Creating Anna Karenina
Tolstoy and the Birth of Literature's Most Enigmatic Heroine
The story behind the origins of Anna Karenina and the turbulent life and times of Leo Tolstoy.
Anna Karenina is one of the most nuanced characters in world literature and we return to her, and the novel she propels, again and again. Remarkably, there has not yet been an examination of Leo Tolstoy specifically through the lens of this novel. Critic and professor Bob Blaisdell unravels Tolstoy’s family, literary, and day-to-day life during the period that he conceived, drafted, abandoned, and revised Anna Karenina. In the process, we see where Tolstoy’s life and his art intersect in obvious and unobvious ways. Readers often assume that Tolstoy, a nobleman-turned-mystic would write himself into the principled Levin. But in truth, it is within Anna that the consciousness and energy flows with the same depth and complexities as Tolstoy. Her fateful suicide is the road that Tolstoy nearly traveled himself. At once a nuanced biography and portrait of the last decades of the Russian empire and artful literary examination, Creating Anna Karenina will enthrall the thousands of readers whose lives have become deeper and clearer after experiencing this hallmark of world literature.
Blaisdell, an editor of Dover prose and poetry collections, offers a riveting account of Tolstoy's composition of Anna Karenina. Blaisdell's primary strength lies in going granular: he focuses intently on the years from late 1872 through early 1878, during which Tolstoy conceived, outlined, began, abandoned, picked up, abandoned again, and finally completed a masterpiece he disliked (an "abomination"). Throughout, Blaisdell uses letters, journals, and memoirs to show how Tolstoy's own life story was woven into the fabric of Anna Karenina. Blaisdell argues that Tolstoy staved off his own suicidal thinkings by creating the suicidal Anna, and, among the male characters, identified as much with the worldly Oblonsky as the idealist Levin. Blaisdell finds vivid characters, too, among the people in Tolstoy's life, notably including Tolstoy's long-suffering and serially pregnant wife, Sofia, and his close friend Nikolai Strakhov, whose cheerleading was key in getting Anna Karenina across the finish line and for whom Tolstoy, Blaisdell contends, had a repressed homoerotic attraction. Most of all, however, Tolstoy comes to life as a complex individual defying easy classification. Tolstoy's fans will relish learning from, and, occasionally, arguing with Blaisdell's opinions. This passionate book is almost impossible to put down.