Anna Karenina is a novel by the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy, published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger. Tolstoy clashed with the editor over political issues that arose in the final installment; therefore, the novel’s first complete appearance was in book form in 1878. Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction, Tolstoy considered Anna Karenina his first true novel, after he came to consider War and Peace to be more than a novel.
The book is not very plot-heavy, but rather follows in minute detail, the lives and relationships of several people. Both stories occur simultaneously, but for simplicity’s sake, I will summarize each one separately.
The first, and title, relationship is between Anna and Vronsky. Anna Karenina, a beautiful, seductive young woman is married to a cold, distant older man named Karenin. While visiting her sister-in-law, Dolly, she meets the young, handsome Vronsky ( who is supposed to be courting Dolly’s sister Kitty). Anna and Vronsky fall in love and begin an affair. Eventually Anna becomes pregnant with Vronsky’s baby. She leaves Karenin and Vronsky leaves his military career, and the two go abroad. The rest of the story chronicles their relationship: the difficulties of being social outcasts both while living abroad and in Russia; Anna’s desire to get a divorce which her husband refuses to grant; the jealousies and suspicions that build up in Anna’s mind; her dissolve into hopelessness and finally, her suicide.
The other relationship followed is that of Kitty and Levin. Levin, a mid-thirties landowner and farmer, has been, for years, searching for the meaning of life. He has also been desperately in love with Kitty, a tender sweet young thing. Levin was courting her, when Vronsky stepped in. Levin retreats, then comes back to try again. He asks Kitty to marry him, she says no. Levin returns to his farm and immerses himself in his work. Meanwhile, Kitty has realized that Vronsky has no intention of marrying her. When he goes off with Anna, Kitty falls into despair and illness and has to be taken abroad. Finally, Levin and Kitty get it together and get married. Kitty moves to Levin’s farm, and the two of them adjust to married life. Kitty helps him through the difficult death of his brother, and he helps her through the difficult birth of their child. Levin is disconcerted because the work that was once so important to him, no longer matters as much, and he is also prone to fits of jealousy over his young bride. In the end, they find happiness and Levin discovers a new religious faith which gives him the meaning of life he was searching for, and the ability to enjoy all that he has.
Both stories’ ends explain the famous novel begin:
“HAPPY families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Everything was in confusion in the Oblonskys’ house. The wife had discovered that the husband was carrying on an intrigue with a French girl, who had been a governess in their family, and she had announced to her husband that she could not go on living in the same house with him.
This position of affairs had now lasted three days, and not only the husband and wife themselves, but all the members of their family and household, were painfully conscious of it. Every person in the house felt that there was no sense in their living together, and that the stray people brought together by chance in any inn had more in common with one another than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys. The wife did not leave her own room, the husband had not been at home for three days.
The children ran wild all over the house; the English governess quarrelled with the housekeeper, and wrote to a friend asking her to look out for a new situation for her; the man cook had walked off the day before just at dinner-time; the kitchen-maid, and the coachman had given warning.”
Natalia Ruiz Montosa.