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Levin’s Moral Mowing

In response to:

The Short Happy Life of Ilya Ilyich Oblomov from the August 19, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

In her piece on Oblomov [“The Short Happy Life of Ilya Ilyich Oblomov,” NYR, August 19], Elaine Blair writes that after a day of mowing with his peasants Levin, in Anna Karenina, “feels vastly superior to his brother, who maintains his genteel repose”; but she misremembers the sequel to the famous scene. Levin returns from his Zen-like experience in a state of euphoria and feels nothing but friendliness toward his brother—actually his older half-brother—who has been hanging about the house all day. It is Tolstoy who considers Levin superior to the aridly intellectual Sergey Ivanovich Koznishev; his hero endearingly maintains his little-brother’s feeling of inferiority throughout the novel.

Janet Malcolm
New York City

Elaine Blair replies:

Thanks to Janet Malcolm for pointing out my error. It is true that Levin remains generous toward his brother. What I meant to emphasize, but did not explain carefully enough, was indeed Tolstoy’s attitude toward Levin, specifically his implication that Levin’s mowing has a moral force—apart from its modest utility on the estate—that his brother’s day of leisure lacks.

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