Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina

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Themes and Colors
Marriage and Family Life  Theme Icon
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon
Physical Activity and Movement Theme Icon
Society and Class  Theme Icon
Farming and Rural Life Theme Icon
Compassion and Forgiveness Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Anna Karenina, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Adultery and Jealousy Theme Icon

Anna Karenina begins with adultery: Anna’s brother, Oblonsky, has had an affair with the family’s governess, and his household is in turmoil. This opening scene establishes adultery as a driving force throughout the novel. Although adultery certainly has moral and religious consequences in the novel, the main causes and effects of acts of unfaithfulness are explored in terms of societal issues. Feelings of social suffocation propel Anna to have an affair, and characters make decisions based on how they perceive their choices will play out in society.

Adultery and Jealousy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Adultery and Jealousy appears in each chapter of Anna Karenina. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Adultery and Jealousy Quotes in Anna Karenina

Below you will find the important quotes in Anna Karenina related to the theme of Adultery and Jealousy.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The famous opening line of the novel sets the novel’s tone. Rather than launching straight into the plot itself, or allowing one of the characters to begin speaking right away, Tolstoy poses a philosophical generalization that sets the stage for the events that are to follow. The opening line also recalls the genre of the family novel, a type of literature popular in Russia during the nineteenth century but seen as old-fashioned by the time Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina. Tolstoy is riffing on the traditional form of the family novel, but expanding it into a philosophical and political meditation.

This opening line establishes the complex relationship to happiness and morality that the novel will present throughout. On the one hand, happiness is of course a state to be desired over unhappiness. On the other hand, there would be no novel if there were no unhappiness—or, at least, the very novel we’re reading wouldn’t be able to exist. Every family in Anna Karenina has its share of deep unhappiness, but that unhappiness is also what makes the family different and intriguing. The relationship between happiness and unhappiness is hardly a simple binary: in many ways, unhappiness is actually the more desirable state.

This opening has also been adopted in popular culture. The “Anna Karenina principle,” for example, which has been widely applied in social sciences, ecology, and statistics, describes a situation in which a failure in any one of a number of categories will cause the whole enterprise to fail.


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Part 1, Chapter 18 Quotes

In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed in her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

Vronsky first sees Anna Karenina at a train station, which foreshadows her eventual tragic end. On the one hand, their first glance has all the hallmarks of stereotypical “love at first sight”: even though they lock eyes only for a moment, both have the impression of being profoundly changed. Anna’s “shining eyes” and “red lips” are common characteristics of a beautiful woman in love. However, the relationship between Vronsky and Anna also has a spiritual dimension that goes beyond the mere cliché. Behind Anna’s expression is a “surplus of something,” suggesting a spiritual dimension that is beyond the capacities of language to express. The limitation of language is a common theme throughout Anna Karenina: the most powerful forces are not ones that can be stated in words, but rather exceed the constraints of speech.

The word “animation” is also crucial throughout the novel as signifying the life force or inner spirit within everyone. The fact that Anna must keep her animation “restrained” suggests that she is being constrained by the conventions of Russian society. From the very beginning, the animation between Vronsky and Anna must be outwardly restrained due to the laws and customs of their society. However, the tension between the outward restraint and the inner emotion only makes their love burn more strongly. Indeed, without the tension that the restraint provides, the animation itself might warp or dim.

Part 1, Chapter 22 Quotes

Kitty had seen Anna every day, was in love with her, and had imagined her inevitably in lilac. But now, seeing her in black, she felt that she had never understood all her loveliness. Now she understood that Anna could not have been in lilac, that her loveliness consisted precisely in always standing out from what she wore, that what she wore was never seen on her. And the black dress with luxurious lace was not seen on her; it was just a frame, and only she was seen – simple, natural, graceful, and at the same time gay and animated.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, Princess Katerina (Kitty) Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

Anna is so full of inner "animation" that her clothes exist only as a backdrop to her own fire and passion. She is an object of desire not because of the clothes she wears, but because she exudes such a force of character that the clothes "frame" her. Kitty’s description of Anna also illustrates Tolstoy’s ability to slip in and out of the minds of various characters throughout the novel—a technique known as "free indirect discourse." In this depiction, the reader sees Anna as Kitty sees her, with all of Kitty’s particular opinions and biases. If Kitty were viewing Anna unfavorably, she might have chosen to criticize her outfit as seeming too alluring or too suggestive. Anna’s choice to wear a black, revealing dress, rather than an outfit in a more demure color, emphasizes that she wishes to be viewed as a sexually desirable woman. But because Kitty sees Anna with admiration, the reader admires her, too.

Part 2, Chapter 7 Quotes

“Don’t you know that you are my whole life? But I know no peace and cannot give you any. All of myself, my love...yes. I cannot think of you and myself separately. You and I are one for me. And I do not see the possibility of peace ahead either for me or for you. I see the possibility of despair, of unhappiness... or I see the possibility of happiness, such happiness!...Isn’t it possible?” he added with his lips only; but she heard him.

Related Characters: Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (speaker), Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Vronsky and Anna communicate through a mixture of directly saying what they believe and letting many things go unsaid, but they both understand exactly what the other one is thinking. The bond between Anna and Vronsky is so strong that they can communicate with each other through gesture and thought, rather than merely through words. Although Anna and Vronsky often say out loud what they believe they should say to each other, what goes unsaid is more powerful than what they are pretending to say. Anna and Vronsky give lip service to the idea that they should separate and that Vronsky should try to make things right with Kitty, but their actions speak louder than their words, and the bond between them is stronger than societal conventions. When Vronsky articulates the love between Anna and himself, he says out loud that they are probably doomed to despair and unhappiness, but he and Anna both believe in the possibility that he does not say, which is the (unlikely) hope that they can be happy together.

She strained all the forces of her mind to say what she ought to say; but instead she rested her eyes on him, filled with love, and made no answer.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 140
Explanation and Analysis:

Anna recognizes that according to all the conventions of the world around her, she should cut off her relationship with Vronsky: she is married, and entering an affair with him would be disgraceful and socially damaging. However, her emotions are too strong, and they override what she believes she ought to say. Instead of saying anything, she looks at Vronsky, and––as is the case throughout the novel––actions speak louder than words. The look that Anna gives Vronsky echoes the first time that they saw each other at the train station, when their momentary glance instantaneously cemented the connection between them. From the first time Vronsky saw Anna, he recognized the tension between the animation within her and the restraint that society placed on her emotions. Now, the animation spills over the restraint.

Part 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

And he felt as a murderer must feel when he looks at the body he has deprived of life. This body deprived of life was their love, the first period of their love... Shame at her spiritual nakedness weighed on her and communicated itself to him. But, despite all the murderer’s horror before the murdered body, he had to cut this body into pieces and hide it, he had to make use of what the murderer had gained by his murder.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

Just after Anna and Vronsky have sex for the first time, Vronsky compares the act to murdering the first stage of their relationship. Tolstoy does not describe the scene in which Anna and Vronsky consummate their relationship. Instead, he places a row of ellipses in the novel, which lets the reader know that they have made love, but also makes the reader responsible for assuming that they did so and for imagining the details of how this action occurred (and allows Tolstoy to escape the censorship of his time).

After Vronsky and Anna have had sex, the nature of their relationship changes. Although the couple are still bonded, and, in some ways, more closely tied together than ever, they have also confirmed their guilt through concrete action. There is no turning back at this point. Anna and Vronsky have objectively committed a societal trespass, and now their relationship moves from one of innuendo and possibility to one of dealing with real consequences.

“Not a word more,” she repeated, and with an expression of cold despair on her face, which he found strange, she left him. She felt that at that moment she could not put into words her feeling of shame, joy, and horror before this entry into a new life, and she did not want to speak of it, to trivialize this feeling with imprecise words. But later, too, the next day and the day after that, she not only found no words in which she could express all the complexity of these feelings, but was unable even to find thoughts in which she could reflect with herself on all that was in her soul.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker), Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout the novel, events that go unspoken typically carry far more emotional weight than events that occur in words. On the one hand, Anna does not want to trivialize her experience with Vronsky by bringing it into the realm of mere language. She wants, instead, to retain the full mystery and complex nature of the event. Bringing the event into spoken language would also force Anna to reckon with the full consequences of her actions.

Anna does not want to process all of the complicated emotions she has as a result of having consummated her relationship with Vronsky, because that would force her to make choices that she does not want to make. When Vronsky and Anna had not slept together, their relationship could still dwell in the realm of plausible deniability. Anna rationalizes to herself that she is not processing their relationship fully by claiming to herself that she will do so in the future, but she continues to make more and more excuses for herself. Rather than letting the full weight of their action become something that Anna confronts and reckons with, the action becomes more and more powerful the longer it remains in the realm of the secretive and unspoken. When an action or emotion is put into words, it is abbreviated and made weaker, but when it goes unspoken, it can contain everything, so it gets stronger, for either good or for ill.

Part 2, Chapter 25 Quotes

She flew over the ditch as if without noticing it; she flew over like a bird; but just then Vronsky felt to his horror that, having failed to keep up with the horse’s movement, he, not knowing how himself, had made a wrong, an unforgivable movement as he lowered himself into the saddle. ... The awkward movement Vronsky had made had broken her back. But he understood that much later.

Related Characters: Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (speaker), Frou-Frou
Related Symbols: Natural World
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

The relationship between Vronsky and his horse serves as a symbol for the shifts that have occurred in his life as a result of his affair with Anna. Vronsky believes that he is a master of the universe, that he can do anything and he will always triumph. However, he is no longer in sync with his horse, Frou-Frou. Vronsky and the horse used to be as one. Now that Vronsky and Anna have consummated their bond, however, which causes a rupture in social as well as moral codes, Vronsky has experienced an existential fissure from his beloved animal. All it takes is one tiny slip, one moment in which Vronsky stops paying careful attention, and everything that he has taken for granted in his life is altered irrevocably.

Throughout the novel, characters’ relationships with the physical, natural world serve as a good barometer for their inner harmony and the state of their own moral contentment. When Vronsky loses his deep connection with his horse, making the fatal error here, it is not because he makes a huge, deliberate mistake, but because his perception of the universe and the physical world he inhabits are different in a way that he cannot see but is deeply significant. Frou-Frou’s fall foreshadows the irrevocable crack in Vronsky and Anna’s relationship that will only continue to widen and deepen.

Part 4, Chapter 2 Quotes

“What was that? What? What was that terrible thing I saw in my dream? Yes, yes. The muzhik tracker, I think, small, dirty, with a disheveled beard, was bending down and doing something, and he suddenly said some strange words in French. Yes that’s all there was to the dream,” he said to himself. “But why was it so horrible?”

Related Characters: Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky (speaker)
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication, Dreams and Spiritualism
Page Number: 355
Explanation and Analysis:

Although Vronsky pretends to put on a brave face to the outside world, he feels increasingly fraught with an impending doom that he perceives looming over his life, and he projects this fear into the interpretation of his night visions. Rather than brushing aside dreams, Vronsky takes them seriously. The fact that Vronsky cannot interpret the words of the muzhik (Russian peasant) in his dream fills him with dread. Tolstoy frequently underscores the inability of language to express great emotions throughout the novel: when characters want to express something truly profound or moving, they say nothing at all. However, the inability to understand a spoken language triggers a different set of emotions: fear, anxiety, and dread. When the unspoken is mutually understood, the non-verbal communication creates a shared language between the speakers. But since Vronsky cannot understand what the muzhik is saying, he creates the worst possible scenario in his imagination.

The muzhik’s use of unintelligible French also creates the sense that the social order has been unsettled. In nineteenth-century Russia, French was the language of high culture, and people spoke in French to elevate their positions in society. However, in the dream, the peasant is speaking the language of the aristocracy that Vronsky can no longer understand, which ominously portends Vronsky’s own fall from grace.

Part 4, Chapter 3 Quotes

“And this something turned, and I saw it was a muzhik with a disheveled beard, small and frightening. I wanted to run away, but he bent over a sack and rummaged in it with his hands...” And she showed how he rummaged in the sack. There was horror on her face. And Vronsky, recalling his dream, felt the same horror filling his soul.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker), Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication, Dreams and Spiritualism
Page Number: 361
Explanation and Analysis:

Vronsky and Anna have shared the shame dream. When Anna tells Vronsky about her dream of the French-speaking, bearded muzhik rummaging in a sack, unbeknownst to her, she is describing the same person that Vronsky saw in his nightmare. The two lovers are seemingly so bonded that they share a subconscious mind, but the figure in their shared dream arouses horror within both of them. Anna tells Vronsky that Karenin has read the dream to indicate that she will die in childbirth. Karenin’s role in the relationship is already quite shaky: he keeps up the façade of their marriage because he doesn’t want to ruin his reputation, yet he knows that this sham cannot last forever, and so he perceives the vision as causing an end to this fragile state of affairs. The fact that Anna is relaying Karenin’s version of the dream to Vronsky and seeking Vronsky’s reassurance underscores the complicated power dynamic between all of them: though Anna is psychologically and physically bonded with Vronsky, she is still socially bound to Karenin.

However, when Anna is telling Vronsky about the dream, she feels the first stirrings of her child kicking inside her, and her emotions change suddenly from horror to joy. Since Vronsky cannot share the physical cause of her joy, he is puzzled by her sudden shift. Despite the ominous nightmare, Anna, at this point, is still capable of experiencing happiness brought on by the physical world: though she is worried and superstitious, she hasn’t yet surrendered herself completely to omens and dreams.

Part 4, Chapter 12 Quotes

“I cannot forgive, I do not want to, and I consider it unjust. I did everything for that woman, and she trampled everything in the mud that is so suitable to her. I am not a wicked man, I have never hated anyone, but I hate her with all the strength of my soul, and I cannot even forgive her, because I hate her so much for all the evil she has done me!”

Related Characters: Count Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin (speaker), Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
Page Number: 394
Explanation and Analysis:

Karenin’s outburst against Anna arises as the culmination of emotions that he has kept bottled up for a long time. As the affair between Vronsky and Anna builds, Karenin becomes more and more uncomfortable talking about Anna, because he feels ashamed and cuckolded. At a dinner party at Oblonsky’s house, the men start discussing infidelity, which makes Karenin deeply uncomfortable. Karenin would rather not talk at all about Anna, preferring instead to maintain the façade of social respectability on all accounts, but when Dolly begs him to have a conversation with her about Anna, Karenin finally cracks and does so, revealing the deep anger brewing under his stoic surface.

Dolly pleads on Anna’s behalf to Karenin, begging him to forgive Anna and to do anything but divorce her. Dolly appeals to Karenin’s sense of fairness and rationality, arguing that because Anna had helped Dolly through Oblonsky’s infidelity, and because Anna had saved Dolly’s life, Karenin should pay the gesture forward and forgive Anna. Karenin is typically a man of reason and logic, and such arguments should have worked. However, in this situation, Karenin’s own irrefutable emotions override rationality. Even though he wants to keep up appearances, he also has a deeply stubborn streak, and because he feels he has been wronged, he cannot bend his own sense of the situation. Karenin’s outburst of emotion is surprising, because he typically does not reveal such passion, but in other ways, it is also comes as something of a relief, as it breaks the tension and reveals Karenin as a fully dimensional character capable of being hurt, rather than putting up with anything to maintain his reputation.

Part 6, Chapter 16 Quotes

But even without looking in the mirror she thought it was still not too late. She remembered Sergei Ivanovich, who was especially amiable to her, and Stiva’s friend, the kindly Turovtsyn, who had helped her take care of her children when they had scarlet fever and was in love with her. And there was also one quite young man who, as her husband had told her jokingly, found her the most beautiful of all the sisters. And Darya Alexandrovna pictured the most passionate and impossible love affairs.

Related Characters: Princess Darya (Dolly) Alexandrovna Oblonsky (speaker), Prince Stepan (Stiva) Arkadyevich Oblonsky
Page Number: 608
Explanation and Analysis:

Dolly has made the choices in life that uphold her reputation and her husband’s reputation in society. When Oblonsky cheated on her, she did not leave him. Instead of having an affair or getting a divorce, she chose to save their marriage, remain faithful, and maintain their social status. Even though Dolly has made what society would deem to be the proper choice, she views Anna’s sexual prowess with envy and jealousy. Dolly wonders if she has squandered her youth and her ability to make men fall in love with her. Rather than chastising Anna, Dolly projects herself into Anna’s position.

Though Anna seems to have taken the less moral road, and though Dolly has made the choices that seem more ethically upstanding, Dolly has not found happiness. Dolly romanticizes Anna’s choice of love over societal conventions, and she imagines a glamorous fantasy of herself as a woman to be worshipped and desired by men. The difference between Dolly’s fantasy and Anna’s, however, is that Dolly’s vision of herself as having a wonderfully romantic affair remains squarely in the imagination, whereas Anna turns her love affair into reality. Even though Dolly gets to have all the benefits of her fantasy without any of the drawbacks of dealing with the negative repercussions of real life, she doesn’t get the pleasures of real life, either—while Anna, for her part, turns her fantasy into reality, and experiences all the not-so-romantic consequences.

Part 7, Chapter 24 Quotes

“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. But if you don’t love me, it would be better to say so.”

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker), Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
Related Symbols: Written Language, Foreign Language, and Communication
Page Number: 744
Explanation and Analysis:

When Vronsky wants to delay traveling and getting married for a few days so that he can take care of business for his mother, Anna becomes hysterical, accusing Vronsky of using respect as an excuse to avoid committing himself to her. The leap of logic between Vronsky’s accusation that she doesn’t respect his mother and Anna’s assertion that Vronsky doesn’t love her makes little sense. Anna herself realizes that she’s going too far in making this link, but she cannot stop herself, even though she knows that she is going beyond the bounds of reason. Anna’s jealousy has warped her love for Vronsky into irrational, addictive possessiveness.

Tolstoy often uses the ability, or lack thereof, of characters to communicate without words as a barometer that demonstrates the strength of their relationship. In the beginning of their relationship, Anna and Vronsky hardly needed words at all to communicate, since their thoughts and emotions were in sync. With just the flicker of a glance across the platform at the railway station, they understood their love for each other and their bond to each other. However, as the novel progresses, Anna grows increasingly jealous and increasingly anxious about her relationship with Vronsky. She reads every situation as an opportunity to find a demonstration of how his love for her has dimmed.

Part 7, Chapter 30 Quotes

“No, you’re going in vain,” she mentally addressed a company in a coach-and-four who were evidently going out of town for some merriment. “And the dog you’re taking with you won’t help you. You won’t get away from yourselves.”

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 762
Explanation and Analysis:

As Anna is preparing to commit suicide at the train station, she projects her own despair onto her surroundings. Anna uses the sight of the innocent carriage-riders to express her own perturbed state of mind. She laments that these unknown travelers will never get away from themselves, which only underscores the all-consuming, self-centered nature of her own tragedy. Anna addresses the travelers in her mind, but it is really herself that she’s addressing. Anna can no longer perceive any other state of mind or emotion beyond that of her own despair. Anna’s misery has turned into a vortex that sucks in and distorts everything she sees.

Anna’s belief that everything in life is in vain mirrors Levin’s belief that everything humans do is in vain, but her approach is from a very different perspective. Anna has sacrificed everything in her life to feed her own desires, but she realizes that she can never get away from herself, and she concludes that her only option is to commit suicide. Levin, on the other hand, recognizes that even though life is futile, he can be happy by not attempting to rationalize everything, but instead accepting what life will offer him and living via faith and action. Anna’s solution to the futility of life rejects the idea of a higher power, but the fact that the novel continues after her death, and that it ends with Levin, not Anna, suggests that Tolstoy offers a worldview to the reader that promises redemption, despite Anna’s totalizing misery.

Part 7, Chapter 31 Quotes

And just at that moment when the midpoint between the two wheels came even with her, she threw the red bag aside and, drawing her head down between her shoulders, fell on her hands under the carriage, and with a light movement, as if preparing to get up again at once, sank to her knees.

Related Characters: Anna Arkadyevna Karenina (speaker)
Related Symbols: Trains
Page Number: 768
Explanation and Analysis:

When Anna succeeds in committing suicide, she does not leap wildly; rather, her fall is premeditated, and she kneels before the train, as though in prayer, or as though she is about to be married. Kneeling suggests that Anna is submitting herself to a higher power. The “red bag” is an important detail in this scene, as it symbolically references many previous aspects of the plot. The red bag gets in the way when Anna initially tries to jump into the tracks, just as Vronsky’s gun got in the way when he attempted to commit suicide and he misfired.

Although the red bag prevents Anna from jumping in front of the first carriage, she does not take its role as a shield to be a sign that she should not go through with her action. Instead, she tosses the protective bag aside and prostrates herself in front of the next carriage. Red is the color of love and of blood: with the bag on her arm, Anna is symbolically wearing her heart on her sleeve. The color also recalls Anna’s red lips when she saw Vronsky at the train station at the beginning of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, red signified desire and lust; while it still signifies desire here, this passion pulls Anna toward death, not love.