Monday, December 17, 2012

Taking a Christmas Break!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and very Happy Holiday Season! I'm taking a break from blogging for a couple of weeks, but I'll be back January 7th!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Real Anna Karenina

Kiera Knightley as Anna
A new version of Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina is in theaters now, starring the stunning Keira Knightley in the title role. According to NPR, this  story has been adapted for the large and small screens at least 25 times. Although a succession of beautiful actresses have played the role of Anna, including Greta Garbo (1935), Vivien Leigh (1948) and Jaqueline Bisset (1997), just who was the real Anna Karenina?

Many believe that the character Anna Karenina was inspired, at least in part, by Maria Gartung (1832 – 1919), the eldest daughter of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin...Apparently Tolstoy was transfixed by Maria, instantly taken with her beauty and intelligence, as well as her…elbows. Soon after meeting her, Tolstoy returned home and, out of curiosity, began reading some of Alexander Pushkin’s writings. While reading he slipped into a daydream, in which he saw a fleeting image of "a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow.” This ultimately proved to be the first intimation of Anna's character.
Greta Garbo as Anna
More fascinating information is found here at a site specifically about Maria Gartung. It's translated from Russian, but perhaps not by a professional translator, so it's a bit difficult to follow.  I've included some highlights below and tried to fix the translation.

All who met Maria Alexandrovna noted the unusual delicacy of her manners, her wit and her excellent knowledge of the Russian and French languages.

She was very friendly and easy to know, and also very beautiful.  She was said to possess the rare beauty of her mother and the exotic look of her father.  Her face, though a bit large for a woman, was striking.  She had a perpetual peace about her, as well as an unusual attachment to her mother, who expressed touching and affectionate care for her daughter.

At a provincial ball in 1861 Maria met the writer Leo Tolstoy.  Maria attracted his attention immediately as soon as she entered the ballroom. When he was told who she was, he said admiringly, "Yes, now I understand where she gets her pedigree, those curls at the back!" (A reference to Pushkin's African ancestry.)

Tolstoy wanted to be immediately introduced to the daughter of the Russian poet. They talked animatedly all evening. At Tolstoy's request, Maria told him about her father (probably from her mother's words, since he died when she was five) and shared her impressions of literature and art.

Maria Gartung, Anna's inspiration
Tolstoy genuinely admired the subtlety of her taste, her uniqueness, and the boldness of her opinion.  He later said that Maria not only resembled her father externally, but was probably similar to him internally as well. The poet's daughter so struck Tolstoy's imagination, that she became the inspiration of his famous heroine, Anna Karenina.

I'm looking forward to seeing the new movie; unfortunately I've never seen any of the older versions, and I haven't read the book.

Have you seen the new movie or any of the older versions? If so, who's your favorite Anna Karenina? Have you read the book? Had you ever heard of Maria Gartung?

Thanks for visiting, and have a great week!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Black Count

I must apologize for being a day late with my blog.  Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy today's thoughts!

I knew that Alexandre Dumas was of mixed race heritage, but only recently learned about his father.  He's profiled in the new release (that's currently on my reading list) entitled The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss.

It's always fun to see what inspires a writer, and here we learn who inspired one of the greatest.  Through historical sleuthing, Tom Reiss has uncovered the life a forgotten hero who was the inspiration for The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, is General Alex Dumas.  Though almost unknown today, his story is familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of literature's best loved heroes.

Not only does this book tell of swashbuckling adventures, it reveals a secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave.  He rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our current time.

Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris. There, he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. After enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution.

This is a fascinating story that I can't wait to read!  Too many books, too little time...

Are you familiar with The Black Count?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!