(Warner Bros.) Count Leo Tolstoys tale of love and morality follows the doomed romance between the beautiful, well-born Anna Karenina and Count Alexei Vronsky. Anna, though a wife and mother, plunges into a tempestuous affair with the dashing Vronsky, shocking Russian society and rending her family apart.
The progress of their liaison is contrasted with the romance and marriage of two of their friends, Levin and Kitty, who seem an unlikely match at first but find increasing happiness and fulfillment as their relationship deepens over time. The desperation and despair of one couple and the ever-growing warmth and devotion of the other trace two separate choices in love and reveal the consequences of each.
Although the story of Anna Karenina is not autobiographical, it does deeply reflect Tolstoys own beliefs and his desire to impart these beliefs to others. In many ways, the character of Levin is one with whom Tolstoy identified closely, and Levins experiences as he is transformed by his love and marriage to Kitty were a message to readers of the novel.
Tolstoy, the son of wealthy Russian landowners, wrote Anna Karenina after achieving worldwide distinction for War and Peace. An educated and cosmopolitan man, Tolstoy had studied Oriental languages and law at the University of Kazan and then led a life of pleasure until 1851, when he fought as a member of an artillery regiment in the Crimean War. After participating in the defense of Sebastopol, Tolstoy wrote The Sebastopol Stories, which established his reputation.
He married in 1862 and had 13 children over the next 15 years. During that time he managed his vast estates; studied and implemented educational methods in order to help the local peasant population; and wrote his two greatest works: War and Peace (1865-68) and Anna Karenina (1874-76). Imperial Russia was in its heyday during this period, opening new cultural and commercial doors between Russia and Western Europe, and bringing Tolstoys master works to an international audience.
However, A Confession, which Tolstoy wrote from 1879-92, marked a change in his life and outlook; he became an extreme rationalist and moralist. In a series of pamphlets he wrote after 1880, Tolstoy rejected the Church and State, renounced the demands of the flesh and denounced ownership of private property. His writing earned him many followers in Russia and abroad, but also generated strong opposition. In 1901, Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church.
In an ironic parallel to the end of his tragic heroine, Tolstoy died in 1910 during a journey, at the small railway station of Astapovo in Russia. It was a scant seven years before the Bolshevik revolution that transformed Russian history and politics.
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