Anna Karenina
Anna Karenina (sometimes anglicised as Anna Karenin) is a novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....

 by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist...

, published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger
The Russian Messenger
The Russian Messenger has been the title of three notable magazines published in Russia in the 19th century.-The Russian Messenger of Sergey Glinka:...

. Tolstoy clashed with its editor Mikhail Katkov
Mikhail Katkov
Mikhail Nikiforovich Katkov was a conservative Russian journalist influential during the reign of Alexander III.Katkov was born of a Russian government official and a Georgian noblewoman...

 over issues that arose in the final installment; therefore, the novel's first complete appearance was in book form.

Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction, Tolstoy considered Anna Karenina his first true novel, when he came to consider War and Peace
War and Peace
War and Peace is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in 1869. The work is epic in scale and is regarded as one of the most important works of world literature...

 to be more than a novel. The character of Anna was likely inspired, in part, by Maria Hartung (Russian spelling Maria Gartung, 1832–1919), the elder daughter of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Soon after meeting her at dinner, Tolstoy began reading Pushkin's prose and once had a fleeting daydream of "a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow", which proved to be the first indication of Anna's character.

Although Russian critics dismissed the novel on its publication as a "trifling romance of high life", Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Dostoevsky
Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky was a Russian writer of novels, short stories and essays. He is best known for his novels Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov....

 declared it to be "flawless as a work of art". His opinion was shared by Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was a multilingual Russian novelist and short story writer. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist...

, who especially admired "the flawless magic of Tolstoy's style", and by William Faulkner
William Faulkner
William Cuthbert Faulkner was an American writer from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner worked in a variety of media; he wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays during his career...

, who described the novel as
"the best ever written".
The novel is currently enjoying popularity as demonstrated by a recent poll of 125 contemporary authors by J. Peder Zane, published in 2007 in The Top Ten, which declared that Anna Karenina is the "greatest novel ever written".

The title: Anna Karenin vs Anna Karenina

The title has been translated as both Anna Karenin and Anna Karenina. The first instance "naturalizes" the Russian name into English, whereas the second is a direct transliteration
Transliteration is a subset of the science of hermeneutics. It is a form of translation, and is the practice of converting a text from one script into another...

 of the actual Russian name. Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was a multilingual Russian novelist and short story writer. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist...

 explains: "In Russian, a surname ending in a consonant acquires a final 'a' (except for the cases of such names that cannot be declined) when designating a woman".

Nabokov favours the first convention—removing the Russian 'a' to naturalize the name into English—but subsequent translators mostly allow Anna's actual Russian name to stand. Larissa Volokhonsky, herself a Russian, prefers the second option, although, ironically, not for her own last name. Other translators, like Rosemary Edmonds
Rosemary Edmonds
Rosemary Edmonds , born Rosemary Lilian Dickie, was a British translator of Russian literature whose editions of Leo Tolstoy have been in print for 50 years.-Biography:...

, prefer the first.

Main characters

  • Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (Анна Аркадьевна Каренина) – Stepan Oblonsky's sister, Karenin's wife and Vronsky's lover.
  • Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (Aлекceй Kиpиллoвич Bpoнcкий) – Lover of Anna
  • Prince Stepan "Stiva" Arkadyevich Oblonsky (Cтeпaн "Cтивa" Aркaдьевич Oблoнский) – a civil servant and Anna's brother.
  • Princess Darya "Dolly" Alexandrovna Oblonskaya (Дарья "Дoлли" Aлeксaндрoвна Oблoнскaя) – Stepan's wife
  • Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin – a senior statesman and Anna's husband, twenty years her senior.
  • Konstantin "Kostya" Dmitrievich Levin – Kitty's suitor and then husband, old friend of Stiva.
  • Nikolai Levin – Konstantin's brother
  • Sergius Ivanovich Koznyshev – Konstantin's half-brother
  • Princess Ekaterina "Kitty" Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya – Dolly's younger sister and later Levin's wife
  • Princess Elizaveta "Betsy" – Anna's wealthy, morally loose society friend and Vronsky's cousin
  • Countess Lidia Ivanovna – Leader of a high society circle that includes Karenin, and shuns Princess Betsy and her circle. She maintains an interest in the mystical and spiritual
  • Countess Vronskaya – Vronsky's mother
  • Sergei "Seryozha" Alexeyich Karenin – Anna and Karenin's son
  • Anna "Annie" – Anna and Vronsky's daughter
  • Varenka – a young orphaned girl, semi-adopted by an ailing Russian noblewoman, whom Kitty befriends while abroad

Plot introduction

Anna Karenina is the tragedy of married aristocrat and socialite Anna Karenina and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. The story starts when she arrives in the midst of a family broken up by her brother's unbridled womanizing – something that prefigures her own later situation, though with less tolerance for her by others.

A bachelor, Vronsky is willing to marry her if she would agree to leave her husband Karenin, a government official, but she is vulnerable to the pressures of Russian social norms, her own insecurities and Karenin's indecision. Although Vronsky eventually takes Anna to Europe where they can be together, they have trouble making friends. She is shunned, becoming further isolated and anxious. Despite Vronsky's reassurances she grows increasingly paranoid about his imagined infidelity, fears losing control and eventually takes her own life.

A parallel story within the novel is of Levin, a country landowner who desires to marry Kitty, sister to Dolly and sister-in-law to Anna's brother Oblonsky. Levin has to propose twice before Kitty accepts. The novel details Levin's difficulties managing his estate, his eventual marriage, and personal issues, until the birth of Levin's first child.

Plot summary

The novel is divided into eight parts. Its epigraph
Epigraph may refer to:* an inscription, as studied in the archeological sub-discipline of epigraphy* Epigraph , a phrase, quotation, or poem that is set at the beginning of a document or component...

 is Vengeance is mine, I will repay, from Romans
Epistle to the Romans
The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, often shortened to Romans, is the sixth book in the New Testament. Biblical scholars agree that it was composed by the Apostle Paul to explain that Salvation is offered through the Gospel of Jesus Christ...

 12:19. And Saul/Paul's Letter to Romans is actually quoting from the Song of Moses-Deuteronomy 32:35.

The novel begins with one of its most quoted lines:

Part 1

The novel opens with a scene introducing Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky, "Stiva", a Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 aristocrat and civil servant who has been unfaithful to his wife Darya Alexandrovna, nicknamed "Dolly". Dolly has discovered his affair—with the family's governess—and the house and family are in turmoil. Stiva's affair and his reaction to his wife's distress show an amorous personality that he cannot seem to suppress.

In the midst of the turmoil, Stiva reminds the household that his married sister, Anna Arkadyevna Karenina is coming to visit from Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea...


Meanwhile, Stiva's childhood friend Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin ("Kostya") arrives in Moscow with the aim of proposing to Dolly's youngest sister Princess Katerina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya, "Kitty". Levin is a passionate, restless, but shy aristocratic landowner who, unlike his Moscow friends, chooses to live in the country on his large estate. He discovers that Kitty is also being pursued by Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, an army officer.

At the railway station to meet Anna, Stiva bumps into Vronsky. Vronsky is there to meet his mother, the Countess Vronskaya. Anna and Vronskaya have traveled together in the same carriage and talked together. As the family members are reunited, and Vronsky sees Anna for the first time, a railway worker accidentally falls in front of a train and is killed. Anna interprets this as an "evil omen." Vronsky is infatuated with Anna. Anna, who is uneasy about leaving her young son, Seryozha, alone for the first time, talks openly and emotionally to Dolly about Stiva's affair and convinces Dolly that her husband still loves her, despite his infidelity. Dolly is moved by Anna's speeches and decides to forgive Stiva.

Dolly's youngest sister, Kitty, comes to visit her sister and Anna. Kitty, just 18, is in her first season as a debutante
A débutante is a young lady from an aristocratic or upper class family who has reached the age of maturity, and as a new adult, is introduced to society at a formal "début" presentation. It should not be confused with a Debs...

 and is expected to make an excellent match with a man of her social standing. Vronsky has been paying her considerable attention, and she expects to dance with him at a ball that evening. Kitty is very struck by Anna's beauty and personality and is infatuated with her. When Levin proposes to Kitty at her home, she clumsily turns him down, because she believes she is in love with Vronsky and that he will propose to her.

At the ball, Vronsky pays Anna considerable attention, and dances with her, choosing her as a partner instead of Kitty, who is shocked and heartbroken. Kitty realises that Vronsky has fallen in love with Anna, and that despite his overt flirtations with her he has no intention of marrying her and in fact views his attentions to her as mere amusement, believing that she does the same.

Anna, shaken by her emotional and physical response to Vronsky, returns at once to Saint Petersburg. Vronsky travels on the same train. During the overnight journey, the two meet and Vronsky confesses his love. Anna refuses him, although she is deeply affected by his attentions to her.

Levin, crushed by Kitty's refusal, returns to his estate farm, abandoning any hope of marriage, and Anna returns to her husband Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, a senior government official, and their son Sergei ("Seryozha") in Saint Petersburg.
On seeing her husband for the first time since her encounter with Vronsky, Anna realises that she finds him repulsive, noting the odd way that his ears press against his hat.

Part 2

The Shcherbatskys consult doctors over Kitty's health, which has been failing since her realization that Vronsky does not love her and that he did not intend to propose marriage to her - and that she refused and hurt Levin, whom she cares for, in vain. A specialist doctor advises that Kitty should go abroad to a health spa
The term spa is associated with water treatment which is also known as balneotherapy. Spa towns or spa resorts typically offer various health treatments. The belief in the curative powers of mineral waters goes back to prehistoric times. Such practices have been popular worldwide, but are...

 to recover. Dolly speaks to Kitty and understands that she is suffering because of Vronsky and Levin. Kitty, humiliated by Vronsky and tormented by her rejection of Levin, upsets her sister by referring to Stiva's infidelity and says she could never love a man who betrayed her.

Stiva stays with Levin on his country estate when he makes a sale of a plot of land, to provide funds for his expensive city lifestyle. Levin is upset at the poor deal he makes with the buyer and his lack of understanding of the rural lifestyle.

In Saint Petersburg, Anna begins to spend more time with the fashionable socialite and gossip Princess Betsy and her circle, in order to meet Vronsky, Betsy's cousin. Vronsky continues to pursue Anna. Although Anna initially tries to reject him, she eventually succumbs to his attentions.

Karenin warns Anna of the impropriety of paying too much attention to Vronsky in public, which is becoming a subject of society gossip. He is concerned about his and his wife's public image, although he believes that Anna is above suspicion.

Vronsky, a keen horseman, takes part in a steeplechase
Steeplechase may refer to:* Steeplechase, an event in horse racing* SteepleChase, a Danish jazz label* Steeplechase , a 1975 arcade game released by Atari...

 event, during which he rides his mare
Female horses are called mares.Mare is the Latin word for "sea".The word may also refer to:-People:* Ahmed Marzooq, also known as Mare, a footballer and Secretary General of Maldives Olympic Committee* Mare Winningham, American actress and singer...

 Frou-Frou too hard and she falls and breaks her back. Vronsky escapes with minimal injuries but is devastated that his mare must be shot. Anna tells him that she is pregnant with his child, and is unable to hide her distress when Vronsky falls from the racehorse. Karenin is also present at the races and remarks to her that her behaviour is improper. Anna, in a state of extreme distress and emotion, confesses her affair to her husband. Karenin asks her to break off the affair to avoid society gossip and believes that their relationship can then continue as previously.

Kitty goes with her mother to a resort at a German spa
Spring (hydrosphere)
A spring—also known as a rising or resurgence—is a component of the hydrosphere. Specifically, it is any natural situation where water flows to the surface of the earth from underground...

 to recover from her ill health. There they meet the Pietist Madame Stahl and the saintly Varenka, her adopted daughter. Influenced by Varenka, Kitty becomes extremely pious, but is disillusioned by her father's criticism. She then returns to Moscow.

Part 3

Levin continues his work on his large country estate, a setting closely tied to his spiritual thoughts and struggles. Levin wrestles with the idea of falseness, wondering how he should go about ridding himself of it, and criticising what he feels is falseness in others. He develops ideas relating to agriculture and the unique relationship between the agricultural labourer and his native land and culture. He believes that the agricultural reforms of Europe will not work in Russia because of the unique culture and personality of the Russian peasant.

Levin pays Dolly a visit, and she attempts to understand what happened between him and Kitty and to explain Kitty's behaviour to him. Levin is very agitated by Dolly's talk about Kitty, and he begins to feel distant from her as he perceives her behaviour towards her children as false. Levin resolves to forget Kitty and contemplates the possibility of marriage to a peasant
A peasant is an agricultural worker who generally tend to be poor and homeless-Etymology:The word is derived from 15th century French païsant meaning one from the pays, or countryside, ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.- Position in society :Peasants typically...

 woman. However, a chance sighting of Kitty in her carriage as she travels to Dolly's house makes Levin realise he still loves her.

In St. Petersburg, Karenin crushes Anna by refusing to separate from her. He insists that their relationship remain as it was and threatens to take away their son Seryozha if she continues to pursue her affair with Vronsky.

Part 4

Anna continues to pursue her affair with Vronsky. Karenin begins to find the situation intolerable. He talks with a lawyer about obtaining a divorce. In Russia at that time, divorce could only be requested by the innocent party in an affair, and required either that the guilty party confessed (which would ruin Anna's position in society) or that the guilty party be discovered in the act. Karenin forces Anna to give him some letters written to her by Vronsky as proof of the affair. However, Anna's brother Stiva argues against it and persuades Karenin to speak with Dolly first.

Dolly broaches the subject with Karenin and asks him to reconsider his plans to divorce Anna. She seems to be unsuccessful, but Karenin changes his plans after hearing that Anna is dying after a difficult childbirth
Childbirth is the culmination of a human pregnancy or gestation period with the birth of one or more newborn infants from a woman's uterus...

. At her bedside, Karenin forgives Vronsky. Vronsky, embarrassed by Karenin's magnanimity, attempts suicide by shooting himself. He fails in his attempt but wounds himself badly.

Anna recovers, having given birth to a daughter, Anna ("Annie"). Although her husband has forgiven her, and has become attached to the new baby, Anna cannot bear living with him. She hears that Vronsky is about to leave for a military posting in Tashkent
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and of the Tashkent Province. The officially registered population of the city in 2008 was about 2.2 million. Unofficial sources estimate the actual population may be as much as 4.45 million.-Early Islamic History:...

 and becomes desperate. Stiva finds himself pleading to Karenin on her behalf to free her by giving her a divorce. Vronsky is intent on leaving for Tashkent
Tashkent is the capital of Uzbekistan and of the Tashkent Province. The officially registered population of the city in 2008 was about 2.2 million. Unofficial sources estimate the actual population may be as much as 4.45 million.-Early Islamic History:...

, but changes his mind after seeing Anna.

The couple leave for Europe - leaving behind Anna's son Seryozha - without accepting Karenin's offer of divorce.

Much more straightforward is Stiva's matchmaking with Levin: he arranges a meeting between Levin and Kitty which results in their reconciliation and betrothal.

Part 5

Levin and Kitty marry and immediately go to start their new life together on Levin's country estate. The couple are happy but do not have a very smooth start to their married life and take some time to get used to each other. Levin feels some dissatisfaction at the amount of time Kitty wants to spend with him and is slightly scornful of her preoccupation with domestic matters, which he feels are too prosaic and not compatible with his romantic ideas of love.

A few months later, Levin learns that his brother Nikolai is dying of consumption. Levin wants to go to him, and is initially angry and put out that Kitty wishes to accompany him. Levin feels that Kitty, whom he has placed on a pedestal, should not come down to earth and should not mix with people from a lower class. Levin assumes her insistence on coming must relate to a fear of boredom from being left alone, despite her true desire to support her husband in a difficult time. Kitty persuades him to take her with him after much discussion, where she proves a great help nursing Nikolai for weeks during his slow dying. She also discovers she is pregnant.

In Europe, Vronsky and Anna struggle to find friends who will accept their situation. Whilst Anna is happy to be finally alone with Vronsky, he feels suffocated. They cannot socialize with Russians of their own social set and find it difficult to amuse themselves. Vronsky, who believed that being with Anna in freedom was the key to his happiness, finds himself increasingly bored and unsatisfied. He takes up painting, and makes an attempt to patronize an émigré Russian artist of genius. Vronsky cannot see that his own art lacks talent and passion, and that his clever conversation about art is really pretentious. Bored and restless, Anna and Vronsky decide to return to Russia.

In St. Petersburg, Anna and Vronsky stay in one of the best hotels but take separate suites. It becomes clear that whilst Vronsky is able to move in Society, Anna is barred from it. Even her old friend, Princess Betsy - who has had affairs herself - evades her company. Anna starts to become very jealous and anxious that Vronsky no longer loves her.

Karenin is comforted – and influenced – by the strong-willed Countess Lidia Ivanovna, an enthusiast of religious and mystic ideas fashionable with the upper classes. She counsels him to keep Seryozha away from Anna and to make him believe that his mother is dead. However, Seryozha refuses to believe that this is true. Anna manages to visit Seryozha unannounced and uninvited on his ninth birthday, but is discovered by Karenin.

Anna, desperate to resume at least in part her former position in Society, attends a show at the theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

 at which all of Petersburg's high society are present. Vronsky begs her not to go, but is unable to bring himself to explain to her why she cannot go. At the theatre, Anna is openly snubbed by her former friends, one of whom makes a deliberate scene and leaves the theatre. Anna is devastated.

Unable to find a place for themselves in Petersburg, Anna and Vronsky leave for Vronsky's country estate.

Part 6

Dolly, her mother the Princess Scherbatskaya, and Dolly's children spend the summer with Levin and Kitty on the Levins' country estate. The Levins' life is simple and unaffected, although Levin is uneasy at the "invasion" of so many Scherbatskys. He is able to cope until he is consumed with an intense jealousy when one of the visitors, Veslovsky, flirts openly with the pregnant Kitty. Levin tries to overcome his jealousy but eventually succumbs to it and in an embarrassing scene makes Veslovsky leave his house. Veslovsky immediately goes to stay with Anna and Vronsky at their nearby estate.

Dolly also pays a short visit to Anna at Vronsky's estate. The difference between the Levins' aristocratic but simple home life and Vronsky's overtly luxurious and lavish country estate strikes Dolly, who is unable to keep pace with Anna's fashionable dresses or Vronsky's extravagant spending on the hospital
A hospital is a health care institution providing patient treatment by specialized staff and equipment. Hospitals often, but not always, provide for inpatient care or longer-term patient stays....

 he is building. In addition, all is not quite well with Anna and Vronsky. Dolly notices Anna's anxious behaviour and new habit of half closing her eyes when she alludes to her difficult position. When Veslovsky flirts openly with Anna, she plays along with him even though she clearly feels uncomfortable. Vronsky makes an emotional request to Dolly, asking her to convince Anna to divorce her husband so that the two might marry and live normally. Dolly broaches the subject with Anna, who appears not to be convinced. However, Anna has become intensely jealous of Vronsky, and cannot bear it when he leaves her for short excursions. The two have started to quarrel about this and when Vronsky leaves for several days of provincial elections, a combination of boredom and suspicion convinces Anna she must marry him in order to prevent him from leaving her. She writes to Karenin, and she and Vronsky leave the countryside for Moscow.

Part 7

The Levins are in Moscow for Kitty's confinement. Despite initial reservations, Levin quickly gets used to the fast-paced, expensive and frivolous Moscow society life. He starts to accompany Stiva to his Moscow gentleman's club, where drinking and gambling are popular pastimes. At the club, Levin meets Vronsky and Stiva introduces them. Levin and Stiva pay a visit to Anna, who is occupying her empty days by being a patroness to an orphaned English girl. Levin is uneasy about the visit and not sure it is the proper thing to do, but Anna easily puts Levin under her spell. When he confesses to Kitty where he has been, she accuses him falsely of falling in love with Anna. The couple are reconciled, realising that Moscow society life has had a negative, corrupting effect on Levin.

Anna, who has made a habit of inducing the young men who visit her to fall in love with her, cannot understand why she can attract a man like Levin, who has a young and beautiful new wife, but cannot attract Vronsky in the way she wants to. Anna's relationship with Vronsky is under increasing strain, as whilst he can move freely in Society - and continues to spend considerable time doing so to stress to Anna his independence as a man - she is excluded from all her previous social connections. Her increasing bitterness, boredom, jealousy and emotional strain cause the couple to argue. Anna uses morphine
Morphine is a potent opiate analgesic medication and is considered to be the prototypical opioid. It was first isolated in 1804 by Friedrich Sertürner, first distributed by same in 1817, and first commercially sold by Merck in 1827, which at the time was a single small chemists' shop. It was more...

 to help her sleep, a habit we learned she had begun during her time living with Vronsky at his country estate. Now she has become dependent on it.

After a long and difficult labour, Kitty gives birth to a son, Dmitri, nicknamed Mitya. Levin is both horrified and profoundly moved by the sight of the tiny, helpless baby.

Stiva visits Karenin to encourage his commendation for a new post he is seeking. During the visit he asks him to grant Anna a divorce, but Karenin's decisions are now governed by a French "clairvoyant" – recommended by Lidia Ivanovna – who apparently has a vision in his sleep during Stiva's visit, and gives Karenin a cryptic message that is interpreted as meaning that he must decline the request for divorce.

Anna becomes increasingly jealous and irrational towards Vronsky, whom she suspects of having love affairs with other women, and of giving in to his mother's plans to marry him off to a rich Society woman. There is a bitter row, and Anna believes that the relationship is over. She starts to think of suicide as an escape from her torments. In her mental and emotional confusion, she sends a telegram to Vronsky asking him to come home to her, and pays a visit to Dolly and Kitty. Anna's confusion and vengeful anger overcomes her, and in a parallel to the railway worker's accidental death in part 1, she commits suicide by throwing herself in the path of a train.

Part 8

Stiva gets the job he desired so much, and Karenin takes custody of baby Annie. A group of Russian volunteers, including the suicidal Vronsky, depart from Russia to fight in the Orthodox Serbia
Serbia , officially the Republic of Serbia , is a landlocked country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeast Europe, covering the southern part of the Carpathian basin and the central part of the Balkans...

n revolt that has broken out against the Turks
Turkey , known officially as the Republic of Turkey , is a Eurasian country located in Western Asia and in East Thrace in Southeastern Europe...

. Meanwhile, a lightning storm occurs at Levin's estate while his wife and newborn son are outside, causing him to fear for the safety of both of them, and to realize that he does indeed love his son similarly to how he loves Kitty. Kitty's family concerns, namely, that a man as altruistic as her husband does not consider himself to be a Christian, are also addressed when Levin decides after talking to a peasant that devotion to living righteously is the only justifiable reason for living. After coming to this decision, but unable to tell anyone about it, he is initially displeased that this change of thought does not bring with it a complete transformation of his behaviour to be more righteous. However, at the end of the book he comes to the conclusion that this fact, and the fact that there are other religions with similar views on goodness that are not Christian, are acceptable and that neither of these things diminish the fact that now his life can be meaningfully oriented toward goodness.


Tolstoy's style in Anna Karenina is considered by many critics to be transitional, forming a bridge between the realist
Literary realism
Literary realism most often refers to the trend, beginning with certain works of nineteenth-century French literature and extending to late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century authors in various countries, towards depictions of contemporary life and society "as they were." In the spirit of...

 and modernist novel. The novel is narrated from a third-person-omniscient perspective, shifting the narrator's attention to several major characters, though most frequently focusing on the opposing lifestyles and attitudes of its central protagonists of Anna and Levin. As such, each of the novel's eight sections contains internal variations in tone: it assumes a relaxed voice when following Stepan Oblonsky's thoughts and actions and a much more tense voice when describing Levin's social encounters. Much of the novel's seventh section depicts Anna's thoughts fluidly, following each one of her ruminations and free associations with its immediate successor. This groundbreaking use of stream-of-consciousness would be utilised by such later authors as James Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

, Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf
Adeline Virginia Woolf was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century....

, and William Faulkner
William Faulkner
William Cuthbert Faulkner was an American writer from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner worked in a variety of media; he wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays during his career...


Also of significance is Tolstoy's use of real events in his narrative, to lend greater verisimilitude to the fictional events of his narrative. Characters debate significant sociopolitical issues affecting Russia in the latter half of the nineteenth century, such as the place and role of the Russian peasant in society, education reform, and women's rights. Tolstoy's depiction of the characters in these debates, and of their arguments, allows him to communicate his own political beliefs. Characters often attend similar social functions to those which Tolstoy attended, and he includes in these passages his own observations of the ideologies, behaviors, and ideas running through contemporary Russia through the thoughts of Levin. The broad array of situations and ideas depicted in Anna Karenina allows Tolstoy to present a treatise on his era's Russia, and, by virtue of its very breadth and depth, all of human society. This stylistic technique, as well as the novel's use of perspective, greatly contributes to the thematic structure of Anna Karenina.

Major themes

Anna Karenina is commonly thought to explore the themes of hypocrisy, jealousy, faith, fidelity, family, marriage, society, progress, carnal desire and passion, and the agrarian connection to land in contrast to the lifestyles of the city.
Translator Rosemary Edmonds
Rosemary Edmonds
Rosemary Edmonds , born Rosemary Lilian Dickie, was a British translator of Russian literature whose editions of Leo Tolstoy have been in print for 50 years.-Biography:...

 wrote that Tolstoy doesn't explicitly moralise in the book, he allows his themes to emerge naturally from the "vast panorama of Russian life." She also says one of the novel's key messages is that "no one may build their happiness on another's pain."
Levin is often considered as a semi-autobiographical portrayal of Tolstoy's own beliefs, struggles and life events. Tolstoy's first name is "Lev", and the Russian surname "Levin" means "of Lev". According to footnotes in the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation, the viewpoints Levin supports throughout the novel in his arguments match Tolstoy's outspoken views on the same issues. Moreover, according to W. Gareth Jones, Levin proposed to Kitty in the same way as Tolstoy to Sophia Behrs. Additionally, Levin's request that his fiancée read his diary as a way of disclosing his faults and previous sexual encounters, parallels Tolstoy's own requests to his fiancée Sophia Behrs.

Anna Karenina and Tolstoy's A Confession

Many of the novel's themes can also be found in Tolstoy's A Confession
A Confession
A Confession is a short work on questions of religion by Leo Tolstoy. It was first distributed in Russia in 1882.Consisting of autobiographical notes on the development of the author's belief, A Confession shows the process of searching for answers to the profound questions: "What will come of my...

, his first-person rumination about the nature of life and faith, written just two years after the publication of Anna Karenina.

In this book, Tolstoy describes his dissatisfaction with the hypocrisy of his social class:
Tolstoy also details the acceptability of adulterous "liaisons" in aristocratic Russian society:
Another theme in Anna Karenina is that of the aristocratic habit of speaking French instead of Russian, which Tolstoy suggests is another form of society's falseness. When Dolly insists on speaking French to her young daughter, Tanya, she begins to seem false and tedious to Levin, who finds himself unable to feel at ease in her house.

In a passage that could be interpreted as a sign of Anna's eventual redemption in Tolstoy's eyes, the narrator explains:

A Confession
A Confession
A Confession is a short work on questions of religion by Leo Tolstoy. It was first distributed in Russia in 1882.Consisting of autobiographical notes on the development of the author's belief, A Confession shows the process of searching for answers to the profound questions: "What will come of my...

 contains many other autobiographical insights into the themes of Anna Karenina. A public domain
Public domain
Works are in the public domain if the intellectual property rights have expired, if the intellectual property rights are forfeited, or if they are not covered by intellectual property rights at all...

 version of it is on Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Christian Classics Ethereal Library
The Christian Classics Ethereal Library is a digital library that provides free electronic copies of Christian scripture and literature texts....


Film, television, and theatrical adaptations and references

Anna Karenina in literature

  • The novel is referenced in Vladimir Nabokov
    Vladimir Nabokov
    Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was a multilingual Russian novelist and short story writer. Nabokov wrote his first nine novels in Russian, then rose to international prominence as a master English prose stylist...

    's Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
    Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle
    Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov published in 1969.Ada began to materialize in 1959, when Nabokov was flirting with two projects: "The Texture of Time" and "Letters from Terra." In 1965, he began to see a link between the two ideas, finally composing a unified novel...

  • Repeated reference is made explicitly to Leo Tolstoy and Anna Karenina in Muriel Barbery
    Muriel Barbery
    Muriel Barbery is a French novelist and professor of philosophy.-Biography:Barbery studied at the Lycée Lakanal, entered the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in 1990 and obtained her agrégation in philosophy in 1993...

    's Elegance of the Hedgehog
  • Anna Karenina is also mentioned in R. L. Stine
    R. L. Stine
    Robert Lawrence Stine , known as R. L. Stine, and Jovial Bob Stine, is an American writer. Stine, who is called the "Stephen King of children's literature," is the author of hundreds of horror fiction novels, including the books in the Fear Street, Goosebumps, Rotten School, Mostly Ghostly, and The...

    's Goosebumps
    Goosebumps is a series of children's horror fiction novels written by American author R. L. Stine and first published by Scholastic Publishing. It is a collection of stories that feature semi-homogenous plot structures, with fictional children being involved in scary situations...

     series Don't Go To Sleep.
  • Mikhail Bulgakov
    Mikhail Bulgakov
    Mikhaíl Afanásyevich Bulgákov was a Soviet Russian writer and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century. He is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita, which The Times of London has called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.-Biography:Mikhail Bulgakov was born on...

     makes reference to the Oblonsky household and Tolstoy in The Master and Margarita
    The Master and Margarita
    The Master and Margarita is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, woven around the premise of a visit by the Devil to the fervently atheistic Soviet Union. Many critics consider the book to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, and one of the foremost Soviet satires, directed against a...

  • In Jasper Fforde
    Jasper Fforde
    Jasper Fforde is a British novelist. Fforde's first novel, The Eyre Affair, was published in 2001. Fforde is mainly known for his Thursday Next novels, although he has written several books in the loosely connected Nursery Crime series and begun two more independent series: The Last Dragonslayer...

    's novel Lost in a Good Book, a recurring joke is two unnamed "crowd-scene" characters from Anna Karenina discussing its plot.
  • In the short-story "Sleep" by Haruki Murakami
    Haruki Murakami
    is a Japanese writer and translator. His works of fiction and non-fiction have garnered him critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize and Jerusalem Prize among others.He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature...

    , the main character, an insomniac housewife, spends much time reading through and considering "Anna Karenina". Furthermore, in the short story "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo", by the same author, the character of Frog references "Anna Karenina" when discussing how to beat Worm.
  • Martin Amis
    Martin Amis
    Martin Louis Amis is a British novelist, the author of many novels including Money and London Fields . He is currently Professor of Creative Writing at the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester, but will step down at the end of the 2010/11 academic year...

    's character Lev, in the novel House of Meetings
    House of Meetings
    House of Meetings, by Martin Amis, is a 2006 novel about two brothers who share a common love interest while living in a Soviet gulag during the last decade of Stalin's rule. This novel was written by Amis during a two year long self-imposed exile in Uruguay following the release and tepid...

    , compares the protagonist with Anna Kareninas Vronsky.
  • In the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being
    The Unbearable Lightness of Being
    The Unbearable Lightness of Being , written by Milan Kundera, is a philosophical novel about two men, two women, a dog and their lives in the Prague Spring of the Czechoslovak Communist period in 1968. Although written in 1982, the novel was not published until two years later, in France...

     Anna Karenina is compared with the novel-like beauty of life, and Tereza arrives at Tomas's apartment with a copy of the book under her arm. In addition, Tereza and Tomas have a pet dog named Karenin, after Anna's husband.
  • Anna Karenina plays a central role in Nilo Cruz
    Nilo Cruz
    Nilo Cruz is an Cuban-American playwright and pedagogue. With his award of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play, Anna in the Tropics, he became the first Latino so honored.-Early years:...

    's Pulitzer Prize
    Pulitzer Prize
    The Pulitzer Prize is a U.S. award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature and musical composition. It was established by American publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is administered by Columbia University in New York City...

    -winning play Anna in the Tropics
    Anna in the Tropics
    Anna in the Tropics is a play by Nilo Cruz.When Cuban immigrants brought the cigar-making industry to Florida in the 19th Century, they carried with them another tradition. As the workers toiled away in the factory hand rolling each cigar, the lector, , would read to them...

     (2002), set in 1929, as a new lector, Juan Julian, reads the text as background for cigar rollers in the Ybor City section of Tampa, FL. As he reads the story of adultery, the workers' passions are inflamed, and end in tragedy like Anna's.
  • In "The Slippery Slope
    The Slippery Slope
    The Slippery Slope is the tenth installment in the book series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Daniel Handler under the pseudonym of Lemony Snicket.-Plot Summary:...

    ", the 10th book in A Series of Unfortunate Events
    A Series of Unfortunate Events
    A Series of Unfortunate Events is a series of children's novels by Lemony Snicket which follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents' death in an arsonous house fire...

     by Lemony Snicket
    Lemony Snicket
    Lemony Snicket is the pen name of American novelist Daniel Handler . Snicket is the author of several children's books, serving as the narrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events and appearing as a character within the series. Because of this, the name Lemony Snicket may refer to both a fictional...

    , the Baudelaire orphans, Violet
    Violet Baudelaire
    Violet Baudelaire is one of the main characters in the children's book series A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket and appears in all thirteen books. She is the oldest of the Baudelaire orphans at 14 years old, and often helps her 12-year-old brother Klaus and her baby sister Sunny...

     and Klaus
    Klaus Baudelaire
    Klaus Baudelaire is one of the main characters in the children's book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket who appears in all thirteen novels. Klaus is the middle child of the Baudelaire orphans; he has an older sister named Violet and a younger sister named Sunny...

    , and the third Quagmire triplet, Quigley
    Quagmire triplets
    The Quagmires are a principal family in the children's novel series A Series of Unfortunate Events by American author Lemony Snicket. The unnamed Quagmire parents were members of the secret vigilante organization V.F.D...

    , need to use the central theme of Anna Karenina as the final password to open the Vernacularly Fastened Door leading to the V.F.D. Headquarters. Klaus remembered how his mother had read it to him one summer when he was young as a summer reading book. Klaus summarized the theme with these words: "The central theme of Anna Karenina is that a rural life of moral simplicity, despite its monotony, is the preferable personal narrative to a daring life of impulsive passion, which only leads to tragedy." Esme Squalor later said she once was supposed to read the book over the summer, but she decided it would never help her in her life and threw it in the fireplace.
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel
    Guns, Germs, and Steel
    Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies is a 1997 book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles . In 1998 it won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction and the Aventis Prize for Best Science Book...

     (by Jared Diamond
    Jared Diamond
    Jared Mason Diamond is an American scientist and author whose work draws from a variety of fields. He is currently Professor of Geography and Physiology at UCLA...

    ) has a chapter (#9) on the domestication of large mammals, titled "Zebras, Unhappy Marriages, and the Anna Karenina Principle
    Anna Karenina principle
    The Anna Karenina principle was popularized by Jared Diamond in his book Guns, Germs and Steel to describe an endeavor in which a deficiency in any one of a number of factors dooms it to failure...

    ." This chapter begins with a variation on the quote above.
  • in Nicholas Sparks's book The Last Song, the main character, Ronnie, reads Anna Karenina and other Tolstoy books throughout the story.
  • in Anton Chekhov
    Anton Chekhov
    Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian physician, dramatist and author who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history. His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics...

    's The Duel, there are two references. In Chapter II: "And he remembered that when Anna Karenin got tired of her husband, what she disliked most of all was his ears, and thought: 'How true it is, how true!'", and again in Chapter XII: "It's not for nothing they whistle. The fact that girls strangle their illegitimate children and go to prison for it, and that Anna Karenin flung herself under the train,..."


  • Anna Karénina, Translated by Nathan Haskell Dole
    Nathan Haskell Dole
    Nathan Haskell Dole was an American editor, translator, and author. He attended Phillips Academy, Andover, and graduated from Harvard University in 1874. He was a writer and journalist in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston...

     (Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., New York, 1886)
  • Anna Karenina, Translated by Constance Garnett
    Constance Garnett
    Constance Clara Garnett was an English translator of nineteenth-century Russian literature...

    . (1901) Still widely reprinted.
  • Anna Karenina, Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude (Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the Vice-Chancellor known as the Delegates of the Press. They are headed by the Secretary to the Delegates, who serves as...

    , Oxford, 1918)
  • Anna Karenin, Translated by Rosemary Edmonds
    Rosemary Edmonds
    Rosemary Edmonds , born Rosemary Lilian Dickie, was a British translator of Russian literature whose editions of Leo Tolstoy have been in print for 50 years.-Biography:...

     (Penguin Classics, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1954)
  • Anna Karenina, Translated by Joel Carmichael
    Joel Carmichael
    -Early life and education:Joseph Lipsky was born December 31, 1915 in New York. He was the youngest son of Charlotte Schacht and Louis Lipsky, a founder of the American Zionist movement...

     (Bantam Books, New York, 1960)
  • Anna Karenina, Translated by David Magarshack
    David Magarshack
    David Magarshack was a British translator and biographer of Russian authors, best known for his translations of Dostoevsky....

     (A Signet Classic, New American Library, New York and Scarborough, Ontario, 1961)
  • Anna Karénina, Translated by Margaret Wettlin (Progress Publishers, 1978)
  • Anna Karenina, Translated by Richard Pevear
    Richard Pevear
    Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky are a couple that are best known for their collaborative translations. Most of their translations are of works in Russian, but also French, Italian, and Greek. Their translations have been nominated three times and twice won the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club...

     and Larissa Volokhonsky (Allen Lane/Penguin, London, 2000)
  • Anna Karenina, Translated by Kyril Zinovieff and Jenny Hughes (Oneworld Classics 2008) ISBN 978-1-84749-059-9

Biographical and literary criticism

  • Bakhtin, Mikhail, The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (University of Texas Press
    University of Texas Press
    The University of Texas Press is a university press that is part of the University of Texas at Austin. Established in 1950, the Press publishes scholarly books in several areas, including Latin American studies, Texana, anthropology, U.S...

    , Austin, 1981)
  • Bayley, John, Tolstoy and the Novel (Chatto and Windus, London, 1966)
  • Berlin, Isaiah, The Hedgehog and the Fox: An Essay on Tolstoy's View of History (Simon & Schuster
    Simon & Schuster
    Simon & Schuster, Inc., a division of CBS Corporation, is a publisher founded in New York City in 1924 by Richard L. Simon and M. Lincoln Schuster. It is one of the four largest English-language publishers, alongside Random House, Penguin and HarperCollins...

    , New York, 1966; Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1967)
  • Eikhenbaum, Boris, Tolstoi in the Seventies, trans. Albert Kaspin (Ardis, Ann Arbor, 1982)
  • Evans, Mary, Anna Karenina (Routledge, London and New York, 1989)
  • Gifford, Henry, Tolstoy (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1982)
  • Gifford, Henry (ed) Leo Tolstoy (Penguin Critical Anthologies, Harmondsworth, 1971)
  • Leavis, F. R., Anna Karenina and Other Essays (Chatto and Windus, London, 1967)
  • Mandelker, Amy, Framing 'Anna Karenina': Tolstoy, the Woman Question, and the Victorian Novel (Ohio State University Press
    Ohio State University Press
    The Ohio State University Press, founded in 1957, is a university press and a part of The Ohio State University.-External links:*...

    , Columbus, 1993)
  • Morson, Gary Saul, Anna Karenina in our time: seeing more wisely (Yale University Press 2007) read parts at Google Books
  • Nabokov, Vladimir, Lectures on Russian Literature (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, New York, 1981)
  • Orwin, Donna Tussing, Tolstoy's Art and Thought, 1847-1880 (Princeton University Press
    Princeton University Press
    -Further reading:* "". Artforum International, 2005.-External links:* * * * *...

    , Princeton, 1993)
  • Speirs, Logan, Tolstoy and Chekhov (Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    , Cambridge, 1971)
  • Strakhov, Nikolai, N., "Levin and Social Chaos", in Gibian, ed., (W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2005).
  • Steiner, George, Tolstoy or Dostoevsky: An Essay in Contrast (Faber and Faber, London, 1959)
  • Thorlby, Anthony, Anna Karenina (Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press
    Cambridge University Press is the publishing business of the University of Cambridge. Granted letters patent by Henry VIII in 1534, it is the world's oldest publishing house, and the second largest university press in the world...

    , Cambridge and New York, 1987)
  • Tolstoy, Leo, Correspondence, 2. vols., selected, ed. and trans. by R. F. Christian (Athlone Press, London and Scribner, New York, 1978)
  • Tolstoy, Leo, Diaries, ed. and trans. by R. F. Christian (Athlone Press, London and Scribner, New York, 1985)
  • Tolstoy, Sophia A., The Diaries of Sophia Tolstoy, ed. O. A. Golinenko, trans. Cathy Porter (Random House, New York, 1985)
  • Turner, C. J. G., A Karenina Companion (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Waterloo, 1993)
  • Wasiolek, Edward, Critical Essays on Tolstoy (G. K. Hall, Boston, 1986)
  • Wasiolek, Edward, Tolstoy's Major Fiction (University of Chicago Press
    University of Chicago Press
    The University of Chicago Press is the largest university press in the United States. It is operated by the University of Chicago and publishes a wide variety of academic titles, including The Chicago Manual of Style, dozens of academic journals, including Critical Inquiry, and a wide array of...

    , Chicago, 1978)

Anna Karenina in English

Anna Karenina in Russian

Related works

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