My last blog was about the novel "Anna Karenina". My friend Mickey (the piano player at our wedding years ago) wrote:
Dear Evie: Interesting subject and a wonderful read (not in Russian) Anna was a product of her time and cannot be judged by our present standards. It’s true that she had to make an impossible choice, but in a society where extra-marital relationships are not divulged she was quite open regarding her affair with Vronsky. That was her big mistake, and caused her to be shunned by those around her. If you’re going to fool around, keep quiet. Love, Mickey
Your warning is so wise!
I would like to continue the discussion a bit regarding Tolstoy's attitude toward women.
The student in the professor's class who walked out saying she did not like Anna Karenina was not objecting to Anna's love affair, I believe, so much as the morality of sacrificing a beloved child for the sake of that love affair. If Anna had not met Vronsky, she would undoubtedly have remained with Karenin. But a guy like Vronsky did come along, and Tolstoy understood the power of Vronsky to bewitch a girl. Tolstoy was older and toothless when he married Sonya, many years his junior. Tolstoy understood male animal power.
What is really amazing is that Tolstoy could write such an EMPATHETIC character as Anna while simultaneously trying to save himself from a long history of being a great womanizer (“Women are the seducers, only good for sex”). He suffered ongoing guilt/blame for his sexual behavior, but still he would succumb to sex with his wife, treating her as a baby machine (13 live births). After Sonya's childbearing years ended, Tolstoy did not value her even though she was his longtime translator of impossibly tiny incoherent handwriting, writing copy after copy, up to six versions. W&P was three volumes. Tolstoy flagrantly argued and scolded Sonya in public, belittling her, reducing her to babbling foolishness. The injustice to her was enormous. The movie about Tolstoy in late life (“The Last Station”) did not portray him accurately; it ennobled him. In truth, he had turned his back on everything that went before, including his family, and created self-styled religious schools and worship of peasants (“If the peasants don’t understand Shakespeare, then Shakespeare is not much.”). Tolstoy disinherited his children to give his money to the peasants, against Sonya's pleading. (Source: Henri Troyat's biography, "Tolstoy" published in 1965)
Tolstoy wrote "War and Peace” before “Anna Karenina”. Still high on the adrenaline of writing about the Russian soldiers pushing back and destroying Napoleon, he reached back to his WILD soldiering days, his days of "sowing his oats" of his early novel “The Cossacks” and found Count Vronsky.
I bet Tolstoy WAS Vronsky. Tolstoy understood him and was empathetic when Vronsky returned to soldiering, drinking, gambling, and womanizing.
Tolstoy was clearly a literary genius gone off the tracks after the Anna novel! His later works were progressively dark and depressing. Sick.
“War and Piece” (in three volumes; don’t cheat yourself because it’s all unbelievably the best there is in world literature) is an experience of a lifetime. Tolstoy was at the height of his genius, researching the war for 8 years, reading everything about it, before writing one of the greatest works in all literature. Soon after, still in his genius mode, he wrote “Anna Karenina”.
Many excellent film versions of "Anna Karenina" have been produced. My personal favorite starred Greta Garbo and Frederich March.