How did Tolstoy leverage his life experience to enrich his characters? Just as Levin does with Kitty in Anna Karenina, all of the details of Tolstoy's previous life were written down in his diaries and, like Levin, Leo demanded his future bride to read them before their marriage. Also like Levin, Tolstoy wrote the beginnings of a declaration of love to Sonya in initials with chalk on a table. The scene is described in Anna Karenina and also in War and Peace when Natasha Rostova hides from the company and overhears a lover's tryst. Sonya Behrs' younger sister, Tanya, on whom the character of Natasha is based, had hidden from the company and witnessed Tolstoy and Sonya, breathlessly in love, poring over the chalk ciphers where no one could see them. Tanya broke the news to Sonya's parents that the famous writer, Count Tolstoy, was not going to marry sister Lisa as everyone expected, but was going to marry Sonya instead. Although in Anna Karenina, Count Shcherbatsky immediately gives his blessing to Levin, this was not the case with poor Tolstoy. Dr. Behrs, Sonya's father, was strongly opposed to the match and had to be brought around by the rest of the family.

The descriptions of Levin's eagerness to marry Kitty "tomorrow" without a trousseau or longer engagement and the scene where Kitty meets Levin before the rest of the family is awake and runs into his arms, are both drawn from Leo and Sonya's own experience. And Tolstoy really did find himself without a shirt on his wedding day and was late to his own wedding ceremony. The honeymoon, the bride's pregnancy, the delivery of the first-born son, these are all sketched from Tolstoy's own life. Most of Levin's efforts to restructure his estate and engage in ongoing agricultural reform reflect Tolstoy's own struggles as a Russian landlord during this time. The name Levin is even drawn from the Russian form of Tolstoy's own first name, Lev. As his wife, Sonya later wrote: "Levin is [Leo], but without the talent. An impossible man!"

Sonya and Leo struggled with the extreme passion they felt for each other and the heated arguments that often kept them apart. The power of sexual attraction and the dissonance it creates in male-female relations, married or not, haunted Tolstoy throughout his life. Tolstoy personally seemed incapable of reconciling sexual passion with marital relations, and as his life went on, he began to view sexuality as an evil, destructive force, and marriage as a type of licensed debauchery, with wives enslaved in a type of socially approved prostitution. His view seems strangely misogynist and feminist at the same time. For example, Tolstoy describes in The Kreutzer Sonata how a husband, enraged with jealousy, murders his wife, yet in the novel, Resurrection, he shows how a woman is destroyed by men's sexual needs. The first chapters of Resurrection are among the greatest that Tolstoy ever wrote. The first part of the novel narrates a luminous, achingly sweet and passionate sexual affair between a landowner and a dependent young woman on his estate. When the affair ends, the young woman is pregnant and outcast, and forced to become a prostitute.


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