A Winding Garden Toward Enlightenment or Despair: How Anna Karenina Cultivates the Mind, Bears Relevance, and Leads to Existential Crises

Foreword: Here follows a short paper I wrote for a university class on Tolstoy which attempted to answer the question: Is 150-year-old literature such as Tolstoy’s still relevant to a contemporary reader’s every-day life, and if so, how? I have edited it some, and have removed all major spoilers of the novel Anna Karenina, but there are some mentions and hints of plot points major and minor.

The questions posed to the readers of Russian fiction are “left to sound on and on after the story is over in hopeless interrogation that fills us with a deep, and finally it may be with a resentful, despair.”1 Thus wrote Virginia Woolf of a feature which readers find, whether to their vexation or fascination, especially in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. His “endless labyrinth of linkages,”2 as Tolstoy himself referred to it, leads the reader through a winding garden, such that the reader must look at scenes, characters, and ideas from different points of view and in varying shades of light, and thus question what a thing is—if it is what he may have thought beforehand, or what this character says, or that one—for Tolstoy has certainly not given a clear-cut answer. These questions in Anna Karenina range from birth-control to existentialist questions of life and its purpose. These pertain to the reader so long as sex and the desire for fulfilling happiness exist. And in an age of easy access to information far surpassing that of even 40 years ago, Tolstoy’s stratagem of not only asking questions but forcing the reader himself to ask questions helps stretch the mind, challenge the intellect, and cultivate today’s reader. 

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A Prayer to Mary, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary

O Burning Bush of Light so pure, 
pray, I pray, that I not endure
from afar the fiery Love Thou bearest,
but in Thy sorrowful Heart may rest.
When suffer I this life's great trials,
and battle against the devil's guiles,
may I the world's pleasures forsake,
an act of reparation to make
to Thy sword-pierced Heart, O gentle Maid,
Whom the Lord to love hath bade.
Know, dear Heart, both I and Thou,
can I mine own one gift endow:
Wretchedness, misery, whose love is self-care—
this to lay at Thy feet I dare.
O Virgin of virgins, O full of Love,
I cannot bear Thy glance of a dove.
So grant me grace—cherish, pity me;
that I may be-long, wholly, to Thee.

Sweat and Blood to Save One’s Soul: The Principles of Work and Suffering in Čapek’s RUR

‘O Adam, Adam! No longer will you have to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow; you will return to Paradise, where you were nourished by the hand of God. You will be free and supreme; you will have no other task, no other work, no other cares than to perfect your being. You will be the master of creation.’ (RUR, 21) Early on in Karel Čapek’s RUR, Domin makes this declaration to Helena regarding the goal of Rossum’s Universal Robots, unveiling one of the main themes of the play: The question (asserted affirmatively by Domin and others) that progress is a good in itself, whereby man heads toward and can reach a state in which he need not work; and in this state he can perfect himself as the master of creation. The turn of events, however, reveal that man, who is not just a body but also a spiritual being, needs work, and even needs suffering for his soul as he needs work for his body. In losing these two things—work and suffering—he will lose lose touch with his own nature, with communion with others, and with the enjoyment of nature that befits him. 

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Splendour of Mercy: The Image of Divine Mercy

In light of tomorrow’s Feast of Divine Mercy, I want to share a third reflexion to prepare us for joy and awe; here writing on the image of Divine Mercy (see above image) and the Feast’s indulgence. Jesus told St. Fasutina: ‘No soul will be justified until it turns with confidence to My mercy, and this is why the first Sunday after Easter is to be the Feast of Mercy. On that day, priests are to tell everyone about My great and unfathomable mercy. I am making you the administrator of My mercy. Tell the confessor that the Image is to be on view in the church and not within the enclosure in that convent. By means of this Image I shall grant many graces to souls; so, let every soul have access to it.’1 ‘I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory.’2

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Hope in Love: A Reflexion on the Chaplet of Divine Mercy

On Wednesday I wrote a blog post about God’s Divine Mercy, Its feast day on the Sunday after Easter, and the novena leading up to the feast. So continuing this theme I want to write a reflexion on the chaplet of Divine Mercy which Jesus gave to St. Faustina. This chaplet is often prayed with with the novena, but it can be prayed often; and its brevity and simplicity cultivates humble reverence and love, the promises associated with it forming a channel for the sea of Mercy to flow into souls. Our Lord Jesus told St. Faustina: 

‘My daughter, encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you. It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet. When hardened sinners say it, I will fill their souls with peace, and the hour of their death will be a happy one. 

‘Write this for the benefit of distressed souls; when a soul sees and realizes the gravity of its sins, when the whole abyss of the misery into which it immersed itself is displayed before its eyes, let it not despair, but with trust let it throw itself into the arms of My mercy, as a child into the arms of its beloved mother. These souls have a right of priority to My compassionate Heart, they have first access to My mercy. Tell them that no soul that has called upon My mercy has been disappointed or brought to shame. I delight particularly in a soul which has placed its trust in My goodness. 

‘Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not just as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior.’1

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No Greater Love: A Short Good Friday Meditation

When I consider the simple view of Jesus as a Friend who laughs and grieves with us, or a Mother who nurtures us, or a Father who loves us unconditionally; and then consider the great mystery of His Eucharistic Sacrifice, the incomprehensibility of Heaven, and His union with sinners through Baptism; I tend to dichotomise these in my mind: One is good in its humble, lowly simplicity; the other in its high, hopeful glory. Yet—no. This, I think, is wrong. They cannot be dichotomised; and perhaps we would try to do so because we do not understand the high, incomprehensible glory of pure and true friendship, of maternal and paternal and brotherly love; nor can we fathom the humble, condescending Mercy of One Who became Man, a sin offering, Bread, for us poor wretches. 

‘As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.’

John 15:9-15 

‘Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, according as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.’

2 Peter 1:2-4 

‘He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’

1 John 4:8-11 

Divine Mercy

The Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday is nearly upon us; and so that we might not be caught unawares, either by distraction or neglect with regard to God’s grace, I want to draw attention to what we are about to witness, what God wants us to experience—to what the liturgical year of the Church has been leading up to, and what is fulfilled on Easter and proclaimed again with ever greater joy on the Sunday after Easter: Divine Mercy. 

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Fitting Anna Karenina into a New Dress: Adaptation and Cinematic Technique in Anna Karenina (2012)

Foreword: Here follows a term paper I wrote last semester for my university class under Tolstoy scholar Ani Kokobobo, PhD. This should be of interest if you have read Anna Karenina, or seen the 2012 film adaptation (Keira Knightley), or both. I discuss not only the works themselves but the nature of adapting a book into a film. I could not add superscripts with reference to citations, but there is a works referenced list at the end. So sit down with a cup of tea or coffee, and enjoy!

Many bibliophiles find film adaptations of beloved novels akin to murder. Joseph Wright and Tom Stoppard, who respectively directed and wrote the 2012 adaptation of Anna Karenina, find themselves at the end of a long line of brave souls who have attempted to adapt the classic novel. A myriad of successes and failures behind them, they have fought their own struggle with a book that runs at 38 hours in the audio recording, features a host of characters with extensive story invested in each, and runs along two deep, long paths of plot as it features two protagonists who meet only once. But against these obstacles, they have achieved a victory, creating an original piece of cinematic art, distinct from its muse yet of her same spirit: Wright and Stoppard’s knowledge of the book and its labyrinthine web of themes, as well as of the art of film and its unique abilities, bring forth an artistic form of Anna Karenina that preserves not only significant plot and theme, but the underlying, interwoven web of Anna Karenina, showing both innovation and faithfulness to the novel. With this claim in mind, we must distinguish, explore, and understand first the nature of film adaptation, particularly with a long and multiplot novel; and then the particular techniques and products of this film with regard to the novel. 

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Four Types of Soil: Knowing Yourself & Seeking God

In the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-20), Jesus describes four types of soil on which seed falls, demonstrating how the word of God is received by people. It seems to me that I can relate to each type of soil in this parable. There have been times in my life when God spoke to me in one way or another, and I ignored Him. Other times, I hear the word and it excites and encourages me, but it remains shallow in my soul and has no lasting effect because I don’t make an effort to form a firm resolution each day to follow God. Still other times I hear God and acknowledge what He says, but do nothing. School, work, friends, family, and the thousand things I have to do all seem to squeeze it out. And yet I relate to the good soil, because I know that despite my own wretchedness the Lord’s mercy has conquered the hardness of my heart and made me pure, worthy to call him Father, for ‘God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir.”1 This is comforting especially when recalling how Paul just before rebuked the ‘foolish Galatians!’2

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Exploring Reality as Beauty: The Importance of Reading Fiction

‘Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.’

Nora Ephron 

To many of us today, reading is a luxury, and reading fiction among the rarest and priciest of treasures. But whereas treasure ought to be sought after, to the disdain and loss of many lesser goods, we forsake reading, and fiction above all—not only for other necessary goods such as work, family, and friendship, but for the empty, cheap, and short-lived pottery of Netflix, YouTube, and social media, in nights of drinking, sports, or any other event with which we can fill our time. But if many of the great men and women we personally or collectively respect often had read the great classics of literature, particularly fiction such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Dickens and Austen, Shakespeare, Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and Beowulf—why then do we who admire these men and women not pursue the same goods they did? To be sure, there were a few key goods they sought, but many or all of them would say that reading was among the chiefest. So why is reading, especially fiction, so important and beneficial?

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