Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Historical and Cultural Context

Anna Karenina is a classic novel by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, published in serial installments from 1873 to 1877.  It is set in the Russian society of the 19th century, a time of significant social and political change, including the emancipation of serfs in 1861.

The novel centres around the themes of love, marriage, family, and societal conventions. It explores the tensions between personal desires and societal expectations. Tolstoy's own life and experiences heavily influenced the book. He himself struggled with questions of faith, morality, and the meaning of life, which are echoed in the characters' dilemmas.

Russian society was strictly stratified and class-based during this period. This social hierarchy and its implications are strongly reflected in the novel. The importance of farming and rural life is a key aspect of the novel, reflecting Tolstoy's own interest in and respect for agriculture. The contrast between city life in cosmopolitan St. Petersburg and Moscow and the countryside reflects the cultural, social, and ideological divisions in Russia at the time.

The Russian Orthodox Church played a key role in society. Its influence on characters' beliefs, behaviours, and life decisions is a recurring element in the story.

Tolstoy's novel is deeply rooted in the realism literary movement, which prioritises depicting everyday life and social dynamics accurately.

Anna Karenina was written during the Russian literary Golden Age, a period of rich literary output from renowned authors such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov. Tolstoy's writing style in Anna Karenina reflects his shift towards a more philosophical approach to literature, moving away from pure storytelling. Anna Karenina provides a critical examination of the Russian upper classes, their morality, and their societal norms, in the context of a rapidly changing Russia.

A. 1873

B. 1861

C. 1850

D. 1880

A. Love, marriage, and societal norms

B. The role of agriculture in society

C. Class struggles in 19th century Russia

D. All of the above

A. 1851

B. 1861

C. 1871

D. 1881

A. Chekhov and Dostoevsky

B. Pushkin and Lermontov

C. Nabokov and Bulgakov

D. Turgenev and Gogol

DISCUSSION:  Discuss the quotation from the first page of the novel: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” How does it apply to the novel? How does it apply to modern life?  

Further reading

1. Crankshaw, Edward. Tolstoy: The Making of a Novelist. Viking, 1974. This book provides an in-depth exploration of Leo Tolstoy's transformation into an influential novelist.

2. Gunn, Elizabeth. A Daring Coiffeur: Reflections on War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Chatto and Windus, 1971. Elizabeth Gunn provides insightful commentary on Tolstoy's War and Peace and Anna Karenina" focusing on themes and narrative strategies.

3. Mandelker, Amy. Framing Anna Karenina: Tolstoy, the Woman Question, and the Victorian Novel. University of Ohio Press, 1993. This book analyses Anna Karenina in the context of Victorian-era gender norms and discussions around the role of women in society.

4. Mooney, Harry J. Tolstoy’s Epic Vision: A Study of War and Peace and Anna Karenina. University of Oklahoma Press, 1968. Harry J. Mooney presents an extensive study of Tolstoy's narrative scope and thematic depth in War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

5. Sankovitch, Natasha. Creating and Recovering Experience: Repetition in Tolstoy. Stanford University Press, 1998. Natasha Sankovitch's work investigates the narrative technique of repetition in Tolstoy's writing, demonstrating how it contributes to creating and recovering experiences.

6. Shirer, William L. Love and Hatred: The Troubled Marriage of Leo and Sonya Tolstoy. Simon and Schuster, 1994. This book reveals the complexities of Leo Tolstoy's marriage with Sonya Tolstoy, underscoring the dual feelings of love and resentment.

7. Troyat, Henri. Tolstoy. Doubleday, 1967. Troyat provides a comprehensive biography of Leo Tolstoy, shedding light on his personal and professional life.

8. Turner, C.J.G. A Karenina Companion. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1993. Turner offers guidance and scholarly commentary on Anna Karenina, enhancing readers' understanding of the classic novel.