Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 1 Chapters 1 5 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 1, Chapters 1–5 | Summary



The story, told through omniscient, third-person narration, begins in Moscow, with a crisis in the home of Stiva and his wife, Dolly. Dolly has recently learned that her husband is having an affair with the children's former governess. In Chapter 2, Stiva is taken by surprise by his wife's indignation, because he thinks she knows about his dalliances and simply has looked the other way. He is a man with a considerable sexual appetite who finds himself no longer attracted to his 33-year-old wife, "the mother of five living and two dead children." He thinks she should make allowances for him, because he is 34 and still handsome, while she is worn out, old, "none too bright," and no longer pretty. The reader learns in Chapter 3 that Stiva is an aristocratic liberal, meaning he believes that marriage and religion are obsolete. He feels uncomfortable that his desire to reconcile with his wife is motivated partly by his need to sell a forest on her estate. As Dolly is packing to leave in Chapter 4, Stiva pretends repentance and asks her to weigh their nine years together against a "moment of infatuation."

Stiva has a wide network of friends and relatives in both Moscow and Petersburg, but his sister's husband, Karenin, helped him land his current high-paying job. Stiva is well liked at work because he treats everyone with respect. His best friend, Konstantin Levin, about the same age and of the same class, unexpectedly shows up at his office, inquiring about Kitty (Princess Ekaterina Shcherbatsky). She is Dolly's 18-year-old sister with whom he is in love. Levin farms on his 8,000-acre estate in the country and has not been in Moscow for a few months.


The subject of adultery is examined in depth in this novel about marriage and family, as is the question of how individuals negotiate their personal needs while fulfilling social obligations. Apropos of this theme, the first scene shows a couple in crisis over infidelity: Stepan Arkadyich thinks it is his due to cheat on his wife because he is the breadwinner. Nonetheless, Dolly has brought considerable wealth to the marriage, and Stiva needs to sell part of her estate to meet his financial obligations. Stiva has no capability to love deeply, which is why he is no longer attracted to a wife who has lost the first bloom of her youthful beauty. A thin woman with thinning hair, her body attests to the toll taken by birthing seven children. Stiva's attitude of sexual entitlement was not an uncommon attitude for upper-class Russian men.

For the most part, the narrator remains neutral, carefully withholding judgment about the characters, but the reader may draw conclusions from the facts, as well as from the characters' thoughts and feelings. Stepan Arkadyich is well liked but, as the story progresses, shows himself to be a selfish and shallow man with little ability for self-examination. Levin is Stiva's best friend and his opposite in many ways. While Stepan Arkadyich is in his element in his office and city, Levin is out of sorts in Moscow, although they have had a similar upbringing and education. Levin also has different views about marriage and fidelity, believing a man should be loyal to his wife. This novel makes continuous use of juxtaposition of characters' actions and views to elaborate on Tolstoy's themes. Some of these comparisons include Stiva and Levin, Stiva and Karenin (his brother-in-law), Dolly and Anna (Stiva's sister), and, most important, Anna and Levin.

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