Sunday, February 3, 2013

Anna Karenina: Part I, Chapter 11

Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene (Fragment)  - Duccio
Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene, Duccio

In Part I, Chapter 11 of Anna Karenina, Konstantin Levin and his old friend Stephan Arkadyevich Oblonsky are enjoying a meal together at a restaurant. They are discussing two types of women -- the "pure" and the "fallen".
'You know, to me all women are divided into two classes,' [said Levin] '. . . at least no . . . truer to say: there are women and there are . . . I've never seen exquisite fallen beings, and I shall never see them, but such creatures as that painted French woman at the counter with the ringlets are vermin to my mind, and all fallen women are the same.
'But the Magdalen?' 
'Ah, drop that! Christ never would have said those words if He had known how they would be abused. Of all the Gospel those are the only ones remembered.'


'But the Magdalen?' 
This is referring to Mary Magdalene. Interesting to note is that nowhere in Scripture is she referred to as a "fallen" woman or prostitute. Tolstoy seems to have held this assumption. I was curious how this misconception began, so I did a little research and discovered this tid-bit from Wikipedia:
Few characters in the New Testament have been so sorely miscast as Mary Magdalene. From the sixth century until fairly late in the twentieth century, she has been portrayed as a prostitute. No where in the New Testament is she described in any but the most positive terms. Her reputation as a fallen woman originated not in the Bible but in a sixth-century sermon by Pope Gregory the Great.
 Mary Magdalene is a prominent character in the New Testament. In several Christian faith traditions she is considered to be a saint. She is introduced in Luke 8:1-2.
Luke 8
And it came to pass afterward, that [Jesus] went throughout every city and village, preaching and shewing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with him,And certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils . . .

*All Scripture quotes are from the King James Version unless otherwise stated.

(Source: BibleGateway. Image Source: WikiPaintings)

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  1. IIRC people mixed up Mary Magdalene with the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her hair, and with yet another fallen woman from the Bible (the woman taken in adultery maybe?). They took all those women to be the same person, and from then on Mary M. was cast as a repentant prostitute. For a long time, group homes for reforming prostitutes or for girls who had borne babies out of wedlock were called Magdalene houses, and we get our word 'maudlin' from how it came to be pronounced.

    I must say I'm not a fan of Levin's attitude! Not much room for repentance or grace there, hm?

    1. Interesting info Jean. Thanks for sharing that.

      As for Levin, I agree with you about his poor attitude! However, this turns out to be one of the things about Levin that changes.

      A much later scene reveals Levin visiting Anna's home with Oblonsky. Remember that? Lots of blushing went on. He is absolutely mesmerized with Anna, in spite of her "fallen" state.

      "Levin looked more than once at [Anna's] portrait and at her figure, when, taking her brother's arm, she walked with him through the lofty doors, and he felt for her a tenderness and pity which surprised him."

      "He listened and talked, and all the while he was thinking of her inner life, trying to divine her feelings. And though he had judged her so severely hitherto, now by some strange chain of reasoning he was justifying her and also sorry for her..."

    2. Good point! Thanks for the reminder. :)

  2. Yeah, poor Mary M. Then again, we've all been mistaken for worse than we are, and for better. I don't know which is worse sometimes.

    1. I have a whole new appreciation for Mary M. now!

      I suppose, if I had to chose, I'd go with being mistaken for less than what I am. One of my greatest delights is in discovering that an "ordinary" person is in fact a very deep well.

      Tim, I was familiar with your comments at MMD and guest posts around the blogosphere for quite a while before someone mentioned that you're a judge. If I had known first just how far your life experience surpassed mine, I'm pretty sure I would have felt too intimidated to converse with you. That would have been my loss!

    2. And now that you've viewed me without that grand judicial patina, you can see that it makes no never mind (to borrow my Grandma's phraseology) what I do for a living, Adriana. I have been blown away again and again at the insights you provide on your blogs, and greatly value your comments at my place. It looks to me like your life experiences have far surpassed mine in a lot of ways too!

    3. Your Grandma's phraseology makes me smile. Thank you for these kind words, friend. :)