Anna and Her Children

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From The Wall Street Journal:

In 1873, soon after abandoning a novel about Peter the Great, 44-year-old Leo Tolstoy wrote a friend that he had begun drafting the book that would become “Anna Karenina” and that he expected it to be finished within two weeks. A year later he had made so little progress that he was still able to tell himself he was composing a trifle: “I think it will be good, but it won’t be liked and it won’t be successful because it’s very simple.” But by the summer of 1874, his attitude had darkened and he wrote that an admirer “got me interested in my novel again, but I just dropped it. It is terribly disgusting and nasty.” November, 1875: “My God, if only someone would finish A. Karenina for me. It’s unbearably repulsive.”

There is a happy ending here, as the novel did of course come to be written, but that was little comfort to Tolstoy, who by 1881 was back to his old song: “Concerning Karenina, I assure you that for me that abomination does not exist.”

This catalog of gripes comes from Bob Blaisdell’s entertaining micro-biography, “Creating Anna Karenina” (Pegasus, 414 pages, $29.95), which focuses on the years 1873 to 1878, when Tolstoy was writing, or more often not writing, the novel many consider to be the greatest of all time. “In about thirty of those fifty-three months” he spent on “Anna Karenina,” Mr. Blaisdell notes, “he doesn’t seem to have done a lick of work on it.” The book is a chronicle of distractions and peevish excuses that also shows how the consuming labor of procrastination became a crucial part of the novel’s texture.

. . . .

He was also addicted to buying land and horses, a fortunate obsession because, as Mr. Blaisdell notes, it was a need for money that pushed him to begin serializing “Anna Karenina.” But as he tried again to focus on the novel, a new obstacle arose. A few years later, in his “religious-philosophical” work “Confession,” Tolstoy would write about the depression that overwhelmed him during the mid-1870s: “It had come to this, that I, a healthy, fortunate man, felt I could no longer live: some irresistible power impelled me to rid myself one way or other of life.”

. . . .

Virginia Woolf observed that, unlike Dostoevsky, Tolstoy wrote from the “outside inwards.” The details of life absorbed him, despite his growing desire to be more spiritually centered. In “Creating Anna Karenina,” Tolstoy’s endless side projects seem at first like nuisances deterring him from the single-minded production of art, yet it’s in the daily minutia, and the passionate convictions his characters could inject into it, that we find his great novel’s soul.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

2 thoughts on “Anna and Her Children”

  1. Am noticing the head-chopping on the new cover. I’ve lately been fascinated by WHERE the head is to be chopped. Mid lip? Above the nose?

    I’m personally in favor of head-chopping and back-turning on covers, especially for those photo-based. What think ye?

    • I went wild a few years ago trying to understand what was going on with covers like that.

      I started on Amazon going through their thumbnail photos in the “Books you may like” list or “Customers who viewed this item also viewed” list.

      I started right-clicking on each thumbnail photo that intrigued me, opening a new tab on my browser. I would end up with dozens of open tabs, that I would then do the same search on, each feeding the algorithm. Then I would harvest each review page, making a pdf of the first page with cover and title; putting them into a folder.

      The more tabs I made with the pictures of people, the more Amazon presented the same style of cover photo. The algorithm was feeding what I was paying attention too, the visual image, not the style of story.

      So I can see where your question leads, but can’t say what intrigues me most. Try like I did, right-clicking and opening similar tabs, and Amazon will feed your focus.

      – Once you look at what the books are, it may help answer your question.

      BTW, I would do searches like this many times, on vastly different searches, and was happy to confuse the algorithms.

      That cover search led me back to the classic covers where there are no images of people. Things like what Paul Bacon would produce. Most of my covers avoid the images of people, and I stay far away from using actual photos.

      Google Images – Paul Bacon book covers

      To see all the classic examples that I like.

      wiki – Paul Bacon (designer)

      Paul Bacon, 91, Whose Book Jackets Drew Readers and Admirers, Is Dead

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