September 01, 2020

Creating Anna Karenina



Creating Anna Karenina
A 1919 illustration for the novel. Helen Mason Gross

This is an excerpt from the author's new book, published by Pegasus Books.

— Leo Tolstoy[1]

When Tolstoy started Anna Karenina, he was forty-four. He guessed that he would finish the novel, conceived as only a novella, in two weeks. Anna Karenina took him more than four years. Even after sketching out the plot, it took him several months to reconceive Anna’s character. The driving motivation for him to commit to it as a serialized novel was that he was keen to buy horses; once the serialization started, however, nothing and no one, not even wild horses, could keep him on deadline. Several times he gave up or threatened to give up on the project. In about thirty of those fifty-three months, he doesn’t seem to have done a lick of work on it. He agonized over the procrastination, but his artistic engagement with Anna’s character and her inevitable suicide probably tormented him even more.


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