The official movie tie-in to the major motion picture starring Keira Knightly, Jude Law, Emily Watson, and Aaron Johnson, directed by Joe Wright. This edition also includes the screenplay by Tom Stoppard.
Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky.
In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.
Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude
About the Author
Count Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) was born in central Russia. After serving in the Crimean War, he retired to his estate and devoted himself to writing, farming, and raising his large family. His novels and outspoken social polemics brought him world fame.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATORS: Louise and Aylmer Maude were English friends of Tolstoy who spent many years in Russia. Their Quaker background led them to share many of Tolstoy's spiritual and moral views. Aylmer wrote a biography of Tolstoy and worked with his wife on translations of his major works.
Date of Birth:September 9, 1828
Date of Death:November 20, 1910
Place of Birth:Tula Province, Russia
Place of Death:Astapovo, Russia
Education:Privately educated by French and German tutors; attended the University of Kazan, 1844-47
Read an Excerpt
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Everything at the Oblonskys’ was topsy-turvy. Oblonsky’s wife had found out that he had been having an affair with the French governess who used to live with them, and told him she could no longer stay under the same roof with him. This was the third day things had been this way, and not only the married couple themselves, but the family and the whole household were painfully aware of it. Everyone in the house felt that there was no sense in their living together, and that people who had casually dropped into any inn would have more connection with each other than they, the Oblonsky family and household. Oblonsky’s wife refused to leave her rooms; he himself hadn’t been home for three days. The children were running around the house as though lost; the English governess had had a quarrel with the housekeeper and written to a friend of hers asking her to look out for a new job for her; the day before the cook had picked dinnertime to go out; the kitchen maid and coachman had given notice.
The third day after the quarrel Prince Stephen Arkadyevich Oblonsky—Stiva, as he was called in society—woke up at his usual time, that is, eight in the morning, not in his wife’s bedroom but in his own study, on the leather-covered sofa. He twisted his plump, well-kept body on the springy sofa as though he wanted to plunge into a long sleep again; he hugged the pillow on the other side and pressed his cheek against it; then he suddenly jumped up, sat down on the sofa, and opened his eyes.
Now, what was that again? he thought, recalling a dream. What was it? Of course! Alabin was giving a dinner in Darmstadt, no, not in Darmstadt—somewhere in America. But that’s where Darmstadt was, in America. So Alabin was giving a dinner, on glass tables—and the tables were singing “Il mio tesoro,” though not “Il mio tesoro” but something better, and then there were some little decanters around and they were really women, he remembered.
Oblonsky’s eyes sparkled merrily; he smiled to himself as he sat there thinking: Yes, it was great fun, all right. There were a lot of other good things too, but you can’t put them into words, or catch hold of them at all when you’re awake.
He noticed a streak of light that had slipped in at the side of one of the blinds; he cheerfully stretched his legs off the sofa and felt about with his feet for the bronze kid slippers his wife had embroidered for his last year’s birthday present; out of a nine-year-old habit he stretched out his arm without getting up toward where his dressing gown hung in the bedroom. It was just then that he suddenly recalled why he wasn’t sleeping in his wife’s bedroom, but in his study; the smile vanished from his face and he frowned.
“Oh, oh, oh!” he groaned, remembering everything that had happened. And again all the details of the quarrel with his wife, his impossible position and, most painful of all, his own guilt sprang to his mind.
No, she’ll never forgive me! She can’t forgive me. And the most terrible thing about it is that it’s all my own fault, I’m to blame, though I’m not really to blame either. That’s the whole tragedy of it, he thought. “Oh dear, oh dear,” he muttered in despair, recalling the most painful points of the quarrel.
What had been most disagreeable of all was the first moment when, on coming back cheerful and satisfied from the theater with a huge pear for his wife in his hand, he had not, to his surprise, found her in the drawing room or in his study, but finally saw her in her bedroom holding the unlucky note that had revealed everything.
There was his Dolly, whom he thought of as constantly harried and simple-mindedly bustling about, sitting motionless with the note in her hand, looking at him with an expression of horror, despair, and fury.
“What is this? This?” she asked, indicating the note.
As he remembered this Oblonsky was tormented, as often happens, not so much by the event itself as by his response to his wife’s question.
What happened then was what happens to people who are caught at something shameful. He couldn’t manage to put on the right expression for his situation with respect to his wife now that his guilt was exposed. Instead of acting offended, making denials or excuses, asking forgiveness, or even remaining indifferent—anything would have been better than what he did do!— his face quite involuntarily (a reflex of the brain, he thought; he was fond of physiology) suddenly took on its usual goodhearted and therefore silly smile.
It was this silly smile that he couldn’t forgive himself. When she saw it Dolly shuddered as though in physical pain, burst out with her characteristic violence in a torrent of bitter words and rushed out of the room. Since then she had refused to see him.
That stupid smile is to blame for everything, Oblonsky thought. But what can I do? What is there to do? he said to himself in despair, without finding an answer.
Oblonsky was honest with himself. He could not deceive himself by telling himself that he repented of his conduct. He could not feel repentant that he, a handsome, amorous man of thirty-four, was not in love with his wife, the mother of five living and two dead children, who was only a year younger than he. He only regretted that he hadn’t been able to conceal things from her better. But he felt the full gravity of his position and was sorry for his wife, their children, and himself. He might have been able to hide his misconduct from his wife better if he had expected the news to have such an effect on her. He had never thought the matter over clearly, but had vaguely imagined that she had long since guessed he was unfaithful to her and was shutting her eyes to it. He even thought that a completely undistinguished woman like her, worn out, aging, already plain, just a simple goodhearted mother of a family, ought to have been indulgent, out of a feeling of fairness. What had happened was just the opposite.
Terrible, just terrible! Oblonsky kept saying to himself, without finding any solution. And how well everything was going until now! What a splendid life we had! She was contented and happy with the children, I never bothered her in the least, and left her to do as she pleased with the children and the house. Of course, it’s not so good that she was a governess right here in the house. That was bad! There’s something banal and vulgar in making love to your own governess. But what a governess! (He vividly recalled Mlle. Roland’s teasing black eyes and her smile.) But as long as she was here in the house I never allowed myself to do a thing. And the worst of it all is that she’s already... The whole thing had to happen just for spite! Oh, dear! But what on earth can I do?
There was no answer to this beside the usual answer life gives to the most complicated and insoluble problems, which is: you must live according to the needs of the day, that is, forget yourself. He couldn’t forget himself in sleep, at least not until nighttime; he could not yet return to the music being sung by the little decanter women, so he had to look for forgetfulness in the dream of living.
Well, we’ll see, Oblonsky said to himself; he got up, put on his gray dressing gown with the blue silk lining, knotted the girdle, and taking a deep breath of air into his broad chest, went over to the window with his usual robust stride, turning out his feet, which carried his full body so lightly; he raised the blind and rang loudly.
The bell was answered immediately by his old friend and valet, Matthew, who came in with his clothes, boots, and a telegram. He was followed by the barber with the shaving things.
“Any papers from the office?” Oblonsky asked, taking the telegram and sitting down in front of the mirror.
“On the table,” Matthew answered, with a questioning, sympathetic look at his master, and after a moment added with a sly smile: “They’ve sent someone from the livery stables.”
Oblonsky said nothing, merely gazing at Matthew in the mirror; it was plain from the glance they exchanged that they understood each other very well. Oblonsky’s look seemed to say: “Why tell me that? As though you didn’t know!”
Matthew put his hands into the pockets of his jacket, put out his foot, and looked at his master in silence, with a slight, good-humored smile.
“I ordered him to come back next Sunday, and till then not to bother either you or himself for no reason,” he said, evidently getting off a prepared sentence.
Oblonsky saw Matthew was joking to draw attention to himself. He tore open the telegram and read it, guessing at the words, misspelt as usual, and his face brightened.
“Matthew, my sister Anna will be here tomorrow,” he said, momentarily stopping the barber’s shiny plump hand that was clearing a rosy path between the long curly whiskers.
“Thank God!” said Matthew, showing that he understood just as well as his master the meaning of the visit, that is, that Oblonsky’s beloved sister Anna might bring about a reconciliation between husband and wife. “Alone, or with her husband?” he asked.
Oblonsky couldn’t answer, since the barber was busy on his upper lip, and raised one finger. Matthew nodded into the mirror.
“Alone. Should one of the upstairs rooms be got ready?”
“Ask Princess Oblonsky.”
“Princess Oblonsky?” repeated Matthew doubtfully.
“Yes, tell her. Here, take the telegram with you and tell me what she says.”
Oh, you want to sound her out, was how Matthew understood this, but all he said was: “Yes, sir.”
Oblonsky had already washed, and his hair was brushed; he was about to get dressed when Matthew, walking slowly in his creaking boots, came back into the room holding the telegram. The barber had already gone.
“Princess Oblonsky has instructed me to say that she is going away. Let him do as he likes, that is, you, sir,” he said, laughing with his eyes only; putting his hands in his pockets and his head to one side, he gazed at his master.
Oblonsky was silent, then a kind and somewhat pathetic smile appeared on his handsome face.
“Ah, Matthew, well?” he said, shaking his head.
“Don’t worry, sir, it will all turn out all right,” said Matthew.
“D’you think so? But who’s that?” asked Oblonsky, hearing the rustle of a woman’s dress outside the door.
“It’s me, sir,” said a firm, agreeable female voice, and Matrona, the children’s nurse, thrust her stern, pock-marked face into the doorway.
“Well, what is it, Matrona?” asked Oblonsky, going over to her.
Though Oblonsky was completely at fault with respect to his wife and felt this himself, almost everyone in the house, even the nurse, who was Princess Oblonsky’s best friend, was on his side.
“Well, what?” he said dejectedly.
“You must go to her, sir, and admit your guilt once again. Perhaps God will help! She’s in terrible torment; for that matter everything in the house is at sixes and sevens. You must take pity on the children, sir. Admit you were wrong, sir—what else can you do? If you put your hand in the fire—”
“But you know she won’t see me—”
“Do your own part. God is merciful, sir. Pray to God—pray, sir!”
“Very well then, you can go now,” said Oblonsky, suddenly blushing. “And now I must get dressed,” he said, turning to Matthew and energetically throwing off his dressing gown.
Matthew was already holding out, like a horse’s collar, the shirt he had got ready; he blew an invisible speck off it and with obvious satisfaction enveloped his master’s well-cared-for body in it.
Reading Group Guide
The questions and suggested reading list in this guide are intended to enhance your group’s conversation of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, one of the greatest novels ever written.
Please note: due to variations in translations, some character names may be spelled differently in this guide.
THE NOVEL Anna Karenina starts with the famous line “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” How does that apply to the families in the novel? What makes the families in Anna Karenina so “unhappy”? Are there any happy families?
THE FILM How are the different families’ homes represented in the film? How does Alexei Karenin’s home differ from that of Dolly and Oblonsky, or from Levin’s homestead?
THE NOVEL In many ways, Anna Karenina is a novel about love, but each character seems to define (as well as be defined by) love in very different ways. What is love to Anna?
Count Vronsky? Constantine Dmitrich Levin? Kitty Shcherbatsky? Stepan “Stiva” Oblonsky? How do you define love?
THE FILM How does Joe Wright portray love cinematically for the different characters? For Anna (Keira Knightley), the world literally disappears at one point. What happens to other characters in the film when they are in love?
THE NOVEL While the novel begins with an act of infidelity with Stepan “Stiva” Oblonsky having an affair, it’s Anna’s affair with Vronsky that becomes the novel’s center, as well as the target of society’s censure. Why is Oblonsky’s affair handled so differently than Anna’s? Is it just that he’s a man and she’s a woman? Or is there something bigger at stake with Anna?
THE FILM How does Joe Wright show the public spectacle of Anna’s affair versus the private and familial concern that is attached to Oblonsky’s indiscretions?
4) TWO ROMANCES
THE NOVEL The two main plotlines of Anna Karenina follow two different romances – one between Anna and Vronsky and the other between Levin and Kitty. What defines these different relationships – how do they begin, grow, end? Which one do you find more interesting?
THE FILM How does Joe Wright use production design and costumes to help define these two relationships? How is the sumptuousness of Anna’s world contrasted with the starkness of Levin’s?
5) THE RACETRACK
THE NOVEL The racetrack scene is a powerful and telling moment in the novel; one in which actions appear to symbolize more profound feelings and emotions. For example, how does Frou-Frou’s agitation before the race speak to the uncertainty of Anna and Vronsky’s future? How does the spectacle of the race highlight the ways Anna’s affair has come under public scrutiny? What does Vronsky’s reaction to Frou-Frou’s tragic accident say about his relationship to Anna? What does Frou-Frou’s death symbolize to you?
THE FILM How does Joe Wright’s handling of the racetrack scene play with the relationship between spectacle and spectatorship, between the race being a fashionable social event and an arena in which everyone scrutinizes each other’s behavior? How do Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Anna (Keira Knightley) and Karenin (Jude Law) create a triangle on screen?
6) NATURE VS SOCIETY
THE NOVEL Nature plays a huge role in Anna Karenina, especially for Levin, whose connection to the earth brings him a sense of peace and purpose. One of the most memorable scenes in the novel is the mowing scene in Book 3, where Levin joins the farm workers in the fields, an action that seems to bring him the connection and purpose for which he has so sorely been searching. How do you think nature functions in the novel? How does Tolstoy describe the Russian landscape? How are natural scenes compared to the high-society events in Moscow?
THE FILM Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina makes a bold distinction between the theatricality of Russian society and the people and practices that appear outside of it. Levin, for example, often appears in natural settings. What does this suggest about Levin’s role in the story and in Russian society as a whole?
THE NOVEL Trains figure significantly in Anna Karenina – as symbols of progress and harbingers of tragedy, as instruments that drive the plot forward and moving representations of Russia’s entry into the industrial age. How do you feel trains function in the novel? Is there a connection between their propulsive power and the power of passion?
THE FILM In Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina, he creates a visual link between trains as dangerous machines and as childhood toys. How does that compare to the love that transports Anna?
THE NOVEL Stepan “Stiva” Oblonsky and Constantine Dmitrich Levin are close friends in Anna Karenina, even though they seem like very different people. Oblonsky is gregarious, loves high society, and has an unwavering concern about his own well-being, while Levin is deeply introspective, favors the country, and searches for ways he might help others. What makes these two men such close friends? How do the two complement each other? How do they define different attitudes towards being alive and present in the world? Does either (or both) character change over the arc of the novel?
THE FILM In Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina, Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) and Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen) often create a comical contrast but display real affection for each other. How do the actors capture the essence of each character? How does their costuming help us understand the characters’ principles?
THE NOVEL At the start of Anna Karenina, Kitty Shcherbatsky looks up to Anna but is soon angered and hurt when Vronsky chooses Anna over her. But at the end of the novel, Kitty is saddened and disheartened by Anna, repeatedly exclaiming how the luxury of Anna and Vronsky’s life makes her uncomfortable. In what ways are Kitty and Anna similar? Why do you think they move in such different directions to end up by the novel’s end in such contrasting circumstances?
THE FILM In Joe Wright’s adaptation of Anna Karenina, Kitty (Alicia Vikander) seems to be the character who changes the most. How do we see the changes Kitty goes through on screen?
THE NOVEL In Anna Karenina, Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin is a high-ranking government official whose keen sense of propriety and principles makes him a rising political star tasked with designing the new legal architecture of a changing Russia. But when Anna’s affair with Vronsky brings him public ridicule, his stature is diminished and his political capital depleted. How do you view Karenin? Is he a victim, villain or survivor? Why does he willingly parent both Seryozha and Anna (the love child of Anna and Vronsky)? By the end of the novel, do you feel he is in a better or worse place than he was at the story’s start?
THE FILM In Joe Wright’s film, Karenin (Jude Law) is a figure of immense self-control and restrained emotions. How do Law’s costumes and makeup suggest what is happening internally? What do you feel the film’s final and powerful shot of Karenin suggests?
11) INNOVATIVE STORYTELLING
THE NOVEL Many consider Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as one of the world’s greatest novels, not the least for the author’s innovative and complex ways of telling his story: his freewheeling approach to perspective, giving voice to every point of view, including a dog’s; his willingness to include extended and complicated arguments about faith, politics and God; his mix of realism with a complex symbolic vocabulary. What moves you about Tolstoy’s writing? What surprised you about his prose and storytelling?
THE FILM In adapting Anna Karenina, Tom Stoppard’s elegant screenplay was able to contain the rich scope and thematic integrity of Tolstoy’s epic novel into a feature film. How did Stoppard dramatically focus the novel? How did he translate the novel’s sensibility to the screen? Also how do you think Joe Wright’s bold approach in adapting Anna Karenina reflects Tolstoy’s own bold stylistic choices?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Now, I know that this is quite out of the norm for our blog. I know that this book is not supernatural or anything magical. Still, I have a passion for the classics and thought, "Hey, why not?" So, for any one who might want to read something out of the norm, here you go. Let me start off by saying that this book is LONG! I know, that is a little obvious, but I feel the need to express it. It took me two weeks to read this book and seeing as how I read "Gone with the Wind" in three days, the length and details of this book can be determined with that information. So when the book starts off, we expect it to be about some woman named Anna Karenina right? Well, its not. That is the first unique thing about the book. The book begins with Oblonsky, the unfaithful older brother to Anna. So this in itself is something to help foreshadow the events of the book. Basically, there is an affair which gives you a pretty good foreshadowing of what is to come....Need I say more? Throughout the book, the point of view changes but the point remains the same. Love. Betrayal. Death. What more could you want? Gabby
a wonderful love affair.