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TOLSTOY AT WORK
When Anna Karenina began to appear in the Russian Herald, long galley proofs were sent to Father, which he corrected and revised... till the proof sheets were so blotched and blackened that... no one but maman could decipher the black web of signs, transpositions, and deletions.
She would sit up all night making a fresh copy of the whole thing. In the morning the new pages, covered with her small clear handwriting, would be neatly piled on her table, ready to be sent back by post "when Lyovochka gets up." But first papa had to take them to his study to look over them "for the last time," and by evening it was the same thing all over again: everything had been rewritten and scribbled over.
Ilya Tolstoy, Tolstoy, My Father, 1971
Anna Karenina is not a book with a single theme, but many themes. We can easily assume that Tolstoy wanted to recapitulate for himself and for his readers everything that he knew about men, women, and life.... In this great summing-up, however, there is no catharsis, no resolution. For just as Anna's despair intensified but distorted her sensibilities just before her suicide, the edge of crisis and conversion sharpened and deepened Tolstoy's already comprehensive vision of life. And because Tolstoy was morally and artistically no longer capable of simplifying that vision, the many themes of Anna Karenina resist resolution and coexist only in a fragile equilibrium.
Ruth Crego Benson, Women in Tolstoy, 1973
The real tragedy of Anna, and of certain characters in Hardy's novels who perished like her, is that they are unfaithful to the greater unwritten morality.... All the while, by their own souls they were right.
D. H. Lawrence, as quoted in D. H. Lawrence and Tolstoy: A Critical Debate, by Henry Gifford and Raymond Williams, 1959
And his attitude toward women... is one of implacable hostility. There is nothing he likes so much as to punish them- unless they are just ordinary women like Kitty.... Is it the revenge of a man who has not achieved as much happiness as he is capable of, or the hostility of the spirit toward the "humiliating impulses of the flesh"? Whatever it is, it is hostility, and very bitter, as in Anna Karenina.
Maxim Gorky, Lev Tolstoj. Sobranie socinenija, 1951, as quoted in Women in Tolstoy
I was sitting downstairs in my study and observing a very beautiful silk line on the sleeve of my robe. I was thinking about how people get the idea in their head to invent all those patterns and ornaments of embroidery, and that there exists a whole world of woman's work, fashions, ideas, by which women live. All that must be very cheerful, and I understood that women could love this and occupy themselves with it. And, of course, at once my ideas moved to Anna and suddenly that line of thought gave me a whole chapter. Anna is deprived of all these joys of occupying herself with the woman's side of life, because she is alone. All women have turned away from her, and she has nobody to talk to about all that which composes the everyday, purely feminine occupations.
Leo Tolstoy, as recorded in his wife's diary, November 20, 1876
How many unforgettable, personal and characteristic feelings and sensations of Anna Karenina are preserved in our memory- but not one thought, not one personal, peculiar word exclusively her own, not even about love.... her complete absorption in passion is such that she shields us precisely from intelligence, consciousness, higher selflessness and the unsensual aspect of the soul. Who or what is she beyond love?... We know nothing of this, or almost nothing.... Yet surely it is possible that we see the body and soul, even the "personality" of Frou-Frou with no less clarity, for Vronsky's horse also has her own "night soul," her elemental-animal face- and this face is one of the characters of the tragedy. If it is true, as someone affirms, that Vronsky seems like a stallion in an aide-de-camp's uniform, then his horse seems like a charming woman. And, not without purpose, there emerges an elusive, mysteriously ominous fusion of the "eternally feminine" in the charm of Frou-Frou and Anna Karenina, which later deepens more and more.
D. S. Merezhkovsky, L. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky: Life, Work, Religion, 1912
ON STRUCTURE AND STYLE
The unity in structure is created not by action and not by relationships between the characters, but by an inner continuity.
Leo Tolstoy, in a letter, January 27, 1878
Two words about Anna Karenina- this is indubitably your best work.... The book lacks architectonics. Two themes not connected in any way develop in the novel side by side, and they develop magnificently. How I enjoyed the acquaintance of Levin with Anna Karenina. You must agree that this is one of the best episodes of the novel. Here the opportunity presented itself to tie together all the threads of the story and to provide a unified conclusion. But you did not want this.... Anna Karenina will nevertheless remain the best contemporary novel and you the first contemporary writer.
S. A. Rachinsky (a university professor in Moscow who wrote frequently about literature), 1878
We are not to take Anna Karenine as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life. A piece of life it is.
Matthew Arnold, "Count Leo Tolstoy," first published in the Fortnightly Review, December 1887
Tolstoy is the greatest Russian writer of prose fiction. Leaving aside his precursors Pushkin and Lermontov, we might list the greatest artists in Russian prose thus: first, Tolstoy; second, Gogol; third, Chekhov; fourth, Turgenev. This is rather like grading students' papers and no doubt Dostoevski and Saltykov are waiting at the door of my office to discuss their low marks....
One discovery that [Tolstoy] made has curiously enough never been noticed by critics. He discovered- and certainly never realized his discovery- he discovered a method of picturing life which most pleasingly and exactly corresponds to our idea of time. He is the only writer I know of whose watch keeps time with the numberless watches of his readers. All the great writers have good eyes, and the "realism," as it is called, of Tolstoy's descriptions, has been deepened by others; and though the average Russian reader will tell you that what seduces him in Tolstoy is the absolute reality of his novels, the sensation of meeting old friends and seeing familiar places, this is neither here nor there. Others were equally good at vivid description. What really seduces the average reader is the gift Tolstoy had of endowing his fiction with such time-values as correspond exactly to our sense of time. It is a mysterious accomplishment which is not so much a laudable feature of genius as something pertaining to the physical nature of that genius. This time balance, absolutely peculiar to Tolstoy alone, is what gives the gentle reader that sense of average reality which he is apt to ascribe to Tolstoy's keen vision. Tolstoy's prose keeps pace with our pulses, his characters seem to move with the same swing as the people passing under our window while we sit reading his book.
No wonder, then, that elderly Russians at their evening tea talk of Tolstoy's characters as of people who really exist, people to whom their friends may be likened, people they see as distinctly as if they had danced with Kitty and Anna or Natasha at that ball or dined with Oblonski at his favorite restaurant,... Readers call Tolstoy a giant not because other writers are dwarfs but because he remains always of exactly our own stature, exactly keeping pace with us instead of passing by in the distance, as other authors do.
Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature, 1981
ADVISORY BOARDWe wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Sandra Dunn, English Teacher
Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate Professor of English
Leonard Gardner, Lecturer, English Department
Beverly A. Haley, Member, Advisory Committee
Elaine C. Johnson, English Teacher
Marvin J. LaHood, Professor of English
Robert Lecker, Associate Professor of English
David E. Manly, Professor of Educational Studies
Bruce Miller, Associate Professor of Education
Frank O'Hare, Professor of English and Director of Writing
Faith Z. Schullstrom, Member of Executive Committee
Mattie C. Williams, Director, Bureau of Language Arts