Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina is one of the most loved and memorable heroines of literature. The novel tells of the decline of a woman who was shunned by society.

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

One of the greatest books of Russian, and world, literature, Anna Karenina follows a number of aristocratic families in the Moscow and St Petersburg society of the late-nineteenth century. The plot centres around an extramarital affair between Anna and Count Vronsky. The reaction of society to this affair raises a series of critiques on the position of women compared to that of men, both in the society as a whole and the family.

However, the novel has a wider purpose. With its cast of over twelve major characters, Tolstoy deals with themes of betrayal, faith, family, marriage, imperial Russian society, desire, and rural versus city life. The novel is imbued with Tolstoy’s philosophy, which finds its spokesperson in Levin, a wealthy country landowner, through whom the author tries to spread his ideas regarding the treatment of peasants and the rural life.

The opening line of Anna Karenina is arguably the most famous beginning to a novel. How do you interpret that sentence?

Both Anna and Stiva commit adultery during the novel. Why are the consequence of his actions insignificant compared to those of his sister?

Vronsky and Anna’s relationship, and Levin and Kitty’s, are almost put in parallel. How do they compare? How do they differ?

What part does religion play in the novel?

The novel is primarily set in St Petersburg, Moscow and the Russian countryside. What role do these three settings play and what characteristics are linked to each of them?

Who is truly responsible for Anna’s suicide in the end?


Anna and Vronsky move to his country estate but their relationship starts to decline. Anna is confined and unaccepted by the larger society because of her marital status, while Vronsky can move freely in his social circle. When back in Moscow, Anna becomes increasingly jealous and irrational when she suspects and accuses him of having several affairs. She becomes addicted to morphine which she starts taking to help her sleep. The two have a bitter row and Anna believes that the relationship is over. In a state of confusion and anger Anna commits suicide by throwing herself under a train.

At the same time, Levin and Kitty have a baby. The birth of his son changes Levin’s outlook on life, and more precisely on religion. He vows to become a different man following a truthful and righteous path.

Anna’s suicide is foreshadowed at the beginning of the novel, when she meets Levin for the first time at the train station and a man falls under the train and dies.

A 2007 poll of 125 writers declared Anna Karenina the ‘greatest novel ever written’.

Tolstoy’s political views were unpopular at the time and he clashed with the editor of the periodical in which the novel was being published in its serialised form. Hence, the first complete appearance of the novel was as a book.

Many details of Leo and Sofya Tolstoy’s courtship appear in Levin and Kitty’s romance.

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