“People thought they knew what Richard Nixon looked like, until he was placed alongside the fairer Kennedy, and the television lights blazed. Then he looked different. Likewise, the married Anna Karenina meets Vronsky on the night train from Moscow to Petersburg. By morning, something important has changed, but is as yet not properly acknowledged by her. To evoke this, Tolstoy has Anna notice her husband, Karenin, in a new light. Karenin has come to meet Anna at the station, and the first thing she thinks is: ‘Oh, mercy! Why have his ears become like that?’ Her husband looks cold and imposing, but above all it is the ears that suddenly seem strange — ‘his ears whose cartilages propped up the brim of his round hat of black felt.’ (emphasis mine)
I read this and saw, not only Anna and Vronsky and Karenin, but my own characters.
“It happens in my novel, too but I just didn’t know it yet,” I explained to The Professor. One character of mine reacts differently to her husband after an encounter with a third character – she, like Anna, has “not yet properly acknowledged” that “something important has changed,” but that something has changed can be seen in her speech and, particularly, lack of patience with her spouse. My character is not Anna. That is clear to me. And yet James Wood’s reflection on Anna revealed my own character’s doings for me.
“Are you discovering or creating?” my husband asked. Both, I answered. Discovering, like the unfinished Michaelangelo sculptures at the Accademia, the figures straining to get out of their block of stone, impatient for the sculptor to unleash him. Creating, because I sit down and work specific, concrete exercises in order to form the characters and the actions they take.
God created us to have free will. And in our re-creation (our conversion back to Him), we are being recreated through our free will. My characters are just like that – they have free will, and they exercise it. I just craft the journey.
I am a beginning writer. This process is utterly mysterious to me. And I suspect that it will continue to be mysterious, no matter how long I’ve been writing.
I did not write today. We put our son down for his nap. He did not go down. We tried again an hour later. I sat down to my work. Ten minutes later, we were dressing to go for a long hike. I know that, someday, he will no longer nap. I’m just hoping that that day will be later, rather than sooner.
“Anna Karenina would be a good study for you,” my husband said to me today while hiking. I confess that I have only read Anna Karenina once, in high school, and have not returned to it again.
I think I will, though.