Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaA Problem With Time In Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | A Problem with Time in Anna Karenina


Anna Karenina presents a puzzle to readers who are keeping close track of the novel's timeline. Because of Tolstoy's failure to reconcile the chronology of events in three major plot threads (the stories of Anna and Vronsky, Kitty and Levin, and Stiva and Dolly), it is not possible to say with certainty when events occur in the novel.

According to Vladimir E. Alexandrov, a scholar of Russian literature and culture, Anna and Vronsky's story elapses over a period of three years and seven months, while Levin and Kitty's story unfolds over two years and six months. The footnotes in the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation provide some guidance for when the novel begins and ends, but the beginning date is problematic, and Alexandrov argues that Tolstoy probably didn't mean to tack the beginning to a real date. In the early chapters, Stiva is reading a newspaper in which a famous person visits Wiesbaden in February 1872, but it makes more sense for the story to begin in midwinter of 1873 so that the other events unfold coherently. For example, Anna and Vronsky consummate their union at the end of 1873, 10 months after they meet, and then Anna is pregnant in the summer of 1874 and gives birth at the end of that year. Even in adjusting the dates for the Anna–Vronsky timeline, there are problems with the Levin–Kitty timeline, which seems to be short a year. There are additional discrepancies in the number of years both Dolly and Anna are married, and in the age of Seryozha and of Dolly's children.

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