Anna Karinena

Tolstoy knows me. He seems to know everyone. Deeply.

One of the best compliments I got on my own writing was by a friend who said something to the effect of, “I know every single one of those characters in your book. Including me.”

It was one of my proudest moments. I thought that I’d created several characters that were believable and realistic. But that compliment, said by someone who I respected, proved I’d accomplished it.

But I’m no Tolstoy.

He seems to know the souls of every character he writes because they are the souls of every person he ever met. We’re not so different really but he was able to detail the inner life of each character – no matter how diverse – so succinctly. Even in my own life, I feel it’s hard to empathise with my younger self. How can that young man I was do such a stupid thing? Who was that teenager that was so stupid? As if I was another person. That lack of empathy must be profound at a differnet person – a different sex, race, etc. 

I marvel at how Tolstoy is able to put us in the mind and soul of Anna in love and in despair. In Levin’s heart as he waffles between one socially awkward scene to another struggling with his own faith. Or giving us empathy for Vronksy, who only wanted to love – on his terms. I only mention these three but none of his characters are caricatures. All are given a soul. They may be bad people or have bad moments but Tolstoy does not treat them badly. They are not created, I feel, just to be sacrificed for a lesson or to be the baddie.

Even looking back on the story, I want to dislike Vronsky. Or Alexei Karenin or Anna. Definitely Stiva …but I can’t. Not really. I’ve gotten to know them.

Ok, Stiva is just a dick.