Like so many famous writers, Leo Tolstoy used the real-life experience in his infamous novel, Anna Karenina. Tolstoy arrived at the train station, only to find tragedy.

A young girl (a jilted mistress) had committed suicide, and it stayed with him. According to Biographer Henri Troyat, “He tried to imagine the existence of this poor woman who had given all for love, only to meet with such a trite, ugly death.” Then, Troyat says, “Her image haunted him for a long time, but not specifically as material for a book.”

It was controversial concept, even at its outset. After all, the young woman was a mistress. And, in his new novel, Anna fully embodies that controversial role. She quickly becomes a beautiful temptress, a central figure in this “novel on contemporary life.”

Anna Karenina

Anna is luckless in love, and destined to fulfill the novel’s tragic eventual climax.

  • Everyman/woman: She’s represents the hopes and dreams of young woman everywhere. Like Kate Chopin’s Edna, Edith Wharton’s Lily, Flaubert’s Emma, and so many other tragic heroines in literary history, Anna defies conventions and pays the brutal consequences.
  • Imperfect/Human: Anna makes mistakes, she’s unable to control her passions. But, her humanity also leads her down a path of self-destruction. Like Edna (in The Awakening), her yearnings draw her further away from the role of “mother-women”…

As Neville Jason writes, “Thus the forces of society gradually bear down upon Anna with the same insensibility and inexorable momentum as the iron monster, which finally crushes the life out of her body on the railway line.”


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