Once upon a time, circa the dark ages, I was in prep school and had an assignment from our English teacher to write a biography of a famous author. I was in the midst of reading Anna Karenina and chose Leo Tolstoy. I read various books about Tolstoy but still remember that the biography, Tolstoy, penned by Henri Troyat was by far the best.
Fast forward a number of decades, and I found myself working in Russia. One weekend, I drove to Tula and visited the nearby Tolstoy estate -– a charming 19th century Russian country house with gardens and farms around it. Count Leo spent hours writing there as well as farming, and his long-suffering often-unhappy wife spent hours transcribing many drafts of his lengthy manuscripts. Tolstoy is buried on the estate in the woods [see photo below on the right].
In Anna Karenina, the title character’s sister, Kitty, is married to a rich landowner, Levin, who likes to get out in the fields and work with this hands along side his peasant workers. When you’re 14 that sounds romantic. When one is older, it doesn’t. As for Anna, I thought she was a fool when I was 14 and I still think so. Kitty was an idealized version of Tolstoy’s wife, Sofia, while Levin was the character modeled after Tolstoy himself.
In the recent superb film, The Last Station, Sofia and Leo are portrayed at the end of their tumultuous marriage, and the Count [who somewhat lost his marbles] is acting more and more like a religious "seer" and man of the people, while Sofia is concerned about preserving their status in society and preserving their estate for their children. The film gives a good feel for what it must have been like at Yasnaya Polyana a hundred fifty years ago.