After having read a few different works by Tolstoy, I have come to the conclusion that his main goal is to accurately depict what goes through a person's mind in various situations.
One of the most vivid memories I have from reading Anna Karenina is the fact that when Anna throws herself under the train, she has an immediate change of heart (i.e. she doesn't want to die), but there's no time for her to change her decision and the train kills her.
That always struck me as both 1) non-obvious and 2) making a lot of sense. And my reaction seemed to be confirmed when I read a 2003 New Yorker article on people who attempt suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge that says "Survivors often regret their decision in midair, if not before.", and "“I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”"
How did Tolstoy know or predict that Anna would immediately regret her decision? Had he spoken with people who had attempted suicide?
Here's the relevant paragraph:
She tried to fling herself below the wheels of the first carriage as it reached her; but the red bag which she tried to drop out of her hand delayed her, and she was too late; she missed the moment. She had to wait for the next carriage. A feeling such as she had known when about to take the first plunge in bathing came upon her, and she crossed herself. That familiar gesture brought back into her soul a whole series of girlish and childish memories, and suddenly the darkness that had covered everything for her was torn apart, and life rose up before her for an instant with all its bright past joys. But she did not take her eyes from the wheels of the second carriage. And exactly at the moment when the space between the wheels came opposite her, she dropped the red bag, and drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands under the carriage, and lightly, as though she would rise again at once, dropped on to her knees. And at the same instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. “Where am I? What am I doing? What for?” She tried to get up, to drop backwards; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and rolled her on her back. “Lord, forgive me all!” she said, feeling it impossible to struggle. A peasant muttering something was working at the iron above her. And the light by which she had read the book filled with troubles, falsehoods, sorrow, and evil, flared up more brightly than ever before, lighted up for her all that had been in darkness, flickered, began to grow dim, and was quenched forever.