Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.
While previous versions have softened the robust and sometimes shocking qualities of Tolstoy's writing, Pevear and Volokhonsky have produced a translation true to his powerful voice. This authoritative edition, which received the PEN Translation Prize and was an Oprah Book Club™ selection, also includes an illuminating introduction and explanatory notes. Beautiful, vigorous, and eminently readable, this Anna Karenina will be the definitive text for fans of the film and generations to come. This Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition also features French flaps and deckle-edged paper.
For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
About the Author
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced acclaimed translations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Bulgakov. Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov won the 1991 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. They are married and live in Paris, France.
Date of Birth:September 9, 1828
Date of Death:November 20, 1910
Place of Birth:Tula Province, Russia
Place of Death:Astapovo, Russia
Education:Privately educated by French and German tutors; attended the University of Kazan, 1844-47
Read an Excerpt
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
All was confusion in the Oblonskys' house. The wife had found out that the husband was having an affair with their former French governess, and had announced to the husband that she could not live in the same house with him. This situation had continued for three days now, and was painfully felt by the couple themselves, as well as by all the members of the family and household. They felt that there was no sense in their living together and that people who meet accidentally at any inn have more connection with each other than they, the members of the family and household of the Oblonskys. The wife would not leave her rooms, the husband was away for the third day. The children were running all over the house as if lost; the English governess quarrelled with the housekeeper and wrote a note to a friend, asking her to find her a new place; the cook had already left the premises the day before, at dinner-time; the kitchen-maid and coachman had given notice.
On the third day after the quarrel, Prince Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky — Stiva, as he was called in society — woke up at his usual hour, that is, at eight o'clock in the morning, not in his wife's bedroom but in his study, on a morocco sofa. He rolled his full, well-tended body over on the springs of the sofa, as if wishing to fall asleep again for a long time, tightly hugged the pillow from the other side and pressed his cheek to it; but suddenly he gave a start, sat up on the sofa and opened his eyes.
'Yes, yes, how did it go?' he thought, recalling his dream. 'How did it go? Yes! Alabin was giving a dinner in Darmstadt — no, not in Darmstadt but something American. Yes, but this Darmstadt was in America. Yes, Alabin was giving a dinner on glass tables, yes — and the tables were singing Il mio tesoro, only it wasn't Il mio tesoro but something better, and there were some little carafes, which were also women,' he recalled.
Stepan Arkadyich's eyes glittered merrily, and he fell to thinking with a smile. 'Yes, it was nice, very nice. There were many other excellent things there, but one can't say it in words, or even put it into waking thoughts.' And, noticing a strip of light that had broken through the side of one of the heavy blinds, he cheerfully dropped his feet from the sofa, felt for the slippers trimmed with gold morocco that his wife had embroidered for him (a present for last year's birthday), and, following a nine-year-old habit, without getting up, reached his hand out to the place where his dressing gown hung in the bedroom. And here he suddenly remembered how and why he was sleeping not in his wife's bedroom but in his study: the smile vanished from his face, and he knitted his brows.
'Oh, oh, oh! Ohh! ...' he moaned, remembering all that had taken place. And in his imagination he again pictured all the details of his quarrel with his wife, all the hopelessness of his position and, most painful of all, his own guilt.
'No, she won't forgive me and can't forgive me! And the most terrible thing is that I'm the guilty one in it all — guilty, and yet not guilty. That's the whole drama,' he thought. 'Oh, oh, oh!' he murmured with despair, recalling what were for him the most painful impressions of this quarrel.
Worst of all had been that first moment when, coming back from the theatre, cheerful and content, holding a huge pear for his wife, he had not found her in the drawing room; to his surprise, he had not found her in the study either, and had finally seen her in the bedroom with the unfortunate, all-revealing note in her hand.
She — this eternally preoccupied and bustling and, as he thought, none-too-bright Dolly — was sitting motionless, the note in her hand, looking at him with an expression of horror, despair and wrath.
'What is this? this?' she asked, pointing to the note.
And, in recalling it, as often happens, Stepan Arkadyich was tormented not so much by the event itself as by the way he had responded to these words from his wife.
What had happened to him at that moment was what happens to people when they are unexpectedly caught in something very shameful. He had not managed to prepare his face for the position he found himself in with regard to his wife now that his guilt had been revealed. Instead of being offended, of denying, justifying, asking forgiveness, even remaining indifferent — any of which would have been better than what he did! — his face quite involuntarily ('reflexes of the brain', thought Stepan Arkadyich, who liked physiology) smiled all at once its habitual, kind and therefore stupid smile.
That stupid smile he could not forgive himself. Seeing that smile, Dolly had winced as if from physical pain, burst with her typical vehemence into a torrent of cruel words, and rushed from the room. Since then she had refused to see her husband.
'That stupid smile is to blame for it all,' thought Stepan Arkadyich.
'But what to do, then? What to do?' he kept saying despairingly to himself, and could find no answer.
Stepan Arkadyich was a truthful man concerning his own self. He could not deceive himself into believing that he repented of his behaviour. He could not now be repentant that he, a thirty-four-year-old, handsome, amorous man, did not feel amorous with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, who was only a year younger than he. He repented only that he had not managed to conceal things better from her. But he felt all the gravity of his situation, and pitied his wife, his children and himself. Perhaps he would have managed to hide his sins better from his wife had he anticipated that the news would have such an effect on her. He had never thought the question over clearly, but vaguely imagined that his wife had long suspected him of being unfaithful to her and was looking the other way. It even seemed to him that she, a worn-out, aged, no longer beautiful woman, not remarkable for anything, simple, merely a kind mother of a family, ought in all fairness to be indulgent. It turned out to be quite the opposite.
'Ah, terrible! Ay, ay, ay! terrible!' Stepan Arkadyich repeated to himself and could come up with nothing. 'And how nice it all was before that, what a nice life we had! She was content, happy with the children, I didn't hinder her in anything, left her to fuss over them and the household however she liked. True, it's not nice that she used to be a governess in our house. Not nice! There's something trivial, banal, in courting one's own governess. But what a governess!' (He vividly recalled Mlle Roland's dark, roguish eyes and her smile.) 'But while she was in our house, I never allowed myself anything. And the worst of it is that she's already ... It all had to happen at once! Ay, ay, ay! But what to do, what to do?'
There was no answer, except the general answer life gives to all the most complex and insoluble questions. That answer is: one must live for the needs of the day, in other words, become oblivious. To become oblivious in dreams was impossible now, at least till night-time; it was impossible to return to that music sung by carafe-women; and so one had to become oblivious in the dream of life.
'We'll see later on,' Stepan Arkadyich said to himself and, getting up, he put on his grey dressing gown with the light-blue silk lining, threw the tasselled cord into a knot, and, drawing a goodly amount of air into the broad box of his chest, went up to the window with the customary brisk step of his splayed feet, which so easily carried his full body, raised the blind and rang loudly. In response to the bell his old friend, the valet Matvei, came at once, bringing clothes, boots, and a telegram. Behind Matvei came the barber with the shaving things.
'Any papers from the office?' Stepan Arkadyich asked, taking the telegram and sitting down in front of the mirror.
'On the table,' Matvei replied, glancing inquiringly, with sympathy, at his master, and, after waiting a little, he added with a sly smile: 'Someone came from the owner of the livery stable.'
Stepan Arkadyich said nothing in reply and only glanced at Matvei in the mirror; from their eyes, which met in the mirror, one could see how well they understood each other. Stepan Arkadyich's eyes seemed to ask: 'Why are you saying that? as if you didn't know?'
Matvei put his hands in his jacket pockets, thrust one foot out and looked at his master silently, good-naturedly, with a slight smile.
'I told them to come next Sunday and till then not to trouble you or themselves needlessly.' He uttered an obviously prepared phrase.
Stepan Arkadyich understood that Matvei wanted to joke and attract attention to himself. Tearing open the telegram, he read it, guessing at the right sense of the words, which were garbled as usual, and his face brightened.
'Matvei, my sister Anna Arkadyevna is coming tomorrow,' he said, stopping for a moment the glossy, plump little hand of the barber, who was clearing a pink path between his long, curly side-whiskers.
'Thank God,' said Matvei, showing by this answer that he understood the significance of this arrival in the same way as his master, that is, that Anna Arkadyevna, Stepan Arkadyich's beloved sister, might contribute to the reconciliation of husband and wife.
'Alone or with her spouse?' asked Matvei.
Stepan Arkadyich, unable to speak because the barber was occupied with his upper lip, raised one finger. Matvei nodded in the mirror.
'Alone. Shall I prepare the rooms upstairs?'
'Tell Darya Alexandrovna, wherever she decides.'
'Darya Alexandrovna?' Matvei repeated, as if in doubt.
'Yes, tell her. And here, take the telegram, let me know what she says.'
'Testing her out,' Matvei understood, but he said only: 'Very well, sir.'
Stepan Arkadyich was already washed and combed and was about to start dressing, when Matvei, stepping slowly over the soft rug in his creaking boots, telegram in hand, came back into the room. The barber was no longer there.
'Darya Alexandrovna told me to inform you that she is leaving. Let him do as he — that is, you — pleases,' he said, laughing with his eyes only, and, putting his hands in his pockets and cocking his head to one side, he looked fixedly at his master.
Stepan Arkadyich said nothing. Then a kind and somewhat pathetic smile appeared on his handsome face.
'Eh? Matvei?' he said, shaking his head.
'Never mind, sir, it'll shape up,' said Matvei.
'That's right, sir.'
'You think so? Who's there?' Stepan Arkadyich asked, hearing the rustle of a woman's dress outside the door.
'It's me, sir,' said a firm and pleasant female voice, and through the door peeked the stern, pock-marked face of Matryona Filimonovna, the nanny.
'What is it, Matryosha?' Stepan Arkadyich asked, going out of the door to her.
Although Stepan Arkadyich was roundly guilty before his wife and felt it himself, almost everyone in the house, even the nanny, Darya Alexandrovna's chief friend, was on his side.
'Well, what is it?' he said dejectedly.
'You should go to her, sir, apologize again. Maybe God will help. She's suffering very much, it's a pity to see, and everything in the house has gone topsy-turvy. The children should be pitied. Apologize, sir. No help for it! After the dance, you must pay the ...'
'But she won't receive me ...'
'Still, you do your part. God is merciful, pray to God, sir, pray to God.'
'Well, all right, go now,' said Stepan Arkadyich, suddenly blushing. 'Let's get me dressed.' He turned to Matvei and resolutely threw off his dressing gown.
Matvei was already holding the shirt like a horse collar, blowing away something invisible, and with obvious pleasure he clothed the pampered body of his master in it.
After dressing, Stepan Arkadyich sprayed himself with scent, adjusted the cuffs of his shirt, put cigarettes, wallet, matches, a watch with a double chain and seals into his pockets with an accustomed gesture, and, having shaken out his handkerchief, feeling himself clean, fragrant, healthy, and physically cheerful despite his misfortune, went out, springing lightly at each step, to the dining room, where coffee was already waiting for him, and, next to the coffee, letters and papers from the office.
He sat down and read the letters. One was very unpleasant — from a merchant who was buying a wood on his wife's estate. This wood had to be sold; but now, before his reconciliation with his wife, it was out of the question. The most unpleasant thing here was that it mixed financial interests into the impending matter of their reconciliation. And the thought that he might be guided by those interests, that he might seek a reconciliation with his wife in order to sell the wood, was offensive to him.
Having finished the letters, Stepan Arkadyich drew the office papers to him, quickly leafed through two files, made a few marks with a big pencil, then pushed the files away and started on his coffee. Over coffee he unfolded the still damp morning newspaper and began to read it.
Stepan Arkadyich subscribed to and read a liberal newspaper, not an extreme one, but one with the tendency to which the majority held. And though neither science, nor art, nor politics itself interested him, he firmly held the same views on all these subjects as the majority and his newspaper did, and changed them only when the majority did, or, rather, he did not change them, but they themselves changed imperceptibly in him.
Stepan Arkadyich chose neither his tendency nor his views, but these tendencies and views came to him themselves, just as he did not choose the shape of a hat or a frock coat, but bought those that were in fashion. And for him, who lived in a certain circle, and who required some mental activity such as usually develops with maturity, having views was as necessary as having a hat. If there was a reason why he preferred the liberal tendency to the conservative one (also held to by many in his circle), it was not because he found the liberal tendency more sensible, but because it more closely suited his manner of life. The liberal party said that everything was bad in Russia, and indeed Stepan Arkadyich had many debts and decidedly too little money. The liberal party said that marriage was an obsolete institution and was in need of reform, and indeed family life gave Stepan Arkadyich little pleasure and forced him to lie and pretend, which was so contrary to his nature. The liberal party said, or, rather, implied, that religion was just a bridle for the barbarous part of the population, and indeed Stepan Arkadyich could not even stand through a short prayer service without aching feet and could not grasp the point of all these fearsome and high-flown words about the other world, when life in this one could be so merry. At the same time, Stepan Arkadyich, who liked a merry joke, sometimes took pleasure in startling some simple soul by saying that if you want to pride yourself on your lineage, why stop at Rurik and renounce your first progenitor — the ape? And so the liberal tendency became a habit with Stepan Arkadyich, and he liked his newspaper, as he liked a cigar after dinner, for the slight haze it produced in his head. He read the leading article, which explained that in our time it was quite needless to raise the cry that radicalism was threatening to swallow up all the conservative elements, and that it was the government's duty to take measures to crush the hydra of revolution; that, on the contrary, 'in our opinion, the danger lies not in the imaginary hydra of revolution, but in a stubborn traditionalism that impedes progress', and so on. He also read yet another article, a financial one, in which mention was made of Bentham and Mill and fine barbs were shot at the ministry. With his peculiar quickness of perception he understood the meaning of each barb: by whom, and against whom, and on what occasion it had been aimed, and this, as always, gave him a certain pleasure. But today this pleasure was poisoned by the recollection of Matryona Filimonovna's advice, and of the unhappy situation at home. He also read about Count Beust, who was rumoured to have gone to Wiesbaden, and about the end of grey hair, and about the sale of a light carriage, and a young person's offer of her services; but this information did not, as formerly, give him a quiet, ironic pleasure.
Having finished the newspaper, a second cup of coffee, and a kalatch with butter, he got up, brushed the crumbs from his waistcoat and, expanding his broad chest, smiled joyfully, not because there was anything especially pleasant in his heart — the smile was evoked by good digestion.
But this joyful smile at once reminded him of everything, and he turned pensive.
Two children's voices (Stepan Arkadyich recognized the voices of Grisha, the youngest boy, and Tanya, the eldest girl) were heard outside the door. They were pulling something and tipped it over.
'I told you not to put passengers on the roof,' the girl shouted in English. 'Now pick it up!'
'All is confusion,' thought Stepan Arkadyich. 'Now the children are running around on their own.' And, going to the door, he called them. They abandoned the box that stood for a train and came to their father.
The girl, her father's favourite, ran in boldly, embraced him, and hung laughing on his neck, delighting, as always, in the familiar smell of scent coming from his side-whiskers. Kissing him finally on the face, which was red from bending down and radiant with tenderness, the girl unclasped her hands and was going to run out again, but her father held her back.
'How's mama?' he asked, his hand stroking his daughter's smooth, tender neck. 'Good morning,' he said, smiling to the boy who greeted him.
He was aware that he loved the boy less, and always tried to be fair; but the boy felt it and did not respond with a smile to the cold smile of his father.
'Mama? Mama's up,' the girl replied.
Stepan Arkadyich sighed. 'That means again she didn't sleep all night,' he thought.
'And is she cheerful?'
The girl knew that there had been a quarrel between her father and mother, and that her mother could not be cheerful, and that her father ought to know it, and that he was shamming when he asked about it so lightly. And she blushed for him. He understood it at once and also blushed.
'I don't know,' she said. 'She told us not to study, but to go for a walk to grandma's with Miss Hull.'
'Well, go then, my Tanchurochka. Ah, yes, wait,' he said, still holding her back and stroking her tender little hand.
He took a box of sweets from the mantelpiece, where he had put it yesterday, and gave her two, picking her favourites, a chocolate and a cream.
'For Grisha?' the girl said, pointing to the chocolate.
'Yes, yes.' And stroking her little shoulder once more, he kissed her on the nape of the neck and let her go.
'The carriage is ready,' said Matvei. 'And there's a woman with a petition to see you,' he added.
'Has she been here long?' asked Stepan Arkadyich.
'Half an hour or so.'
'How often must I tell you to let me know at once!'
'I had to give you time for your coffee at least,' Matvei said in that friendly-rude tone at which it was impossible to be angry.
'Well, quickly send her in,' said Oblonsky, wincing with vexation.
The woman, Mrs Kalinin, a staff captain's wife, was petitioning for something impossible and senseless; but Stepan Arkadyich, as was his custom, sat her down, heard her out attentively without interrupting, and gave her detailed advice on whom to address and how, and even wrote, briskly and fluently, in his large, sprawling, handsome and clear handwriting, a little note to the person who could be of help to her. Having dismissed the captain's wife, Stepan Arkadyich picked up his hat and paused, wondering whether he had forgotten anything. It turned out that he had forgotten nothing, except what he had wanted to forget — his wife.
'Ah, yes!' He hung his head, and his handsome face assumed a wistful expression. 'Shall I go or not?' he said to himself. And his inner voice told him that he should not go, that there could be nothing here but falseness, that to rectify, to repair, their relations was impossible, because it was impossible to make her attractive and arousing of love again or to make him an old man incapable of love. Nothing could come of it now but falseness and deceit, and falseness and deceit were contrary to his nature.
'But at some point I'll have to; it can't remain like this,' he said, trying to pluck up his courage. He squared his shoulders, took out a cigarette, lit it, took two puffs, threw it into the mother-of-pearl ashtray, walked with quick steps across the gloomy drawing room and opened the other door, to his wife's bedroom.
Table of Contents
|List of Principal Characters||xx|
Reading Group Guide
A handful of novels—such as Dickens's Bleak House or Joyce's Ulysses—cause us to feel upon closing them that the world we are returning to is somehow smaller than the one we have just left. Anna Karenina belongs to this group. One measure of its breadth is the enormous range of life experience Tolstoy depicts. Another measure is its attention to so many contemporary issues of nineteenth-century Russia. These immediately apparent features account for the length of Anna Karenina, but a more subtle feature gives the novel its capacious quality. Because it is so rich in incident, and because the psychologies of its main characters are so nuanced as to endow each with a fully formed view of the world, all that happens in Anna Karenina happens, in a sense, without adequate explanation, as in real life. When he is about to confront Anna about her relationship with Vronsky, Alexei Alexandrovich hesitates, feeling that he stands "face to face with something illogical and senseless," with "life [itself]" (p. 142). If the novel strikes us similarly, it is not because Tolstoy does not suggest or even state causes for the novel's events. Rather, the causes do not constitute an explanation, and the ultimately incompatible perspectives of the characters only intensify the mysteries with which the novel leaves us.
The first sentence of Anna Karenina is one of the best-known openings of any novel: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Such a pronouncement, with the appearance of thoughtfully dispensed wisdom, holds the promise of a narrator who will illuminate all that follows. But this statement can be more accurately described as an observation, rather than an explanation or an interpretation. As the novel progresses, this distinction becomes increasingly evident. When contemplating his unhappiness, Vronsky thinks that he has erred in his belief that the realization of his desires would make him happy. Tolstoy does not tell us what would make Vronsky or anyone else happy, and the absence is both conspicuous and emblematic of the way Tolstoy frames issues without directing us to a specific understanding of them. He tells us how Vronsky arrives at this thought, but, as to the question of what happiness is, we get nothing but vague implication.
The question of happiness, however, is clearly central to the novel. One may suppose that the portrayal of varying degrees of happiness informs Tolstoy's decision to structure the novel so that Anna and Vronsky's relationship and Levin and Kitty's marriage run parallel to one another. But words like happy and unhappy lose their descriptive power when we consider that "happy in his family life, a healthy man, Levin was several times so close to suicide that he hid a rope lest he hang himself with it, and was afraid to go about with a rifle lest he shoot himself" (p. 789). The spiritual crisis that pushes Levin to this point seems far removed from all that Anna faces. Her extreme isolation from everyone except Vronsky—whom she fears she is on the brink of losing—helps propel her toward suicide. The fact that Levin finally arrives at a formulation of the meaning of his life that he finds acceptable keeps him from sharing Anna's fate, yet he chooses to keep this revelation a secret from Kitty. Does this gesture indicate a kind of solitude from which Levin and Anna both suffer?
More than anything else in Anna Karenina, Anna's suicide casts a shadow over the entire novel because it both invites and ultimately escapes interpretation. To the society that scorns her for her affair, her death is due punishment. Anna's plea for forgiveness "for everything" just before she dies suggests her own sense of guilt—though it does not adhere to some specific act—and perhaps a belief that justice is at hand. Yet a moment earlier "she was horrified at what she was doing" (p. 768). Does she understand what brings her to this end? The temptation to consider it any sort of commentary on adultery is complicated by Stiva and Dolly. Adultery seems almost becoming to Stiva, and he engages in it with impunity. Dolly tolerates Stiva's wandering without approving of it, yet she sympathizes with Anna, even imagining the pleasure she would take from a similar affair. If Levin is the novel's moral center, he nevertheless fails to tip the balance toward any single interpretation of Anna's fate. He not only allows Anna her mysteriousness; it even seems to overwhelm his capacity for judgment.
ABOUT LEO TOLSTOY
Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on his aristocratic family's estate south of Moscow. A young life of what he called "vulgar licentiousness" included studying for a degree he did not complete, traveling in Europe, and serving in the military. While fighting in the Crimean War in the 1850s, he wrote short stories that established his literary reputation. Tolstoy inherited his family's estate, Yasnaya Polyana, along with 700 serfs, and settled there. In addition to his writing, Tolstoy immersed himself in the work of social reform, establishing a school for his serfs and trying to bring about the emancipation of all serfs.
Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862, beginning a long period of contentment; they had thirteen children. While managing his estate and educational projects, Tolstoy wrote his two greatest novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). In the late 1870s, he suffered a deep spiritual crisis and renounced his former beliefs and literary works. He embraced a rational Christianity that stressed humility, universal brotherhood, and the abandonment of private property. He tried to commit himself to chastity and vegetarianism.
A Confession (1882) described this change in Tolstoy's life and writing. Increasingly troubled by the disparities between the life with his family and the beliefs he espoused, Tolstoy secretly left home in 1910, hoping to find a peaceful refuge. He died several days later at a remote railway station.
- How are we to understand the epigram "Vengeance is mine, I will repay"? Should Anna's fate be considered the result of God's vengeance? Is Anna's desire to take vengeance on Vronsky being condemned?
- When Vronsky first meets Anna, "it was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will..." (p. 61). What is this something? Why is it expressed beyond her will?
- Why is Anna able to reconcile Stiva and Dolly?
- We are told that it is unpleasant for Anna to read about other people's lives because she "wanted too much to live herself" (p. 100). Why are reading and living placed in opposition to one another?
- When Anna and Vronsky have satisfied their desire for one another, why does Tolstoy compare Vronsky to a murderer?
- After telling her husband about her affair, why does Anna feel that "everything was beginning to go double in her soul" (p. 288)?
- Why does Tolstoy counterpose Levin and Kitty's marriage with Anna and Vronsky's relationship?
- Why does Levin continually imagine his future in such detail, only to have his actual experience differ from what he had expected?
- What keeps Dolly from having an affair like Anna's, even though she imagines one "parallel to it, an almost identical love affair of her own" (p. 609)?
- While explaining her affair to Dolly, Anna says, "I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself" (p. 616). Does the novel present these two objectives as compatible or incompatible?
- Why, as she later admits to herself, did Anna want Levin to fall in love with her when she met him?
- Why does Anna kill herself? Why does everyone and everything seem so ugly to Anna just before she does so?
- Is it Anna herself or the society in which she lives that is more responsible for her unhappiness?
- Why are the consequences of Stiva's adultery so insignificant relative to those Anna faces?
- Why does Vronsky go to war as a volunteer after Anna's suicide?
- Of all the novel's characters, why is it only Anna and Levin who contemplate suicide?
- Why does Levin believe that he must keep the revelation in which he comes to understand faith a secret from Kitty?
- Why does Tolstoy end the novel with Levin's musings about the nature of faith and his embrace of morally justifiable actions as the basis for the meaning of life?
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
- What should we take into account when trying to balance responsibility to ourselves with responsibility to others?
- To what extent does a society determine which of our individual desires can be satisfied?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Let's get some 'housekeeping' out of the way first: 1. I've read this novel, usually in the Nabokov translation, every few years since high school, and that's a lot of years 2. I found this particular English language translation 'BO' 'before Oprah' 3. ' IMHO, Anna K. is the greatest novel ever written , & 4. therefore, IMHO, this is the best English translation of the greatest novel ever written. Having read this novel in various other translations no less than 20 times, I was literally thrilled beyond description after completing reading the Pevear/Volok. transalation. It was as if a curtain had been drawn back and the answers to numerous questions I'd continued to have after my first 20 readings were finally revealed. What questions? All sorts-- mostly, motivational ones, such as: 'Why, exactly, did (substitute the names of any of the novel's characters) think/feel/speak/do this, that or the other... .' For, you see, Anna K. (the novel as a whole) is quite 'psycho-analytical', if you will. If I'm not mistaken, it's counted as the first, or one of the first novels in history to delve in depth as to all human motivation in a Freudian manner. It constantly asks the question: 'Why is this character like she/he is why does she/he think/feel/speak or act as she/he does?' Prior to this translation, despite numerous close readings, many questions remained not fully realized or answered for me. I had always attributed this to the usual 'cultural differentiations' -- that is, until this translation. In short, all my questions and every vaguery have now been answered &/or clarified, and then some! At the risk of sounding cliched, it was as if I were reading a new novel-- so fresh is this translation! As for those of you who did not 'like' reading this or any other Anna K.-- stick to those novelists who spoon-feed you their 'observations.' Tolstoy replicates life, and the life of the mind better than any other writer of any time, in a way that makes the reader feel he or she is experiencing what his characters are at the very moment that it is happening, and no other writer gives the reader so broad and yet so specific a palette to 'experience' from. This novel has always been a world treasure. This translation polishes this mirrored and bejeweled treasure for us and for future generations to continue to learn from and deepens and heightens the enjoyment of current and future readers. I feel deeply indebted to the translators. Thank you!
I read this in junior high and then again in highschool in which I got a better understanding and more indepth. My senior year I wrote a paper over it because I love it so much. The novel has multiple stories due to the many different charcters. Sometimes their stories intertwine like a soap opera that is realistic and takes place during aristocratic russia with historical events. Passion, pain, love, betrayl colour the story. Literary analysis takes the novel to a whole nother level. I recommend this book to everyone even though it is long. In conclusion this novel blew my mind away take your time enjoy it, reflect, and analyze because by far this is one of my top ten because after reading it I began to look at the world differently. This review is coming from a 2010 highschool graduate. READ THIS BOOK
When I first started reading this, I kept waiting for the purpose of the story to be revealed, the reason why Tolstoy had written 800 pages about these people. Before too long, though, I was wrapped up in their lives, laughing at their absurdities and rolling my eyes at the foolish things they did. And then I got involved in the myriad details of the time: the philosophies, the politics, the modes of thought, the science and technology. About halfway through the book, I realized there wasn't a purpose, exactly, to the story. I was just dropping into these people's lives and listening for a while. Not something I usually enjoy, but Tolstoy's abrupt, descriptive language, his way of narrating the truths of a person's character, his attention to their intellectual and spiritual existence---all of these kept me intrigued and involved until the last word.
Oh wow - this book is absolutely fantastic! The translators are right on the button and no wonder it was one of Oprah's book choices. Anna Karenina is my absolute favorite book ever - I have read it many, many times and it will continue to be read by me. It is just such an incredible story. I have to say that the reviewers who do not find it worthy of a proper tribute should perhaps go back to reading the daily comics, as that is probably more in line with their brain capabilities. Do not skimp on the copy you buy - you really do get what you pay for here - it is a russian novel, translated into english - you will cringe at some of the wording used in inferior copies. Do yourself a favor - if you are going to settle down with a book of this magnitude, buy a great copy. It will definitely make your experience much more memorable. With regard to the nook varieties, do not even contemplate the free downloads - I have tried them all and the amount of spelling mistakes means you are effectively translating the translation! It is dreadful to think they are out there. This is a book for serious readers - read it, savor it and love it forever!
You should read i. It is best translation I ever read. It a most like they wrote the book
This is a beautifully written book in terms of literary style and language. It is very long though and takes a long time to read. It stands out as a classic because of its bold theme of a taboo topic like adultery and the depth with which Tolstoy describes the thoughts and feelings of his characters. Its adult theme is geared towards a mature audience - ideally a college student or someone older. Tolstoy writes vividly about the power of beauty and charm, the attraction that ensues, the head over heels romance of Anna and Vronsky, the heady feeling that makes them forget everyone and everything around them, the dislike with which Vronsky sizes up Karenin at their first meeting, and the guilt, humiliation, and social alienation that their affair brings. He includes minute details of their body language as if he had personally seen the story unfold before his eyes and had keenly and accurately noted every detail about each character. He shows that people cannot change overnight and that promises are difficult to keep - Oblsonsky promises to be true to his wife but continues to stray. He gives glimpses into the pretentious nature of the Russian high class - they prefer to speak in French than Russian. He highlights the fact that it is only men who discuss politics. Vronsky and Anna's romance was the best part of the book. I found the parts about Levin's farming and his doubts about the existence of God to be dull and dry, although it helped contrast the luxurious lives of the upper class with the poor conditions of the peasants. I didn't like the end. I liked the character of Karenin the most - levelheaded, even-keeled and caring (yes, he does have a heart). Anna came across as selfish, impulsive and weak - in committing adultery and her end. I wish Tolstoy had written something about the relationship between Vronsky and the daughter he had with Anna. I would have also liked to know whether or not Levin's brother, Koznyshev, ever proposed to Kitty's friend. I feel I was mentally and emotionally a little too young to fully understand and appreciate this book - in terms of vocabulary as well as what the characters feel and why they react the way they do, especially where matters of the heart were concerned. Yet, I am glad that I read it because I was able to grasp the main message of the novel - reckless decisions in love (especially adultery) only bring doom and gloom. High school students will also benefit from reading this classic tale. It will give them an opportunity to vicariously experience the outcome of possible future decisions. They will be better prepared to face the temptation of extra-marital love, should it surface in their lives. It'll also make them compare and contrast nineteenth century Russian society to our society today. It will make them appreciate how today's society is more accepting of people in Anna's situation. They will be glad that women have more rights now and that the middle class is much stronger.
In response to one review I feel I have to defend this jewel of western literature and say that Tolstoi is second only to Shakespeare in his representation of character: nothing about any of the characters emotions strikes me as false, and every page is wrought with accurate and beautifully presented human emotion. Tolstoi, as Nabokov said, is the novelist of the world. Now that that pedantic statement is out of th way, I'll go on to praise this great book. Begun a few years after finishing War and Peace Tolstoi sheds all the essay-like qualities of War and Peace (which he said wasn't a novel) and focuses on character and narration. Deserving to be ranked alongside Don Quixote, Ulysses, and In Search of Lost Time this book is incredibly enjoyable and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Tolstoi or great literature. Also, if anyone is a fan of Virginia Woolf they will see a very early and subtle use of free indirect discourse and incongruous first person narration of events and characters. And, whoever enjoyed Leopold "Poldy" Bloom, or Proust's wonderfully cruel society scenes, will find in Tolstoi's Anna Karenina characters and scenes to rival, and sometimes surpass, both works. A joy to read, especially slowly over a summer, this work can be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone who will give it a chance. If people tell you it is boring it is because they have not read it. I can't recommend it enough.
Tolstoy has an amazing ability to capture characters and people's psychology. I feel like I now know these characters in more depth than many people I've known for years. Unfortuantely, I didn't really feel like I liked these people. I think War and Peace is a much better novel.
This was my introduction to Tolstoy. The characters are larger than life and the stories were compelling. It is a bit of a weighty read (at least for me) so it took me a long time to work my way through. I definitely recommend it to anyone seeking out good literature.
Maybe my tastes just aren't very refined or I expected too much, but this wasn't a pleasurable read for me. By page 300 it was just a conquest, and that meant I had 600 pages left (in my copy). It's well-structured, especially considering the length of the novel. There's no question that Tolstoy is a master of his craft, but it wasn't entertaining. And if you can't engage your reader, you're missing an essential (if not THE essential) component of what you're trying to do as a writer. I also have to consider though that this is a translation, and perhaps some things that would have made it more enjoyable (beautiful language) got lost in translation.
Anna Karenina is my white whale. I have attacked this novel from every possibly angle for approximately 7 years and it still gets away from me. The length is not the issue; I am a fast reader. Enjoyment is not the issue; I deeply engage with most books that I read and this one is too good not to... but despite that, I just can't seem to handle the Russians. I am on my fourth read-through of Anna Karenina and I have yet to finish it. I've made it farther than ever before this time, a tantalizing 200-or-so pages from my goal. But I've stopped again. For whatever reason, I cannot handle the Russians. Lucky for me, I have now read the novel enough times that I no longer need to go back and familiarize myself with the events. I love what I've read of this book, its beautiful and it immerses you totally in its world. This translation in particular is excellent. Should I ever finish, I will pay my compliments to the translators.
This took me just under a month to read, which is pretty good going considering it's over 1000 pages. We had our ups and downs - I didn't actually take very well to Anna Karenina, but other characters I did like - such as Levin and Kitty. I found Anna rather cold and wasn't able to empathise with her very much. The time frame must be only three years, and the writer goes into some depth about Russian agriculture, religion and politics, but I found this very interesting. I will definitely read other Tolstoy and am looking forward to War and Peace in the near future.
Dostoevsky's The Idiot de-emphasizes the bitter, skein, entangled love between Aglaia, Natasya and Myshkin and through which voices the author's views on suffering, virtue and moral goodness. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina is the melodrama up to the same par that deftly follows the excurciating, convoluted love triangle between Alexei Karenina, Anna Karenina and Vronsky. The opening line of the book, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," succinctly bespeaks the various aspects, intricacies, and complications that contribute to the unhappiness of three related families revolving around Anna Karenina.The story is a timeless classic. Anna arrives in town to help reconcile her brother, Stepan, with his wife Dolly. Dolly finds out about Stepan's affair with a former French governess. She seeks to revenge on his unrepentant behavior and to shame him for at least a small part of hurt he had done her. Though she manages to resolve with him, suspicions of her husband's unfaithfulness constantly torment her. While Anna appeases Dolly's crushed spirit and implored her to forgive Stepan, little does Anna know that her brief visit would irrepressibly alter her fate and throw her into a bittersweet convoluted affair with Count Vronsky.Handsome, intelligent, and cultivated Vronsky courts Kitty, Dolly's youngest sister who rejects Levin's proposal (though she cannot deny his love). When Vronsky later scorns her for Anna Karenina, Kitty refuses any commiseration, condolence, and condescension out of her pride. Her grief is precisely that Levin has made a proposal and that she has curtly rejected him (she pities him and thinks she deserves a better match) while the whole time Vronsky has deceived her. At the first encounter Vronsky beams at the sight of Anna's svelte, dazzling beauty, talks to her as if the words would determine their fate, and immediately decides that she can never and does not love her husband Alexei. Likewise, Anna finally comes to terms with her chronic sadness, which overcomes her that she is deceiving herself about Vronsky.Anna is thrown into a frenzied conflict of emotions: qualm, fear, sadness, indecision, guilt, broods over lack of love, the desire of love. No matter how solicitous of her needs Alexei has been, Anna shuns him and is disgusted with his wonted coldness and indifference in their marriage. In the 19th century, a woman like Anna, who had involved in such affair was considered vile, corrupted, fallen, and disgrace. Indeed Alexei is most concerned in safeguarding his reputation, which he needs for the unimpeded continuation of his social and civil activity. He seeks to mitigate the situation as elders of society are displeased by the impending scandal. He is also in denial, in total complaisance, fantasizing Anna's passion (for Vronsky) will ease and grievous difficulty will pass and that his name will remain undisgraced. An inner disturbance causes him to feel an unwillingness that Anna be united with Vronsky unhindered. He regards Anna's nature as being "so corrupt, so perverted that perdition itself looks like salvation." It is through the portrait of Alexei's mental suffering and agony that render Anna's character and her affair etched.As Levin notices, Anna never tries to conceal or trifle all the difficulty of her situation. Such truthfulness in her makes her all the more indomitable and wins her Levin's justification. She glumly broods over not being able to see her son Seryozha (Count Lydia abets Alexei to tell the boy of his mother's death so as to end the situation) and Vronsky realizes that the boy, with all the sensitivity of feelings in a child, constitutes the most painful part (hindrance) of his relationship with Anna. The reunion of mother and son sees an outpour of tears, joy, and bittersweet tenderness that will make readers lump in the throat. Tears and sniffles might have rendered Anna speechless but the boy understands that his mother is unhappy and that
What a struggle, these Russians. A fascinating read if you can get a copy with lots of footnotes, the window it gives into the society of that era is its most redeeming feature. Anna herself is a frustrating protagonist of an almost soap opera mentality, drama after drama. The ending is almost a relief.
Of course I've known the basic story of Anna Karenina, who has an affair with Count Vronsky and comes to grief. Because the basic story outline did not appeal to me, I have waited this long to read Anna Karenina. That has got to be the greatest literary mistake of my life!I had absolutely no idea of Tolstoy's gift for writing on such a grand, panoramic scale while at the same time writing with such great attention to detail. What really blew me away, though, was his ability to put both himself and the reader inside the heads of so many diverse characters. It is obvious that not only must he have been a great observer of human behavior, but he must also have spent a great amount of time on reflexion and self-examination. Never before have I encountered a writer with such ability to capture the essence of what it is that makes us human.Anna Karenina has caused me to fall in love with reading all over again!
Of the innumerable characters in Anna Karenina, Kitty and Levin continue to resonate. Truthfully, I'm not sure I still remember why. The novel is a classic which definitely merits a reread.
This is the first "Russian Literature" I've attempted to read, and I loved it. The story is classic, and I know I'm not going to say anything about it that hasn't already been said. But I loved the symmetry between Anna and Levin. As one story ended tragically, the other got such a happy ending. I read this book slowly, and after spending so much time with these characters, I felt very satisfied when it was over.I am by no mean an expert on the different translations available, but I can say that Pevear and Volokhonsky's is very readable and engaging. They include a nice amount of footnotes (sufficient for understanding foreign words or unfamiliar concepts, but not so many as to detract from the story.) I can't wait to get my hands on their translation of War and Peace.
I love Tolstoy's character development: Levin, Kitty, Anna, Seryosha, Vronsky, Karenin, Oblonsky, and Dolly's, especially. He writes from each person's perspective truly as if he were that person ... it's spectacular, and absorbing.I also found Levin's observations of the Russian peasantry and agricultural system highly interesting, not to mention his thoughts on faith, religion, belief, and the church. I was saddened by his conversion at the end, honestly; it disappointed me. Seemed far too simple and sudden, like a quick-fix to thoughts and questions that, in my opinion, shouldn't have had any answers at all.Anna's end was the most heart-wrenching part of the book. To follow her story through the whole affair, divorce, and then her own death makes the reader sympathize with even the most "amoral" character in the book. I don't know why she earns the scarlet letter, though. To me, Vronsky seems just as guilty as her, if not more so.
A timeless novel that is more about human behavior than 19th century Russia, though the backdrop of 19th century beliefs and social order provides the backdrop. But what makes the book timeless is how people behave, react and fair because of the constraints put on them regardless if those constraints are caused by their time in history. A new era of constraints and you could write the outcome of this story exactly the same.
Dark, haunting, moving, thought-provoking.
I was a little daunted by the length of this book when I first picked it up, but was quickly drawn into the story. The Russian custom of various names/diminuitives for the same person was a little confusing in the beginning. A portrait of tragedy, Anna's story is masterfully woven and overlaid with the lives and stories of the people on her periphery, showing cameos of weakness, strength, love and loss.
Having felt compelled to read this as it is many people's "best of all times" (including the 1001 Books You Should Read Before You Die list), I plugged away for two weeks ~ and finally finished it. The beginning started strong, but overall, I really do not see the draw. While it is certainly ambitious in scope (touches on every facet of then "modern day" life in Russia late 1800s, politics, philosphy, lots of religion, family structure, divorce, agriculture, bird hunting and social criticism/hypocrisy), I felt none of the areas held my attention. Tolstoy is King of Tangent, mostly to spout his views on various subjects (mostly religion and a sort of morality over reason mindset), and at times this novel was such a chore. But I'm a tenatious reader and ususally, if I've invested much of my time in it, I'll finish, just to be able to really assess it. The second half of this book was all work and no play. The most surprising thing about Anna Karenina though is Anna herself. I had always heard she was a most esteemed female character, before her time, interesting, strong, etc. Well, she is a deranged opium addict and very whiny, privileged woman who destroys everything and everyone around her to get what she wants ... and she never even really knows WHAT she wants, only that she usually does not once she has it. She was just not interesting or likeable enough to carry such a big novel. Her children were the saddest victims of her whims. But surprisingly, she is not the central character. We follow the lives of Levin and his brothers, Kitty, Dolly, Oblonsky, Anna's husband Karenin and of course, Anna's lover, Vronsky (easily as unlikeable as she is). Mostly though, we traverse the up/down, swirling mindsets of the Anna/Vronsky affair (as it affects them and others) and Levin's journey to find meaning in life.
This was my first book by Tolstoy, and honestly it is one of my alltime favourite books. The language Tolstoy uses to describe his characters are so unique, and refreshing, quite frankly. LOVED it.
Oh, so very, very, long, but one mostly doesn't notice until the final third of the book or so, even if one does wonder why it is called "Anna Karenina" and not "Konstantin Levin" or "Kitty Shcherbatskaya" or after any of a number of equally important characters.Perhaps it is because Anna is so fascinating? So... real? As one who has suffered from depression and anxiety, Anna's internal workings were eerily familiar, and a little uncomfortable to observe.Meanwhile, the contrast that the relationships of Kitty and Levin (a more ideal picture of marriage) and the Oblonskys (an exemplar of the difference between how society treats male infidelity versus female infidelity) could not be more perfect.However, somewhere toward the end of the novel, Levin's spiritual quest begins to drag on and on and on and suddenly one realizes, "Heavens what a long novel this is!" And then, rather abruptly, it ends. Oh well, little can be perfect in this world, but Anna Karenina is quite close to it.
I don't know exactly what I was expecting from Anna Karenina, but whatever it was it was just beyond my grasp. I just never felt truly moved or impacted by anything in the novel. There is something to be said for the mirroring of the lives of Levin and Anna Karenina. One starting out on a high while the other suffered, only to end in the opposite. But I never felt for their plight because neither character ever felt real. Both characters seemed to live in a reality they had created within their own mind, while the real world circled around them. This novel simply fell short for me in what the hype had led me to expect. Glad to have read it. but unfortunately not one that will stick with me.