Titel: Tolstoy Anna Karenina Note: 2 Klasse: 11
Arbeit: 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Princess Shcherbatskaya, the mother of Kitty, Dolly, and
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
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
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
ANNA KARENINA: KONSTANTIN DMITRICH LEVIN
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
4. CITY AND COUNTRY
At the beginning of the novel, Levin is terribly
uncomfortable in the city. At times, he seems even somewhat
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
Dolly is also compassionate and a true friend. Although
everyone else avoids Anna, she visits her and remains her
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
"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.
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
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Keep this in mind as you read the novel, especially toward
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 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.
NOTE: THE "FRENCH MARRIAGE" 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
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.
ANNA KARENINA: CHAPTERS VII-XI
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.
NOTE: THE ZEMSTVOS 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
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
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
ANNA KARENINA: CHAPTERS XII-XV
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. Th
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