I’m no great intellectual, though I do enjoy reading highbrow literature on occasion. Especially, Russian literature—Leo Tolstoy and Alexander Pushkin are my favorites. By highbrow, I mean those literary classics of yesteryear with long paragraphs and sentences, multisyllabic words one seldom reads in modern works, and lots of narrative—a style we twenty-first century writers should shy away from.
I first gained an interest in highbrow literature when I was a youth and read Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. To this day, it remains one of my favorite novels.
When I studied Russian in college and took a Russian literature class…well…I discovered that I enjoyed Russian authors too.
So, here I am, and I recently finished reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Tolstoy’s last novel before his spiritual conversion. He was married in 1862, to Countess Sonya (Sofia) Behrs, but his conversion created problems which led to their divorce.
Basically, the storyline goes this way: Anna Karenina, a young woman of wealth married to Alexey Karenin, a government official in St. Petersburg who moves in high society, falls in love with a Russian army officer, Count Vronsky. Contrasted with her is a country gentleman, Konstantin Levin. Anna falls into sin and commits adultery with Vronsky whereas Levin, who harbors doubts regarding Christianity, eventually marries devout Princess Kitty Shtcherbatskaya and comes to faith in the Lord. Levin’s lifestyle is successful, Anna’s is destructive and by the end of the story she throws herself in front of an oncoming train—the consequences of her sin.
What stood out most to me about this book were its spiritual themes: hypocrisy and faith, marriage and family. This novel does not contain sex, nor does it use profanity, and Anna Karenina is considered one of the greatest novels ever written.
Tolstoy proves it, then. He wrote a clean novel that’s one of literature’s greatest works. This shows us that if we write well, we don’t need to include anything off-color. Tolstoy did it. So, perhaps we’ll write a clean, great American novel one day. We’ll never know if we don’t try.
Are you willing to try it?