What is the novel “The True Story of Anna Karenina” about? Briefly about the winner of the “Big Book”

As usual, at the end of December, the literary award "The big Book" summed up.  Pavel Basinsky became the owner of the first place, and he takes the award for the second time.  Photo: Artur Novosiltsev/AGN "Moscow"

As usual, at the end of December, the Big Book Literary Prize summed up the results. Pavel Basinsky became the owner of the first place, and he takes the award for the second time. Photo: Artur Novosiltsev/AGN “Moscow”

As usual, at the end of December, the Big Book Literary Prize summed up the results. Pavel Basinsky became the owner of the first place, and he takes the award for the second time. Twelve years ago, Tolstoy’s biography “Escape from Paradise” won the main prize. This time “The True Story of Anna Karenina” won.

“This book is about the novel itself,” says Basinsky. – I belong to the “sect” of fans of the novel, I re-read the book every year and try to unravel the different knots in the book.

Despite the title, the author immediately stipulates that there is no real true story of Karenina. One of the features of the book is its fantastic variability.

We have selected the most interesting from the book and the author’s comments on this matter.

There are nine versions of the novel

The most amazing thing is the number of editions of Anna Karenina. There are nine versions of the novel, and all of them are radically different from each other. Tolstoy wrote the very first version of Anna Karenina in March 1873 in just 5 days. During this time, he wrote something similar to a synopsis. It took another four years to complete the book.

Where did Tolstoy get Karenina’s story from?

Tolstoy takes the plot from two passages by Pushkin: “Guests came to the dacha” and “On the corner of a small square”, which were planned as two novels about adultery. “Tolstoy conceived a banal story on the theme of Madame Bovary, but the novel swelled and turned into life itself. It became not only a love story, but also a novel about politics, economics, time, about what is happening outside the window.”

Who was the prototype of Anna Karenina

Anna is a collective image. For example, the appearance of the heroine is based on Pushkin’s daughter Maria Hartung.

Death under the train and the name went to Karenina from Anna Pirogova, Tolstoy’s neighbor in Yasnaya Polyana. A woman threw herself under a freight train when her lover left for another.

By the way, when Belarusian colleagues interviewed Basinsky, they said that Anna’s prototype also had a Belarusian version. In the seventies of the century before last, Minsk newspapers wrote about the suicide of a lady who also threw herself under a train from unhappy love.

Nevertheless, the author is sure that Tolstoy did not hear anything about the Minsk lady.

Photo: Artur Novosiltsev/AGN "Moscow"

Photo: Artur Novosiltsev/AGN “Moscow”

Most Changeable Romance

“Anna Karenina” has an amazing ability. No matter how long the novel is re-read: five years later, a year later, or the very next day, it reads like a new one.

For the first time, Vladimir Nabokov spoke about this feature: “Tolstoy’s clock goes in the same rhythm with the clock of any reader,” he noted. And Basinsky, while working on the book, clarified: “Anna Karenina’s clock runs in any rhythm with clocks of any time.” Before writing the “True History”, the author re-read the book and made the necessary extracts. But looking at the text before publication, just to check the quotes, I was once again amazed. “I suddenly realized that I understood everything wrong.”

The main secret of Karenina

In fact, this book is two in one. Tolstoy put two novels under one cover: one about Anna and Vronsky-Karenin, and the second about Levin and Kitty.

Lev Nikolaevich was scolded for this, and the publisher even refused to print the eighth part of Anna Karenina, because the main character died and the novel must end.

However, Leo Tolstoy had a different opinion on this matter. He said that he built the book like a chimney vault, and therefore it has a “castle” – a brick that holds the structure. This castle is one of the main secrets of Anna Karenina. He is not visible at all.

Basinsky approached the solution after he had written.

“I noticed that Levin and Anna met at the end. Shortly before her death, although before that they could have done it a thousand times. They talk about French literature and Levin falls in love with her. This love did not continue, but, obviously, the castle where – something here. After all, by that time both heroes come to the idea that everything is meaningless without faith in God. “

Karenin is not scary

The novel is arranged in such a way that we see the characters through the eyes of other characters. It seems to us that Karenin is a very unsympathetic person, because Anna looks at him that way. He is unpleasant: he rolls his pelvis, he has cartilaginous ears. But she lived with him for ten years and did not see that he had such ears. And all because by this moment Anna had already fallen in love with Vronsky.

Karenin is much more interesting than Vronsky

Anna’s husband, Alexei Karenin, is the most complex character. There is a moral duel between him and Anna. For example, after Anna’s betrayal, Karenin is ready to give a divorce, taking the blame on himself. However, Karenina herself refuses this option. Why? But because she cannot forgive her husband’s generosity.

One day Anna admits that Karenin is better than her, above her. This happens when she almost dies during childbirth. But as soon as she begins to recover, Karenin becomes disgusting to her.

“There is no need to complicate anything in the novel,” Basinsky believes. “Why doesn’t Anna love such a good person? Well, she just doesn’t love. When she dies, spiritual vision wakes up in her. Karenin is unpleasant.”

Winner of the Big Book National Literary Award, writer Pavel Basinsky, writer Sergei Belyakov (third place) and writer Anna Matveyeva (left to right) at the awards ceremony.  Photo: Artur Novosiltsev/AGN "Moscow"

Winner of the Big Book National Literary Award, writer Pavel Basinsky, writer Sergei Belyakov (third place) and writer Anna Matveyeva (left to right) at the awards ceremony. Photo: Artur Novosiltsev/AGN “Moscow”

Why Anna loves Vronsky

There is a song: “I looked back to see if she looked back to see if I looked back.” This is the answer to the question. Anna fell in love with Vronsky because he loved her.

“Actually, I don’t understand what the dignity of Vronsky is,” the author throws up his hands. “And it seems that Tolstoy himself did not understand. After all, he did not create an integral character, tailoring Vronsky from what was.”

Who killed Anna Karenina?

Basinsky’s book is reminiscent of a detective story on the topic “Who killed Anna Karenina.” On the one hand, it is clear that Anna was killed by her passionate criminal love. From the point of view of the world, there is no problem that she is cheating on her husband. On the contrary, it is as it should be, and even Karenin would turn a blind eye to it. But the problem is, she took it to heart. And already specific people pushed her to death.

Firstly, Vronsky’s cousin Betsy Tverskaya, who, like a spider, weaves intrigues, drags Anna into the abyss of adultery. Secondly, this is an old countess who is very condoning Anna’s romance with her son. The Countess believes that Alexei lacks a secular finish, and he needs to have an affair with a secular and necessarily married woman. But when the old countess sees that her son’s career is suffering because of Anna, she begins to involve a new woman in this story so that she takes Alexei away.

Mirror system

There are mirrors everywhere in the novel. Anna goes to Obiralovka not to throw herself under the train at all. She wants to visit the old Countess Vronskaya in order to convict Vronsky and Princess Sorokin, whom she is jealous of. But we remember that earlier Vronsky chased her at Bologoye station in a snowstorm. At the end of the novel, the situation is mirrored and she should overtake him.

Another mirror is the names of two of Anna’s men: both of them are Alexei. And when Anna dies under the train, Karenin has another Anna, this is his wife’s little daughter – Anna Karenina. He loves this little Anna much more than his own son Seryozha … While the mother was indifferent to her daughter from Vronsky and loved her son Seryozha more.

About pressure of the author’s pen

It is a mistake to think that the late Tolstoy began to write badly and didactically. This is nonsense, he wrote better and better in terms of skill. “The Devil”, “Hadji Murat” and “Resurrection” are written more masterfully than “Anna Karenina”. But in later novels, the author stands behind him and explains what is going on. But in “Anna” this is nowhere to be found, and nowhere does Tolstoy express a direct relationship to the characters.

There is an expression by Nabokov that in this novel one does not feel the pressure of the author’s pen. It’s about that.

About the moral of the book

Those who consider something from the series “do not cheat on your husband – you will fall under the train” are completely wrong. According to Basinsky, morality is expressed in the epigraph: “Do not avenge yourself, beloved, but give place to the wrath of God. For it is written: Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

“Many try to decipher this epigraph and consider it perhaps the most difficult part of the book. But there is no need to complicate anything. The meaning is simple: only God can judge people, and people have no right to judge people.”

Humor Tolstoy

The author is convinced that the phrase about the fact that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way is ironic.

“Tolstoy doesn’t say that seriously. In fact, two words are missing in the phrase and it should sound like this: “All unhappy families think that they are unhappy in their own way.” Because everything that goes on tells about the misfortunes of the Oblonskys is very typical of their own time. Nothing out of the ordinary happens.”

Another Tolstoy joke is in the working title of the book. It’s hard to believe, but Lev Nikolaevich considered the option “Well done woman.” Philologists make fun of this, not understanding what the author meant. And it seems that the fact is that Tolstoy already then looked at the book through the eyes of a peasant: “If a peasant had been told about the wife of a major official who had cheated on her husband with an aristocrat, he would have grunted and said:“ Well done, woman!


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