Book Summary: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Are you looking for a book summary of Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy? You have come to the right place.

I jotted down a few key points from Leo Tolstoy’s book after reading it.

You do not have to read the entire book if you don’t have time. This book summary provides an overview of everything you can learn from it.

Let’s get started without further ado.

In this Anna Karenina book summary, I’m going to cover the following topics:

Who is The Author of Anna Karenina?

Anna Karenina, novel by Leo Tolstoy, was published in installments between 1875 and 1877 and is considered one of the highlights of world literature.

Count Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy, usually referred to in English as Leo Tolstoy, was a Russian writer who is considered one of the greatest authors of all time.

Anna Karenina Book Summary

Stepan Oblonsky’s wife Dolly had discovered that her husband was having an affair. With her beauty fading and her household a wreck, she had had enough. Stepan fretfully wrote to his sister, Anna Karenina, asking her to come to Moscow and convince Dolly not to leave him.

Later, while working at his job in the entrenched Moscow bureaucracy, Stepan received an unexpected visitor: Levin, an old friend from the university, came to discuss Dolly’s sister Kitty, whom he wanted to marry.

After being informed by Stepan that he had a rival for Kitty’s affections, a certain Count Vronsky of St Petersburg, Levin resolved that he would propose to Kitty that very night. At that same moment, Anna and Count Vronsky were riding together in a train bound for Moscow.

Vronsky noticed the charming woman as he made his way to the first-class compartment that he shared with his mother. He had time to take note of “the suppressed eagerness which played over her face” as their eyes met, and she remained in his mind.

However, upon reaching their destination, the two went their separate ways – Anna to her brother’s home, Vronsky and his mother to a hotel.

Approached by Anna, Dolly at first refused to discuss her husband’s infidelity. “Everything’s lost after what has happened, everything’s over!” she raged. But finally she relented to Anna’s pleas to keep the family together.

Meanwhile, Levin had arrived early at a dinner party hosted by the parents of Kitty and Dolly, determined to make his desires known to Kitty before the appearance of the rich and handsome Count. But “That cannot be … forgive me,” Kitty replied upon hearing his stammering proposal. Crushed by the rejection, Levin escaped from the gathering at the first opportunity.

A few days later, at her coming-out ball, Kitty couldn’t help but notice how Anna and Vronsky kept gazing at each other. Vronsky’s face had a look that puzzled her … “like the expression of an intelligent dog when it had done wrong.”

It was clear to Kitty that the two were in love. Nevertheless, with her task of seeing to Stepan and Dolly completed, Anna boarded the next train for St Petersburg. She thought of her son, Seryozha, and her husband, Alexey. “… My life will go on in the old way, all nice and as usual,” she thought. But she found that she could not easily dismiss Count Vronsky from her mind. And stopping along the way, as Anna stepped out for a breath of air, there he was. “You know that I have come to be where you are; I can’t help it,” confessed the officer.

Anna was both delighted and flattered by this, but it was simply unthinkable that anything could come of his attraction to her. After all, she was a married woman. Back in Moscow, Kitty was devastated. Not only had Count Vronsky spurned her, but Levin had also left the city to supervise work on his country estate.

Humiliated and distraught, Kitty became so ill with despair that she was soon unable to eat or sleep. Her frantic parents, after finding no restorative medical treatment in Moscow, sent her to Europe to consult various doctors.

Meanwhile, life for Anna in St Petersburg remained strangely unsettled. The happiness that in Moscow “had fairly flashed from her eyes, [now seemed] hidden somewhere far away.” To her further disquiet, the love-struck Vronsky took every opportunity to see her. One night she knelt and begged him to leave her in peace; but still he persisted: “I can’t think of you and myself apart. You and I are one to me.” And at that moment Anna “let her eyes rest on him, full of love.”

Soon afterward, Alexey Karenina walked into a party and found his wife with Vronsky; but Anna denied any impropriety. Still, she and Vronsky met night after night, with Alexey seemingly powerless or unwilling to stop them. Anna by now felt “so sinful, so guilty”; but still she could not curb her passion for the Count. The following summer, while staying at her husband’s villa outside the city, Anna confronted her lover with an announcement: she was pregnant. Though he understood the gravity of Anna’s position, Vronsky smiled. This was the “turning point he had been longing for.”

“Leave your husband and make our life one,” he implored. But Anna shook her head. If she left, Alexey would take sole custody of Seryozha and she would not be allowed to see her son.

But Anna did promise Vronsky that she would tell her husband the truth about the child she was carrying. When Anna made her confession, Alexey, instead of showing jealousy or indignation, merely warned his wife against “public displays of flirtation.” His sole concern was to preserve his social and business reputation; a duel or a divorce would only serve to disgrace him. “The family cannot be broken up by a whim, a caprice, or even by the sin of one of the partners in the marriage,” he informed Anna. “… Our life must go on as it has done in the past.” Anna reacted to his words at first with guilt and shame, but this quickly turned to anger: “He knows that I can’t repent that I breathe, that I love; he knows that it can lead to nothing but lying and deceit; but he wants to go on torturing me. …”

Vronsky also was increasingly anxious to begin a new life with Anna, who would not leave her son. And so, “the position was one of misery for all three. …” Kitty had by now returned to Moscow, feeling somewhat better. One morning, just after dawn, Levin caught sight of her in a carriage, as it skirted his estate destined for her family’s summer home.

The pangs of love, long since buried, welled up in him once more. Months later, taking advantage of a trip to the city, he called again upon Kitty. It was apparent to both that they cared deeply for each other, and, after a proper courtship, they were united as man and wife.

Levin, for years caught up in trying to find out who he was and where he fit in God’s universe, had finally and happily found his place. But in St Petersburg, relationships were breaking up. The nearer Anna came to the birth of her child, the more demanding and cold Alexey became. Then Anna survived a deadly fever to give birth to a baby girl.

Oddly, the difficulty of the birth eased the tensions between herself and her husband. At the other extreme, Vronsky saw no end to the barriers separating him from his lover. Desperate at the prospect of living without Anna, he unsuccessfully tried shooting himself.

Still torn, Anna finally did move in with him, and soon the couple left Russia to live in Italy for a time. Meanwhile, Kitty and Levin were living on their estate outside of Moscow. Levin felt gratified to be spiritually sustained by a loving wife.

Like Anna, Kitty went through a difficult pregnancy, but it culminated in the birth of a fine little boy. Theirs was an idyllic life. Upon returning from Italy to St Petersburg, Vronsky and Anna, found themselves ostracized. Gossip followed them everywhere.

The couple argued frequently, and Anna, in a burst of depression, finally accused Vronsky of being unfaithful. Even after they moved into a newly-inherited estate, Anna felt alone in the world. She revived her habit of taking a little morphine to help her sleep, a legacy from her pregnancy. Summer turned to winter, and the family relocated again, this time to Moscow.

There, the badly strained relationship fared no better. Though Anna pled for Vronsky to love her and give her security, at the same time she increasingly insisted on greater freedom. “This is becoming unbearable!” Vronsky screamed one day. “Why do you try my patience? It has limits.”

Anna could only gaze at him “with terror at the undisguised hatred in his whole face.” Vronsky checked himself: “I mean to say…I must ask what it is you want of me?” “All I want,” she replied, “is that you don’t desert me, as you think of doing. …I want love, and there is none. …”

Vronsky vainly protested; he would never cease to love her. Suddenly, Anna turned on Vronsky, cursing him for the sacrifices she had made to be with him – her marriage, her son, her social position. … Delirious with bitterness, Anna had no place to turn; Vronsky, she was convinced, had found another, and she could never return to Alexey.

Ambling into the train station, she purchased a ticket. Then, standing on the platform, watching the trains, she said to herself, “… I will punish him and escape from everyone and from myself.” Measuring both the speed of the oncoming train and her resolve to end her suffering, she jumped. “… Something huge and merciless struck her on the head and rolled on her back. … ‘Lord, forgive me all!’” Anna Karenina was dead.

Anna Karenina Characters

Anna Karenina, a beautiful young woman
Alexey, her cold, vindictive husband
Count Vronsky, a young military officer who falls in love with Anna
Stepan Oblonsky, Anna’s spendthrift brother
Dolly, Stepan’s frustrated wife
Kitty, Dolly’s sister
Levin, Stepan’s rustic friend, and Kitty’s suitor

Anna Karenina Review

Leo Tolstoy is considered one of Russia’s greatest 19th-century novelists, an honor he shares with Dostoievsky. Tolstoy, however, focuses his novels on the vicissitudes of the upper classes rather than on Dostoievsky’s underprivileged peasants or criminals.

Tolstoy foresaw the end of the aristocracy in Russian society. Serfs had already been set free; the working class was beginning to expand in power.

Moreover, new mores and morals were being imported from the West, and society’s upper crust was the first to feel the strain of these changes – a strain running an undercurrent throughout Anna Karenina. The novel reads like a soap opera, with the exhaustive cast of characters continually creating their own problems.

Contrast Anna’s tragic quest for love and personal fulfillment with the spiritual odyssey of Levin. Through hard work and the support of an understanding family, his search is rewarded by happiness.

Thus, Tolstoy’s gripping masterpiece revolves around the dissimilar paths of these two characters, allowing a forum for the author’s commentary on Russia’s maze-like social system, fraught with unresolved incongruities.

Further Reading

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