Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1031
Anna Karenina, the sister of Stepan Oblonsky, comes to Moscow in an attempt to patch up a quarrel between her brother and his wife, Dolly. There she meets the handsome young Count Vronsky, who is rumored to be in love with Dolly’s younger sister, Kitty. Konstantine Levin, of an old Muscovite family, is also in love with Kitty, and his visit to Moscow coincides with Anna’s. Kitty refuses Levin, but to her chagrin she receives no proposal from the count. Indeed, Vronsky has no intention of proposing to Kitty. His heart goes out to Anna the first time he lays eyes on her, and when Anna returns to her home in St. Petersburg, he follows her.
Soon they begin to be seen together at soirées and at the theater, apparently unaware of gossip that circulates about them. Karenin, Anna’s husband, becomes concerned. A coldly ambitious and dispassionate man, he believes that his social position is at stake. One night, he discusses these rumors with Anna and points out the danger of her flirtation, as he calls it. He forbids her to entertain Vronsky at home and cautions her to be more careful. He is not jealous of his wife, only worried over the social consequences of her behavior. He reminds her of her duty to her young son, Seryozha. Anna says she will obey him, and there the matter rests.
Anna, however, is unable to conceal her true feelings when Vronsky is injured in a racetrack accident. Karenin upbraids her for her indiscreet behavior in public. He considers a duel, separation, and divorce but rejects all these courses. When he finally decides to keep Anna under his roof, he reflects that he is acting in accordance with the laws of religion. Anna continues to meet Vronsky in secret.
Levin returns to his country estate after Kitty refuses him, and he busies himself there in problems of agriculture and peasant labor. One day, he goes into the fields and works with a scythe along with the serfs. He believes that he is beginning to understand the old primitive philosophy of their lives. He plans new developments, among them a cooperative enterprise system. When he hears that Kitty is not married after all and that she was ill but will soon be returning to Moscow, he resolves to seek her hand in marriage once more. Secretly, he knows she loves him. His pride, as well as hers, keeps them apart. Accordingly, Levin makes the journey to Moscow with new hope that soon Kitty will be his wife.
Against her husband’s orders, Anna sends for Vronsky and tells him that she is pregnant. Aware of his responsibilities to Anna, he begs her to petition Karenin for a divorce so that she will be free to marry him. Karenin informs her coldly that he will consider the child his and accept it so that the world should never know his wife’s disgrace, and he refuses to think of going through shameful divorce proceedings. Karenin reduces Anna to submission by warning her that he will take Seryozha away if she persists in making a fool of herself.
The strained family relationship continues unbroken. One night, Karenin plans to go out, and Anna persuades Vronsky to come to the house. As he is leaving, Karenin meets Vronsky on the front steps. Enraged, Karenin tells Anna that he has decided to get a divorce and that he will keep Seryozha in his custody. Divorce proceedings, however, are so intricate, the scandal so great, the whole aspect of the step so disgusting to Karenin that he cannot bring himself to go through with the process. As Anna’s confinement draws near, he is still undecided. After winning an important political seat, he becomes even more unwilling to risk his public reputation.
At the birth of her child, Anna becomes deathly ill. Overcome with guilt, Vronsky attempts suicide but fails. Karenin is reduced to a state of such confusion that he determines to grant his wife any request, since he thinks she is on her deathbed. The sight of Vronsky seems to be the only thing that restores her. After many months of illness, she goes with her lover and her baby daughter to Italy, where they live under strained circumstances. Meanwhile, Levin proposes once more to Kitty; after a flurry of preparations, they are married.
Anna and Vronsky return to Russia and go to live on his estate. It is now impossible for Anna to return home. Although Karenin did not go through with divorce proceedings, he considers himself separated from Anna and is everywhere thought to be a man of fine loyalty and unswerving honor, unjustly imposed upon by an unfaithful wife. Sometimes Anna steals into town to see Seryozha, but her fear of being discovered there by her husband cuts these visits short.
After each visit, Anna returns bitter and sad. She becomes more demanding toward Vronsky, with the result that he spends less time with her. She takes little interest in her younger child. Before long, she convinces herself that Vronsky is in love with another woman. One day, Anna cannot stay alone in the house. She finds herself at the railway station, and she buys a ticket. As she stands on the platform gazing at the tracks below, the thunder of an approaching train roars in her ears. Suddenly, she remembers a man run over in the Moscow railroad station on the day she and Vronsky met. Carefully measuring the distance, she throws herself in front of the approaching train.
After Anna’s death, Vronsky joins the army. He changes from a handsome, cheerful man to one who welcomes death; his only reason for living was Anna. For Levin and Kitty, life becomes a round of increasing daily work and mundane routine, which they share with each other. At last, Levin knows the responsibility wealth imposes upon him in his dealings with the peasants. Kitty helps him to handle his responsibility. Although there are many questions he can never answer satisfactorily to himself, he is nevertheless aware of the satisfying beauty of life—its toil, leisure, pain, and happiness.
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