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Anna Karenina (Signet Classics)

Anna Karenina (Signet Classics)

4.8 20
by Leo Tolstoy, David Magarshack (Translator), Priscilla Meyer (Introduction)

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Leo Tolstoy's evocative tale of doomed love—one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century.

Upon it's publication, Anna Karenina startled the world with its powerful portrayal of the human need for love and happiness weighed against the rigid demands of society. Its heroine, the sensual, rebellious Anna, renounces a respectable yet


Leo Tolstoy's evocative tale of doomed love—one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century.

Upon it's publication, Anna Karenina startled the world with its powerful portrayal of the human need for love and happiness weighed against the rigid demands of society. Its heroine, the sensual, rebellious Anna, renounces a respectable yet stifling marriage for an extramarital affair that offers a taste of passion even as it ensnares her in a trap for destruction. Her story contrasts with that of Levin, a young, self-doubting agnostic who takes a different path to fulfillment and finds faith and happiness in an age of repression.
Anna Karenina has been called Tolstoy’s spiritual autobiography. Anna and Levin personify his lifelong struggle to reconcile his physical desires and intellectual ideals in order to lead a more meaningful existence. 

Translated by David Magarshack
Includes an Introduction by Priscilla Meyer 

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
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Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.88(h) x 1.25(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

by Leo Tolstoy



A handful of novels—such as Dickens's Bleak House or Joyce's Ulysses—cause us to feel upon closing them that the world we are returning to is somehow smaller than the one we have just left. Anna Karenina belongs to this group. One measure of its breadth is the enormous range of life experience Tolstoy depicts. Another measure is its attention to so many contemporary issues of nineteenth-century Russia. These immediately apparent features account for the length of Anna Karenina, but a more subtle feature gives the novel its capacious quality. Because it is so rich in incident, and because the psychologies of its main characters are so nuanced as to endow each with a fully formed view of the world, all that happens in Anna Karenina happens, in a sense, without adequate explanation, as in real life. When he is about to confront Anna about her relationship with Vronsky, Alexei Alexandrovich hesitates, feeling that he stands "face to face with something illogical and senseless," with "life [itself]" (p. 142). If the novel strikes us similarly, it is not because Tolstoy does not suggest or even state causes for the novel's events. Rather, the causes do not constitute an explanation, and the ultimately incompatible perspectives of the characters only intensify the mysteries with which the novel leaves us.

The first sentence of Anna Karenina is one of the best-known openings of any novel: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Such a pronouncement, with the appearance of thoughtfully dispensed wisdom, holds the promise of a narrator who will illuminate all that follows. But this statement can be more accurately described as an observation, rather than an explanation or an interpretation. As the novel progresses, this distinction becomes increasingly evident. When contemplating his unhappiness, Vronsky thinks that he has erred in his belief that the realization of his desires would make him happy. Tolstoy does not tell us what would make Vronsky or anyone else happy, and the absence is both conspicuous and emblematic of the way Tolstoy frames issues without directing us to a specific understanding of them. He tells us how Vronsky arrives at this thought, but, as to the question of what happiness is, we get nothing but vague implication.

The question of happiness, however, is clearly central to the novel. One may suppose that the portrayal of varying degrees of happiness informs Tolstoy's decision to structure the novel so that Anna and Vronsky's relationship and Levin and Kitty's marriage run parallel to one another. But words like happy and unhappy lose their descriptive power when we consider that "happy in his family life, a healthy man, Levin was several times so close to suicide that he hid a rope lest he hang himself with it, and was afraid to go about with a rifle lest he shoot himself" (p. 789). The spiritual crisis that pushes Levin to this point seems far removed from all that Anna faces. Her extreme isolation from everyone except Vronsky—whom she fears she is on the brink of losing—helps propel her toward suicide. The fact that Levin finally arrives at a formulation of the meaning of his life that he finds acceptable keeps him from sharing Anna's fate, yet he chooses to keep this revelation a secret from Kitty. Does this gesture indicate a kind of solitude from which Levin and Anna both suffer?

More than anything else in Anna Karenina, Anna's suicide casts a shadow over the entire novel because it both invites and ultimately escapes interpretation. To the society that scorns her for her affair, her death is due punishment. Anna's plea for forgiveness "for everything" just before she dies suggests her own sense of guilt—though it does not adhere to some specific act—and perhaps a belief that justice is at hand. Yet a moment earlier "she was horrified at what she was doing" (p. 768). Does she understand what brings her to this end? The temptation to consider it any sort of commentary on adultery is complicated by Stiva and Dolly. Adultery seems almost becoming to Stiva, and he engages in it with impunity. Dolly tolerates Stiva's wandering without approving of it, yet she sympathizes with Anna, even imagining the pleasure she would take from a similar affair. If Levin is the novel's moral center, he nevertheless fails to tip the balance toward any single interpretation of Anna's fate. He not only allows Anna her mysteriousness; it even seems to overwhelm his capacity for judgment.



  1. How are we to understand the epigram "Vengeance is mine, I will repay"? Should Anna's fate be considered the result of God's vengeance? Is Anna's desire to take vengeance on Vronsky being condemned?
  2. When Vronsky first meets Anna, "it was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will..." (p. 61). What is this something? Why is it expressed beyond her will?
  3. Why is Anna able to reconcile Stiva and Dolly?
  4. We are told that it is unpleasant for Anna to read about other people's lives because she "wanted too much to live herself" (p. 100). Why are reading and living placed in opposition to one another?
  5. When Anna and Vronsky have satisfied their desire for one another, why does Tolstoy compare Vronsky to a murderer?
  6. After telling her husband about her affair, why does Anna feel that "everything was beginning to go double in her soul" (p. 288)?
  7. Why does Tolstoy counterpose Levin and Kitty's marriage with Anna and Vronsky's relationship?
  8. Why does Levin continually imagine his future in such detail, only to have his actual experience differ from what he had expected?
  9. What keeps Dolly from having an affair like Anna's, even though she imagines one "parallel to it, an almost identical love affair of her own" (p. 609)?
  10. While explaining her affair to Dolly, Anna says, "I simply want to live; to cause no evil to anyone but myself" (p. 616). Does the novel present these two objectives as compatible or incompatible?
  11. Why, as she later admits to herself, did Anna want Levin to fall in love with her when she met him?
  12. Why does Anna kill herself? Why does everyone and everything seem so ugly to Anna just before she does so?
  13. Is it Anna herself or the society in which she lives that is more responsible for her unhappiness?
  14. Why are the consequences of Stiva's adultery so insignificant relative to those Anna faces?
  15. Why does Vronsky go to war as a volunteer after Anna's suicide?
  16. Of all the novel's characters, why is it only Anna and Levin who contemplate suicide?
  17. Why does Levin believe that he must keep the revelation in which he comes to understand faith a secret from Kitty?
  18. Why does Tolstoy end the novel with Levin's musings about the nature of faith and his embrace of morally justifiable actions as the basis for the meaning of life?

For Further Reflection

  1. What should we take into account when trying to balance responsibility to ourselves with responsibility to others?
  2. To what extent does a society determine which of our individual desires can be satisfied?



Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828 on his aristocratic family's estate south of Moscow. A young life of what he called "vulgar licentiousness" included studying for a degree he did not complete, traveling in Europe, and serving in the military. While fighting in the Crimean War in the 1850s, he wrote short stories that established his literary reputation. Tolstoy inherited his family's estate, Yasnaya Polyana, along with 700 serfs, and settled there. In addition to his writing, Tolstoy immersed himself in the work of social reform, establishing a school for his serfs and trying to bring about the emancipation of all serfs.

Tolstoy married Sofya Andreyevna Behrs in 1862, beginning a long period of contentment; they had thirteen children. While managing his estate and educational projects, Tolstoy wrote his two greatest novels, War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877). In the late 1870s, he suffered a deep spiritual crisis and renounced his former beliefs and literary works. He embraced a rational Christianity that stressed humility, universal brotherhood, and the abandonment of private property. He tried to commit himself to chastity and vegetarianism.

A Confession (1882) described this change in Tolstoy's life and writing. Increasingly troubled by the disparities between the life with his family and the beliefs he espoused, Tolstoy secretly left home in 1910, hoping to find a peaceful refuge. He died several days later at a remote railway station.

Related Titles

Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)
Once Edna Pontellier discovers within herself the desires suppressed by marriage and motherhood, the world that so tightly restricts her freedom proves uninhabitable.

George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)
Although it treats two relationships in detail, this expansive narrative is an intricately constructed portrait of the entire social strata of provincial England in the 1830s.

Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1857)
Inspired by the romance she encounters in popular fiction, the doomed heroine of this stylistic milestone dreams of escaping the confines of her dull, bourgeois married life.

Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891)
An indictment of Victorian social convention, this deeply tragic novel presents a virtuous woman destroyed by two men and the impersonal forces against which even the strongest individual is powerless.

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence (1920)
Newland Archer attempts to negotiate the conflict between a passion that defies the social order and a safe love that leaves him spiritually unfulfilled.

Meet the Author

Count Leo Tolstoy was born on September 9, 1828, in Yasnaya Polyana, Russia.  Orphaned at nine, he was brought up by an elderly aunt and educated by French tutors until he matriculated at Kazan University in 1844. In 1847, he gave up his studies and, after several aimless years, volunteered for military duty in the army, serving as a junior officer in the Crimean War before retiring in 1857. His diary, started in 1847, was used for self-study and self-criticism; it served as the source from which he drew much of the material that appeared not only in his great novels War and Peace (1869) and Anna Karenina (1877), but also in his shorter works. Seeking religious justification for his life, Tolstoy evolved a new Christianity based upon his own interpretation of the Gospels. Yasnaya Polyana became a Mecca for his many converts.  At the age of eighty-two, while away from home, the writer suffered a breakdown in his health in Astapovo, Riazan, and he died there on November 20, 1910.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
September 9, 1828
Date of Death:
November 20, 1910
Place of Birth:
Tula Province, Russia
Place of Death:
Astapovo, Russia
Privately educated by French and German tutors; attended the University of Kazan, 1844-47

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Anna Karenina Signet Classics 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This remarkable story by one of the few mega-novelists of all times is an ageless story that is more real than fiction. I decided to read a copy of this book on my way to vacation last the summer and ended up spending most of my first week being glued to the book. Though it is a Russian story of a century and a half ago, its essence still resonates today.
BookLuver345 More than 1 year ago
Wow! I haven't read such a thrilling book in a long time! Anna karinina is one of the best novels I have ever read! It weaves the two lives of Anna and Levin seamlessly and keeps your attention to the very end. I definitly recommend it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a teenager I hardly have to to ever read a long book. But this novel was the greatest piece of literature i have ever had in my possession. It was very clear on its message and was very thrilling on the realisticness of human behavior.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A 'marathon book' is a book that is not only going to take a lot of time for you to read, but it is also a book that will force you to exit yourself and enter a new way of thinking. You will have to accept new rules, new scenarios, new kinds of motives. 'Anna Karenina' is a book of stories intertwined. The characters are real to the point that we must live with them throughout the events of their lives. Anna is comfortable in a marriage to a man she does not love. She has a son and he is singly her whole life. A nobleman soons falls in love with her and pursues her until he convinces her to become his lover.This is just the beginning and I must not say much more for fear that I will spoil it for you. I recommend this book. Like the other great 'marathon books' ie: 'moby dick', 'lucky monkeys in the sky', 'war and peace', etc., 'Anna' will not only engross you, it will devour you for the time and feeling you devote to it. Like 'lucky monkeys in the sky' and the other forementioned novels, 'Anna' carries the themes: fate,death, the meaning of life, and faith. You will most likely love it or hate it, but, most of all, you will think. In the end, I believe, it will be a devotion well worth the time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think Anna Kerenina is the best of Tolstoy's work and consider it one of the best novels ever written. Tolstoy weaves a tale like no other author and with every chapter you will be amazed at his way of describing a situation to the reader or his keen insight into human behavior. Highly Recommended. If you want to try Tolstoy on a smaller scale, try some of his short stories such as 'How much land does a man need?'
Guest More than 1 year ago
When i settled down to read Anna Karenina, i was prepared to enjoy a book that i had heard was remarkable. After the first chapter, i knew it was more than that; it is the best book ever written! It takes you along the sordid road of Anna Karenina's life, and the more pleasent and sefl fulfilling one of Levin. This book delves into the human spirit, morality, and human weakness and emotion. Leo Tolstoy is an OUTSTANDING writer who deserves the applauses of millions. I reccommend this book to every living person!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
i really liked this book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the perfect portrait of society in czarist Russia, besides being a fantastic novel. The characters are vivid, the storylines compelling. Through reading this book you will get a better understanding of yourself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anna Karenina is truly one of my favorite novels of all time! I'm a senior in high school and I read this novel for my 11th grade A.P. English Literature class. The plot is rich and captivating, and the 'drama' that occurs throughout the book, as well as the decisions made by Anna and the antagonists in the novel makes it a truly heart breaking tragedy. Just a must-read masterpiece! I totally enjoyed reading this beautiful piece of literature!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutly couldn't put this book down! I love the contrast between the lives of the characters. It is amazing how Tolstoy gives all of his characters their own individual personalities. I am a 13 year old girl in the 8th grade, but I loved this book exceedingly. The beginning is captivating, the middle is unbelievable, and the end is tragic, but prepossessing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book several years ago, and recently read it again. I was still amazed at how well written it is, and how wonderfully Tolstoy makes the story accessible to all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderfully written love story. There are some passages that are a bit tedious, but plow through them and reap the rewards (and satisfaction)of having read a real classic. As with any good book, I wanted to know more about what happened to the characters after the book ended. Tolstoy's insights into history and into personal dynamics and complexities are astounding. Although the book is over 120 years old, it still has appeal to a modern reader with all of the wonders of life's tragedies and triumphs.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy was fantastic! I couldn't put the book down until I was finished. The plot is so deep and mysterious. I found myself falling in love with the charachters and the story felt so realistic. I give it an A+!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a long book, but it is great partially because it is long. The author gives a lot of depth to the characters and creates believability in them. The translation is very readable, and all it really takes is the time to get through the 1000+ pages. People who try to summarize the theme as 'Don't commit adultery' are missing the point of the book. The characterization is so well, that every reader should be able to identify a little with each character in the book. If the reader is honest and reflects seriously, he(she) should be able to recognize himself(herself) in a lot of places here. This is really a book to help you get to know yourself. It is one of those rare things that can actually make you a better person. It can help you lead a better life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As this is a classic and considered by some as 'the best novel ever written', I was disappointed. The story moved very slowly and was anti-climatic. I found myself forcing myself to finish it waiting for something to happen. Not much did. I think that the early relationship between Anna and Vronsky should have been developed in more detail. A better read would be The Crimson Petal and the White or The Forsyte Saga.