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Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Plot Summary

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Anna Karenina is often called a love story, which it is, within the context of marriage and family life. The story is also a tragedy because the alluring heroine, who cannot make the decision to leave her psychological prison of loneliness and dependency, takes her own life.

Part 1

Dolly and Stiva, an aristocratic couple who live in Moscow and have several children, are on the verge of a marital split because Stiva is unfaithful. While he is at work, Stiva is visited by his best friend Levin; he has come to town to propose to Stiva's sister-in-law, Kitty, who is being courted by a handsome and charming officer named Vronsky. When Levin proposes, Kitty turns him down.

Stiva has asked his sister to talk to his wife, and he goes to the station to meet his sister's train from Petersburg; at the station, he runs into Vronsky who is waiting for his mother. When the train comes in, Vronsky sees Anna for the first time and is smitten. Anna successfully convinces her sister-in-law to give Stiva another chance. She also attends a ball with Kitty, and Vronsky has eyes only for Anna. Kitty is heartbroken when she is rejected by Vronsky. Levin goes back to his farm, and Kitty becomes ill.

Part 2

Kitty's parents take her abroad to recover from her heartbreak. Eventually, she gets better and returns to Moscow. Meanwhile, Vronsky begins courting Anna. After almost a year, Vronsky finally convinces Anna to become his mistress. She soon becomes pregnant with his child, and he asks her to leave her husband. When he takes a fall at a steeplechase race and Anna acts distressed in public, her husband Karenin reprimands her for her improper behavior; she then confesses her infidelity. Karenin is shocked and upset, but hoping she will get over her infatuation, he decides to tolerate her dalliance.

Part 3

Levin has returned to his life in the country, managing his estate and working with his peasants. Dolly comes to her country estate for the summer, not far from Levin, and she tries to convince him to pick up his courtship with her sister Kitty, but he is too proud. Still, he knows that she is the only woman he can possibly marry.

Part 4

Karenin and his wife continue to live estranged in the same house, but things come to a head when Anna invites Vronsky over and he runs into her husband. Karenin decides to apply for a divorce, but he will need to prove Anna's adultery with eyewitnesses. When Karenin visits Moscow, he tells Stiva about the divorce. Anna's brother begs him to reconsider and invites him to dinner. He has also invited Levin, and when he sees Kitty again he proposes, and she accepts. Karenin gets a letter from his wife, who is on the brink of death after giving birth to a baby girl. She begs his forgiveness, which he grants, and he determines to stay with her and take care of the baby. In despair, Vronsky shoots himself but later recovers. Anna recovers as well, and she still wants to be free of Karenin, who agrees to give her a divorce. But she decides to simply leave with Vronsky and the baby, leaving behind her son, who legally belongs to Karenin. Vronsky resigns his commission to live with Anna.

Part 5

Kitty and Levin get married and settle on his estate, while Anna and Vronsky leave for Italy for three months and then come back to Petersburg. Anna visits her son on his birthday, and both of them express their intense sorrow over their separation. Anna then attends the opera and is shunned by everyone because she is living openly as a mistress. Thus, Anna and Vronsky decide to retire to the country, where Vronsky has an estate.

Part 6

Dolly visits Anna on Vronsky's country estate and finds her seemingly doing well, although she is taking a lot of opium to sleep. Dolly, on Vronsky's prodding, encourages her to seek a divorce, but Anna doubts he will grant one now that he is under the influence of the religiously hypocritical Countess Lydia. Anna feels trapped because she cannot go out in society, and she becomes very jealous of Vronsky. Levin and Kitty move to Moscow before the birth of their child, and Anna and Vronsky also move to Moscow. Anna agrees to write to Karenin again.

Part 7

Kitty gives birth to a boy, and after Karenin does not answer Anna, Stiva visits him when he is next in Petersburg. Karenin, based on the counsel of a French clairvoyant that Lydia has latched onto, decides to refuse Anna's divorce. Anna becomes more desperate, takes more opium, and becomes more jealous of Vronsky. She feels herself hemmed in, and guilty that she has traded her son Seryozha for Vronsky. She also becomes paranoid, and after she has an argument with Vronsky, she throws herself under a train and kills herself.

Part 8

Vronsky is devastated by Anna's suicide and, as a result, reenlists in the army. Levin experiences a serious spiritual crisis in which he determines that it is sufficient to work for the "good" instead of promoting one's self-interest. Dolly and Stiva remain together. Kitty and Levin are happy in their marriage, and Levin continues to manage the farming on his estate.

Anna Karenina Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Anna and Vronsky meet in a train compartment.

Rising Action

2 Stiva and Dolly quarrel about Stiva's infidelity.

3 Levin proposes to Kitty and is rejected.

4 Anna and Vronsky, mutually attracted, dance at the ball.

5 Vronsky follows Anna back to Petersburg and seduces her.

6 Anna defiantly confesses her affair to Karenin.

7 Anna almost dies and then leaves Karenin for Vronsky.

8 Levin proposes to Kitty again and they marry.

9 Dolly visits Anna at Vronsky's country estate.

10 Anna and Vronsky return to Moscow for the last time.


11 Anna throws herself under a train.

Falling Action

12 Vronsky leaves to fight in the Serbian war.

13 Stiva gets an additional post for a large salary.

14 Levin is still haunted by existential questions.


15 Levin resolves his spiritual crisis.

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