Leo Tolstoy's 'Anna Karenina'

Tolstory was cremated at Polyana, at the age of eighty-one, and it was some months before he left his house because of the conflict between him and his wife. Both belonged to the upper class society but their sensibility was dramatically opposed to each other. Tolstoy loved the peasants whereas his wife hated them. This was the main cause of their conflict that made them and outsider. He was not a novelist but a social reformer, in one sense the guru of Mahatma Gandhi, who taught at his place for some time. He is known for his novels like ‘War and Peace’, ‘Anna Karenina’, ‘Resurrection’ and also for short stories. But what is more important is his Christian humanism. More so, he was influenced by Rousseau but he matured as a Christian moralist.

‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy is one such novel that remains a favourite among the connoisseurs of literature. Inspite of its length (runs into more than 900 pages), the novel is a very interesting reading.
‘Anna Karenina’ concerns romantic indivudualism, constituting the main plot of Vronsky (the fiancĂ© of Kitty) and Anna Karenina (a married woman). They come close to each other. Their love grows and both are bold enough to face the situation, yet they retreat. They could not bear the brunt of social censure. They move from place to place. The manner becomes picaresque (episodic). The two are haunted by the fear of society. In fact, it is the fear of their conscience. Anna is so sentimental that she loses her two infants one by her husband and the other by Vronsky. However, the situation does not stand still. The ‘civilized mentality’ gains an upper hand. In a way, the two become social outcasts. The social aspect of life would not let them enjoy peace of mind. Under this pressure, something strange happens. At first, he begins to hate her and develops affairs here and there and elsewhere. Later, he is infatuated by Kitty. Anna has the desire to divorce her husband. He does not do so, she is drawn between love and marriage but love fails her when Vronsky philanders with others. She is alone and isolated. She throws herself under the wheels of a train and commits suicide.

A question arises why Tolstoy keeps Anna in a state of tension resulting in death. The only explanation that one gets is Tolstoy’s Christian moralism, his conservative attitude inspite of his quality of humanism. The Anna-Vronsky plot reveals the failure of Rousseauistic romanticism. The union of Levin and Kitty indicates the conformity of the two. By the contrast, it may be said that in Adam Bede, Hetty Sorrel is seduced by Arthur Danny Thorne. He leaves here in the lurch. Thanks to the open-mindedness of Adam Bede, she is married to him and thus, rehabilitated. Anna’s tragedy is the tragedy of the over-sensitive. This lacks inevitability. The novel is the product of the nineteenth century when not only the female was being exploited by the male due to deracination but in several cases, the female displayed masculinity and broke through the conventional way of life in search of happiness. Anna does her best to temper with her destiny. She fails to get divorce from her husband on the one hand and on the other Vronsky proves to be a philanderer. In such bewilderment she prefers death. In no sense, it is in conformity to Tolstoy’s Christian humanism. He loves Christianity not in the characteristic sense of the world but on the spiritual plane. Anna’s suicide is not pathetic but tragic. She dies struggling. In a way, she matches Sophocles’s Antigone, who violates the command of Creon, Anna is not ruled by any such commandment. Her death poses a challenge to the categorical imperative (“Thou shall not commit deeds unclean”) that has been snubbing womankind from the inception of patriarchal age.


  1. Ya , I think in that era anything that women did which was considered out of the boundry, she was instantly made worthy of being punishes...either she was labelled a witch and killed or the woman herself committed suicide due to societal pressure...
    The novel is just one of the eaxmples!

  2. I have to read this. I have that Tolstoy's literature is not an easy read, but those who are patient will eventually come to enjoy them thoroughly.