A Bringer of New Things

Musings on personal growth, books, motherhood, writing, and more.

Tolstoy and Beautiful Art


I’m reading Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and I’d like to share a few passages that have struck me as beautiful, interesting prose, because I believe it is good to exalt art that makes us feel exalted—art that resonates with our humanity, awes our sense of beauty, and inspires us through masterful craftsmanship. Considering Tolstoy’s essay What Is Art?, I know he would agree (there’s a bit more about this at the end of the post).


“Those joys were so small that they passed unnoticed, like gold in sand, and at bad moments she could see nothing but the pain, nothing but sand; but there were good moments too when she saw nothing but the joy, nothing but gold.”
Part III, Chapter VII

“’They ought to find out how to vaccinate for love, like smallpox’…
‘I imagine, joking apart, that to know love, one must make mistakes and then correct them.’… ‘What do you think?’…
‘I think,’ said Anna, playing with the glove she had taken off, ‘I think…if so many men, so many minds, certainly so many hearts, so many kinds of love.’”

Part II, Chapter VII

“In the little German watering-place to which the Shtcherbatskys had betaken themselves, as in all places indeed where people are gathered together, the usual process, as it were, of the crystallization of society went on, assigning to each member of that society a definite and unalterable place. Just as the particle of water in frost, definitely and unalterably, takes the special form of the crystal of snow, so each new person that arrived at the springs was at once placed in his special place.”
Part II, Chapter XXX

“All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow.”
Part I, Chapter XI 


Towards the end of his life, Tolstoy wrote his essay What Is Art?, in which he denounced his own greatest masterpieces, War and Peace and Anna Karenina, as playing into the false, upper-class notions of art, and claimed that true art is simple and accessible to the common people. The soundness of this theory is another question, but I do want to honor him by including here some recent instances of beautiful “common” art that have caught my eye, namely, a few lines in popular songs by Taylor Swift. I love these images:

“Autumn leaves falling down like pieces into place” (from “All Too Well”)
“You call me up again just to break me like a promise” (from “All Too Well”)
“So dust off your highest hopes” (from “Everything Has Changed”)
“Back when you fit in my poems like a perfect rhyme” (from “Holy Ground”)

I think Tolstoy would approve.


One comment on “Tolstoy and Beautiful Art

  1. Marya
    June 20, 2013

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful and timeless words. I reread Karenina a couple of years ago after reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog, where Karenina the novel figures prominently. I realized that Tolstoy really captured what I termed “the culture of inference.” By this I mean that all life is lived as a response to what others may be thinking about you; no need even to verify that they truly are. It is annoyingly accurate, however, in my experience.

    Thank you again.


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This entry was posted on June 20, 2013 by in Discoveries from Learning and tagged , , , , .
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