Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tolstoy, "Family Happiness," and types

Having left behind the matter of their age difference, Tolstoy returns to writing Masha as more of a young woman in part two of "Family Happiness."

However, as this is the part of the story where their marriage begins to break apart and is rife with emotional conflict, I'm back to questioning Tolstoy's choice of writing in the female voice.

Because Masha is significantly younger than Sergei, it's understandable that she's bored by the dull country life they lead in Nikolskoe. There's also nothing really particularly wrong with Tolstoy's use of Masha's introduction into society life in Petersburg as the catalyst for their conflict. Yet, I'm not sure he really captures the feminine voice in the same way that the female English Victorian authors did.

But I also don't think that's what he was attempting.

In taking on a voice that is not at all his own, Tolstoy's stretching himself out into humanity. As such, rather than presenting a single female voice that represents a generation of women's hidden thoughts and feelings, he makes Masha and Sergei into types. In very broad strokes they are the young and inexperienced, and the old and experienced respectively.

But those are broad strokes.

Though, even with such generalizations (maybe moreso on my part, who knows what Tolstoy was trying to do with "Family Happiness"), I think the reason I'm enjoying "Family Happiness" more than any of the Victorian novels I've read is because he seems to be striving more directly towards expressing human issues rather than happening to do so through self-expression.

Though, there's also something in Tolstoy's indirect way of going about his direct project.

In choosing to write in a female voice, the voice of the Other, Tolstoy is trying to show that the Other is still relatable despite surface differences.

Writing for myself, I definitely relate to Masha and can see why she stands where she does in her marriage to Sergei. After all, at the heart of her concerns is the matter of how much you can really truly know another person and their motivations, thoughts, and feelings.

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