Happy Birthday to The Reading Light!

I have no qualms in admitting that when I decided to start this blog it was with a feeling of trepidation and a certain sense of the unknown, rooted in the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. In truth, prior to setting up The Reading Light I had had zero experience with the concept of blogging, not just writing blogs but indeed even reading them. Couple this with the rather embarrassing incompetency which I, by no means a techno-addict, possessed in terms of technological ability (beyond the obvious Facebook and internet searches etc. of course) and it is no wonder that the idea of me keeping a blog was a daunting one. Nevertheless this blog was something I really wanted to start solely based on my love for its subject matter of literature; to me writing my posts for The Reading Light has been an invaluable experience, as it has provided me with the perfect outlet to share all the ideas buzzing around in my head which have been generated by the books I like to read for pleasure, writing my posts thus also helping to clarify these thoughts and allowing me to develop them more deeply.

But more importantly than this, I have to say that writing the blog is actually something highly pleasurable which I have come to enjoy much more than I could ever have expected, as I am sure any fellow bloggers will recognise the sense of relaxation which comes from simply allowing one’s musings to flow through the keyboard and across the screen (encroaching on the slightly fanciful here I know!), not to mention the pride which comes from seeing one’s portfolio of work rack up as the weeks and months go by. It is with this same sort of pride that I am excited to announce that today marks the first birthday of The Reading Light – if blogs can have such a thing as birthdays of course – and I am pleased to say that one year on I love writing it just as much as I did 12 months ago. To any of you readers who regularly visit my blog or have read any of my past posts, I hope you have enjoyed taking a jaunt through my literary ramblings and have perhaps been inspired by my reviews to read some of the books I have talked about, or at least compared your own thoughts on a certain text to mine; to anyone who has not read my blog before, I urge you to take a scroll through the archives and let me know what you think!

Of course, I simply couldn’t let this anniversary go by without marking it in on my blog in some way by giving you something new to read. I have therefore decided to do something a bit different today and take a step away from the usual ‘review’ format of my posts, as instead I thought I would share one of the most exquisite, perfectly-written passages I have ever had the fortune to discover in my reading of literature, the passage in question coming from a novel which, despite only reading it once so far, I was so blown away by as to render it a favourite of mine. And indeed, it was in those now memorable moments as I first read the words which follow, drinking in with my eager eyes Leo Tolstoy’s juxtaposition of the beauty of the morning sky over the Russian countryside and the beauty of Levin’s epiphany as he falls madly in love with Kitty all over again, that I realised I too had fallen in love: with the novel Anna Karenina. Yes, I’m sure it may simply be the romantic in me that is so awakened by the following passage, but the sentiments expressed here are so heart-rendering, so excruciatingly poetic, yet so defining of the human emotion of love that I still read this section over and over again, as I did after my first reading of it. I realise I have hyped this up somewhat, so I hope you enjoy (to put into context, the aristocratic Konstantin Levin has retreated to work on his land in the countryside with his tenant farmers after the love of his life, the beautiful Kitty Shcherbatsky, naively turns down his offer of marriage, and is now contemplating what direction his life must take):

“The long, laborious day had left no other trace in them than merriment. Before dawn everything quieted down. Only the night sounds of the never silent frogs in the swamp and the horses snorting in the morning mist rising over the meadow could be heard. Coming to his sense, Levin got down off the haystack, looked at the stars and realised that night was over.

‘Well, what am I to do then? How am I to do it?’ he said to himself, trying to put into words all that he had thought and felt during that short night. All those thoughts and feelings were divided into three separate lines of argument. One was to renounce his old life, his useless knowledge, his utterly useless education. This renunciation gave him pleasure and was easy and simple for him. Other thoughts and notions concerned the life he wished to live now. The simplicity, the purity, the legitimacy of this life he felt clearly, and he was convinced that he would find in it that satisfaction, repose and dignity, the absence of which he felt so painfully. But the third line of argument turned around the question of how to make this transition from the old life to the new. And here nothing clear presented itself to him. ‘To have a wife? To have work and the necessity to work? To leave Pokrovskoe? To buy land? To join a community? To marry a peasant woman? How am I to do it?’ he asked himself again, and found no answer. ‘However, I didn’t sleep all night and can’t give myself a clear accounting,’ he told himself. ‘I’ll clear it up later. One thing is sure, that this night has decided my fate. All my former dreams about family life are nonsense, not the right thing,’ he said to himself. ‘All this is much simpler and better…’

‘How beautiful!’ he thought, looking at the strange mother-of-pearl shell of white, fleecy clouds that stopped right over his head in the middle of the sky. ‘How lovely everything is on this lovely night! And when did that shell have time to form? A moment ago I looked at the sky, and there was nothing there – only two white stripes. Yes, and in that same imperceptible way my views of life have also changed!’

He left the meadow and walked down the main road to the village. A slight breeze sprang up, and it turned grey, gloomy. The bleak moment came that usually precedes dawn, the full victory of light over darkness.

Hunched up with cold, Levin walked quickly, his eyes on the ground. ‘What’s that? Someone’s coming,’ he thought, hearing bells, and he raised his head. Forty paces away from him, on the grassy main road down which he was walking, a coach-and-four with leather trunks on its roof came driving towards him. The shaft-horses pressed towards the shafts, away from the ruts, but the adroit driver, sitting sideways on the box, guided the shafts along the ruts, so that the wheels ran over the smooth ground.

That was the only thing Levin noticed and, without thinking who it might be, he glanced absentmindedly into the coach.

Inside the coach an old lady dozed in the corner and a young girl, apparently just awakened, sat by the window, holding the ribbons of her white bonnet with both hands. Bright and thoughtful, all filled with a graceful and complex inner life to which Levin was a stranger, she looked through him at the glowing sunrise.

At the very instant when this vision was about to vanish, the truthful eyes looked at him. She recognised him, and astonished joy it up her face.

He could not have been mistaken. There were no other eyes in the world like those. There was no other being in the world capable of concentrating for him all the light and meaning of life. It was she. It was Kitty. He realised that she was driving to Yergushovo from the railway station. And all that had troubled Levin during that sleepless night, all the decisions he had taken, all of it suddenly vanished. He recalled with disgust his dreams of marrying a peasant woman. There, in that carriage quickly moving away and bearing to the other side of the road, was the only possibility of resolving the riddle of his life that had been weighing on him so painfully of late.

She did not look out again. The noise of the springs could no longer be heard; the bells were barely audible. The barking of dogs indicated that the coach had entered the village – and around there remained the empty fields, the village ahead, and he himself, solitary and a stranger to everything, walking alone down that deserted main road.

He looked at the sky, hoping to find there the shell he had admired, which had embodied for him the whole train of thoughts and feelings of the past night. There was no longer anything resembling a shell in the sky. There, in the inaccessible heights, a mysterious change had already been accomplished. No trace of the shell was left, but spread over half the sky was a smooth carpet of ever diminishing fleecy clouds. The sky had turned blue and radiant, and with the same tenderness, yet also with the same inaccessibility, it returned his questioning look.

‘No,’ he said to himself, ‘however good that life of simplicity and labour may be, I cannot go back to it. I love her.'”

AK

By Rebecca.

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