The novel begins with the charming but shallow Moscow bureaucrat, Stiva Oblonsky, discovered by his wife Dolly in one of a string of infidelities. Tolstoy thus immediately establishes the dominant concerns of his work: marriage, family life, and adultery. When Stiva’s beautiful sister, Anna Karenina, visits the Oblonsky household to mend its broken tranquillity, she meets the dashing bachelor-officer, Count Vronsky, who is expected to propose marriage to Dolly Oblonsky’s younger sister Kitty. Instead, Vronsky falls under Anna’s spell, first at her arrival at the train station and then at an elegant ball where Madame Karénina, wife of a distinguished bureaucrat and loving mother of an eight-year-old son, is temporarily transcended by the other Anna: a glamorous, sexually magnetic woman with a frustrated hunger for passion. When Anna flees her barely awakened feelings by returning to her settled life in Saint Petersburg, Vronsky pursues her on the same train and confesses his love to her.
Anna struggles to deny her reciprocal ardor and forces herself to play the dutiful wife to her frigid and dull husband. Nevertheless, when Vronsky loses a brilliantly narrated steeplechase race, the watching Anna--and her observing husband--both know that she loves him. After some stormy scenes, she decides to live openly with Vronsky, and they leave Russia for an Italian “honeymoon” and then attempt to settle down on one country estate after another. Vronsky must,...
(The entire section is 538 words.)