by Leo Tolstoy
What's in the Story
The story for Anna Karenina apparently came out of an episode in which Leo Tolstoy arrived at a railway station shortly after a young woman had committed suicide. She had been the mistress of a neighboring landowner, and the incident stuck in his mind...
As Tolstoy biographer Henri Troyat writes, "A dreadful lesson was brought home to him... He tried to imagine the existence of this poor woman who had given all for love, only to meet with such a trite, ugly death." Then, Troyat says, "Her image haunted him for a long time, but not specifically as material for a book."
When Tolstoy finally started the story of Anna Karenina, his wife reported in a letter to her sister, "Yesterday Leo suddenly started to write a novel on contemporary life. The subject is the unfaithful wife and all the ensuing tragedy."
So, Tolstoy creates the character of Anna Karenina, a young woman who finds herself in a loveless marriage with Karenin. It might not have seemed so intolerable if she had not met and fallen in love with Count Vronsky.
As a comparison to Anna's tragic affair, we hear about the relationship between Kitty and Levin, a conjugal love match. Levin is first rejected by Kitty, since she has her heart set on Count Vronsky. Since Vronsky's affections are already taken by Anna Karenina, Kitty's heart is broken and she eventually turns back to Levin for love and marriage.
In the character of Anna, Tolstoy creates a woman who is perhaps most unhappily destined for tragedy. Anna falls in love with Count Vronsky, only to find that her passions are uncontrollable. She might have continued the relationship in secret, but she defies the "rules," and is forced to pay the ultimate price... She loses all contact with her son; and she is shunned from proper society.
In the "Notes," Neville Jason writes, "Thus the forces of society gradually bear down upon Anna with the same insensibility and inexorable momentum as the iron monster, which finally crushes the life out of her body on the railway line."