From Harlot to Human Being: The Revised Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina has been traditionally viewed as a moral treatise on adultery. However, this shallow approach misses Tolstoy’s criticism of the hypocritical customs of Russian high society and does not explain his many radical revisions of the novel. While researching Tolstoy’s views on women and how they impacted his treatments of the character of Anna, I discovered little explanation for what prompted these revisions. Due to the personal and almost autobiographical nature of Tolstoy’s writing, I therefore also investigated the events which occurred in his life during the writing of this novel to learn how his religious and philosophical conversion may have changed his views—and the novel. I found that an understanding of Tolstoy and his changing views is crucial to gaining a true understanding of Anna Karenina. Tolstoy lived in a patriarchal culture and this traditional structure must be examined in order to establish a context for the novel. His traditional views are illustrated in the novel, although his conversion illustrates how his views change over time and, in turn, influence his writing of the novel. I closely analyzed Anna Karenina and paralleled excerpts from both the first drafts and the finished work with Tolstoy’s life in the 1870’s. Translated diaries, letters, and biographies added to my understanding of Tolstoy and the novel. I chose to focus greatly on Tolstoy’s life thanks to the influence of his life on the novel. Through this research I found that Tolstoy’s philosophical and religious conversion led to more tolerance and compassion in his life, which is reflected within the revisions of the novel. These revisions illustrate how Tolstoy does not condemn Anna, but instead condemns the customs of the high society for their hypocrisy in condemning her and the superficiality of their lives. Through his religious conversion, he began to believe that the life of hard agricultural work in the country was closer to the ideals of biblical proverbs, and therefore more holy. The frivolous city life, however, he viewed as corrupting. This corruption is what Tolstoy condemns in the novel. Through the character of Anna, he illustrates how one must remain true to one’s own conscience and not the conscience of a false society. Tolstoy’s conversion thus led to the revisions in which he shifted blame from Anna to the society around her. These results add to the scholarship already in the field, with the added perspective of the influence of Tolstoy’s conversion on his writing of Anna Karenina. After this novel, he wrote works only on moral and religious themes. The impact of Tolstoy’s conversion on his life and on his later works is widely documented, but the impact of it on his revisions of Anna Karenina is less studied. Like the person Tolstoy, himself, his writing is complicated with many layers. Future research will likely reveal even deeper layers within this text, further adding to the understanding of the novel.