Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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Anna Karenina Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy was born to a large noble family in Russia. He studied law in university, but he was an indifferent student and left without finishing his degree. After racking up gambling debts, Tolstoy joined the army and began to write while he was an officer. During a trip to Europe in 1860, he converted to a non-violent spiritual anarchist. Tolstoy and his wife, Sophia, had thirteen children. In addition to writing major works of fiction—among them War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and several short stories—Tolstoy also wrote several tracts on education and spiritual/political tracts, and in his later life felt that these tracts were the foundation of his legacy, as opposed to his fiction. He was extremely vigorous and zealous about working in the fields. Tolstoy died at a train station, and thousands of peasants flocked the streets at his funeral.
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Historical Context of Anna Karenina
Liberal reforms initiated by Emperor Alexander II of Russia, especially emancipation of the serfs, form the background of the political events surrounding the events of the novel. In nineteenth-century Russia, writers were promoting communal living and the emancipation of women as well. Russia was undergoing a societal transition from a primarily rural, agricultural economy to a more Westernized, urban, industrial society, and in many ways Tolstoy was deeply suspicious of the changes.
Other Books Related to Anna Karenina
Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina in the height of what is now called the Golden Age of Russian Literature. Romanticism was at its peak, and the movement inspired writers in all genres. Gogol is generally considered one of the first authors of this era, and his novel Dead Souls was very influential in terms of style and psychological complexity. Dostoevsky’s novels, such as Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, also explore the inner ranges of human experience, trying to capture both the individual and the national experience. Tolstoy in Anna Karenina is also reacting against the family novel, a type of work that had been popular in Russia.
Key Facts about Anna Karenina
  • Full Title: Anna Karenina
  • When Written: 1873-1877
  • Where Written: Russia
  • When Published: Published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in a magazine called The Russian Messenger
  • Literary Period: Golden Age of Russian Literature
  • Genre: Realist novel
  • Setting: Nineteenth-century Russia
  • Climax: Anna’s suicide in front of the train
  • Antagonist: Vronsky and Karenin are both antagonists, though both are also mixed
  • Point of View: The novel frequently shifts perspectives, but the main protagonists are Anna and Levin
Extra Credit for Anna Karenina

Art Imitates Life. In Anna Karenina, Levin gives Kitty a diary just before their wedding that exposes all his misdemeanors and guilty secrets. Right before he married his own wife, Tolstoy also gave her a diary containing all his sins.

Anna Karenina, the Musical. There have been numerous adaptations of Anna Karenina for stage and screen, but one of the most poorly reviewed ones was a 1992 Broadway musical that the New York Times called “comic-strip Tolstoy.”