Summary of the Plot

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Summary of the Plot: T he oblonsky family of moscow is torn apart by adultery., Anna Karenina, wife of the St. Petersburg government official Karenin, arrives at the Oblonskys’ to mediate. Eventually, Anna is able to bring Stiva and Dolly to a reconciliation.

Kitty is courted by two suitors: Konstantin Levin, an awkward landowner, and Alexei Vronsky, a dashing military man. Kitty turns down Levin in favor of Vronsky, but not long after, Vronsky meets Anna Karenina and falls in love with her instead of Kitty. Anna returns to St. Petersburg, reflecting on her infatuation with Vronsky, but when she arrives home she dismisses it as a fleeting crush.

Vronsky, however, follows Anna to St. Petersburg, and their mutual attraction intensifies as Anna begins to mix with the freethinking social set of Vronsky’s cousin Betsy Tverskaya. Anna eventually tells her husband that she is having an affair and is in love with Vronsky.

While Kitty is off recovering, she meets Levin again and falls in love with him. They become engaged and marry.

At first, Karenin (Anna’s husband) rejects Anna’s request for a divorce. Anna encounters Vronsky often, but their relationship becomes clouded after Anna reveals she is pregnant. Vronsky considers resigning his military post, but his old ambitions prevent him.

Karenin, catching Vronsky at the Karenin at the country home one day, finally agrees to divorce. Anna, in her childbirth agony, begs for Karenin’s forgiveness, and he suddenly grants it. The two go off to Italy. Eventually, the two return to Russia, where Anna is spurned by society, which considers her adultery disgraceful.. She begins to feel great jealousy for Vronsky, resenting the fact that he is free to participate in society while she is housebound and scorned.

Married life brings surprises for Levin, including his sudden lack of freedom. When Levin is called away to visit his dying brother Nikolai, Kitty sparks a quarrel by insisting on accompanying him. Levin finally allows her to join him. Ironically, Kitty is more helpful to the dying Nikolai than Levin is, greatly comforting him in his final days.

Anna who has been using sleeping sedatives regularly picks a quarrel with Vronsky. Vronsky tries to be accommodating, but Anna remains angry. When Vronsky leaves on an errand, Anna is tormented. She sends him a telegram urgently calling him home, followed by a profusely apologetic note. In desperation, Anna drives to Dolly’s to say goodbye, and then returns home. She resolves to meet Vronsky at the train station after his errand, and she rides to the station in a stupor. At the station, despairing and dazed by the crowds, Anna throws herself under a train and dies.

Kitty becomes worried by Levin’s gloomy mood. He has become immersed in questions about the meaning of life but feels unable to answer them. One day, however, a peasant remarks to Levin that the point of life is not to fill one’s belly but to serve God and goodness. Levin receives this advice as gospel, and his life is suddenly transformed by faith.

Later that day, Levin, Dolly, and Dolly’s children seek shelter from a sudden, violent thunderstorm, only to discover that Kitty and Levin’s young son are still outside. Levin runs to the woods and sees a huge oak felled by lightning. He fears the worst, but his wife and child are safe. For the first time, Levin feels real love for his son, and Kitty is pleased. Levin reflects again that the meaning of his life lies in the good that he can put into it.

Character List: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina - A beautiful, aristocratic married woman from St. Petersburg whose pursuit of love and emotional honesty makes her an outcast from society. Anna’s adulterous affair catapults her into social exile, misery, and finally suicide.

Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin - Anna’s husband, a high-ranking government minister and one of the most important men in St. Petersburg. Karenin is formal and duty-bound. He cannot be accused of being a poor husband or father, but he shows little tenderness toward his wife, Anna, or his son, Seryozha. He fulfills these family roles as he does other duties on his list of social obligations.

Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky - A wealthy and dashing military officer whose love for Anna prompts her to desert her husband and son.

Konstantin Dmitrich Levin - A socially awkward but generous-hearted landowner who, along with Anna, is the co-protagonist of the novel. Whereas Anna’s pursuit of love ends in tragedy, Levin’s long courtship of Kitty Shcherbatskaya ultimately ends in a happy marriage.

Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya (Kitty) - A beautiful young woman who is courted by both Levin and Vronsky, and who ultimately marries Levin. Modeled on Tolstoy’s real-life wife, Kitty is sensitive and perhaps a bit overprotected, shocked by some of the crude realities of life, as we see in her horrified response to Levin’s private diaries.

Analysis of the Characters-

One of two main protagonists in the novel (the other being Konstantin Levin), Anna is the beautiful, passionate, and educated wife of Alexei Karenin, a cold and passionless government official. Her character is rich in complexity: she is guilty of desecrating her marriage and home, for instance, but she remains noble and admirable nonetheless. Among Anna's most prominent qualities are her passionate spirit and determination to live life on her own terms. She is a feminist heroine of sorts. Anna’s insistence on living according to the dictates of her heart makes her a pioneer, a woman searching for autonomy and passion in a male-dominated society.

Though Anna Karenina gives the novel its name, Levin acts as the novel's co-protagonist, as central to the story as Anna herself. Many critics read Levin as a veiled self-portrait of the author: his name includes Tolstoy’s first name (Lev in Russian), and many of the details of his courtship of Kitty—including the missing shirt at the wedding—were taken straight from Tolstoy’s life. Most notably, Levin’s confession of faith at the end of the novel parallels Tolstoy’s turning to religion after writing Anna Karenina. Tolstoy’s representation of Levin’s final discovery of faith, which he learns from a peasant, is equally ordinary. In this regard, Levin incarnates the simple virtues of life and Tolstoy’s vision of a model human being.

General themes of Anna Karenina include:

  1. Social Change in Nineteenth-Ce ntury Russia-

Tolstoy sets his tale of adultery and self-discovery against the backdrop of the huge historical changes sweeping through Russia during the late nineteenth century, making the historical aspects of the novel just as important as the personal and psychological aspects.

  1. The Blessings of Family Life

The Russian family novel portrayed the benefits and comforts of family togetherness and domestic bliss, often in a very idealized way. In the radically changing social climate of 1860s Russia, many social progressives attacked the institution of the family.. The first sentence of the novel, concerning the happiness and unhappiness of families, underscores the centrality of this idea. Anna destroys a family and dies in misery, whereas Levin creates a family and concludes the novel happily. Anna’s life ultimately loses meaning, whereas Levin’s attains it, as the last paragraph of the novel announces.

Important Symbols

Trains are referred to in the novel and carry a negative meaning. They’re denoted a fast rate of increase of something harmful which is how Tolsoy viewed trains. Anna throws herself under a train at the end of her life, symbolizing her derailed family life.

Important Quotes

1.” All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” (first line of the novel)

2.” In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance.”

3. “Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. But if you don’t love me, it would be better and more honest to say so.”

Key Facts

full title-Anna Karenina

author Lev Leo Tolstoy

type of work- novel

genre · psychological novel

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.

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

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.

Author Information

Leo Tolstoy was born in central Russia in 1828. He studied Oriental languages and law (though failed to earn a degree in the latter) at the University of Kazan, and after a dissolute youth eventually joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus in 1851. He took part in the Crimean War, and the Sebastopol Sketches that emerged from it established his reputation. After living for sometime in St Petersburg and abroad, he married Sophie Behrs in 1862 and they had thirteen children. The happiness this brought gave him the creative impulse for his two greatest novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). Later in life his views became increasingly radical as he gave up his possessions in order to live a simple peasant life. After a quarrel with his wife he fled home secretly one night to seek refuge in a monastery. He became ill during this dramatic flight and died at the small railway station of Astapovo in 1910.


Cossacks, the (1862)

War and Peace (1869)

Anna Karenina (1877)

Death of Ivan Ilyich, the (1886)


*SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Anna Karenina.” SparkNotes LLC. 2002. Web. 10

*Apr. 2012.


Cornelia Geraghty Page

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