I love rereading the classics. Not occasionally, but constantly. My shabby copies of nineteenth-century novels fall open to favorite scenes. What ho! Is it War and Peace time? (That’s on New Year’s Day.) And I am once again spellbound by the kindness and simplicity of my favorite character, Marya Bolokonsky, when she forgives Mademoiselle Bourienne, her shallow French companion, “with her ribbons and pretty face,” for making out with Marya’s imbecilic suitor.
Every year I reread four of my best-loved books, War and Peace, Daniel Deronda, Villette, and Bleak House. They are brilliant, witty, intense, and gorgeously-written. These are the most perfect books I have ever read.
Occasionally, when I feel almost too well-acquainted with one of them, I read another by the same author. For example, Anna Karenina is my Tolstoy alternate. Yet I also know this book extremely well. Oh, yes, I love this scene, I thought, smiling, during a recent rereading of Anna Karenina.
And who could not be charmed by Levin’s comic perturbation when he is late for his wedding because of a wardrobe mix-up? His servant forgot to provide a fresh shirt, and he can’t wear yesterday’s crumpled shirt with his new stylish waist-coat and coat. Levin’s other shirts are packed in a trunk at his fiancee’s house.
The dialogue charms and perfectly depicts the personalities of Levin and his friend Oblonsky.
‘Was ever a man in such a terribly idiotic position?’ he demanded.
‘Yes, it is stupid,’ Oblonsky concurred with a soothing smile. ‘But don’t worry, it will be here in a minute.’
‘Oh, how can I help it?’ said Levin with suppressed fury. ‘And these idiotic open waistcoats—it’s impossible!’ He glanced at his crumpled shirt-front. ‘And suppose the things have already gone to the station!’ he exclaimed in despair. ‘
‘Then you’ll have to wear mine.’
Tolstoy weaves a web of happy and unhappy families. The wedding of Levin and Kitty occurs in the middle of this masterpiece, which centers on three marriages, two disrupted by adultery. Anna Karenina leaves her husband Karenin for Vronsky, and virtually ruins Karenin’s career as well as her reputation; her brother Stiva Oblonsky cheats on his wife Dolly, but Dolly forgives him, ironically because of Anna’s intervention. (Does Tolstoy think adultery runs in families?)
Tolstoy descrbes the marriage of the innocents Levin and Kitty optimistically, though no marriage is romantic or ideal.
Tolstoy’s books are nimble, well-plotted, fast-paced, vibrant, and the characters jump off the page. As for translations, my favorite is the Maude.
THE MYSTERY OF THE LAPSED SUBSCRIPTION. I do not read enough of the TLS to justify a subscription, but I enjoy the N.B. column, and you can’t go wrong with Mary Beard as classics editor. Over the years I have bought way, way too many books because of the fascinating reviews. (That aspect of a subscripiton is not good.)
A few days ago, when I was mysteriously “shut out” of the website, I wondered, What the hell…? So I wrote to the helpline, in India or China or wherever, and was told that my subscription was canceled last March. I know I resubscribed later; how otherwise could I have accessed all the articles until this January? But they say they have no record…
I’ll resubscribe after I’ve read all the books I’ve bought!