The Niche: Leo! First of all, let me just say I know it’s a crazy time right now what with COVID-19 and all, so I really appreciate you taking the time to chat.
Leo Tolstoy: Da, da. Talkink to you is nice break from sittink in study and smokink pipe vhile vife vatch over eight livink children.
The Niche: Great. So happy to hear it. And your wife and children are doing okay?
Leo Tolstoy: I vouldn’t really know, but da, probably.
The Niche: Oh, really? You guys aren’t on great terms?
Leo Tolstoy: Da. You go to my Vikipedia page, scroll down to personal life, says my marriage is unhappiest in all history. Pah!
The Niche: Well, let’s get down to business, then. I just finished reading “Anna Karenina” — perfect quarantine read, by the way — and I have so many questions for you.
Leo Tolstoy: I give you 894 pages. Vhat more you vant to know?
The Niche: Well, Leo, may I speak candidly?
Leo Tolstoy: Da.
The Niche: Vronsky’s dick game. Let’s talk about it.
Leo Tolstoy: Oh, da, da, da. You notice I give Vronsky novel-length motif of beink expert horseman, da? He is obsessed vith ze horses?
The Niche: Yes, of course. You’re saying there’s some symbolism there? That he’s… hung like a…
Leo Tolstoy: Da, da. For a while considered givink him pet rooster, makink him hog farmer, but nyet, nyet, too obvious, too vulgar. Horses more subtle metaphor. Work on many level. Both that he is hung like horse and good at ridink.
The Niche: Leo! You’re so bad!
Leo Tolstoy: Vhat can I say? Can I have Anna and Vronsky bone down on ze page? Nyet, nyet! Tsar will not allow it. Zis is vhat I do instead: Vronsky ride mare around racecourse very fast, expert skill, does every trick vis perfection. Anna vatch in bleachers goink crazy for him. Anna husband see her reaction, know vhat’s up. After race, Alexei Alexandrovitch ask vife vhy so emotional about Vronsky’s ridink, she go, “You know vhat? Fuck you, you are vorthless, terrible husband, I vant divorce.”
The Niche: But doesn’t Vronsky accidentally break the mare’s back during that race when he accidentally sits down too early during a jump?
Leo Tolstoy: Da. Is foreshadowink of how Vronsky’s fine ass vill be death of voman.
The Niche: Oh, his ass specifically? Or his hubris?
Leo Tolstoy: Nyet, nyet. Vronsky has great, strong bubble butt. Kills horse, is ruin of Anna.
The Niche: Are you saying Anna pegs Vronsky?
Leo Tolstoy: Da.
The Niche: Wonderful. I’m so happy to hear it. That actually brings me to my next question: did you intend “Anna Karenina” as a queer allegory? I mean, here we have a couple brought low by this constant public shaming, violent revocation of their legal rights in that they’re unable to marry and can’t obtain custody of their own child, and the psychological torment of knowing that their love for one another is, simultaneously, the source of all this unhappiness. There are a lot of easy parallels there to gay life.
Leo Tolstoy: Vell, as you know, I am married to voman, have zirteen children, eight livink.
The Niche: Yes. I did look at the personal life section of your Wikipedia page to see if you’d ever gotten even slightly gay, and I was a little surprised to see how robustly heterosexual you seem to be.
Leo Tolstoy: You not Google “leo tolstoy gay?” You rely on Vikipedia?
The Niche: Oh, cogent point. I’ll do so now. Oh! The first result is a long and contentious debate on the Talk page of your Wikipedia entry, under the headline “Gay man.” One person says you wrote, at age 23, in your journal, “I have never been in love with a woman… But I have quite often fallen in love with a man.” Oh, and later on, you wrote: “I shall never forget the night we left Pirogovo together, when, wrapped up in my blanket, I wanted to devour him with kisses and weep. Sexual desire was not totally absent.” Well!
Leo Tolstoy: Who publish my diary, is vhat I vant to know? Is meant to be private. Pah!
The Niche: Okay, so it’s not inconceivable to think that some of your own feelings about homosexuality made it into “Anna Karenina.”
Leo Tolstoy: Vell, zis vord “homosexual” not come into popular usage until 1886, and I vrite “Anna Karenina” from 1873 to 1877.
The Niche: But this general idea, you know, of men loving men, or women loving women — that was on your mind as you wrote?
Leo Tolstoy: Da. You remember part vhere Vronsky tell Anna, “Our love, if it could be stronger, vill be strengzened by zere beink somezink terrible in it?”
The Niche: I love that line, yes. Definitely see the gay resonance there.
Leo Tolstoy: You also remember how after Vronsky say zis, Anna lift Vronsky’s hand, make him stroke her symbolic haircut? And he tell her, “I don’t know you vis zis short hair. You’ve become so pretty. A boy.”
The Niche: Oh, Leo, that line did not escape my notice, let me tell you.
Leo Tolstoy: ЖД
The Niche: Is… is that the XD emoticon in Cyrillic?
Leo Tolstoy: Da.
The Niche: I guess I should move on to my biggest problem with the novel, then.
Leo Tolstoy: Pah! Everyvone is critic!
The Niche: Well, I mean, the novel is called “Anna Karenina,” and yet, you spend, I’d say, well over half the novel on a character who is totally unrelated to Anna, whose story virtually never intersects with hers…
Leo Tolstoy: You are talkink of Levin, yes? Borink straight man who live on farm, mow hay, make baby vis vife?
The Niche: Well, yes.
Leo Tolstoy: You see how I cannot get avay vis writink novel all about rich man vith big dick, quit army, live in mansion, go to Italy, fuck all day vith other man vife, gay allegory also? Nyet, nyet, cannot do zis vizout also includink story of borink straight man who live on farm, mow hay, et zetera. Same reason Anna dive under train at ze end. Cannot seem like I am endorsink all zis. Happy endink only for nice voman who love husband, make baby.
The Niche: Are you sure you weren’t just being a misogynist?
Leo Tolstoy: Da. Is possible also.
The Niche: Well, again, Leo, thanks for taking the time. I can imagine it was tricky to access Zoom all the way from 19th-century Russia.
Leo Tolstoy: Is fine. Glad you are enjoyink my book in quarantine. So sorry to hear about pandemic.
The Niche: Yeah, it’s been hard, but it’s been a pretty tumultuous few years, so I’ve gotten good at coping with just, like, the world being in a state of chaos.
Leo Tolstoy: Da, da, much upheaval in Russia in my lifetime. Hope ve vill all settle down a little in 20th century.
Leo Tolstoy: Vhat? Vhat is zat look? You are givink me look.
The Niche: Sorry, I was just —
Leo Tolstoy: You make grimace.
The Niche: Well, Russia in the 20th century is, um…
Leo Tolstoy: You goink to tell me or I goink to have to look up on Vikipedia myself?
The Niche: It’s fine. You’ll be dead way before any of this shit goes down.
Leo Tolstoy: Oh, nice, nice. I call you, am so nice, tell you all about Vronsky giant cock, you tell me I vill die and Russia erupt in flame.
The Niche: My bad.
Leo Tolstoy: Da. It is your bad.
[Leo Tolstoy has left the chat.]
The Niche: Well, that could have gone better.
[Leo Tolstoy has returned to the chat.]
Leo Tolstoy: Sorry. Forgot to say very important zink.
The Niche: Oh? What’s that?
Leo Tolstoy: Vronsky always eatink pussy of Anna. Every day he do zis.
The Niche: Oh, thank you. That’s very good to know.
Leo Tolstoy: Da. You are velcome.
[Leo Tolstoy has left the chat.]