Leo Tolstoy’s psychological novel Anna Karenina follows the life of the enchanting and rebellious Anna who seeks to break free from the shackles of society. Set in late 19th century Russia, Anna is portrayed as an ideal, cultivated aristocratic wife, mother and model for women alike. Although at first glance she seems to have it all in life, Anna yearns for love and affection- something her cold diplomatic husband cannot provide. She grows discontent of their loveless relationship, and is tired of the façade she has been putting up in order to sustain a positive social image. A chance encounter with the charming and irresistibly handsome Vronsky sparks Anna’s desire for love and consequently results in her entering the waters of infidelity. However, the honey moon stage of their relationship comes to an end, and things take an unsuspected turn of events, as the inescapable consequences of their affair come to surface. Scorn, exile, jealousy, isolation and suspicion are just some of the issues Anna must face in day to day life. Similarly her acquaintance, Levin, who is an independent and somewhat social misfit, is also struggling to find his place in society as he neither identifies himself as an intellectual, bureaucrat, rebel, nor socialite. He too is on the hunt for the promised fruits of life and individual happiness. His up and down union with Kitty and their inconsistent feelings towards each other acts as a contrast to the evolving relationship between Vronsky and Anna.
Anna Karenina consists of more than the story of Anna Karenina, a married socialite, and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky, though their relationship is a very strong component of the plot. The story starts when she arrives in the midst of a family broken up by her brother's unbridled womanizing—something that prefigures her own later situation, though she would experience less tolerance by others.
A bachelor, Vronsky is eager to marry Anna if she will agree to leave her husband Karenin, a senior government official, but she is vulnerable to the pressures of Russian social norms, the moral laws of the Russian Orthodox Church, her own insecurities, her love for her son, and Karenin's indecision. Although Vronsky and Anna go to Italy, where they can be together, they have trouble making friends. Back in Russia, she is shunned, becoming further isolated and anxious, while Vronsky pursues his social life. Despite Vronsky's reassurances, she grows increasingly possessive and paranoid about his imagined infidelity, fearing her own loss of control.
A parallel story within the novel is that of Konstantin Levin, a wealthy country landowner who wants to marry Kitty, sister to Dolly and sister-in-law to Anna's brother Stepan Oblonsky. Levin has to propose twice before Kitty accepts. The novel details Levin's difficulties managing his estate, his eventual marriage, and his struggle to accept the Christian faith, until the birth of his first child.
The novel explores a diverse range of topics throughout its approximately one thousand pages. Some of these topics include an evaluation of the feudal system that existed in Russia at the time—politics, not only in the Russian government but also at the level of the individual characters and families, religion, morality, gender and social class.
Born to an aristocratic Russian family in 1828, Tolstoy is best known for the novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1878),often cited as pinnacles of realist fiction. He first achieved litera...More about Leo Tolstoy
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