Tolstoy Anna Karenina

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Leo Tolstoy, the author and his times, Anna Karenina, the plot, characters, Setting, structure and style

LEO TOLSTOY: THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES

Leo Tolstoy was a man of many parts–soldier, sensualist,

country nobleman, writer, teacher and social critic, and, not

least, benevolent patriarch. Photographs taken of him in his

later years show a fearsome-looking man with long hair and a

flowing beard, dressed in peasant’s clothes, surrounded by his

wife and children. In writing his panoramic novels of Russian

life, Tolstoy drew heavily on his varied experiences. Indeed,

he gave to some of his central characters, as in Anna Karenina,

his own thoughts and feelings, which were sometimes, as you’ll

see, contradictory.


Leo (or Lev) Nikolayevich, Count Tolstoy was born near Moscow

on August 28 (September 9, New Style), 1828, into an old

aristocratic family that for generations had been in the Czar’s

inner circle. Orphaned at nine, he was raised and educated by

an aunt. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan where he

was greatly influenced by the writings of the 18th-century

French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who espoused the

virtues of nature and a simple life. He left the university in

1847 without obtaining a degree.


Tolstoy then spent time carousing and hunting. Because he

was awkward and not as handsome as some of the other young

nobles in his social circle, he was nicknamed „Lyvochka the

bear.“ We know from his diaries that Tolstoy was divided against

himself: Although he devoted himself fully to having a wild

time, he felt guilty about it. But he couldn’t determine the

source of his guilty feelings. Although he believed in God, he

had no patience for organized religion and the rules it imposed

on life (he was later excommunicated for his views by the

Russian Orthodox Church).


Fed up with city life, Tolstoy went back to Yasnaya Polyana

(Clear Glade), his family’s ancestral estate near Moscow. His

plan was to become a farmer and devote himself to improving the

lot of peasants. He developed a system whereby he would sell

peasants small pieces of land year by year, so that they, too,

would be property owners and have a personal stake in the

productivity of Yasnaya Polyana. Although the peasants liked

him personally, they couldn’t understand why a nobleman would

try to help them, and so they distrusted his efforts. Terribly

disappointed, Tolstoy went to Moscow, where he spent two more

years (1848-1850) living the high life. His diaries show a

restless, searching young man who gambled and played with women

by night, and then chastised himself by day. He began to write

during this time and in 1852 published Childhood, a reminiscence

that received good reviews. He later wrote Boyhood (1854) and

Youth (1856).


Perhaps in another burst of restlessness, Tolstoy in 1851

followed one of his brothers, Nicholas, by volunteering for the

army; he served in the Caucasus fighting Tatar guerrillas. He

continued to write and in 1854-1856 published Sevastopol

Sketches. These accounts of the Crimean War (in which Russia

fought Turkey, England, France, and Sardinia) catapulted Tolstoy

to the front rank of contemporary Russian writers.


He left the army in 1855 and went to Saint Petersburg, the

Russian capital, where the literary community welcomed him. But

Tolstoy had no patience for the intellectuals he found there or

for their urbane, middle-class views. He had one dispute after

another, the most famous of which was with Ivan Turgenev, then

the recognized master of the Russian literary scene. Tolstoy

disagreed with his fellow writers basically because as a

Slavophile–an admirer of Slavic, and especially Russian

culture–he didn’t share their enchantment with Western European

notions of progress.


Tolstoy then traveled extensively in Europe, visiting France,

Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and England. (He spoke French,

German, and English.) A major reason for his travels was to

study European systems of education, about which he had

developed a keen interest. His exposure to European ways,

however, made him feel all the more strongly that Russia was a

case apart and could not look to the West to help it realize its

destiny.


In 1859, Tolstoy started a school at Yasnaya Polyana for the

children of his peasants. Convinced that refined,

European-style education killed youthful exuberance, he did

everything possible to nurture his pupils‘ spontaneity and

curiosity.


In 1860, Tolstoy’s brother Nicholas died of tuberculosis.

Tolstoy was deeply affected by his death and later re-created it

in Anna Karenina, when he described the death of Levin’s

brother, also named Nicholas. Like Levin–the novel’s hero,

whose life he patterned on his own–Tolstoy immersed himself in

the affairs of his estate as a way of alleviating his emotional

pain.


In 1862, Tolstoy married Sofya (Sonya) Andreyevna Behrs, the

daughter of a prominent Moscow physician. Then began the most

productive period of his life. He wrote War and Peace,

considered one of the world’s great novels, from 1864 to 1869.

He completed Anna Karenina, another masterpiece, in 1876, while

producing a series of short stories, as well as essays on

religion, art, and social subjects.


In his books Tolstoy, like most writers, used material from

his personal experiences as well as from the world around him.

This is very evident in Anna Karenina. He had wanted for some

time to write „a novel of contemporary life,“ as he put it.

Marriage, an enduring theme in his work, would be a central

concern. So, too, would adultery. Tolstoy had recently had an

affair with one of his peasants and had abandoned the child of

this union. He felt extremely guilty, and you can sense this

clearly in Anna Karenina. Tolstoy got the idea for the novel’s

ending and its heroine’s first name from the suicide in 1872 of

Anna Stepanovna Pirogova, the betrayed common-law wife of one of

Tolstoy’s neighbors, who threw herself under a train. Tolstoy

had known Anna Stepanovna and went to the autopsy following her

death. You’ll note his passion for close observation in the

startlingly exact description of Anna Karenina’s suicide.


Tolstoy was not only an artist of high standards but also a

man continually struggling with spiritual matters. This, too,

comes across in Anna Karenina. Levin’s struggles and visionary

projects in the novel are similar to Tolstoy’s. Levin’s

marriage to Kitty and his happiness in their domestic life

reflect Tolstoy’s marriage to Sonya and their happy first years

together. He based the character of Kitty on Sonya.


Anna Karenina is a towering achievement because Tolstoy

succeeded not only in presenting a panoramic picture of his era,

but because he dealt with aspects of human nature that are

timeless. You can find people throughout history with problems

similar to Anna’s desperation and guilt, Karenin’s fear of

intimacy, Vronsky’s struggle to keep himself from being

smothered by Anna’s possessiveness. Most readers consider

Tolstoy one of the great masters at drawing psychological

portraits of people. The insights about human nature you will

gain by reading Anna Karenina will probably help you understand

the people around you.


Tolstoy’s later books reflect a man becoming increasingly

conservative and religious. In The Kreutzer Sonata (1889), a

novel, Tolstoy describes marriage as a wasteland, and sexual

relations–even between husband and wife–as essentially evil.

In another novel, Resurrection (1899-1900), he violently attacks

civilization and argues strongly in favor of an ascetic way of

life. A Confession (1882) is a detailed account of Tolstoy’s

torturous coming to terms with religion.


We know from his diaries and from his children’s

reminiscences that as an old man Tolstoy wanted to leave his

family to go off and die alone in the mountains, as religious

ascetics before him had done. But the death of his youngest son

in 1895 so affected his wife Sonya that he dared not leave her.

In his last years, Tolstoy’s memory faltered seriously and he

suffered fainting spells, after which he would frequently ask

for relatives who had died decades before. On November 20,

1910, a month after one of these attacks, he died at the train

station in the small town of Astapovo, after having finally

decided to flee from Yasnaya Polyana.


All his life Tolstoy had been a combatant, a swimmer against

the tide. He was at odds with his social class on matters of

lifestyle, on priorities in education, on the emancipation of

the serfs (which he strongly favored), and in his belief that

Russia must avoid industrialization and Western models of

progress. He was progressive as an educator, in many ways ahead

of his time as a writer, and visionary as a political thinker.

Yet he opposed women’s rights and became a religious ascetic,

patterning himself after such thinkers as Lao-tzu, the ancient

Chinese philosopher.


It has been said that Tolstoy’s novels have more sweep than

those of any other author in the history of literature. Leo

Tolstoy, it could be said, was many men and inhabited many

worlds in his lifetime. He acknowledged that he never totally

resolved the contradictions between his ideals and the way in

which he lived. But he forged those struggles into a singular

body of literary work. His novels are masterpieces that readers

continue to find exciting and relevant.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: THE PLOT


Anna Karenina has two parallel plots rather than one story

line. Tolstoy builds his book on the personal quests of Anna

and Levin, his two principal characters. For much of the book,

their paths are separate; in fact, they don’t meet until the end

of the book, when the differences between them are especially

glaring.


The book begins with a domestic crisis. Stiva, Anna’s

brother, has been caught again cheating on his wife. Anna is

able to convince Dolly, her sister-in-law, to forgive Stiva.


At this point, the beautiful and charming Anna appears as a

kind and generous woman. She is married to Karenin, a

high-ranking government official. Relations between them seem

stable, polite if not passionate.


But then Anna meets, and falls in love with, the young Count

Vronsky. She tries to avoid him, but he will not give up. They

have a torrid affair, and she becomes pregnant. Unable to live

a life of duplicity, she confesses to her husband. Karenin

insists that Anna and he go on living as though nothing were

wrong. In that way, he says, they will not be criticized and

gossiped about by society, whose censure–or, worse,

ridicule–he fears. But Anna continues to see Vronsky on the

sly. When Karenin finds out, he investigates the ways in which

he might obtain a divorce.


Anna falls gravely ill after giving birth to Vronsky’s

daughter. Karenin, however, at what he thinks is her deathbed,

forgives her everything. Anna, delirious with fever, swears

that all she wants is to be at peace with Karenin, that he is

the one she loves.


Vronsky, who is also at Anna’s bedside, is humiliated in

Karenin’s presence. Desperately afraid that Anna will soon die,

he shoots himself. But he doesn’t die, and neither, at this

time, does Anna. Karenin realizes that he had, in fact, hoped

for her death. Confronted with her living reality, he is unable

to summon the forgiving feelings he felt so strongly at her

bedside. When Anna goes back to Vronsky, he refuses a divorce

and custody of their son, Seriozha. Anna then goes to Italy

with Vronsky.


Anna, who is now abandoned by her former friends and

acquaintances, finds herself condemned to a life of loneliness

and idleness. Vronsky, however, as an unmarried man, escapes

society’s censure; he’s free to come and go as he pleases, and

does so. Anna becomes increasingly neurotic and fearful. She

convinces herself that Vronsky loves someone else, when, in

fact, he is as much in love with her as ever. There is a lot of

tension beneath the surface and they quarrel frequently.


Anna, neither Vronsky’s wife nor merely his mistress, depends

entirely on his love for her peace of mind. But this love isn’t

enough for her; no one, at this point, could satisfy Anna’s

emotional needs. After a particularly bitter argument with

Vronsky, she takes her life.


Parallel with, and in sharp contrast to, Anna’s story is the

story of Levin and his pure love (in Tolstoy’s view). Levin, a

wealthy landowner, comes to town to propose to Kitty, a

vivacious and attractive young woman, who is–or thinks she

is–in love with Vronsky. She refuses Levin. Vronsky, however,

once having met Anna, has no interest in any other woman.


Levin is heartbroken by Kitty’s refusal. He returns to his

country estate and buries himself in work. He is writing a book

meant to revolutionize farming practices in Russia. He proposes

that landowners strike a 50-50 partnership with laborers. That

way, he reasons, the laborers will work harder because they will

have a real stake in the harvest, and everyone’s profits will

rise.


Kitty, meanwhile, traumatized by Vronsky’s rejection, falls

ill. Her family takes her to a German spa. There, she

gradually recovers and admits that it was Levin she loved all

along.


Kitty and Levin meet sometime later. Levin proposes again,

and Kitty accepts. They marry and later have a son.


Through his happiness with Kitty, Levin is able gradually to

come to terms with his lifelong struggle to believe in God.

Kitty helps Levin to deal with the death of his brother Nicholas

and his horror of death in general.


Anna’s and Levin’s stories veer close to each other at times

through such major characters as Stiva, Anna’s brother, and

Vronsky, who was once Levin’s rival for Kitty.


Thematically, the quests of Anna and Levin are contrasted.

Anna’s is a search for personal fulfillment through romantic

love; Levin’s is one of spiritual fulfillment through marriage,

family, and hard work. Through their stories, Tolstoy attempts

to evaluate Russia’s past and present and to express his vision

for its future.


Many Russian novels have large numbers of characters, and

Anna Karenina is no exception. It can be difficult to keep them

all straight, especially since each Russian uses three names. A

Russian has a given name (such as Anna or Stepan); a middle name

that refers to the father (patronymic), the suffix of which

means either „son of“ or „daughter of“ (for example, Anna

Arkadyevna and Stepan Arkadyevich, children of Arkady); and a

family name, which also has masculine and feminine forms (Anna

Arkadyevna Oblonskaya and Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky). When a

woman marries, she takes the feminine form of her husband’s

family name (Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, wife of Karenin). Common

masculine suffixes are -ovich, -ievich,–ich, and -ych. Common

feminine suffixes are -a,–ovna, -ievna, and–ishna. (Not all

English translations include such suffixes. For instance, a

popular translation by Rosemary Edmonds has the title Anna

Karenin [New York: Penguin, 1954]). Russians also have

nicknames (such as Stiva.)


The seven principal characters in Anna Karenina are Anna

herself, Levin, Vronsky, Stiva (Stepan), Kitty, Dolly, and

Karenin. Each of them is considered below in an individual

profile. To help you keep track of the others, here is a list

of the major and more important minor characters in Anna

Karenina:


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: THE OBLONSKY FAMILY


Prince Stepan Arkadyevich Oblonsky (Stiva), Anna’s brother


Princess Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya (Dolly), Stiva’s wife,

Kitty’s sister, and eldest daughter of Prince Shcherbatsky


Tanya, Grisha, Alyosha, Nikolenka, children of Stiva and

Dolly


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: THE KARENIN FAMILY


Alexey Alexandrovich Karenin, Anna’s husband


Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, Karenin’s wife, Vronsky’s lover,

and Stiva’s sister


Sergey Alexeyich Karenin (Seriozha), Anna and Alexey’s son


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: THE LEVIN FAMILY


Konstantin Dmitrich Levin (Kostya), Kitty’s husband


Catherine Alexandrovna Levina (Kitty), Levin’s wife, the

youngest daughter of Prince Shcherbatsky


Mitya, their infant son


Nicholas Levin, Kostya’s brother


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: THE SHCHERBATSKY FAMILY


Prince Alexander Shcherbatsky, the father of Kitty, Dolly,

and Nataly


Princess Shcherbatskaya, the mother of Kitty, Dolly, and

Nataly


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: THE VRONSKY FAMILY


Count Alexey Kirilich Vronsky, Anna’s lover


Countess Vronskaya, his mother


Princess Natalie Alexandrovna Lvova, Kitty and Dolly’s

sister, who lives abroad


Prince Lvov (Arseny), her husband


Mary Nikolaevna (Masha), who lives with Levin’s brother


Annushka, Anna’s maid


Countess Lydia Ivanovna, Karenin’s friend, a mystic Princess

Elizabeth Fedorovna Tverskaya (Betsy), a society lady who is

especially cruel to Anna


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: ANNA ARKADYEVNA KARENINA


Rarely in literature is a character so utterly ruined as Anna

Karenina. Beautiful and unaffected, she becomes deceptive,

jealous, and spiteful. The change in her will probably horrify

you, yet even when Anna is destructive she arouses your

compassion. In conflict with her mixed-up society, she has no

resources against the turmoil within her.


She fights a magnificently tough but losing battle. As you

will note, there are numerous angles from which to examine her

downfall.


1. ANNA IS FATALLY FLAWED.


Following this interpretation of Anna’s ruin, readers

generally contrast her to Levin, the hero of the book. Levin

thirsts for spiritual enlightenment, while Anna seeks personal

happiness. Levin attains his goal, Anna does not. In her

quest, Anna does not think of others. Levin, on the other hand,

is obsessed with trying to establish peace and equilibrium

between himself and others.


Anna’s quest is purely emotional, and by the end her reason

fails her. She is described as having „an excess of feeling,“ a

trait shared by many of the female characters in Tolstoy’s

books. Levin is above all lucid, as are all of Tolstoy’s

heroes. Tolstoy has often been criticized for endowing his

female characters with feelings that tend to overpower their

brains. Even Anna, arguably the most intelligent and

well-educated female character Tolstoy ever created, can’t hold

on to her wits.


2. ANNA BETRAYS THE FUNCTIONS OF HER SEX.


Anna is seen in relief against two other female

characters–Dolly and Kitty. The primary function of sex,

believes Tolstoy, is to create children, not personal pleasure.

Both Dolly and Kitty are wives and mothers before all else.

Anna refuses to have children after she and Vronsky begin living

together. Not only does Anna refuse her societal role, but she

breaks the natural cycle of birth-life-death.


Dolly and Kitty both make meaningful lives for themselves,

Anna does not.


3. ANNA IS A VICTIM OF HER SOCIETY.


Following the custom of her social set, Anna’s marriage to

Karenin was arranged by relatives. Love–which Anna needs and

desires before all else–was never a factor in this match.

There is no passion in her marriage with Karenin; their life

contributes to Anna’s emotional delicacy because it suffocates

and frustrates her.


Adultery is accepted in Anna’s social circle, so long as it

is carried on in the proper style. It is understood that most

husbands and wives have lovers, but they’re expected to be

discreet. Anna finds this hypocritical, and Vronsky, madly in

love, makes no attempt to hide it either.


Yet her society has a strong hold on Anna. When Karenin asks

what will give her peace, she feels too guilty to say, „To

divorce you, keep our son, and live with Vronsky.“


Although Anna and Vronsky retire to their own world, Anna is

again tripped up by convention. Her friends abandon her because

she is „living in sin.“ Vronsky, though, can go where he wishes.

Anna is enraged at the double standard. Loneliness drives her

nearly insane. Reeling from the brutal treatment of her former

friends, she’s unable to believe in Vronsky’s love. Where once

her love for him was passionate and tender, it becomes

possessive and vengeful. Pathologically insecure, Anna destroys

herself in order to spite Vronsky.


You could also say that neither Karenin nor Vronsky is a

perfect match for Anna, for both men, in different ways, are

products of their society. False and corrupt, such a society

could never produce a worthy man for a woman as intelligent and

honestly passionate as Anna.


Tolstoy made no secret of his contempt for city life and

„society.“ Anna’s death–which he based on a true incident–can

therefore be seen as his way of indicting the society that

destroyed her.


4. ANNA REPRESENTS THE CITY.


For Tolstoy, the city denotes alienation and corruption. He

believes that cities and urban values would ultimately destroy

Russia. As a woman of society, Anna embodies the sparkle,

sophistication and seductiveness–as well as the depravity–of

the city. By destroying her, Tolstoy scores a small victory in

his battle to save Russia.


5. ANNA REPRESENTS TOLSTOY’S DARK SIDE.


Like Anna, Tolstoy had an adulterous affair, with a peasant

woman on his estate. And, like Anna, he abandoned the child he

had with his extramarital lover.


Tolstoy felt terrible guilt over this affair. His death

sentence for Anna has been interpreted as a gesture of

self-loathing.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: KONSTANTIN DMITRICH LEVIN

(KOSTYA)


Levin is the hero of Anna Karenina. In fact, some readers

believe Anna was created by Tolstoy primarily to point up

Levin’s superiority. Where Anna maneuvers hysterically to

achieve the perfect romance, Levin strives to find coherence in

life and death, love and work. Anna is a portrait of

alienation; Levin finds harmony with those around him. In Anna,

you see the moral collapse of urban society; in Levin, you see

Tolstoy’s hopes for the future of Russia.


Levin changes during the course of the novel. He achieves

harmony in several ways:


1. LOVE AND PASSION


Before he married, Levin had numerous sexual involvements,

all merely to satisfy his youthful lustiness. His love for

Kitty, however, is emotional and spiritual, as well as physical.

He is entirely faithful to his wife; for them, sex has a sacred

quality. In this, Levin contrasts with Stiva, who never finds

sexual happiness in marriage, and with Anna, who never finds

emotional security in her sexual relations.


2. LOVE AND WORK


Levin sometimes feels overwhelmed by his responsibilities as

a husband, father, landowner, and estate manager. Yet, by the

end of Anna Karenina, he realizes that his mission–working the

land, sharing the proceeds with his peasants–not only provides

him income but will provide his heirs with meaningful work and a

foothold in the future of Russia.


3. INTELLECTUAL AND PHYSICAL WORK


Tolstoy did not admire Russia’s urban intellectuals who, he

felt, had no understanding of, or appreciation for, the

peasants, whom he considered the backbone of the country.

Levin, well-educated and himself an intellectual, finds deep

satisfaction in toiling side-by-side with the peasants. Levin’s

book, which advances his (and Tolstoy’s) belief that peasants

must be able to own land, represents a synthesis of physical and

mental labors.


4. CITY AND COUNTRY


At the beginning of the novel, Levin is terribly

uncomfortable in the city. At times, he seems even somewhat

boorish.


Kitty, though, is from the city and enjoys life there. When

they spend the winter in Moscow, Levin manages to make a life

for himself in the city. Under his young wife’s beneficent

influence, he shows you more social grace and polish than you

would have imagined possible.


5. LIFE AND DEATH


Levin’s greatest victory is arriving at a less panicky, more

accepting attitude toward death. In the early and middle part

of the novel, Levin can hardly bear to look at his dying

brother, let alone talk to him about his impending death. When

Levin isn’t shutting the eventuality of death entirely from his

mind, he dwells on it morbidly. For a time, Levin believes that

death robs life of all meaning and that a God who permits death

must be evil.


In time–after his marriage, the death of his brother, and

the birth of his son–Levin realizes that life is a cycle, and

that death has its rightful place in that cycle.


6. ATHEISM AND FAITH


Levin’s understanding that birth, life, and death form a

whole enables him to be open to the possibility of belief in

God.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: COUNT ALEXEY KIRILICH VRONSKY


Vronsky is described (by Kitty’s father) as „a perfect

specimen of Saint Petersburg gilded youth.“ He is an aristocrat,

a soldier, a horseman, and a womanizer. He has charm to burn,

polish to spare, and looks that comrades envy. In his time and

place, he is far from unusual. As Kitty’s father puts it, men

like Vronsky „are a dime a dozen.“


But Vronsky’s affair with Anna Karenina sets him apart from

his peers. Many readers feel that Vronsky is the worst villain

in this story. Others feel that he is more limited than

corrupt, more baffled than cunning, more desperate than cruel.

As you read, you will have to come up with your own

assessment.


At the beginning of Anna Karenina, Vronsky leads Kitty on

with little thought for her feelings. He also gives the

stationmaster’s wife 200 rubles just to impress Anna Karenina.

Neither of these incidents makes you think that Vronsky is very

deep. Perhaps the most damning event of all is the

steeplechase: Vronsky, distracted by the praise of the crowd,

makes a mistake that costs his horse her life.


On the other hand, Vronsky is not satisfied with a secretive

liaison with Anna. He wants to marry her and have a family

life. He gives up his dreams of being a career soldier in order

to be with Anna. He is more mature than Anna in terms of their

relationship.


Many readers criticize Vronsky for not insisting that Anna’s

former friends include her in their activities–after all,

they’re his friends, too. It may be that his sympathies are

limited. Society doesn’t punish Vronsky the way it does Anna

for living with him. He is unable–because he doesn’t

experience it himself–to appreciate Anna’s pain. It may also

be that Vronsky needs some time to socialize by himself–Anna,

by this point, is extremely hard to live with. Yet in spite of

her jealousy, her temper, and her tears, Vronsky continues to

love Anna, is faithful to her, and does not consider leaving

her.


Vronsky is devastated by Anna’s suicide. At the end, you see

him going off to fight the Turks on behalf of the Slavs. Some

readers say that he wants to do something with his life; others

that he is backing into an „honorable“ suicide.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: PRINCE STEPAN ARKADYEVICH OBLONSKY

(STIVA)


„Everything was upset in the Oblonskys‘ house,“ Tolstoy

writes at the beginning of Anna Karenina–and it’s all because

of Stiva, Anna’s brother. Dolly, Stiva’s wife, has learned of

yet another of his love affairs, and this time she’s threatening

divorce.


Stiva is charming and sentimental. He loves good food, good

wine, lively conversation, music, the theater, parties–and

women. Everyone likes Stiva, he is so much fun to have around.

And no one is a better host.


However, Stiva is also deceitful, and in certain ways cruel.

He never intended to be, and never is faithful to his wife, who

loves him. He can’t help himself, and besides, he’s only

behaving like most of the men he knows. Does he rate a plus or

a minus in your estimation?


The bane of Stiva’s existence is money. Years of high living

have depleted his money, and now he’s starting to use his wife’s

inheritance to pay his gambling debts.


It has been said that Stiva is but a shallower version of

Anna. He lives by his passions, but nowhere nearly as intensely

as his sister.


Good-natured Stiva is Tolstoy’s portrait of decadence,

hypocrisy, and self-indulgence. Still, he radiates charm.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: PRINCESS CATHERINE ALEXANDROVNA

SHCHERBATSKY (KITTY)


Kitty finds her deepest happiness in being a wife and mother,

a role for women that Tolstoy favored. Absolutely clear about

her place, she brings harmony to her home and peace of mind to

her husband. She has an instinctive appreciation for the human

cycle–birth, life, death–and does not fear it. Though not

well-read, Kitty is very intelligent and extremely practical.

She has abiding faith and trust in the goodness of God.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: PRINCESS DARYA ALEXANDROVNA

OBLONSKAYA (DOLLY)


Dolly is Kitty’s sister, Stiva’s wife, and Anna’s

sister-in-law. She represents the long-suffering betrayed wife

and devoted mother. In many ways, Dolly is heroic. She makes

do with little money, she raises good children, she is, in

general, clear–though unhappy–about her lot in life. Her

husband’s infidelities have robbed her of dignity, financial and

emotional security, and a sense of herself as an attractive

woman. Yet she carries on with almost no bitterness. In spite

of Stiva’s failings, she loves and is true to him. You might

say that Dolly is a fool, but given the society she lives in,

she makes the best of her options (which are, anyway, very

few).


Dolly is also compassionate and a true friend. Although

everyone else avoids Anna, she visits her and remains her

friend.


Dolly devotes herself to those she loves, which makes her a

type of heroine according to Tolstoy. Many readers feel she

gets a raw deal in the novel.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: ALEXEY ALEXANDROVICH KARENIN


Karenin is obsessed with appearances, with doing what is

„correct,“ with order. He is very rational, and has hardly any

imagination. He’s ponderous rather than passionate and is

frightened of strong emotions. By the end, Karenin is

pathetic.


He and Anna have a proper marriage. Their ways are regular

and their household is prosperous, but the sexual charge between

them is essentially dead. This is fine with Karenin–he doesn’t

go in for romance. In fact, he married Anna, at the insistence

of Anna’s aunt, after he had flirted with Anna at a ball. He

loves Anna, less because of the woman she is–he remains

indifferent to that aspect of conjugal intimacy–than because

she is simply his wife. Once married, Karenin plays the role of

husband completely. Unlike Stiva, he is faithful; Karenin obeys

every letter of the law.


When Karenin learns of Anna’s affair with Vronsky, the only

demand he makes is that their life go on as usual, so that no

one might find out that anything is wrong in their home life.

He is concerned more with superficial honor than with his own or

his wife’s happiness.


At what he believes is Anna’s deathbed, Karenin undergoes a

sort of religious awakening. He vows to forgive her and

Vronsky, to give her anything she wants, so long as it brings

peace. But he’s unable to fulfill the Christian ideal of

forgiveness–she’s too egotistical. He tells himself he keeps

custody of his and Anna’s son out of consideration for the boy.

Can you suggest another reason?


Karenin is as easily manipulated as he is manipulative. You

know that he was maneuvered into his marriage. And virtually

all his actions are dictated by the conventions of society. At

the end, having failed in his efforts to be a true Christian, he

is easy prey for Lydia Ivanovna, a mystic who uses her

„religion“ as a way of keeping Karenin close to herself and an

enemy to Anna.


You might contrast Levin’s religious awakening with

Karenin’s. After his, Levin resolves to be more humane;

Karenin, however, is confirmed in his plans for vengeance.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: SETTING


The setting of Anna Karenina shifts back and forth between

the city and the countryside. Tolstoy believed that the land

was Russia’s most precious asset and that country life was the

truly Russian way of life. His use of setting in the novel is

closely tied to this theme.


In the city, Tolstoy shows you a shallow, hypocritical

drawing-room society made up mostly of idle aristocrats,

bureaucrats, and „professional social gadflies.“ Episodes that

contain the seeds of disaster, scenes of cruelty, and examples

of self-delusion and deceit take place in the city. Anna gives

in to Vronsky’s charms in the city, where the two also first

make love; Karenin’s fake fulfillment of the Christian ideal of

forgiveness happens at Anna’s bedside in Saint Petersburg;

Anna’s former friends ostracize her at the Saint Petersburg

opera house.


All the characters are affected negatively by city life.

Anna and Vronsky fight more in the city than in the country.

Kitty and Levin, too, are happier in the country than in the

city. Levin, usually so careful and thrifty, finds that he

overspends during the winter, when he and his family live in the

city.


Scenes of quite different character occur in the country,

where Levin, for example, creates a meaningful, enlightened life

with his family and farm workers. In the country, Levin has a

true spiritual illumination.


Tolstoy expresses his hope for the future of Russia in

Levin’s new farming system and relationship with peasants. But

Tolstoy was afraid that urban priorities would destroy country

life and, in his view, Russia. In describing Stiva’s sale of

his forest, Tolstoy depicts the ignorance that city people have

of the value of land. Tolstoy gives form to another of his

fears in writing of Stiva’s management of a partnership between

banks and the railroads to develop train transportation all

through Russia. This plan would necessitate the destruction of

great tracts of fertile farm land.


In Anna Karenina, the train station is synonymous with

disaster. Anna and Vronsky first meet at a train station. Anna

has a recurring nightmare set in a train station, and she

commits suicide by throwing herself under a train. Our last

encounter with Vronsky is at a train station: he is departing

for the Slavonic war in Turkey, a cause Tolstoy opposed.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: THEMES


„I will write a novel about a woman who commits adultery,“

Tolstoy reportedly said to his wife as he began Anna Karenina.

But his concerns were broader than that, and in telling Anna’s

story, he touches on a number of important themes.


1. MARRIAGE


Many readers think Anna Karenina is the greatest novel about

marriage ever written. Tolstoy draws portraits of three

marriages: Dolly and Stiva’s, Anna and Karenin’s, Kitty and

Levin’s, as well as Anna and Vronsky’s domestic relationship.

All but Kitty and Levin are unhappy.


Stiva regards marriage as a social convention, something one

has to submit to. He would like Dolly to make as few emotional

demands upon him as possible; her job is to run the household,

supervise the education of the children, and make as much money

as possible available to him for his personal pleasure.


Outwardly, Anna and Karenin appear to have a happy home. But

appearances are deceiving; they have no romance or sexual

excitement between them. For Anna, their life is suffocatingly

predictable.


Anna and Vronsky’s relationship fails for the opposite

reason: theirs is little more than a romantic entanglement in

which sex (for Anna, at any rate) is more important than

anything else.


The marriage of Kitty and Levin is typical of what Tolstoy

considered ideal. It is a voluntary, rather than arranged,

match between a man who is happy in his work and spiritually at

peace and a woman who feels that her purpose in life is to

devote herself to her family.


2. WOMAN’S ROLE


Some readers believe that Anna suffers because she betrays

the functions of her sex. Her life disintegrates because by

refusing to fulfill her „proper“ role in life, she clashes not

only with her husband, but also with her society and the man she

truly loves. Out of sync with the scheme of things, she’s

unable to restrain her self-destructive impulses.


But there’s another way to consider Anna’s failure as a

woman. She refuses to have more children with Vronsky because

she fears that pregnancy, nursing, and the other

responsibilities of motherhood will lessen her sexual

attractiveness. For Vronsky, she wants to be constantly

beguiling and romantic–in short, an object of perennial

delight.


In Tolstoy’s terms, this desire of Anna’s denotes failure

because it places her outside the grand cycle of

birth-life-death. In twentieth–century feminist terms, Anna

fails on this score because she strives to be an object rather

than a person.


3. RELIGION


Tolstoy treats the theme of religion in much the same way

that he handles the theme of marriage–by using several

characters to embody particular viewpoints and experiences.


Kitty has an unquestioning faith in God and His goodness.

Death holds no horror for Kitty, since she believes that death

has not only a rightful place in the natural order, but a

higher, spiritual purpose as well.


Karenin tries hard to be a good Christian. After learning of

Anna’s love affair with Vronsky, he strives to turn the other

cheek. But he cannot. What he really wants is to be

„virtuous,“ in order to satisfy his ego rather than his soul.


Until the very end of the novel, Levin battles with his lack

of faith. His first struggles are with the fact of

death–which, he holds, doesn’t allow for the possibility of the

existence of God. It is through Kitty, who knows how to care

for his dying brother, that Levin perceives that death may be

part of a benign, though mysterious, cycle.


Part VIII, Chapter 12 is when Levin has his final spiritual

illumination. After a talk with a peasant, Levin realizes that

we must live for „what is good,“ Goodness–because it is outside

cause and effect–is what Levin construes as God.


4. VENGEANCE


„Vengeance is mine; I will repay“ is one of the most puzzling

epigraphs in world literature. Biblical in origin (from St.

Paul’s letter to the Romans), the sentence in its entirety

reads, „‚Vengeance is mine; I will repay,‘ saith the Lord.“


Karenin takes vengeance on Anna, Anna’s former friends take

vengeance on her, and Anna takes vengeance on Vronsky.


But Tolstoy said he was concerned primarily with the

vengeance of God. He believes that God punishes those who live

only for themselves. And so Anna and Vronsky’s passion for one

another becomes their torment and their doom.


5. RUSSIA


Anna Karenina is also a panoramic novel of Russia. Tolstoy

addresses himself to what he considered to be the crucial issues

in his nation.


A. City vs. Country


Tolstoy is convinced that city „society“ will ruin Russia.

He feels the backbone of Russia is the rural areas and

peasantry. Stiva, therefore, as the personification of urban

values is one of the villains in the novel. Levin, the

enlightened landowner, is the hero.


B. The Emancipation of the Serfs


Tolstoy favored the 1861 Emancipation. Before that, Russian

peasants were essentially slaves, bound to their landowners, not

all of whom, needless to say, treated them with the concern that

Levin (and Tolstoy) showed their serfs. When the Czar decreed

the serfs free in 1861, the peasants were permitted to own land,

to accumulate capital, to employ others, and to form local

governing bodies.


C. Industrialization


The 19th century was a time of rapid industrialization in

Europe. Tolstoy (and Levin) concluded–after a tour of

Europe–that Russia was not meant to be industrialized, that the

„gold-mine“ of Russia is in the land, in farming.


Tolstoy held that Europe and Russia were vastly different,

not only in terms of their resources, but in temperament, soul,

and destiny, as well.


D. The Slavic Question


In 1875 (while Tolstoy was finishing the novel), the Slavs

living in the Ottoman Empire revolted against the discrimination

they had long suffered. Many Russians favored supporting the

Slavs and fought against the Turks. Stiva and Vronsky support

the campaign; Levin does not. Where do you think Tolstoy stood

on this question?


6. HARMONY


In Anna Karenina, the only happy characters are those who

strike a balance between the various demands made upon them, who

manage to resolve conflicts between themselves and those to whom

they are close, and between competing ambitions.


Think of Levin, Anna, and Stiva. Which character achieves

balance in his life?


7. ANNA AND LEVIN


The title of the novel bears the name of the heroine, but the

story belongs equally to the hero.


Tolstoy compares and contrasts Anna and Levin. Trace the

development of these two characters. Think about the ways they

are affected by the society in which they live, their goals, and

the obstacles they try to overcome.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: STYLE


Henry James (whose novels are models of structural clarity

and symmetry) once referred to Tolstoy’s War and Peace as a

„loose and baggy monster.“ He might have said the same about

Anna Karenina, which, like War and Peace, is an epic, a sweeping

story on a grand scale. On the other hand, Anna Karenina is

more compact than War and Peace, and might be said to be a

psychological rather than a historical epic. It’s easy to

imagine Tolstoy thinking of his novels much the way he thought

of Russia–as territories so vast their boundaries are out of

sight.


Tolstoy’s epics are extremely realistic. They are filled

with precise physical details intended to convey to you an idea,

a mood, a feeling. Every time Karenin cracks his knuckles, for

example, you know he is nervous. When Anna screws up her eyes,

you know she is straining to see, trying to understand what is

happening either in front of or inside her. Kitty’s „truthful

eyes“ are a window to her undeceiving nature. And Stiva’s

frequent playing with his whiskers is an indication of his

vanity and self-centeredness.


Tolstoy’s set pieces–minutely rendered, theatrically staged

sequences–by themselves would have guaranteed him a permanent

place in literature. Not only does he give you an indelible

picture of a specific incident but he intertwines the

advancement of plot, the development of character, and the

elaboration of major themes. Notable set pieces in Anna

Karenina include Kitty and Levin’s wedding, the steeplechase,

the harvest, and the hunt.


Symbolism and foreshadowing are also important techniques;

Tolstoy often uses them together. A symbol is something that

stands for something else. Tolstoy often uses a stormy sky to

symbolize–or represent–the turmoil in Levin’s soul. One event

is said to foreshadow another if it gives a hint of what is to

happen later. For example, Vronsky’s killing his horse in the

steeplechase foreshadows his responsibility in Anna’s death

later on. It also symbolizes Vronsky’s careless egotism. The

train station is a symbol of disaster. Anna’s recurring dream

set in a train station foretells–or foreshadows–that she will

die in such a place.


Tolstoy did not go in for fancy language. What he wanted,

above all, was to communicate directly to his readers, and he

does so through fine observations presented in vivid, precise

language.


The translation considered the closest to Tolstoy’s style is

that of Aylmer Maude (1918; revised 1938). In 1901, Constance

Garnett, the renowned translator of Dostoevsky and other Russian

writers, did an English version of Anna Karenina. Garnett’s

translation is a more old–fashioned reading than Maude’s.

Compare the following passages from Part VII, Chapter 23:


In order to carry through any undertaking in family life,

there must necessarily be either complete division between the

husband and wife, or loving agreement. When the relations of a

couple are vacillating and neither one thing nor the other, no

sort of enterprise can be undertaken.


(Garnett)


Before any definite step can be taken in a household, there

must be either complete division or loving accord between

husband and wife. When their relations are indefinite it is

impossible for them to make any move.


(Maude)


Another comparison, from Part I, Chapter 22, will show

further the difference between the two translations:


It was one of Kitty’s happy days. Her dress did not feel

tight anywhere, the lace around her bodice did not slip, the

bows did not crumple or come off, the pink shoes with their high

curved heels did not pinch but seemed to make her feet lighter.

The thick rolls of fair hair kept up as if they had grown

naturally on the little head. All three buttons on each of her

long gloves, which fitted without changing the shape of her

hand, fastened without coming off. The black velvet ribbon of

her locket clasped her neck with unusual softness. The ribbon

was charming, and when Kitty had looked at her neck in the glass

at home, she felt that that ribbon was eloquent.


(Maude)


It was one of Kitty’s best days. Her dress was not

uncomfortable anywhere; her lace berthe did not droop anywhere;

her rosettes were not crushed nor torn off, her pink slippers

with high, hollowed-out heels did not pinch, but gladdened her

feet; and the thick rolls of fair chignon kept up on her head as

if they were her own hair. All the three buttons buttoned up

without tearing on the long glove that covered her hand without

concealing its lines. The black velvet of her locket nestled

with special softness round her neck. That velvet was

delicious; at home, looking at her neck in the looking-glass,

Kitty had felt that the velvet was speaking.


(Garnett)


Again, Garnett’s version is a bit dated–we don’t refer to

„berthes“ any longer, nor do we say that shoes „gladden“ our

feet. But note an interesting difference, less to do with

language than with perception. Garnett, a woman, imagines more

fully the feel of the velvet locket on her neck; she sees it as

speaking to the wearer. According to Maude, a man, the locket

speaks to Kitty’s admirers.


Look through both translations. Maude’s is said to come

closer to Tolstoy’s vigor. Yet, keep in mind that Garnett was

one of the earliest major English language translators of

Russian literature. All translations done after hers owe her

some debt.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: POINT OF VIEW


Tolstoy uses an omniscient, or all-knowing, narrator. This

means that the governing point of view in Anna Karenina is

Tolstoy’s. Tolstoy was always forthright about the fact that he

was a moralist. He does not just depict the world in his

novels, he passes judgment on it as well.


Tolstoy expresses his own viewpoint, and manipulates ours,

through his characters. His hero, Levin, is essentially a

mouthpiece for him. Anna, although she has many traits that

Tolstoy admired, went against Tolstoy’s moral code, and so he

had to destroy her. Karenin, who represents a type of person

Tolstoy detested, is the obvious villain in the story.


Through the device of the interior monologue, Tolstoy

describes in detail the thoughts of some of his characters. For

example, Anna’s carriage ride to the train station where she

commits suicide is told through Anna’s eyes, and the ball at

which she steals Vronsky’s heart is told through Kitty’s eyes.

By occasionally shifting points of view, Tolstoy heightens the

drama of the story.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: FORM AND STRUCTURE


The structure of Anna Karenina is based on the major

characters and what happens to them. The two principal stories

in the book are Anna’s and Levin’s. A third plot element is the

domestic and financial saga of the Oblonskys. Kitty’s time at

the German spa–during which she comes to terms with her true

feelings for Levin–also gets lengthy treatment. Tolstoy shifts

back and forth between these stories, telling each

chronologically.


The novel is divided into Books I and II; each Book is

divided into four Parts. (Book I contains Parts I-IV; Book II,

Parts V-VIII.) The turning points for Anna and Levin–Anna’s

leaving Karenin to live with Vronsky and Levin’s becoming

engaged to Kitty–take place at the close of Book I.


The last section of the novel–Book II, Part VIII–deals with

the Russian involvement in the war between the Turks and Slavs.

Tolstoy’s intention in this part was to reunite his characters‘

stories with the story of Russia. The Turkish War was going on

in 1875-76, when Tolstoy was completing the novel. Tolstoy

wrote this chapter to underscore the relevance of Anna Karenina

and to present his readers with urgent questions regarding their

day-to-day lives.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: BOOK I, PART I


Anna Karenina gets off to a fast start, opening with a

full-scale domestic crisis: Dolly has learned that Stiva is

having an affair with their French governess, and is threatening

divorce. Anna Karenina, Stiva’s sister, comes for a visit and

convinces Dolly to make up with Stiva. Konstantin Levin, an old

friend of Stiva’s, arrives in Moscow to propose marriage to

Kitty Shcherbatsky, Dolly’s younger sister. Kitty, a young

woman who has just made her debut in society, refuses Levin, as

she believes she’s in love with the dashing Count Vronsky.


Upon meeting Anna, Kitty is impressed with her glamour,

charm, and apparent kindness. But Anna steals Vronsky’s

heart.


By the end of Part I, Stiva and Dolly have achieved a shaky

balance in their troubled family life: Levin is heartbroken

over Kitty, Kitty is heartbroken over Vronsky, and Anna is torn

between her passion for the young count and her obligations to

her husband and son. If by then you feel a little breathless,

don’t worry; you will have covered a lot of ground.


NOTE: The epigraph–„Vengeance is Mine, I will repay“–is

from the Bible, specifically from Romans 12:19. In a letter to

Vikenti Vikentevich Veresaev, writer, physician, and friend of

Tolstoy, Tolstoy wrote: „I chose that epigraph in order to

explain the idea that the bad things man does have as their

consequence all the bitter things, which come not from people,

but from God, and that is what Anna Karenina herself

experienced.“


Keep this in mind as you read the novel, especially toward

the end.


^^^^^^^^^^

ANNA KARENINA: CHAPTERS I-VI


The first line of Anna Karenina is one of the most celebrated

in world literature: „All happy families resemble one another,

but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.“ Not only

does the line lead you directly to the crisis at hand (Dolly and

Stiva’s), but it sets up the premise that Tolstoy will use in

developing his story. The essence of the novel is the central

characters in their respective relationships–Stiva and Dolly,

Anna and Karenin, Anna and Vronsky.


You learn a lot about Stiva in these first chapters. Despite

the havoc he has wreaked on his household, he wakes up at his

usual time after a pleasant dream about the high life–wine,

women and song. It isn’t until he realizes that his dressing

gown is not in its usual place that he remembers he hasn’t slept

with his wife, but was banished to a couch in his study. Stiva

doesn’t regret his affair (there have been many of those); he

regrets having got caught.


NOTE: Tolstoy presents Stiva’s morning routine in great

detail. Tolstoy, a major realist writer, gives you a wealth of

seemingly insignificant tidbits about his characters‘ habits,

tendencies, and mannerisms.


At times you may feel bogged down with information, but bear

in mind that the details add up to give you a concrete picture

of the world inside the novel. Tolstoy’s exactitude makes the

story that much more searing because you get an almost

photographic image of the characters, which makes it easy to

identify with them.


How closely Tolstoy must have watched those around him!


Let’s tally the details that Tolstoy gives us about Stiva’s

morning habits and see what they add up to. Stiva plunges

himself into his activities in order to forget his troubles.

This tells you he’s not a particularly reflective person who

tries hard to avoid feeling guilty even when he’s in the wrong.

He reads a Liberal newspaper. Unlike the Conservatives, who

emphasize the importance of organized religion and close family

life, the Liberals hold that religion distracts one from the fun

to be had in this life (as opposed to the afterlife) and that

marriage is an outmoded institution. Tolstoy was a

Conservative; by telling you that Stiva reads a Liberal

newspaper–a seemingly small detail–Tolstoy is letting you know

that Stiva figures as a villain in the novel.


A widow drops by to ask Stiva’s he

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