When Tolstoy was 34, he courted and married 18-year-old Sonya Andreevna Behrs, the daughter of a former playmate who lived near Iasnaia Poliana. Many of the details of the couple's original courtship are captured in Anna Karenina in Levin and Kitty's storyline. Like Kitty and Levin, the initial years of Tolstoy and Sonya's married life were blissful—from 1863 to 1888, Sonya bore him 12 children and they worked together on many of his manuscripts. Tolstoy's crisis of faith in the late 1870s began to corrupt their union. When in 1879 he broke with the official church of Russia to start his own school of thought, his wife disapproved vehemently and he began to feel increasingly trapped by the marriage. Tolstoy was excommunicated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1901 following the publication of his novel Resurrection; from then on the antagonism between him and his wife led to a tortured, estranged existence. When Tolstoy died in 1910, Sonya was not admitted to his deathbed—at Tolstoy's request—until after he lost consciousness.
Read more about Leo's and Sonya's courtship.
Do As I Say and Not As I Do?
Looking through Tolstoy's library of work (his collected works in Russian, including letters and journals, fill 90 volumes) it is apparent that Tolstoy was a man driven to create. Yet, for all of his prodigious production as a writer, farmer, philosopher, and educator, Tolstoy considered himself in many respects as much a student of great literature as a teacher. He was first and foremost a great reader. In his diaries, he wrote often of the impact George Eliot, Homer, Shakespeare, Thackeray, Pushkin, Dickens, Cervantes, Kant, Baudelaire, Goethe, and his contemporary Russian rivals Turgenev and Dostoevsky had on his own life and work. No matter how much he read, until his dying days, there was always something more for Tolstoy to write about Russia, religion, or relationships. Reading a novel by Tolstoy knowing that he was not a perfect man makes you wonder if writing was his way of creating something that he missed in his own life.
Are you enjoying Anna Karenina? Check out other novels by Count Leo Tolstoy.