Anna Karenina Introduction

by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina tells of the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel's seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness. 

Anna Karenina is the second of the two great masterpieces written by Count Leo Tolstoy. His first vast work, War and Peace, an epic account of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia in 1812, was compared by the German writer Thomas Mann to Homer’s Iliad. Like the Greek bard, Tolstoy wrote one national epic and one work that can be compared to Homer’s Odyssey: Both Anna Karenina and the Odyssey place descriptions of everyday family life against the larger backdrop of a dangerous world that threatens to tear apart the fabric of society at its most intimately threaded points: the relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, individual and society. Tolstoy drew this comparison of the themes of his two great works: “In War and Peace I loved the idea of the people and nation, because of the War of 1812.... In Anna Karenina I loved the idea of family.”