Full Title   Anna Karenina

Author  Lev (Leo) Nikolaevich Tolstoy

Type of work  Novel

Genre  Novel of ideas; psychological novel; tragedy

Language  Russian

Time and Place written   1873–1877; the estate of Yasnaya Polyana, near Moscow

Date of first publication   1873–1877 (serial publication)

Publisher M. N. Katkov

Narrator  Tolstoy uses an unnamed, omniscient, detached, third-person narrator

Point of view  The nameless narrator of the novel presents both facts and inner thoughts of characters that no single character in the plot could know. Chiefly with regard to Anna and Levin, but occasionally to others as well, the narrator describes characters’ states of mind, feelings, and attitudes. For a lengthy section at the end of Part Seven, the narrator enters directly into Anna’s mind.

Tone  As in many realist novels of the same time period, the narrator maintains an impersonal but sympathetic tone, focusing on both facts and feelings but without authorial commentaries on the fates of characters. Unlike War and Peace and some of Tolstoy’s other earlier novels, Anna Karenina does not include explicit philosophical generalizations, except in the opening sentence of the novel.

Tense  Past

Setting (time)  The 1870s

Setting (place)  Various locations throughout Russia, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Russian provinces, with brief interludes in Germany and Italy

Protagonists  Anna Karenina; Konstantin Levin

Major Conflict  Anna struggles between her passion for Vronsky and her desire for independence on the one hand, and her marital duty, social convention, and maternal love on the other; Levin struggles to define his own identity and reach an understanding of faith in an alienating and confusing world

rising action  Anna meets Vronsky in the train station, initiating an acquaintance that grows into adulterous passion and family upheaval; their consummation of the affair leads to Anna’s abandonment of her husband and son. Meanwhile, Kitty rebuffs Levin’s marriage proposal, prompting him to withdraw to his estate in the country and reflect on the meaning of life.

climax  Anna makes a public appearance at the opera, forcing a confrontation between her desire to live life on her own terms and the hostile opinions of St. Petersburg society, which scorns and rejects her; this episode seals her fate as a social outcast and fallen woman. Meanwhile, Levin’s search for meaning is rewarded by marriage to Kitty, stable family life, and an understanding of faith.

falling action  Anna commits suicide, unable to bear her lack of social freedom and the jealousy and suspicion arising from her unstable relationship with Vronsky. Meanwhile, Levin continues his new life as enlightened husband, father, and landowner.

Themes  Social change in nineteenth-century Russia; the blessings of family life; the philosophical value of farming

Motifs  The interior monologue; adultery; forgiveness

Symbols  Trains; Vronsky’s racehorse; Levin and Kitty’s marriage

Foreshadowing  A man dies at the train station when Anna first arrives, foreshadowing her own death at a train station years later; Vronsky’s actions cause the fall and death of his horse Frou-Frou, foreshadowing the later death of his beloved Anna.