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Anna Karenina

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English Literature

Originally published in a series of installments in the prominent magazine The Russian Messenger, Anna Karenina (1877) is one of the most widely-read and famous works of literature from the 19th-century. Written by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina tells the story of the titular character, aristocratic Russian Anna Karenina, as she engages in an ill-advised affair with a younger military officer, Count Vronsky. Whilst the story of Anna and Vronsky (and Anna’s husband, Karenin) happens, a simultaneous love story is told of Levin and Kitty, the former a wealthy landowner and the latter a young aristocrat. The novel is set against the backdrop of Imperial Russia in the 19th-century and the various societal changes happening during that period.

Anna Karenina: Summary

Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with a scene of family drama—the Oblonskys, a Russian aristocratic family, are in turmoil as the wife, Dolly, has discovered her husband, Stiva, is having an affair with their governess. Dolly is upset and threatens a divorce; Anna Karenina, Stiva’s sister and wife to St. Petersburg aristocrat Karenin, arrives at the Oblonsky home. Anna convinces Dolly that Stiva still loves her despite his indiscretion, and, thanks to Anna’s influence, Dolly welcomes Stiva back into her home and life.

At this time, Anna meets Kitty, Dolly’s younger sister. Kitty is 18 and about to make her debut in Russian society, she is taken with Anna’s beauty and charm. Levin, a wealthy landowner, has also come to town to ask for Kitty’s hand in marriage. Kitty rejects Levin, however, in favor of Count Vronsky, a dashing young military man. Kitty didn’t realize at the time that Vronsky had already briefly met Anna when she arrived at the train station, and the two had instantly been captivated by each other. At the train station, Anna witnessed a railway worker accidentally fall in front of a train and die; Vronsky offered the man’s family money and Anna was impressed by his generosity.

 Anna Karenina, Train on snowy tracks, StudySmarterTrains are used an important motif throughout the novel, pixabay

At a ball that evening, Vronsky elects to dance with Anna rather than Kitty, breaking Kitty’s heart. Levin, heartbroken by Kitty’s rejection, returns to his estate. Anna, confused by her passionate feelings for Vronsky, leaves for St. Petersburg. Vronsky is on the same train, however, and he approaches Anna and confesses his love. Anna returns home and tries in vain to convince herself that she is happy with her husband, Karenin.

In St. Petersburg, Anna becomes a member of Princess Betsy’s social circle. Betsy is Vronsky’s cousin. Anna is continuously pursued by Vronsky, and she eventually gives in to their mutual attraction and embarks upon an affair. Anna’s husband, Karenin, notices the whispers about Anna and Vronsky and warns her to be more discrete in public with her attentions, though he trusts Anna and does not believe the rumors are true.

Anna and her husband Karenin attend a horse race where Vronsky competes. Vronsky is too reckless, and his horse falls, breaking its back. Karenin chastises Anna at the race for making a scene over Vronsky. Anna can no longer hide her guilt at the affair knowing that she is now pregnant with Vronsky’s child. As a result, she confesses the affair to Karenin.

Whilst Anna is moving in the social circles of St. Petersburg, Kitty had been sent to a German spa to recover her health, as she had declined given her heartbreak over Vronsky and shame at rejecting Levin. While there, she meets a woman who inspires her to become pious; she soon learns the woman is faking her illness and Kitty feels disillusioned. At the spa, Kitty converses with Nikolai, Levin’s brother.

Levin had returned home to his estate, but he feels restless in his pursuit for authenticity in himself and others and believes in land reforms needed in Russia. A chance encounter where Levin spies Kitty in a carriage leads to their reconciliation and engagement as the two realize they still love one another.

Karenin initially refuses Anna when she requests a divorce; he insists they uphold their public image as a couple. Karenin catches Vronsky and Anna in the act one day and finally agrees to a divorce. Anna goes into labor, and she almost dies while giving birth to her and Vronsky’s daughter. Upon seeing Anna on her deathbed, Karenin abandons his notions of divorce and forgives Vronsky and Anna for their affair. Vronsky, shamed by Karenin’s forgiveness, unsuccessfully attempts suicide.

Anna and Vronsky, tormented by Karenin’s forgiveness, flee Russia to Italy with their daughter. While living there, they find they are shunned by Russian high society and are not accepted anywhere. They return to St. Petersburg where Anna is continuously rejected by society while Vronsky can still move freely. Anna becomes increasingly paranoid that Vronsky no longer loves her and is engaging in affairs. Anna becomes desperate for social acceptance and attends a disastrous theatre show where she is openly rejected by former friends. She and Vronsky move to his country estate in shame.

Kitty and Levin, meanwhile, struggled to adapt to married life and its constraints on freedom. On a visit to Levin’s dying brother, Nikolai, Kitty proved her capability to Levin and the two begin to find more happiness. Kitty becomes pregnant and the two move to Moscow for the birth. In the big city, Levin is corrupted by the fast-paced, luxurious life, and finds himself taken by Anna. Kitty forgives him and gives birth to their son. Levin at first feels disgust and confusion when beholding his newborn.

The Oblonsky family spend the summer at Levin and Kitty’s estate. They visit Anna at Vronsky’s estate and note the strong differences between Levin and Kitty’s simple, fulfilling country life and the lavish extravagance of Vronsky’s manor. Anna eventually decides to ask Karenin for a divorce, as she is so paranoid about Vronsky losing his love for her. Karenin, under the influence of a French seer recommended by a close friend of his, denies Anna’s request for divorce.

Anna becomes increasingly overwrought over Vronsky, feeling that he must be engaging in other affairs. She becomes suicidal, and following a fight between herself and Vronsky, she throws herself between the wheels of a train at the same train station where she and Vronsky first met.

Vronsky joins the forces fighting in the Russo-Turkish War, seemingly with a death wish. At his estate, Levin finds himself struggling to accept Christianity. One night, while outside during a lightning storm with Kitty and his son, he realizes he loves his son as much as he loves Kitty and accepts Christianity into his life as an imperfect human being. Karenin takes in Vronsky and Anna’s baby, Annie.

Leo Tolstoy's background

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), born Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, was a Russian author of the 19th century and considered one of the greatest authors of all time. Born into an aristocratic family, Tolstoy was raised by relatives on his family estate Yasnaya Polyana. As a youth, Tolstoy failed out of university and joined the army; he fought in the Crimean War. His time fighting and his subsequent travels around Europe had a profound effect on his moral philosophy.

Tolstoy believed strongly in nonviolence, opposition to state governance, the importance of education, and the need for land reforms. These were positions that developed in his youth as a result of the horrors he witnessed in the war and his time spent traveling. In old age, Tolstoy became very interested in religion. He rejected organized religion and the Orthodox Church in Russia, and instead believed in a doctrine based on the Sermon of the Mount. Tolstoy believed in love above all and is considered to have been a Christian anarchist.

In his later years, he rejected his earlier masterpieces War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877) as not 'true' novels. He died in 1910 after fleeing his home due to arguments with his wife. He died of pneumonia in a train station at 82 years old. Tolstoy was known for his moral positions and his realist writing style, cementing his place as one of the literary greats.

Main characters in Anna Karenina

  • Anna Karenina, Anna Arkadyevna Karenina

    • The titular character, Anna is a Russian aristocrat who embarks on a doomed affair with Count Vronsky.

  • Karenin, Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin

    • Anna’s husband, older than her, is a government official and a stickler for rules and his image.

  • Vronsky, Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky

    • A young, handsome military officer with whom Anna embarks on her love affair.

  • Levin, Konstantin 'Kostya' Dmitrievich Levin

    • He is a Russian landowner who marries Kitty.

  • Kitty, Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Scherbatskaya

    • Dolly’s younger sister, she initially rejects Levin but comes to realize her error and marries Levin.

  • Dolly, Princess Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya

    • Anna’s sister-in-law, she is married to Stiva.

  • Stiva, Prince Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky

    • Anna’s brother. In the opening scene of the novel his wife, Dolly, has just discovered his infidelity.

  • Princess Betsy, Princess Elizaveta Tverskaya

    • Vronsky’s cousin and Anna’s friend

  • Nikolai, Nikolai Dmitrievich Levin

    • Levin’s sick brother.

Analysis of Anna Karenina

Sitting at over 800 pages, Anna Karenina is ripe for literary analysis. Anna Karenina is a transformative novel in the realist style. The narration in the novel is 'third-person omniscient'. However, Tolstoy employs a narrative technique that was very unusual for the time — the characters have inner monologues. While monologuing to an audience was common in drama of the period, Tolstoy was unusual in his inclusion of exactly what the characters were thinking or feeling at certain moments in the story rather than just what the narrator perceived.

Tolstoy’s use of inner monologue adds to Anna Karenina’s standing as a realist novel. Rather than express the action and thoughts of the characters from the outsider narrator’s perspective, it is the characters’ own thoughts and opinions expressed on their own behalf. The inner monologue adds to Tolstoy’s realistic portrayal of life in the upper echelons of 19th-century Russian society.

Without Anna's inner monologue, her death at the end of the novel may have just been seen as an act of desperation given the decline of her social status. In her final moments, thanks to Tolstoy's use of inner monologue, the reader gets to hear Anna's plea for God's forgiveness and her enduring wish for love. In her final moments she questions herself—'Why?' 'What am I doing? Where am I?'. These questions mirror the same questions Levin aims of himself in his search for answers regarding his faith. Tolstoy juxtaposes these same inner thoughts among the two vastly different circumstances of his characters – Anna, begging for forgiveness before ending her life, and Levin, begging for answers as he embarks upon the rest of his life with his family. He uses impartial, concise language throughout the novel to portray society and his characters as true-to-life as possible.

Realism is a literary movement in which the authors try and portray the events and characters of their works as true-to-life and matter-of-factly as possible.

Themes in Anna Karenina

Family relationships

At the heart of Anna Karenina are the families. While each of the various families— Karenins, Oblonskys, and Levins—have their own troubles, it is their relationships that form the larger context for the novel. The opening line of the novel sets the tone: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”1 He implies that all happy families are uniform while unhappy families vary wildly in their unhappiness. Throughout the course of the novel, we see this in action. Anna destroys her family with her affair while Levin creates a happy family, but chafes at the monotony and restrictions of family life on his independence.

Throughout the novel, Anna’s family is juxtaposed with that of Levin. At the start of the novel, Anna is married with a son; Levin is alone in his bachelorhood. By the end of the novel, Anna has torn apart her family and died while Levin has created his own family and found happiness. It would be easy to read the novel and just see the misery of the various families, but with this comparison, Tolstoy shows that family can be as much a source of happiness as they can of pain.

Furthermore, amongst the strictures of Russian high society, in Anna Karenina Tolstoy shows the contradictions of family life. Anna and Levin both chafe within the confines of their family and within the rigid structures of society. Anna believes that by breaking these norms and engaging in an affair, she will gain more independence than she had within her family. She is proven wrong when her affair alienates her from society and her family. By contrast, Levin initially felt restricted in his independence after marrying Kitty. However, he eventually finds peace within the confines of the family structure by accepting Kitty's role in his life. While Anna tried to break out of the family into independence, she found rejection. Levin, initially feeling his independence stripped away, eventually finds peace and happiness in his family life with Kitty and his son.

Many historians and literary critics believe that Levin is based on Tolstoy himself. Levin’s journey—from constantly questioning the world to building a happy, peaceful life and family and faith in his religion mirrors Tolstoy’s own life at the time he wrote this novel.

Infidelity

Given Anna’s storyline, infidelity is a major theme of the novel. The first scene sees Anna coming to the Oblonsky home to convince Dolly to forgive her husband, Stiva, for cheating. Anna then goes on to embark upon her affair with Vronsky. In doing so, she ultimately seals her fate in the eyes of Russian society. Despite his participation in her affair, Vronsky does not receive the same kind of scorn that Anna does. It is notable as well, that other members of high society such as Princess Betsy partake in their own affairs; Anna’s mistake in her affair with Vronsky is not that she undertook it but that she was so blatant about it.

Societal transformation

19th-century Imperial Russia saw a host of changes overtake society. Progressive ideals warred with traditional values. In the novel, Tolstoy shows these changes through the opinions of his characters.

 Anna Karenina, Agricultural field with a lone tree, StudySmarter Agricultural field with lone a tree in the center, much like Levin's farm, pixabay

Most tangibly, Levin exemplifies the progressive values and new technologies in farming and land ownership. Throughout the novel, he struggles to get the peasants to work his land using new farming techniques. He tries to establish a democratic village council, an endeavor that does not succeed.

Anna at the beginning of the novel represents the ideal of Russian aristocratic society. She behaves with decorum, she is married to a distinguished government official, she has a young son. Her divergence from this perfect outward life happens when she first meets Vronsky. Anna’s affair removes her from the strict rules of society. Her decision to disregard those rules, however, has consequences.

In the Russian society of Anna Karenina, women’s rights are a topic to be debated at dinner parties while the female characters suffer within the strictures of tradition and expectation. By disregarding the social conventions of traditional society, Anna seals her fate—shunned and rejected, she spirals into deeper paranoia and anxiety that leads to her death. In a society in which technical progress happens quickly, social transformation is slower, and the characters make decisions in an ever-confusing, ever-changing world.

Religion

Religion constitutes a major theme of Anna Karenina. Levin’s story shows the agony he felt at trying to search for the ultimate meaning in life. By the end of the novel, he has undergone a spiritual transformation. Levin represents Tolstoy’s idea of faith; he struggled with feelings of authenticity and self-expression, but by the end of the novel he comes to the realization that all people must just try and do good in the world. Levin and Kitty represent a different kind of life to Anna— they are pastoral, living amongst agricultural, and find solace in a peaceful, faithful life. Anna was caught up amongst society’s glitz and glamor and didn’t find happiness in this lifestyle.

In that vein, Anna’s husband, Karenin, exercises Godly forgiveness to Anna and Vronsky for their affair. When Anna was ill after the birth of her daughter, Karenin tells her and Vronsky that he forgives them. Rather than serve to soothe Vronsky and Anna’s souls, however, his declaration only sends them further into agony. His forgiveness is the impetus for them leaving Russia and traveling to Italy.

Literary devices in Anna Karenina

Symbolism

Tolstoy uses symbols throughout the novel to make some salient points. Trains constitute a bad omen throughout the story. Anna and Vronsky meet at a train station, where they see a man fall to his death. This foreshadows Anna’s eventual suicide at the same station by throwing herself under the wheels of a train. The trains also represent the new era ushered in by new technologies and progressive ideals.

Vronsky’s racehorse acts as another symbol; it is a stand-in for Anna. While Vronsky pushes the horse too hard it dies, much like Anna does as a result of their affair. At the same time, Vronsky was unharmed in the horse’s collapse, this mirrors the way that Vronsky did not suffer the societal ostracizing that Anna did when the two undertook their affair.

 Anna Karenina, A horse with rider astride its back, StudySmarterA rider astride a horse, in a competition the likes of which Vronsky competed in, pixabay

Juxtaposition

Tolstoy uses Anna’s storyline and juxtaposes it with Levin’s. While Anna destroys her life through her affair, Levin goes from a solitary bachelor to having a family. Simultaneously, Anna descends into paranoia and anxiety thanks to her relationship with Vronsky whereas in Kitty, Levin finds peace and faith. Levin values an agrarian lifestyle and believes in the power of creation and growth while Anna eventually throws herself to her death under the wheels of a train, a symbol of the rapid modernization and progression of technology.

Important Quotes in Anna Karenina

All the variety, all the charm, all the beauty of life is made up of light and shadow."

With this quote, uttered by Stiva to Levin, Tolstoy paints a picture of human life. Stiva is telling an anguished Stiva that the principles he holds do not reflect the reality of life. He's saying that all the wonders of life are nothing but an illusion.

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

This opening line sets the stage for the whole novel. By acknowledging the different kinds of families, Tolstoy foreshadows the plights of both Anna and Levin; one from happy to unhappy and the other from unhappy to happy.

If you look for perfection, you'll never be content."

This quote offers a warning of Anna's fate. She believed her life would be perfect with Vronsky's love, but she found ruin in her affair instead.

Anna Karenina (1877) - Key Takeaways

  • Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was a Russian author who believed in nonviolence, opposition to the state, education, and land reforms.

    • He wrote in a realist style and often about themes such as familial relationships, 19th-century Russian society, and religion.

  • Anna Karenina (1877) concerns the downfall of its titular character as she embarks on a doomed affair with a younger military man, Count Vronsky.

  • A parallel story shows the power of love and family through Levin, who marries Kitty and lives an idyllic life in the countryside away from the luxury and corruption of the cities.

  • Anna Karenina is a realist novel, as Tolstoy uses matter-of-fact diction and the characters’ inner monologues to present the action as true-to-life as possible.

  • The major themes of the novel include familial relationships, societal transformation, religion, and infidelity.

  • Tolstoy utilizes symbolism and juxtaposition to tell the story of Anna and the various aristocratic families.

1. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, 1877.

Anna Karenina

The main points of Anna Karenina concern infidelity, familial relationships, and societal transformation. Anna’s storyline sees her shunned from society for her infidelity while Vronsky does not experience the same suffering. She descends further into paranoia and jealousy as the story progresses due to her affair. While Anna’s family is torn apart, Levin builds a family with Kitty. All this occurs against the backdrop of societal transformation—new agriculture technologies, new modes of transformation, and new progressive ideals are brought to Russia.

The novel follows the story of Russian aristocrat Anna Karenina as she embarks on an affair with a younger military man, Count Vronsky. Vronsky and Anna’s affair sees them ostracized from Russian society; when Anna gives birth to her and Vronsky’s child, her husband forgives them. Anna and Vronsky’s shame at his forgiveness leads them to run away and live together on Vronsky’s estate. Anna becomes so paranoid that Vronsky is in love with other women that she eventually throws herself to her death between the wheels of a train at the station where she and Vronsky first met.

 

A secondary storyline concerns the love story of Anna’s relative by marriage, Kitty, and Levin, a wealthy Russian landowner. Kitty originally rejects Levin’s proposal in favor of Vronsky’s attention, but she realizes her error and the two become engaged. Their marriage undergoes early strain but in the end, Levin and Kitty welcome a son into the world. Levin realizes how much he loves Kitty and his son, and that he can dedicate his life to being the best version of a fallible human he can be through Christianity.

Anna Karenina is a work of fiction and not based on a true story. That being said, many historians and critics believe that Tolstoy based the character of Levin off of himself and his marriage. Levin’s journey to understanding and his marriage to Kitty mirror many similar events and spiritual crises Tolstoy had in his own life. Levin’s opinions on agricultural reform were held by Tolstoy as well.

Anna Karenina (1877) was written by Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy is considered to be one of the greatest authors of all time. He wrote Anna Karenina while he was living at home in Russia with his wife, engaged in the raising of their children.

Anna Karenina is about a Russian aristocrat, the titular Anna, who embarks on a doomed love affair with a younger military man. Her infidelity leads Anna toward paranoia and anxiety, and at the end of the novel, the consequences of her decisions and rejection from society lead Anna to suicide. A simultaneous story shows the love between Kitty, a young socialite, and Levin, a wealthy landowner. The two find solace in an agrarian lifestyle far from the corruption of the Russian cities.

Final Anna Karenina Quiz

Question

What is Anna Karenina about?

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Answer

Anna Karenina is about a Russian aristocrat, the titular Anna, who embarks on a doomed love affair with a younger military man. Her infidelity leads Anna toward paranoia and anxiety, and at the end of the novel, the consequences of her decisions and rejection from society lead Anna to suicide. A simultaneous story shows the love between Kitty, a young socialite, and Levin, a wealthy landowner. The two find solace in an agrarian lifestyle far from the corruption of the Russian cities.

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Question

Who wrote Anna Karenina?

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Answer

Anna Karenina (1877) was written by Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy is considered to be one of the greatest authors of all time. He wrote Anna Karenina while he was living at home in Russia with his wife, engaged in the raising of their children.

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Question

What are the main points in Anna Karenina?

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Answer

The main points of Anna Karenina concern infidelity, familial relationships, and societal transformation. Anna’s storyline sees her shunned from society for her infidelity while Vronsky does not experience the same suffering. She descends further into paranoia and jealous as the story progresses due to her affair. While Anna’s family is torn apart, Levin builds a family with Kitty. All this occurs against the backdrop of societal transformation—new agriculture technologies, new modes of transformation, and new progressive ideals come to Russia.

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Question

What do the trains symbolize in Anna Karenina?

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Answer

In Anna Karenina, Tolstoy uses the trains to show the ushering in of progress in contrast to traditional values and ways of doing things in Russia. Simultaneously, the trains foreshadow Anna's eventual death, as when she and Vronsky first meet at a train station they witness a worker fall to his death between the wheels of a train.

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Question

How is Anna Karenina a realist novel?

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Answer

Anna Karenina is a realist novel because Tolstoy wrote it in a way that it was meant to be as true to life as possible. He did so by using matter of fact diction and by utilizing the characters' inner monologues in order to portray exactly what they were thinking and feeling.

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Question

How is infidelity as a theme used in the novel?

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Answer

Infidelity is a major theme. Anna's infidelity to Karenin leads to her downfall as she embarks on an affair with Vronsky. While it is understood that many of the upper class engage in affairs, such as Princess Betsy, Anna was shunned for her blatant, obvious affair with Vronsky. The novel even opens with the Oblonsky family in uproar after Dolly discovered Stiva's infidelity, Anna arrives and convinces Dolly that Stiva still loves her.

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Question

What event forces Anna to reveal the affair to Karenin?

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Answer

After Anna makes a scene at the horse racing when she is concerned for Vronsky, she finally tells Karenin about the affair. She also reveals that she is pregnant with Vronsky's child.

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Question

What event causes Karenin to state his forgiveness of Anna and Vronsky's actions?

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Answer

When Anna gives birth to her baby daughter, she becomes gravely ill and they believe she will die. Karenin forgives Vronsky and Anna in this moment.

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Question

Nikolai is the brother of which character?

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Answer

Anna

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Question

What happens at the train station the first time Vronsky and Anna meet?

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Answer

A worker falls to his death between the wheels of a train. This foreshadows Anna's eventual suicide at the train station where she throws herself between the wheels of a train.

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