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Anna Karenina
Leo Tolstoy



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.


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 help with a petition she's submitting to a government agency. This should alert you to the fact that Stiva is in a position of power. Though he doesn't care about the widow and her problem, Stiva helps her because he likes appearing powerful and wants others to think well of him. You also get the impression that in Tolstoy's Russia connections are vital if you need a government agency to act on your behalf. Through careful placement of telling details, Tolstoy has given you not only a vivid portrait of Stiva, but a good look at his society as well.

Tolstoy digresses to give you a bit of Stiva's history. Though Stiva had not done well at school (he was lazy and mischievous) he nonetheless has a distinguished government career. This is partly because he had good connections, and partly because he is so little interested in his work that he keeps a valuable objectivity on office matters.

NOTE: Tolstoy is making a comment here on government agencies and bureaucracy in general, and city life in particular. To Tolstoy, Stiva represents the worst of both environments: He hasn't really earned what he has, and his progress is due more to lack of interest than to devotion.

How do you think Stiva would fare in today's government bureaucracy or corporate world?

It nearly slips his mind, but on his way out of the house Stiva does remember to apologize to Dolly. Dolly breaks down, infuriated and humiliated by Stiva's pity. She wants- and realizes she will never have- his love.

The type of marriage that Dolly and Stiva have was not unusual in Tolstoy's time. Many marriages were arranged in order to enhance both families' financial and social position. Romance was not considered a major ingredient in these marriages, and husbands and wives frequently had lovers on the side. In fact, it was not uncommon for a man to provide his mistress with an apartment, wardrobe, spending money, and so forth. This type of marriage is sometimes called a "French marriage," as arranged marriages were the rule in court society of 18th- and 19th-century France. The Russian nobility often modeled their conduct and social practices after the French. You might want to read the novels of Honore de Balzac, particularly La Cousine Bette (1846), for a detailed treatment of the "French marriage."

Although spouses were not expected to be true to one another, they were expected to be discreet in carrying on their extramarital affairs. Later in the novel Anna gets into trouble because she flaunts her affair with Vronsky, refusing to play by rules she considers hypocritical.

What do you think of the concept of a "French marriage?" Think about the ways this sort of marriage affects both sexes. Pay special attention to the difference in men's and women's roles as exemplified by the Oblonsky marriage. And think about the pain that is caused if one partner does not want a "French marriage." This will figure prominently as the story unfolds.

Levin arrives to see Stiva. This is your first encounter with the hero of the novel. Notice the contrast between Stiva and Levin. Stiva is the epitome of urbane charm; Levin seems a bit bumbling in comparison. Tolstoy, who distrusted city slickers, introduces here his theme on the values of country life vs. city life. Contrast Levin's seriousness about marriage with Stiva's attitude: this, too, lets you know that Tolstoy favors Levin.

NOTE: As he thinks about Kitty, Levin recalls that the Shcherbatsky family always had a French governess (as do the Oblonskys) and that Kitty and her sisters were required to speak French fluently. This was not unusual in upper-class families in Tolstoy's time. A thorough knowledge of French was a status symbol.

Tolstoy, though he spoke French, resented this snobbery. He was Russian through and through, and was proud of it. You'll see that he sometimes inserts French words into his characters' dialogue. He does this so their speech will be realistic.


Tolstoy introduces two important themes: the insufficiency of a purely intellectual approach to life, and Russian politics. As he often does, Tolstoy has two characters- in this case, Levin and Sergius- argue the issues raised by his themes.

While in Moscow, Levin stays with his half-brother, Sergius Ivanich Koznyshev (Sergey), a well-known intellectual and writer. The two men rarely talk of personal matters; when they meet they invariably argue over politics and philosophy. This time it's no different. Levin tells Sergey that he's no longer a member of the zemstvo (local council). Sergey criticizes Levin for having quit.

In Tolstoy's time, Russia had a centralized government headed by the Czar. The zemstvos were local councils made up primarily of landowners. The zemstvos tried to take care of problems such as grain storage and relations between landowners and peasants, on a local level. On matters that had to be decided at the national level, the zemstvos would make recommendations in the hope that the higher government agencies would accept their suggestions.

The zemstvos were relatively new in Tolstoy's time. Levin (and Tolstoy) had reservations about the zemstvos because peasants were not nearly as well represented as wealthy landowners and because they feared that the landowners would try to use the zemstvos to take advantage of the peasants, who had virtually no education or prior political experience.

You learn that Levin's brother Nicholas has been seriously ill with tuberculosis (often called consumption in the novel). Levin gets so depressed when he thinks of Nicholas that he tries to put him out of his thoughts for the time being. At this point Levin can't deal with the idea of death. Coming to terms with death in general and Nicholas' death in particular will be one of Levin's major struggles in the novel. The first order of business, he feels, is to propose to Kitty.

Levin goes to the skating rink to meet Kitty, who is there with her family. He shows off, trying to impress her with his skating finesse. Kitty feels anew her fondness for Levin, but believes she's in love with Vronsky, a society man. Kitty's mother favors Vronsky as a match for Kitty, and though Princess Shcherbatsky invites Levin to their home, she does so rather coldly. Poor Levin's more nervous than ever.

Levin and Stiva dine at a restaurant of Stiva's choosing- the Angleterre (French for "England")- to which Stiva is in debt. This is the first mention of Stiva's increasingly serious financial problems.

Again Tolstoy makes a point of contrasting the two men. Stiva is a picture of elegance and polish and is relaxed in posh surroundings. Levin feels like a bull in a china shop. But he also feels somewhat scornful of finery for the sake of finery and anything that seems to him to have a shallow emphasis on appearance.

Take note that Stiva refuses to speak French with the waiter. As you know, knowledge of French was a sign of being upper class; Stiva refuses to grant the waiter this bit of social status. Would you have expected Stiva to be such a snob?

Levin and Stiva talk about women. Levin admits that he feels guilty over having "sowed his wild oats" as a youth and fears that he is now unworthy of Kitty. He wants not only Kitty's love, but her forgiveness, too.

NOTE: Levin is struggling with a matter that preoccupied Tolstoy. Tolstoy, too, sought sanctity in marriage- after having played around a lot as a young man- and had an extramarital affair (just before writing Anna Karenina) of which he was greatly ashamed. Levin represents one side of Tolstoy's inner conflict, Anna the other.

Stiva describes Vronsky in glowing terms: he's a first-rate fellow, a good horseman, clever, slated for success. (Take note of the qualities Stiva admires. They do not square with Tolstoy's criteria.) Nonetheless, Stiva is on Levin's side, and advises him to propose to Kitty the next day, in the classic manner.


Tolstoy begins this section by emphasizing Kitty's youth and her surprising success in her first season in society. She'd had not only two serious suitors (Levin and Vronsky) but flocks of admirers as well.

Levin's arrival on the scene and his obviously serious intentions spark some arguments between Kitty's parents. Prince Shcherbatsky favors Levin, finding him solid, forthright, and sincere in his love. The princess favors Vronsky- handsome, dashing, polished. She finds Levin awkward, overly critical of city life, too countrified.

Tolstoy uses the quarrel between the Shcherbatskys to highlight a dilemma of the time. In accordance with tradition, the marriage between the prince and princess had been arranged by relatives. But times have changed. The princess honestly doesn't know how marriages come about now. The French- and old Russian- way of deciding marriages for young people was out of favor. The English way- letting young people decide entirely for themselves- frightens the princess; anyway, it too is frowned upon in Russian society. The princess realizes that it has to be a mixture of free choice and guidance and is left feeling uncertain about what her role as Kitty's mother should be.

Weighing on both the prince and the princess is Dolly's situation. Oblonsky, too, had been an "ideal match," but he's making Dolly miserable. The prince fears that Vronsky may be cut from the same cloth as Oblonsky.

The next day when Levin proposes, Kitty tells him it's "impossible." She's unable to tell Levin what her feelings are, for she doesn't know. Upon hearing his proposal, she was "filled with rapture." But it lasted for only a moment. Then thoughts of Vronsky crowded their way into her mind.

Levin tries to leave the Shcherbatsky's home, but is prevented from doing so by the entrance of Kitty's mother. Every minute of the evening is torture for Levin. One of Kitty's friends, Countess Nordston, dislikes Levin and makes a point of picking on him. When Vronsky arrives, Levin feels just about finished off; he doesn't wonder that Kitty prefers the handsome, socially graceful young officer.

NOTE: Tolstoy makes the point- through the prince- that women are incapable of recognizing serious intentions in a suitor. The prince says that a marriage between Kitty and Vronsky would spell trouble.

Do you agree that men are more perceptive in this regard? Doesn't this seem a bit at odds with Tolstoy's feeling that women are essentially domestic, in tune with things pertaining to hearth and home?

Tolstoy makes another point in this section. First he establishes that Countess Nordston is shallow and nasty; then he has her criticize life in the country for being dull. This is one of Tolstoy's favorite devices: he picks a character whom he dislikes and has that person express opinions counter to his own.


Tolstoy gives you a chance to become acquainted with Vronsky in Chapter XVI through a mixture of biographical detail and interior monologue. You learn that Vronsky had no family life as a child, that his mother was a famous socialite and femme fatale. Vronsky still has a troubled relationship with his mother: He doesn't respect her loose way of life and he resents that she meddles in his life. Though Vronsky's mother is a minor character in the novel, her relations with Vronsky will have an important effect on the plot.

You also learn that Vronsky doesn't realize he is trifling with Kitty in a way that could seriously hurt her feelings or damage her reputation. He's young and self-centered, and is too busy enjoying himself to worry about anything. Yet, he's beginning to grow tired of the sort of night life that so enchants Stiva.

Keep these thoughts in mind as the novel progresses and Vronsky's situation becomes more and more complex. His views on domesticity will change in ways that might surprise you.

You meet Anna for the first time in Chapter XVIII. In the first chapter Tolstoy let you know that the prospect of Anna's visit gladdened Stiva because he knew her presence would change things. Indeed it does- every character in the novel is affected.

Vronsky is the first major character to see Anna. He goes to the train station to meet his mother, who introduces him to her compartment mate, Anna Karenina. At this point Vronsky's mother likes Anna but this will change. Vronsky is immediately smitten with Anna. He notices immediately an "excess of vitality" that "betrays itself against her will." Anna's inner light shone, "despite of herself in her faint smile." Tolstoy has carefully prepared the entrance of his heroine. You're in suspense because Dolly and Stiva's situation is unresolved; like Stiva, you're expecting Anna to fix things up between them. Perhaps you've been expecting Anna to be practical, perceptive- the perfect go-between. Now that you've met her, you're aware that she's a somewhat mysterious woman of captivating beauty. Are you wondering why she has come to Moscow? It seems she's arriving on short notice; perhaps she's impulsive, perhaps she's running away from something. There's more here than meets the eye- think about it as you watch Anna operate over the course of the novel.

Just as you're getting caught up in the bustling atmosphere of the train station and being swept along by Vronsky's sudden passion for Anna, Tolstoy pulls the rug out from under you. There is an accident- the stationmaster has either fallen or thrown himself beneath a train. To impress Anna, Vronsky gives the stationmaster's widow two hundred rubles. To Anna, the accident- and Vronsky's gesture- is a bad omen.

Pay attention to the physical description of Anna in this chapter. Her "excess of vitality" will prove to be integral to her demise.

The stationmaster's death functions in two ways. It has immediate dramatic impact because it is unexpected, like a bolt from the blue. The accident immediately casts a pall on Anna and Vronsky's meeting; from the beginning the two have a connection in death. This incident will resonate through the rest of the novel. The stationmaster's death foreshadows Anna's death later on. The old man- or someone very much like him- will haunt Anna in a recurring nightmare that she interprets as foretelling her death.

Two interesting character quirks are described: Vronsky seems less than sincere in giving the widow money. (Be on the lookout for other such indications of egotism in Vronsky.) And Stiva tells Anna the family is hoping that Vronsky will marry Kitty. Remember that earlier Stiva had encouraged Levin. After you've gotten to know Stiva better think back to this chapter and try to answer the following questions: Was Stiva lying to Levin? Is he lying now? Or does he always back the most likely winner?

Stiva takes Anna to his and Dolly's home. On the way he tells her his troubles. It's understood that she'll help him.

Dolly receives Anna in her bedroom, where she is surrounded by her children. Anna's nieces and nephews are drawn to her and she to them. Keep this in mind as the novel progresses: Anna's relationship with children is a sort of weathervane of her mental state.

Anna convinces Dolly to forgive Stiva. Here, Anna is a model of canniness and acuity. She guesses accurately what will most touch Dolly and lays it on thick. She waxes eloquent about Stiva's feelings of shame and humiliation (Do you remember any such thing?), and emphasizes that Stiva loves Dolly more than anything in the world. Anna tells Dolly that when Stiva first fell in love with her, he associated her with poetry and high ideals (this may or may not be true). To finish it off, Anna says that if she were in Dolly's place she would forgive and forget Stiva's offense.

Notice how brilliantly manipulative Anna can be. Do you admire that trait? Does it make you uneasy?

While Dolly and Stiva make up with one another, Anna visits Kitty. Kitty is impressed with Anna, immediately feels close to her and confides in her. Tolstoy created Anna and Kitty as opposites; contrast them as you learn more about each one.

Kitty tells Anna about an upcoming ball and her hopes for a romance with Vronsky. Kitty- innocently or naively- would like Anna to be there to share in her happiness. She says she imagines Anna "in lilac."

Anna wears black to the ball, a color that points up her sophistication and sensuality. Vronsky all but ignores Kitty and can't take his eyes off Anna. Kitty can see that Anna is exhilarated by her own attractiveness and the effect it has on Vronsky. Kitty decides that there is "something strange, satanic, and enchanting" about Anna. What do you think of this observation? Should Anna, as an older woman, be mindful of the pain she's causing Kitty?

NOTE: Although Anna is trying to keep Vronsky at arm's length, Tolstoy's descriptions give her away. Her hair is disarranged, her eyes are sparkling, her voluptuous arms are adorned with bracelets. Tolstoy tells you there is something "terrible and cruel in her charm." What he means is that there is something very sexual in her charm. Tolstoy was ill at ease with blatant sexuality, especially in women. Pay attention to such descriptions- they usually foreshadow trouble.


These chapters concern Levin, who's extremely depressed over Kitty's rejection.

He goes to visit his brother Nicholas. Levin feels heartsick remembering the tumult and outright violence of much of Nicholas' life, because he knows that deep down Nicholas is no worse than any other person. But sickness and poverty have always dogged him, and he has rarely known peace. (Note that Tolstoy uses Levin's interior monologue to tell you about Nicholas and about the brothers' complex relationship.)

Levin finds Nicholas very ill and living with Masha, his common-law wife. Levin told Stiva he had a horror of "fallen women," but he's kind to Masha, and sees that she takes good care of Nicholas. Levin is often harsher in his judgments than in his actions. He asks Nicholas and Masha to come stay with him.

The next day Levin goes home to the country, vowing to forget his hopes for marriage and never again to let himself be swept away by passion.

Levin had to leave Moscow in order to start putting his life back together. Although his hopes for marriage with Kitty are dashed, he shores up other aspects of his life: He gets his farm running well, and he strengthens his relations with Nicholas.

The awkwardness that afflicted Levin in the city is gone when he's at home. In what other ways does Levin seem changed? And what is Tolstoy telling you through these changes in Levin?


These chapters deal with Anna and her husband Karenin.

Anna decides abruptly to leave Moscow and return to Saint Petersburg. She confesses to Dolly that she ruined the ball for Kitty. When Dolly makes light of it, Anna insists that she was wrong but then defends herself by saying that it wasn't really her fault. Dolly comments that Anna, in denying blame, spoke the way Stiva would have. What does this tell you? You already know that Stiva lies regularly.

Anna herself knows she's lying. She knows she's running away from Vronsky and her attraction to him. On the train home, she's nearly delirious with shame. At a station stop, she gets out for a breath of air. There is a man hammering at the side of the tracks- this hammering will be part of the recurring nightmare that foretells her death. Again Vronsky is part of the scene- he is following her to Moscow against her wishes.

When Anna sees her husband at the Saint Petersburg station, her first thought is that his ears stick out in an absurd way. At this point, Anna is not consciously blaming Karenin for her unhappiness. She blames herself for not appreciating her husband's devotion. Try to isolate the turning points in Anna's realization that she must leave Karenin. Nothing yet has really happened between Anna and Vronsky, yet Tolstoy has managed to inject a lot of excitement into each of their brief meetings. One of the ways he does this is by casting an atmosphere of impending doom for Anna and the count. Another is his use of surprise: earlier, neither you nor Vronsky were expecting to see Anna just then; in this chapter, neither Anna nor you were expecting to see Vronsky. Tolstoy also communicates that Anna and Vronsky are obsessed with one another; obsessions generally lead to tragic ends. What else has you on the edge of your seat?

Anna has the same sinking feeling upon seeing her son Seriozha. He's not as nice as she remembered him. This is important. It not only tells you that her life pales in comparison to the excitement she felt with Vronsky, but it's the first loosening of her ties with her family.

Yet get a glimpse of Karenin's habits. He's extremely busy, and although his wife has been away, he makes no special arrangements to spend time with her. Tolstoy takes pains to tell that there's not a trace of the animation about Anna that was evident in Moscow.


In this chapter, you see Vronsky in his habitual surroundings. (What a contrast to Karenin!) Vronsky seems ordinary here; like any other young man who is feeling his oats, he is full of youth and good health, and is enjoying a carefree life. It's interesting that Tolstoy should end this part by returning Anna and Vronsky to their normal surroundings. If you go by appearances, everything is just as it always is. What do you think Tolstoy means to accomplish by this?


The second part of Anna Karenina is gloomy. Kitty falls ill after being rejected by Vronsky and goes to a German spa to recover. Her ailment is more emotional than physical, and her struggle demands soul-searching rather than medical attention.

Anna consummates her love for Vronsky, and the two begin a torrid affair. When Anna confesses to Karenin, she is pregnant with Vronsky's child.


In these chapters you see how the members of the Shcherbatsky family are, each in their own way, affected, confused, and sometimes hurt by their society's courtship and marriage customs.

The family is in a tizzy over Kitty's illness. They summon doctors, each more prominent than the last, to examine her, but none can find anything physically wrong with her. To appease her mother, Kitty pretends to look forward to the trip to the spa recommended by the doctors.

Dolly comes to visit, although she has troubles of her own. Stiva is rarely at home, several of her children have scarlet fever, and their finances are shaky. Kitty confides to Dolly that she knows now she really loves Levin. So upset is Kitty that she turns her anger against Dolly, harshly criticizing her for putting up with Stiva. Kitty also says that she resents her parents' trying to marry her off, that when she goes to balls she feels like a piece of meat out for inspection. She says she feels comfortable only with children and goes home with Dolly to take care of her nieces and nephews.

At the time Anna Karenina is set, Russian society was on the brink of change. Marriage customs are often a good weathervane for a society- when these customs are in flux, usually other changes are in the wind. For example, at the time of the marriage of the Prince and Princess, all matches were arranged. This meant that young people married those in their parents' social and economic set. With young people freer to make their own choices, marriages between people of different background became possible.

You see through the Shcherbatsky family the way in which these changes sometimes confused people. The Princess doesn't know what her role as Kitty's mother is now that Kitty can decide for herself whom to marry. She is torn among wanting to protect her daughter, wanting to show respect for Kitty's judgment, and her attachments to the old ways of doing things. The Prince is suspicious of the newly risen class of merchants. He is old nobility and it bothers him to think that a young person may marry a person of a different class.

Kitty is overwhelmed by her first season in society. Dating and balls are new to her, and so are the attentions of young men. Her inexperience kept her from realizing that she loved Levin.

If you were in Kitty's place, how would you feel about your mother? Given the conventions of the time, what courses of action would be open to you? Remember, you have the support of your father in this case.


These chapters plunge us into Moscow society.

Tolstoy begins by simply describing the three major social circles. The highest, consisting of government officials, is the set to which Karenin belongs. The next is "run" by the Countess Lydia Ivanovna and is made up mostly of rather plain, elderly rich women and ambitious men of a scholarly turn of mind. The third circle is the one that consists of balls, dinner parties, opera excursions, and the like. This glittering set is "led" by the Princess Betsy Tverskaya. All these circles, of course, overlap, and there are rivalries between them.

Keep your eye on Princess Betsy; she's a villain. Tolstoy takes this opportunity to make her appear silly. She's at the opera to see a famous soprano, although, as your narrator puts it, she wouldn't know the difference between the diva's voice and that of a chorus girl. She doesn't even stay until the end but goes home to powder her nose before her guests arrive.

Conversation in Princess Betsy's drawing room is shallow. No one seems to know what she is talking about, lots of names are dropped, gossip is exchanged, jokes are made at others' expense. Anna and Karenin are for a time the topic of discussion. Some make the observation that Anna is much changed since her visit to Moscow. Everyone knows that she and Vronsky are interested in each other.

NOTE: Of course, everyone speaks French at Princess Betsy's. Karenin, upon entering the drawing room, says to his hostess, "Your Hotel Rambouillet is in full muster." Karenin is referring to La Marquise de Rambouillet (1588-1665), the Parisian noblewoman who had the first literary salon. Her gatherings of writers and artists had considerable influence on the cultural scene of the day and established in France the tradition of salons. The last great era for literary salons in Paris was the 1920s and 1930s when Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and other writers, painters, and composers gathered at the homes of such people as the American writer Gertrude Stein.

Later in the evening, Anna and Vronsky, having arrived separately, are at Princess Betsy's. Karenin notices his wife talking with the young count and sees nothing wrong in their conduct. But his friends are beginning to talk, and this bothers him.

Karenin leaves early to mull over the conversation he would like to have with Anna. But it's hard for him. Never before has he tried to put himself in Anna's place, to imagine what she feels. He honestly believes he has been a model husband. He can't fathom that Anna might love someone else. He decides to explain it to Anna from two points of view. First, he will emphasize the importance of public opinion (the last thing he wants is a scandal); second, he will bring up the religious aspects of marriage. If need be, he decides, he will mention the harm that an extramarital affair would bring to their son; and he will finish by mentioning the unhappiness that such an affair would cause Anna herself.

Karenin lays it out clearly and logically. Knowing Anna as you do, do you think she'll be swayed by those arguments? You know Karenin is nervous and unsure, for he cracks his knuckles. What justifications can you find for Karenin's attitude? Do you have sympathy for Karenin at this point?

Karenin tries to talk with Anna, but his attempt doesn't go well. Anna pretends that nothing is wrong, but inside she is seething. She believes her husband knows nothing about love. Since her return from Saint Petersburg, Anna's feelings toward her husband have changed. She no longer blames herself; she blames him for her dissatisfactions. What do you think about this?

The scene shifts to Anna's "other life." By now, Vronsky has pursued Anna for a year. Finally, they consummate their love, But theirs is no joyful tryst- afterward Anna feels ashamed, and literally falls at Vronsky's feet, begging forgiveness. What a strange reaction, you may well be thinking. Vronsky has wanted Anna ever since he saw her, and now she's apologizing to him. Have you ever felt so guilty about something you did that you felt as though you'd wronged the entire world? Anna feels that way now. For his part, Vronsky feels "like a murderer," that "the body he deprived of life was their love." He feels that "the body must be cut in pieces and hidden away, and he must make use of what he has obtained by the murder." Both realize they have entered a new existence, but neither is able to think clearly about it yet.

Tolstoy associates sexual passion with the dark feelings that lead to crimes. Do you think that Anna and Vronsky have done something wrong?


These chapters tell you a lot about Levin and his life as the owner of a large country estate.

Although several months have passed since his proposal to Kitty, he is still miserable over his rejection. But his farm takes up most of his time and attention and he is satisfied with this diversion. The descriptions of the weather and countryside are lush in these chapters, and are a good indication that Levin spends a lot of his time drinking in the beauty of his surroundings- a far cry from life in the city!

You learn that Levin is writing a book on agriculture. It's a revolutionary book because it emphasizes that the laborers are as much a factor in successful farming as climate and soil. This was a topic dear to Tolstoy's heart, and he speaks on it through Levin.

Until 1861 the Russian agricultural system was composed of wealthy landowners and serfs. Serfs were essentially slaves; not allowed to own land, they worked their master's land for a small salary. In that time, Russian farms were huge and landowning families depended on their serfs not only for field work but also for various housekeeping tasks. A landowner's heirs inherited his serfs as well as his money and property.

After the Czar's emancipation decree freed them, the serfs were allowed to own land and to work for themselves. But because for so many generations they had worked for exceedingly low wages, most serfs hadn't been able to save any money with which to buy land. They continued to work for the estate owners they had always served.

But this situation also caused problems, for landowners could no longer get away with paying very low wages. Legally allowed to be ambitious, serfs were now demanding that they be better paid. As a result, they and their former owners would negotiate, sometimes in painful detail, the arrangement between them. For example, should serfs get a percentage of profits? How should serfs who had managed to buy a small plot of land divide their time between their own farming and that for the landowner?

The serfs' new freedom had psychological effects as well. Some landowners could not adjust to thinking of former serfs as their equals. Other landowners, who had always regarded their serfs as part of the family, were now hurt at the sudden distance between them.

Levin's plan to make the serfs equal partners in his farm infuriated other landowners. It also made some of the serfs suspicious. After all, if that was the way Levin had felt all along, why hadn't he done it sooner, they wondered.

You remember that the Oblonskys were having money problems. Their situation has worsened, and Stiva comes to stay with Levin while he sells a forest that Dolly owns. He has made a deal with Ryabinin, a dealer Levin doesn't respect. Ryabinin comes to Levin's home to conclude his transaction with Stiva. Levin is against the deal because Stiva's price is too low, and makes a higher counteroffer. But Stiva has promised Ryabinin and feels it would be dishonorable to go back on his word.

This is an important incident. It points up that city people, with little knowledge of respect for the land, contribute to its devaluation. Tolstoy believed that people like Stiva would eventually ruin Russia through such make-money-quick business deals.

Stiva tells Levin that Kitty has been ill, that she and Vronsky never got together. He also tells Levin that the princess had been impressed with Vronsky because he was a "perfect aristocrat." (Kitty didn't care about this.) This leads the two men into a discussion on the meaning of aristocracy. Levin says that he worries about the extravagance of urban nobles who consider it beneath their dignity to haggle over prices. He points out that Ryabinin's children may well be better off than Stiva's. Levin goes on to say that, unlike Stiva and the princess, he doesn't consider Vronsky a true aristocrat, because his family, though rich, does not go back very far, and his mother's reputation is questionable. Levin says he considers himself a true nobleman- his family can be traced back many generations, his relatives have always been well educated and independent. Never have they- unlike Stiva and Vronsky- taken government grants and awards and high-level bureaucratic jobs given out largely on the basis of connections. The conversation remains pleasant, although Levin and Stiva disagree on all points raised.

NOTE: Tolstoy is clearly talking through Levin. Stiva is part of an urban crowd that is gaining more and more government power, primarily through agencies that Tolstoy thinks harmful. In this conversation, you can see that Levin and Stiva have launched themselves on diverging paths. These paths symbolize what Tolstoy believed were conflicting possibilities for the future of Russia.


Two events of great importance happen in these chapters: Anna discovers and tells Vronsky that she is pregnant by him, and Vronsky loses the steeplechase, killing his horse in the process. The first has direct impact on the plot, the second is important thematically and stylistically.

For the first time we see Vronsky in his element- with horses. He is very loving with his mare, and calls her "darling." He seems more intuitive with her than with people.

This is Vronsky's big day, the day of the steeplechase, which he is expected to win. All he has to do is keep cool. But he's distracted- his mother and brother disapprove of his affair with Anna, and his mother is threatening to cut off his allowance. And Vronsky is growing more and more dissatisfied with the secrecy with which he and Anna must conduct their life together.

NOTE: Vronsky's mother worries that he has a "Werther-like passion" for Anna. Werther is the hero of The Sorrows of the Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), one of Germany's most noted writers. Werther commits suicide because the woman he loves is married.

When Vronsky goes to see Anna before the race, she tells him she is pregnant. He immediately tells her that she must leave Karenin and live with him. Anna finds she has underestimated Vronsky. She had feared he would take her pregnancy too lightly, but he appears to take it more seriously than even she does. He correctly points out that she suffers from society, her son, and her husband- and that if she doesn't break cleanly with Karenin she is dooming herself to a living hell. But Anna will not listen.

Keep an eye on Vronsky- his growth, for a variety of reasons, outstrips Anna's as they go on together.

The race itself is a masterpiece of descriptive writing. Tolstoy shows you every detail. He also succeeds in making the scene unbearably exciting. The pacing here is perfect.

Distracted by his conversation with Anna, Vronsky is not in top form. An excellent horseman, he runs a fine race. But his mare is nervous, and although he guides her through much of the course with the intimacy of a lover, he makes a fatal mistake. During a jump, he relaxes in the saddle, letting his weight settle, thus breaking her back. This is the worst moment of Vronsky's life so far- his mistake is beyond correction, and was entirely his fault.

The death of Frou-Frou foreshadows Vronsky's responsibility for Anna's death. It points up that egotism is a powerful part of his nature- he was overconscious of the crowd during the race. The descriptions of Anna and Frou-Frou are strikingly similar. Both have fine necks and beautiful, expressive eyes; both are submissive to Vronsky's wishes- both ultimately slip from his control.


Karenin seems out of place at the steeplechase. (He also seems out of his place in his own home. He and Anna talk just enough to keep up appearances. He has turned his anger toward Anna against Seriozha and has little to do with the boy.)

Karenin is infuriated that Anna should ignore him at the race in front of a crowd of people. When he scolds her in their carriage on the way home, she shocks him with the news that she loves Vronsky and is his mistress, and that she hates her husband.

Karenin tells her he will need time to decide the best way to safeguard his honor. Until then, he tells Anna she must act as though she were a proper wife.

What do you think of Karenin's response? Do you believe he is a hypocrite, concerned only for his reputation? He does hurt, so much so that he has tried to turn off his emotions.

Do you think Anna really believes that she can carry on as though her husband didn't exist?


These chapters cover Kitty at the German spa where she has gone to recover her health. You recall that after she turned down Levin's marriage proposal, she became so depressed and anxious that her doctors suggested she go away.

NOTE: It was common for wealthy 19th-century Europeans to go yearly to a spa- a country resort built near a mineral spring. The water from the spring was believed to have curative powers. "Taking the waters" became an expression meaning "to go to a spa."

While at a spa, guests bathed in and drank mineral water, followed special diets and exercise programs. Vacationing at a spa was a "rest cure" for illness, anxiety, and the hustle-bustle of daily life.

Kitty's plan for self-improvement while at the spa backfires in a highly ironic way. She decides to model herself after a girl named Varenka who takes care of ailing elderly people. Kitty admires Varenka's apparent selflessness.

Kitty befriends an elderly couple. The husband becomes so fond of her that his wife comes to suspect Kitty's intentions.

Kitty thus realizes that she is not at heart a professional do-gooder. She wishes to devote herself to her family and friends, not to strangers. She also realizes that she wants to marry and have children- that Varenka's solitary life, devoid of all sensual pleasure, is not for her.

Kitty's realization is her most important step toward maturity. She stops patterning herself after others- Varenka, for example, and her mother's vision of a socially accomplished young noblewoman- and comes to terms with what she herself wants. Kitty is a heroine in Tolstoy's eyes. She goes through the difficult process of getting to know herself; her struggle may not be as philosophical and torturous as Levin's, but she does suffer, and she doesn't give up until she has achieved true clarity. Tolstoy also considers Kitty a heroine because she wants above all to devote herself to her husband and children. Kitty doesn't back into this choice; she fights for it. Some readers feel that Kitty, because she is the quintessential wife and mother, is not a modern "liberated" woman. But keep in mind that Kitty has the grit to hold out for what she wants, and that is a form of liberation.

By ending Part II with Kitty's illumination, Tolstoy sharpens the suspense. Surely Kitty's newly won maturity will bear on the plot of the novel. Tolstoy gives you a hint of what will happen by starting Part III with Levin.


In Part III, both Levin and Vronsky are frustrated by the feeling that their lives seem suspended, that they are "spinning their wheels." Levin pours his energies into his estate, into establishing a cooperative land arrangement with the peasants who work for him. But he knows deep down that his life is incomplete without Kitty. He also comes to know that he has been trying to bury himself in work in order to banish from his mind thoughts of his dying brother- and death itself.

Vronsky is agitated because Anna has not left Karenin. He is weary of their "secret life" and aches for a change.


You remember that when Levin came to Moscow to propose to Kitty he stayed with his half-brother Sergey. They argued then about politics (specifically the zemstvos, or local councils) and other intellectual matters. This time Sergey comes to visit Levin at his estate. As always, the two spend most of their time in friendly argument. These chapters are interesting, particularly for what they show you about Levin's intellectual and spiritual development. You might contrast the ways in which Kitty and Levin struggle toward self-knowledge.

Conversations between Levin and Sergey center on the peasants. Sergey, a city dweller, has a rather romanticized view of them, and when he talks it often seems that he likes peasants more than Levin does. This irks Levin- he thinks Sergey is talking through his hat, since he has never worked with peasants.

Lately, Levin has been struck that Sergey's strictly intellectual approach to things is dry, lacking "heart." Levin has spent much of his time studying and has always felt a frustration at his apparent inability to find the answers for which he was searching. Levin is beginning to realize that for him the path to knowledge cannot be just an intellectual path.

Levin also resents Sergey's poetic descriptions of the countryside. To Levin, they only indicate how little Sergey understands nature. He seems naive about the inherent fierceness in nature, its kill-or-be-killed aspects, its awesome fertility. Levin has the impression that, to Sergey, nature is little more than a pretty scene.

Levin and Sergey's final argument has to do with the zemstvo. You recall that earlier Sergey was disappointed that Levin had stopped participating in the council. To Sergey the zemstvos represent the noblemen helping the peasants out of pure goodness, with no thought for themselves. Levin takes the line that no good can come of actions that are not based on self-interest. Sergey is horrified at the apparent selfishness in this comment, and to contradict Levin brings up the emancipation of the serfs as an example of the nobility helping the peasants with no thought of gain. Levin has a different view: He believes that the emancipation helped everyone- that the serfs' bondage was a "yoke" oppressing peasants and noblemen alike. To Sergey, the emancipation was an act of charity; to Levin, it was the (tardy) execution of justice.

Tolstoy works two themes into the conversations between Levin and Sergey: the relation between peasants and nobles; and the role of book learning in one's development.

Remember that Russia had always been a country with a strict class system. Tolstoy believes that the aristocrats have a responsibility to use their wealth and property in ways that will benefit not only themselves, but Russia as a whole. Because Tolstoy believes that serfdom- in which one person essentially owns others- is wrong, he feels that the nobles had to give it up. In this way, they purify their own lives as well as the general atmosphere of Russia. Obviously, Tolstoy makes these points through Levin.

Sergey's book learning is impressive, but he can't back up his political theories with personal experience. He loves the idea of serving on a zemstvo, but he's never done it and so is ignorant of the practicalities (and hassles) involved.

Sergey loves the idea of nature, but he would never go out and work in the fields. He loves the idea of men working the land, but he's never smelled the stench of their- or his own- sweat, nor has he a gut feeling for the satisfaction you can get from growing your own food.

Notice that Levin, in emphasizing the importance of personal experience, shares Kitty's perspective. Perhaps little by little the two are working their way toward one another.

Do you think that both Levin and Sergey are sincere? Whose opinion do you think is more trustworthy? Why?

Have you ever had to change your mind about something- a sport, politics, or falling in love- because the reality differed markedly from the expectations you had derived from reading about these experiences beforehand?

THE STORY, continued


ECC [Anna Karenina Contents] []

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