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     Volume 2 Issue 4 | February 4, 2007|


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Classic Corner

Anna Karenina

By Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina was first published in periodical instalments from 1875 to 1877. Widely regarded as a pinnacle in realist fiction, Tolstoy considered this book his first true novel. The character of Anna was likely inspired, in part, by Maria Hartung (18321919), the elder daughter of the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. Soon after meeting her at dinner, Tolstoy started reading Pushkin's prose and once had a fleeting daydream of "a bare exquisite aristocratic elbow", which proved to be the first intimation of Anna's character.

Although most Russian critics panned the novel on its publication as a "trifling romance of high life", Fyodor Dostoevsky declared it to be "flawless as a work of art". His opinion is seconded by Vladimir Nabokov.

Plot summary
The novel is divided into eight parts. The novel begins with one of its most quoted lines, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Part 1 introduces the character Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky, known as "Stiva", a civil servant who has been unfaithful to his wife Darya Alexandrovna, known as "Dolly". Stiva's affair shows an amorous personality which he cannot seem to suppress. Stiva summons his married sister, Anna Karenina, from St. Petersburg to persuade Dolly not to leave him.

Upon arriving at Moscow, a railway worker accidentally falls in front of a train and is killed, which Anna declares to be an "evil omen". Meanwhile, Stiva's childhood friend Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin arrives in Moscow to offer his hand in marriage to Dolly's younger sister Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky, known as "Kitty". The passionate, restless but shy aristocratic landowner lives on an estate which he manages. Kitty turns him down, expecting a marriage offer from army officer Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky. Despite his fondness for Kitty, Vronsky has no intention of marrying her. He soon falls in love with Anna after he meets her at the Moscow train station and later dances the mazurka with her at a ball.

Anna, shaken by her response and animation to Vronsky, returns at once to St. Petersburg. Vronsky follows her on the same train. Levin returns to his estate farm, abandoning any hope of marriage, and Anna returns to her husband Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin, a senior government official, and their son Sergei in Petersburg.

In part 2, Karenin scolds Anna for talking too much with Vronsky, but after a while she returns Vronsky's affections, and becomes pregnant with his child. Anna shows anguish when Vronsky falls from a racehorse, making her feelings obvious in society and prompting her to confess to her husband. This attraction appears repeatedly in the book through the form of a "What if" question. When Kitty learns that Vronsky prefers Anna over her, she turns ill. Two doctors examine her, and together they decide she should travel abroad to recover. She goes to a resort at a German spring to recover from the shock. There she briefly becomes extremely pious, but decides that she can't retain that level of piety without deceiving herself.

Part 3 examines Levin's life on his rural farming estate, a setting closely tied to Levin's spiritual thoughts and struggles. Throughout this part, Levin wrestles with the idea of falseness, wondering how he should go about ridding himself of it, and criticizing what he feels is falseness in others. Dolly also meets Levin, and attempts to revive his feelings for Kitty. Dolly seems to have failed, but a chance sighting of Kitty makes Levin realize he still loves her. Back in Petersburg, Karenin exasperates Anna by refusing to separate with her, and threatens not to let her see their son Seriozha ever again if she leaves or misbehaves, exactly what Vronsky asks her to do….

Go online and read on to find out what happens in the following chapters of this masterpiece novel.



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