Leo and Sonya Tolstoy
Most readers of Anna Karenina are interested to learn that many of the details of Kitty and Levin's romance, courtship and marriage are drawn from the author's relationship with his wife Sonya Behrs. Descriptions of the flirtations, courtships, engagements and marriages in other works by Tolstoy are also drawn from the romances he observed in his wife's family; for example, the Rostov family in War and Peace and the adolescents who fall in love in the early pages of the novel are inspired by real-life love affairs in the Behrs family. In the same way, the problems most of the married couples face in his stories and books resemble the experiences of his family and friends: infidelity, misunderstandings, incompatibility, jealousy and illegitimate children.

English novels, the most popular fiction of Tolstoy's time, end with the couple getting married; instead, Tolstoy argued, they should begin with that event and explore what happens next—which is what he did in his work. Tolstoy had seen young people passionately in love, as he and his wife once were, whose marriages, like his own, ended in disaster; he had seen his own sister's life ruined by her husband's many affairs. These family tragedies challenged young Tolstoy's dreams of family happiness so much so that when he began writing Anna Karenina, as he later explained, he was absorbed in trying to understand the idea of the family.

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