This story, admitted to be the greatest of the author’s works, first appeared during the years 1875-1876, in a Moscow magazine. It was well received by the conservative element of society, but severely criticized by the party which advocated greater freedom in the matters of marriage relations and divorce. The critics objected to it on the ground that it did not logically demonstrate the thesis propounded in the Scriptural quotation which serves as its motto, ” Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” since the catastrophe was brought about not in con-sequence of Divine vengeance for evil-doing but by the unwillingness of Vronsky, and especially of Anna, to forego society and its conventions and accept the position to which the world assigned them.
CONFUSION reigned in the house of the Oblonskys. The wife had discovered that her husband, Prince Stepan, was too attentive to the French governess in their employ and declared that she could not live in the same house with him. Prince Stepan was a handsome, susceptible man of thirty-four, who no longer loved his wife Darya (commonly called Dolly), and only regretted that he had not succeeded in hiding his act from her. On the third day after the rupture he received a telegram from his sister, Anna Karénina, to say that she was coming from Petersburg. This meant that she intended to try to effect a reconciliation between Stepan and his wife. Prompted by the old nurse, he begged forgiveness. But Dolly was implacable, and slammed the door as she left the room. Nevertheless, al-though she went on packing, she was conscious that matters would be very bad for the children, as well as herself, and that possibly she loved Stepan even more than before.
Prince Stepan Oblonsky was President of one of the courts in Moscow, a post obtained through the good offices of his sister’s husband, Alexei Karénin, one of the most influential members of the Ministry. Before he left his office that day Konstantin Levin came to see him to ask “an important question,” which was: “What are the Shstcherbatskys doing?”
Stepan knew that Levin was in love with his sister-in-law, Princess Ekaterina Shstcherbatskaya. Levin, in fact, had come to Moscow from his country estate, for the express purpose of proposing to the young Princess, generally called Kitty. The Levin and Shstcherbatsky families belonged to the old nobility of Moscow and had always been on friendly terms. Now, at the age of thirty-two, Levin was deeply’ in love with Kitty; but although he had a handsome fortune, and might be regarded as an eminently eligible suitor, he had felt that her parents would think he had nothing to offer her that was worthy of her, and had fled to the country. After two months of solitude and meditation there he had decided that his love was not ephemeral and that he must put his fate to the test. Kitty seemed friendly, but her mother did not. Prince Stepan that night, while they dined at a fashionable restaurant, told him that Dolly had declared that her sister Kitty would become his wife. But he also warned him that he had a dangerous rival in the person of Count Alexei Vronsky, one of the finest specimens of the gilded youth of Petersburg, who was then in Moscow on recruiting service. The Count was immensely wealthy, handsome, with excellent connections; he was an Imperial Adjutant, and a fine fellow. People declared that he was in love with Kitty, and Stepan advised Levin to act quicklythe very next day, if possible.
The Princess Kitty was eighteen years old; she had made her appearance in society that winter and had been a brilliant success. Levin and Vronsky were the only two out of her throng of admirers who seemed to have serious intentions. Her mother favored Vronsky, her father Levin, in the many lively discussions they had on the subject. The elder Princess saw that Kitty was in love with Vronsky, but was afraid he was merely playing the gallant.
That same evening, after the dinner at the restaurant, Levin went to the Shstcherbatskys’ and proposed to Kitty. Her answer was: “This cannot be! Forgive me!” He would have gone away, but Kitty’s mother entered and, perceiving from their agitated faces what had happened, amiably detained him.
At the reception he met Vronsky, saw plainly that Kitty loved the man, and that he possessed amiable and attractive qualities.
Vronsky never had experienced the joys of family life. His mother had been a brilliant woman of fashion in her youth. Vronsky never had known his father, had been reared in the ultra-fashionable military Pages’ Corps, and after his graduation as a brilliant young officer he had moved in the highest circles of Petersburg society. His acquaintance with Kitty had shown him, for the first time in his life, the charm of friendship with a young girl of good family; but he never had considered the possibility of marrying, or that his attentions to her would produce complications and unhappiness for her. The day after Levin’s proposal, he went to meet his mother at the Petersburg train, and found Prince Stepan Oblonsky there waiting for his sister. It turned out that the two ladies had traveled in the same compartment, had conversed, and taken a liking to each other. Vronsky was greatly impressed with Madame Karénina.
Just as the four were about to leave the carriage, they learned that a train-hand had been killed on the track. Vronsky quietly went out and gave two hundred rubles for the widow (the station-master betrayed the fact), which added to the favorable impression he had already produced upon Anna. To her brother she said, almost weeping, that the accident was an evil omen. But on reaching the house she set about her task of reconciling the Princess Darya with her husband, whose con-duct she did not try to palliate. Dolly declared that she was chained to Stepan by the children, but could not love him.
Anna spent the whole day with Dolly; she ordered her brother to dine at home, and was rewarded by hearing Dolly address him again as “thou,” and by an evident reconciliation shortly afterward. After dinner Kitty Shstcherbatskaya came in, and was greatly fascinated with Anna, whom she persuaded to go to a great ball that evening. Anna, in turn, having heard the state of affairs from her brother, congratulated Kitty on the assumed engagement to Vronsky, recounting the fine deeds which his mother had narrated to her in the train. But as she was going up-stairs for an album during the evening, she heard Vronsky’s voice in the hall, asking about a dinner which the men were to give for “a celebrity” (an actress) the next day, and a strange sensation of joy mingled with terror suddenly seized her heart. At the ball that night Kitty noticed that Anna ignored Vronsky’s salutation, and that she was splendidly handsome and elegant. At all the other balls of the winter Vronsky had asked Kitty for the mazurka, and, expecting it that night also, she refused five invitations, saying that she was engaged. But Vronsky danced the mazurka with Anna. She could see that Anna’s face beamed with happiness, apparently but for one per-son, while Vronsky’s face was bent toward hers as if he were ready to worship her, and his look expressed humility and passion. They themselves understood the peculiar meaning of their commonplace remarks as well as Kitty. “Yes, there is a terrible, almost infernal attraction about her,” Kitty said to herself.
Anna had intended to remain two days, but returned to Petersburg the day after the ball. She said frankly to Dolly that matters had turned out peculiarlyshe had thought only of helping on Kitty’s match with Vronsky, but suddenly it had turned out exactly the other way, and possibly she had been unintentionally to blame. To which Dolly replied that if Vronsky could fall in love with Anna in a single day she would not be sorry if the match with her sister should fall through.
In the train, try as she would, Anna could not help thinking of Vronsky. At last, at one station, she went out on the platform to get fresh air despite the furious wind and snow. As she was about to reënter the carriage Vronsky stood before her and asked whether he could not be of service in some way. With irrepressible joy in her face, she asked him. why he had come; and he replied that she knew, adding that he could not do otherwise, for which speech he apologized a moment later.
Anna passed a sleepless night, thinking of her home, her husband, and her son Serozha, eight years of age. Vronsky, sleep-less also, was glad he had spoken; glad that she now knew his feelings and must think of him. On the platform in Petersburg he approached Anna and her husband; an introduction followed, and when Vronsky said that he hoped to call upon Anna the husband coldly invited him, mentioning their reception-day.
Toward the end of the winter the Shstcherbatskys had a consultation of physicians in regard to Kitty’s health. It was feared that she had consumption. The family doctor, finding that his remedies were of no avail, ordered her to go abroad, telling the doctors in consultation that some mental cause was at the foundation of the trouble. The old Princess felt too guilty in the matter not to affect indignation when Dolly told her that perhaps Kitty had refused Levin, but would not have done so had it not been for Vronsky, who had behaved so abominably. Dolly’s argument to Kitty about her “disappointment ” Who of us has not been through such experiences?” did not appeal to the girl.
When Lent came Kitty and her mother went to Soden. Meanwhile, Anna Karénina had begun to frequent that circle of Petersburg society where she was sure of meeting Vronsky. At first she tried sincerely to persuade herself that she was angry because he insisted on forcing himself upon her; but one evening, when he failed to come to a house where she had expected to see him, she realized at last how her infatuation formed the ruling passion of her life. She saw him chiefly at the house of his cousin, the Princess Betsy Tverskaya, who was perfectly willing to help on the affair. One night at her house, after the theater, Anna sat apart from the company with Vronsky, telling him to go to Moscow and beg Kitty’s pardon. But he replied with an ardent declaration of love for herself. She reprimanded him and forbade a repetition, but looked at him with love in her eyes. Karénin, entering, found nothing remarkable in his wife’s seemingly confidential conversation with Vronsky, but saw that others were surprised. At home that night he warned her of the interpretation society might put on her imprudence. She professed not to understand him; but a new life began for them both from that moment, and Karénin understood that he was powerless to prevent a catastrophe. For nearly a year intimate relations went on between Anna and Vronsky, although outwardly their lives continued unchanged. Vronsky’s mother was rather pleased until she found that the affair, instead of being a brilliant, fashionable flirtation, promised to turn out a tragedy after the style of Werther.
Besides his military duties and his infatuation for Anna Vronsky had another absorbing passionhorses. In the Krasnoë Selo races he was to ride one of his horses, which seemed to have a good chance for the prize. Just before the race he went to see Anna in her villa at Peterhof, and learning that she was again to become a mother, he insisted that she should put an end to their false position by leaving her husband and uniting her life with his. When she refused Vronsky realized that her son was the obstaclethat she would not abandon him.
Agitated by this discussion, Anna went to the races with the Princess Betsy, and when Vronsky, just as he had almost won, made a false movement and broke his horse’s back she gave a cry of horror, and her face displayed more lively symptoms of anxiety than was discreet. Her husband insisted on her re-turning home with him, told her that her conduct that day had been extremely improper, and requested her to behave in the future in such a manner as to disarm gossip. Anna in reply told him that she had been false to him, and that she feared and hated him. Karénin begged her to preserve outward appearances until he should decide upon a course of procedure.
Levin had returned to the country the day after Kitty re-fused him and devoted himself to his peasants and the work on his estate, which he loved. That summer Dolly and her family lived on an estate about thirty versts distant from Levin’s, and Kitty, who returned from abroad quite cured, spent part of the time with her. Levin lent his side-saddle for her use, but did not take it over in person, as Dolly requested, and did not go to see her, in spite of Dolly’s arguments and encouragement. But he told himself plainly that good as his simple, laborious life was he could not reconcile himself to it, because he loved Kitty.
Meanwhile, Karénin had decided, after much reflection, that he would not fight a duel with Vronsky, and that a divorce was out of the question, as the scandal involved would make him fall lower in public opinion than his guilty wife. The only way was to keep his wife under his protection, shield his misfortune from the eyes of the world, and try to break off the connection with Vronskywhich would, in his opinion, be acting in accordance with the law of religion. Accordingly, he wrote to his wife from Petersburg in this sense, and on her return thither he exacted as the one condition that she never should receive Vronsky in his house, and that she should so bear herself as to give the servants and the world in general no reason to talk. So the Karénins continued to live under the same roof, yet remained strangers to each other; while Anna met Vronsky out-side and her husband knew it. All three believed the trying situation to be only temporary. At last Vronsky was appointed to dance attendance for a week upon a foreign prince; and at the end of that time Anna wrote him to come to her that her husband would be at the Council that evening. But Karénin had returned home early, and on his way out again to the opera he and Vronsky almost ran into each other at his front door. They saluted each other coldly. Anna reproached Vronsky for the things she had heard about his doings and the Prince’s and then said that their frightful situation would not last much longer—she was going to die. It appeared that she had had a peculiar dream about a little, dirty peasant, who muttered to himself in French; and she had heard a voice saying: “You are going to die!” Vronsky had had a similar dream, but would not mention it, though he was greatly shaken.
The next morning Karénin secured some of Vronsky’s and Anna’s letters from her desk, while she sat by it, and told Anna he was going to Moscow, and would not enter that house again; his lawyers would tell her about the divorce which he had decided to procure; their son was to go to one of his relatives. After consultation with his lawyers he promised them a decision on his course of action within a week, and went to Moscow, on his way to an investigation in the provinces of a serious government question. In Moscow Prince Stepan insisted upon his dining with him, and they discussed the matter of the divorce with Dolly, who loved Anna like a sister. Levin, Kitty, and several others were present. Kitty was quite different from the last time Levin had seen her, and her joy at beholding him was so great that she almost burst into tears. During dinner Levin thought of nothing but Kitty; and in the drawing-room afterward he followed her to a card-table at which she had sat down and begun to scrawl on the cloth with chalk. Taking the chalk from her, he wrote the initial letters of the words in a complicated sentence. Kitty divined his meaning; and after some further interchange of thought in this manner Levin learned that her “impossible” had not meant for always, but only at that time when she could not answer differently, and that she wished him to forgive and forget.
Dolly’s argument with Karénin was less successful. In vain did she implore him not to divorce Anna, and tell him how Anna had saved her own family life, when Stepan had been unfaithful and she had wished to leave him. When he returned to his quarters he received a telegram from Anna saying that she was dying and begging him to come to her, that she should die more at ease if she had his forgiveness. Karénin (not quite certain that the illness was not a pretense) returned to Petersburg and found his wife delirious, all hope of her life having been given up by the doctors. In an interval of consciousness she begged his pardon, which he granted, as he knelt sobbing by her bed-side. Vronsky came, and at the sight of her he covered his face with his hands; but Anna bade him lift his head and look at Karénin, who was a saint. Karénin had to remove Vronsky’s hands and give his own hand to him at Anna’s command, weeping as he did so. Afterward Karénin told Vronsky that he in-tended to remain with Anna (this was when hope of her life returned), and would send for him if she wished to see him. Vronsky was conscious of Karénin’s grandeur and his own baseness, and he knew not what to do. He had not slept for three nights, and when he tried to do so on his return home he could not, and felt that he must be going mad. Thinking of what life without Anna would be, he realized that ambition, the world, the court, meant nothing to him; he understood then the reason why people commit suicide to avoid disgrace, and he shot himself, but missed his heart and recovered.
Karénin had forgiven and pitied both his wife and Vronsky. For the baby girl that came he felt more than pitya real tenderness.
As Anna recovered her husband saw that she feared him and dared not look him in the face. Stepan came to Petersburg and prevailed upon Karénin to give Anna a divorce if she should ask for it, and he would take all the blame on himself and surrender his son to her, though he feared this would be pushing her over the precipice, as Dolly had declared.
Vronsky, on recovering from his wound, was given an honorable mission to Tashkend, and went to take leave of Anna, now convalescent but very weak. Anna declared that she would not accept her husband’s generosity, that she wanted no divorce, but said she never could part with Vronsky again. A month later Karénin was left alone with his son, and Anna went to Italy with Vronsky, who had unhesitatingly refused the Tashkend mission.
During the first part of their stay in Italy, which extended over several months, Anna felt exuberantly happy and full of joyous life. Vronsky, who had an idea that he possessed artistic talent, discovered his mistake when he tried to paint. After a while both wearied of it all and returned to Russia, intending to live in the country. They passed a few days in Petersburg. Vronsky, well as he knew society, made the capital mistake of assuming that, while they could not be received at court, their relatives and friends would understand and treat them as before. But his own sister-in-law absolutely refused to call; and his cousin, the Princess Betsy, though she did call, made an insultingly brief stay and assumed an offensively patronizing air, very different from that of former days.
When Anna longed to see her son, and, fearing to write to her husband, wrote to the Countess Lidia Ivanovna (whom Karénin had formerly despised but who had now acquired a controlling influence over him with her scriptural quotations and sentimental sympathy), the Countess persuaded Karénin to re-fuse her a sight of the boy and herself wrote an insolent note. Nevertheless Anna went, saw the child, and met her husband at the door as she departed; but he did not speak, and she felt that she hated and scorned him, and was jealous because of her son. For her little girl she had not the hundredth part of her love for Serozha. The night before they left Petersburg, in a spirit of defiance provoked by the attitude of society toward her, Anna insisted upon going to the opera, against Vronsky’s advice, in a conspicuous gown, with some of Vronsky’s men friends and a relative of his, a Princess Varvara, who was universally scorned as an unscrupulous parasite. A former friend in the next box spoke to her in a way that insulted her. Her appearance was a public scandal and Anna quarreled with Vronsky over it when she returned home. But they were reconciled before they left for the country. There, on Vronsky’s estate, they lived sumptuously, as Dolly saw, when she drove over to spend a day. She was staying with the happy Levin and Kitty, who had been married, and were delighted in their rural activities. Vronsky appealed to her to persuade Anna to write to her husband and ask for a divorce. Vronsky felt that he and Anna were united for life, but their daughter legally belonged to Karénin; and if they should have a son the child would be legally a Karénin also. Dolly had little success. Anna admitted that not a day or an hour passed that she did not think of marriage with Vronsky; but even should she humiliate herself to ask her husband for the divorce he would not give her her son, and the boy would grow up to despise her.
So the rest of the summer and part of the autumn passed, and, still residing in the country, they took no steps toward getting a divorce. But Vronsky felt with ever-increasing force that he was chained, and he longed for freedom, especially as Anna was very jealous and made terrible scenes every time he was obliged to absent himself on business or went to the races. After she had summoned him home from the elections, on the pretext that the little girl was very ill, and he had told her that he should soon be obliged to go to Moscow on business, she declared that she would go with him; that things could not continue thusthey must live together or separate, and she would write to her husband. She wrote about the end of November, and as they expected every day to receive Karénin’s reply and immediately afterward to secure a divorce, they set up their establishment in Moscow as if they were already married. Months passed and no answer came. Not a single woman but the grateful Dolly went near Anna. She reproached Vronsky on the flimsiest pretexts with neglecting her, of not loving her or appreciating her sufferings, and what she had renounced for his sake. Her brother Stepan, while in Petersburg on his own affairs, urged Karénin to grant the divorce; but Karénin, under the influence of the Countess Lidia Ivanovna, refused.
Spring came. The life of Anna and Vronsky (who still lingered in Moscow, hot as was the weather) was insupportable, although no real ground of misunderstanding existed between them except that subtle irritation which led Anna to incessant attempts at explanation, which invariably developed into fresh quarrels, when Vronsky opposed to her passion an icy reserve.
Anna determined to return to the country; but they had several quarrels, for which she was chiefly to blame, over the day of their departure. She declared that she would not be a mill-stone about his neck, that he loved another; and she spoke disrespectfully of his mother. A day passed without a reconciliation, and Anna began to imagine all the things he might say to her. One night she dreamed again of the little dirty peasant muttering French. The next morning she threatened Vronsky that he “would be sorry for this,” meaning nothing in particular; and Vronsky was frightened by her despairing tone. No sooner, however, had he set out for his mother’s, to get her signature to a deed, than Anna sent a note after him, saying that she was to blame and begging him to come back. She telegraphed to him in the same sense, but briefly. Then, on receiving a telegram that he could not return until ten o’clock that night, and forgetting that he had not had time to receive his note, which she had despatched by a servant, she hastily set out for his mother’s. On the platform of the little station her messenger met her and delivered Vronsky’s answer, to the same effect as his telegram. Ordering the servant to return to Moscow, she said to herself, “No, I will not let you make me suffer so!” in reply to her torturing thought, rather than to Vronsky’s note. Aimlessly she walked to the end of the platform, not knowing what to do next. Then suddenly she remembered the man who had been run over on the day she and Vronsky had first met, and she knew what was in store for her. She got down upon the rails, watched the train that was approaching, calculated when she must act, and threw herself under the wheels.
Vronsky, when he heard that an accident had occurred, felt a foreboding that the victim was Anna and went to the freight-house, whither they had carried her body. After that he never uttered a word for six weeks, never ate except when his mother urged him; and they had to watch him constantly, fearing that he might again attempt suicide. When the Russo-Turkish war broke out he volunteered and paid the expenses of a squadron of cavalry. All he could think of was Anna; all he could see was her face, haughtily announcing her threat of useless but implacable vengeance. Life was over for him.