anecdote about Anna Karenin in Lectures on Russian Literature

Submitted by Alexey Sklyarenko on Sat, 07/24/2021 - 15:41

In his Lectures on Russian Literature VN tells an anecdote about old Tolstoy starting to read a book at random and not recognizing his own stuff:


What troubles one, is merely that he did not always recognize his own self when confronted with truth. I like the story of his picking up a book one dreary day in his old age, many years after he had stopped writing novels, and starting to read in the middle, and getting interested and very much pleased, and then looking at the title—and seeing: Anna Karenin by Leo Tolstoy.


In Dusha Tolstogo (“The Soul of Tolstoy,” 1927) Ivan Nazhivin offers a slightly different (less poetical, perhaps, but more truthful) version of this story:


Раз как-то домашние, взяв "Анну Каренину", сказали ему, что вот появился один молодой писатель, о котором они желали бы знать его мнение. И, изменив имена собственные, они стали читать страницу за страницей. Он внимательно слушал и временами, по своему обыкновению, хмыкал.

-- Гм... Гм... Что это такое?

-- Да это ваша "Анна Каренина"!

Он широко раскрыл глаза.

-- Не может быть! - воскликнул он. - Как мог я написать столько глупостей?!

И не раз повторял он:

-- Ах, надо бы, надо бы перечитать Толстого! (Chapter XL)

In October, 1910, the members of Tolstoy’s family told Tolstoy that they would like to know his opinion about a new young writer and began to read to him page after page of Anna Karenin, having changed the proper names. When told that it was his Anna Karenin, Tolstoy (who did not recognize his novel) exclaimed with his eyes wide open: “It can’t be! How could I have written so many silly things?!” And he kept repeating: “One has, one has to reread Tolstoy!”