Monday, January 5, 2009

Ordinary People

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

This is the opening sentence of “Anna Karenina”, by Leo Tolstoy.

I have often heard complaints about the similarities of blogs circulating among Catholic Mothers Online. Everyone wants to paint her life in a positive light. She leaves out the dirty details. We all talk about the nice little family traditions we have. Most of us eat dinner with our families. We try to make nutritious meals and homemade items whenever possible. Many of us are stay-at-home moms, or work-at-home moms with flexible schedules, or moms who work outside the home but have found a wonderful way to strike a happy balance between home and work. If there is family drama, it is rarely mentioned in public.

All is as it should be. We come to this circle for support. We need to know that there are other moms out there who march to the tune of their own drummer, who uphold traditional Catholic values, who aren’t afraid to run counter-culture. In every day life, we are surrounded by those who are driven by pop culture – even in our Church and Catholic schools – even among other homeschoolers, sometimes.

I am in the heart of reading Anna Karenina with some other avid readers, and will have much more to say about it in the future. (There will be no spoilers here, my dear friends!) The lengthy novel is quite complex, with several threads running through three main characters and their significant others. Anna escapes a loveless marriage to an aristocrat by running away with a lover; the signs point to a tragic end. Dolly, the mother of several children, has an unfaithful husband, also a member of the aristocracy, who sees nothing wrong with his hypocrisy and deceit. Levin is the one likeable character who seems destined for happiness.

Levin is a landowner, also part of the nobility, who takes a personal interest in the well-being of the peasants who labor in his fields. On occasion he will take part in the dirty work, just because he enjoys the physical labor, which relieves his emotional and intellectual tension. He sees the beauty in the lives of these peasants. He watches the way a newlywed couple looks at one another and, for that, would readily give up all his wordly possessions. Unlike his city-dwelling peers, he sees the extraordinary qualities of ordinary people. He shuns the hypocrisy of the aristocracy, as well as the inequalities that exist between men and women, longing for a good wife who will complete him.

Through the eyes of Levin, Tolstoy lays bare all he sees that is wrong in his contemporary Russian society: especially the unfairness of how women are treated, as well as the contempt the upper classes have for those they see as beneath them.

Comparing the lives of women in nineteenth-century Russia , modern American women have it made. We have legal rights: civil rights, marital rights, rights to property and to our children. We have the right to pursue an education if we wish. We can pursue just about any job a man can do if we wish. We can also choose to stay at home and run the household. We can even do a little of both.

Do I feel lucky to be an ordinary woman living in an ordinary place, in an ordinary time? You betcha.

I guess I could count myself as a “woman of leisure”, as well, as I have been able to find the time to read Russian novels!

The picture above is a movie still from the movie “Anna Karenina” (1997). Could it be Levin and his beloved Kitty? I haven’t seen the movie (nor have I finished the book) so I don’t know.


Loren Christie said...

I waiting to start admiring Anna. I think she is so selfish. I would rather be considered an "old maid" and do what I wanted than suffer her fate. She chose a path and had a child in marriage, so I think she should stay faithful to that, although she feels unloved.Those are the breaks.

Elizabeth Kathryn Gerold-Miller said...

She and Vronsky are both such silly, thoughtless, reckless, emotional people. I find it difficult to relate to her position. Is she supposed to be redeemed in the reader's mind by the pitiable position she puts herself in? Her husband is quite reasonable and gives her every opportunity to repent. She doesn't even try to love him for his good qualities.