Leo Tolstoy, 1877
~800 pp. (varies by publisher)
Anna Karenina is the wife of a prominant Russian government official. She leads a correct but confining upper-middle-class existence. She seems content with her life as a proper companion to her dignified, unaffectionate husband and an adoring mother to her young son, until she meets Count Vronsky, a young officer of the guards.
He pursues her and she falls madly in love with him. Her husband refuses to divorce her, so she gives up everything, including her beloved son, to be with Vronsky. After a short time, Vronsky becomes bored and unhappy with their life as social outcasts. He abandons her, returns to the military and is immediately accepted back into society. Anna, a fallen woman, shunned by respectable society, throws herself under a train. (From the Penguin Classic edition; image, above-right.)
• Birth—September 9, 1828
• Where—Tula Province, Russia
• Death—November 20, 1910
• Where—Astapovo, Russia
• Education—Private French and German tutors; attended
the University of Kazan
Count Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on the family estate of Yasnaya Polyana, in the Tula province, where he spent most of his early years, together with his several brothers. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan to read Oriental Languages and later Law, but left before completing a degree. He spent the following years in a round of drinking, gambling and womanizing, until weary of his idle existence he joined an artillery regiment in the Caucasus in 1851.
He took part in the Crimean war and after the defence of Sevastopol wrote The Sevastopol Sketches (1855-6), which established his literary reputation. After leaving the army in 1856 Tolstoy spent some time mixing with the literati in St Petersburg before traveling abroad and then settling at Yasnaya Polyana, where he involved himself in the running of peasant schools and the emancipation of the serfs. His marriage to Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862 marked the beginning of a period of contentment centred around family life; they had thirteen children. Tolstoy managed his vast estates, continued his educational projects, cared for his peasants and wrote both his great novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877).
During the 1870s he underwent a spiritual crisis, the moral and religious ideas that had always dogged him coming to the fore. A Confession (1879–82) marked an outward change in his life and works; he became an extreme rationalist and moralist, and in a series of pamphlets written after 1880 he rejected church and state, indicted the demands of flesh, and denounced private property. His teachings earned him numerous followers in Russia and abroad, and also led finally to his excommunication by the Russian Holy Synod in 1901. In 1910 at the age of eighty-two he fled from home "leaving this worldly life in order to live out my last days in peace and solitude;" he died some days later at the station master's house at Astapovo. (From Penguin Group USA, courtesy of Barnes & Noble.)
Powerful, tragic (you know what happens, right?), and one of the greatest reads in all of literature. Outwardly, Anna Karenina is the story of a woman who struggles to break free of one web—marriage—only to find herself entrapped in another web. The latter, is more pernicious than the first.
A LitLovers LitPick (April '08)
The first English translation in 40 years, [this] Anna Karenina is the most scrupulous, illuminating and compelling version yet.
San Diego Union
(Refers to Penguin edition) Pevear and Volokhonsky are at once scrupulous translators and vivid stylists of English, and their superb rendering allows us, as perhaps never before, to grasp the palpability of Tolstoy's 'characters, acts, situations.
James Woods - The New Yorker
Pevear and Volokhonsky, winners of the 1991 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize for their version of Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, have produced the first new translation of Leo Tolstoy's classic Anna Karenina in 40 years. The result should make the book accessible to a new generation of readers. In an informative introduction, Pevear gives the reader a history of the work Tolstoy called his first true novel and which took him some four years to write. Pevear explains how Tolstoy took real events, incorporated them into his novel, and went through several versions before this tale of the married Anna and her love for Count Vronsky emerged in its final form in 1876. It was during the writing of the book that Tolstoy went through a religious crisis in his life, which is reflected in this novel. The translation is easily readable and succeeds in bringing Tolstoy's masterpiece to life once again. —Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ., Manhattan, KS.
1. 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?
2. 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?
3. Why is Anna able to reconcile Stiva and Dolly
4. 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?
5. When Anna and Vronsky have satisfied their desire for one another, why does Tolstoy compare Vronsky to a murderer?
6. After telling her husband about her affair, why does Anna feel that "everything was beginning to go double in her soul" (p. 288)?
7. Why does Tolstoy counterpose Levin and Kitty's marriage with Anna and Vronsky's relationship?
8. Why does Levin continually imagine his future in such detail, only to have his actual experience differ from what he had expected?
9. 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)?
10. 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?
11. Why, as she later admits to herself, did Anna want Levin to fall in love with her when she met him?
12. Why does Anna kill herself? Why does everyone and everything seem so ugly to Anna just before she does so?
13. Is it Anna herself or the society in which she lives that is more responsible for her unhappiness?
14. Why are the consequences of Stiva's adultery so insignificant relative to those Anna faces?
15. Why does Vronsky go to war as a volunteer after Anna's suicide?
16. Of all the novel's characters, why is it only Anna and Levin who contemplate suicide?
17. Why does Levin believe that he must keep the revelation in which he comes to understand faith a secret from Kitty?
18. 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?
(Questions from Penguin Classic Edition; cover image, top-right.)
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