of women education, too.

Tolstoy understood that women benefitted from education. He believed that only an educated woman could become the rightful wife and a good mother. However, he did disapprove women who wanted to hold certain position in the society other than the position of a rightful wife (Tolstoy 451-454). It is possible to analyze an example of Kitty’s charity activities when she was abroad. Kitty believed that charity was a very good thing. More so, she met Varenka who became an ideal for Kitty.

Kitty thought that helping people is what any woman was to do. However, she soon understood that even Varenka who was a really deserving girl was a bit of a hypocrite. Kitty understood that Varenka’s care was not a result of her reasoning or inclinations, but it was a kind of necessity for her. Kitty understood that all those rich girls who boasted of their charity and their rightfulness were nothing more than hypocrites.

This was also one of the back sides of education which often set some hypocritical conventions and trends. Therefore, Tolstoy partially shared viewpoints of people who advocated emancipation. Tolstoy believed that education was good for women to make them prepared for their future family life, for their major role, i.e. the role of the rightful wife.

Nonetheless, Tolstoy still believed that education was no good for peasants. Remarkably, Tolstoy did not provide strong and concise argument on the issue. Thus, Levin simply noted that there could be disadvantages in education, especially for peasants (Tolstoy 286).

Levin could not find the right words to express his assumptions, but he felt he was right. Levin tried to say that education was not what peasant needed at that time. Peasants needed improvements in their lives. Levin understood that it was essential to change Russian people’s outlooks as simply giving a set of knowledge could harm peasants. It could corrupt them just like it had corrupted nobility and intelligentsia.

For instance, Thorlby noted that Levin was alienated from intelligentsia as he thought that those people did not have roots (4). This is a very precise observation which illustrates effects of education on Russian people who tend to deny their own roots to adopt new European ways. Basically, Tolstoy thought that education often turned Russian people into hypocrites. This idea can be illustrated by Levin’s attitude towards Dolly and her children.

Initially, Levin was touched by Dolly’s care and her attention to her children’s education. However, later he saw that this kind of bringing up was somewhat hypocritical. Thus, Levin noticed that Dolly taught her children to follow rules and conventions of hypocritical society. For Levin, Dolly’s attention towards foreign languages signified her denial of their roots (Tolstoy 805). Of course, this is quite an arguable issue which can be discussed in many volumes.

It can be more effective to focus on hypocrisy that inevitably comes with education (at least, Tolstoy thought so). Tolstoy exploited such characters as Anna, Vronsky and Oblonsky to reveal negative influence of education, and to larger extent modern city life. In the first place, it is important to note that all rich people living in such cities as Moscow or St. Petersburg were educated. However, they became self-centered.

They simply tried to get as many pleasantries as possible. This sinful position led Anna and Vronsky to the death’s door. As far as Oblonsky is concerned, he manages to balance. Of course, he did not fall only due to help of such people as Levin. Interestingly, city life could corrupt Levin himself. Thus, he was defeated by the gorgeous Anna as he lost his close ties with his land. However, Tolstoy did not let his “prototype” be absorbed by the modern corrupted world. Levin ran away from temptations and regained peace in his soul.

Thus, Tolstoy stated that education could make people better if they did not lose their ties with their people and with their land. Levin is a good illustration of the right way to use knowledge. However, Tolstoy also noted that education was nothing compared to religion which could be the only rightful torch for people.

The writer assumed that education could help to arrange certain issues concerning household, but only religion could provide the man with the necessary answers. According to Tolstoy, the best way to educate oneself was to resort to religion. Though, it is important to admit that Tolstoy did see a lot of advantages in education.

Tolstoy’s Project

On balance, it is possible to claim that Tolstoy worked out his own project of the Russian society development. He saw that European pattern of development could not suit needs of Russian people. He argued that Russian society was not ready for such progressive innovations as industrialization (and ‘migration’ to cities and trying to make money at stock exchanges).

Tolstoy also claimed that education had advantages as well disadvantages when it came to Russian people. Tolstoy noticed that, on one hand, it could open up new horizons for people, but on the other hand, it could (and would) corrupt people.

Therefore, Tolstoy concluded that Russian people needed gradual development of agriculture. Perhaps, Russian people have finally heard their genius as nowadays they have a developed state. Though, one cannot but agree that the Russians were not that attentive while reading Tolstoy’s works, as there are still many issues to address in their society.

Works Cited

Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999. Print.

Meyer, Priscilla. “Introduction.” Anna Karenina. Ed. Leo Tolstoy and David Magarshack. New York, NY: Signet Classics, 2002. vii-xv. Print.

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina, New York, NY: Signet Classics, 2002. Print.

Thorlby, Anthony. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Print.

Wasiolek, Edward. Tolstoy’s Major Fiction, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1997. Print.

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