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!

14 comments:

Old Kitty said...

Please first see Greta Garbo's take on Anna Karenina!!! She smoulders!! (And yes smoulders is the spelling - UK version!! LOL!).

Take care
x

Maria McKenzie said...

I love old movies, so that's the one I'd like to see first! I figured that was the British spelling with an "ou";).

The Desert Rocks said...

I love these educational posts and even though I know a little about Tolstoy, I never read this book. I may have seen the Greta Garbo version but I probably would enjoy Vivian Leigh in the title role too. Little tiny Keira Knightly doesn't evoke the description you have here, but I'm sure the new movie will be lovely.

Maria McKenzie said...

I don't know much about Tolstoy either. Maybe I'll post about him next week. I want to see the Greta Garbo version, and eventually the Vivien Leigh one too. The new movie looks absolutely spectacular!

Jennette Marie Powell said...

I haven't seen any of the movies or read the book, either, but now I'm interested! You always share such interesting historical tidbits!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hey, Jennette, so glad you enjoyed the history! I happened to read about her when I did those Pushkin posts a few months ago.

Shelly said...

I loved reading about her as I enjoy history so much. I learned so much from this- thank you!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Shelly! So glad you enjoyed the post!

William Kendall said...

I haven't seen the new version yet, but I have seen the Garbo and Leigh versions. Plus there was another one in there somewhere.

And I have read the book, years ago. I should reread it...

Maria McKenzie said...

I might read the book someday, but I'll definitely watch the movies:)!

Krisztina Williams said...

I've seen a few older versions. Greta Garbo looks so beautiful in the role. I'm looking forward to the new one. What a lovely post. I love the history behind these stories!

Maria McKenzie said...

Hi, Krisztina! Glad you enjoyed the post:). Garbo does look gorgeous in the role!

Nadine said...

Thank you for this insightful article. I am a descendent of Alexander Pushkin and have been passed down knowledge of him, but not much about his daughter. My family line descends from Pushkin's eldest son. I am thrilled to learn of the connection to Tolstoy's work and look forward to viewing the newest version of this movie.

Karen Clark said...

I learned of Maria Gartung - or, as she is called in the translation I've just finished reading, Hartung - because the final chapter of Tatyana Kuzminskaya's "Tolstoy as I Knew Him" refers to Tolstoy's encountering her at an elegant soiree and making the remark you cited - "'Ye-es,' he drawled. 'Now I see...just look at those Arabian little curls at the back of her neck. Thoroughbred.'" Tatyana Kuzminskaya, of course, was the vivacious younger sister of Tolstoy's wife Sonya, and was the model for Natasha Rostov of "War and Peace." Kuzminskaya describes Madame Hartung in the exact terms Tolstoy used to describe Anna: "...in came an unknown lady wearing a black lace dress. Her light gait easily carried her rather full, but upright and elegant figure."
As to my nominee for the All Time Anna-est Anna of Them All - for me, hands down, it has to be Nicola Padgett in the Masterpiece Theater production of the novel. Physically she perfectly incorporates Tolstoy's heroine, and the format of the multi-episode series had the leisure to tell the story without leaving out the majority of the action in the book. Some of you may recall Ms. Padgett as the Bellamys' headstrong daughter Elizabeth in "Upstairs, Downstairs."