Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy’s novel begins and ends with a death under a train. The novel’s titular heroine watches as a railroad worker is killed shortly after she meets the dashing soldier, Vronsky. After the two embark on a scandalous affair that tears Anna’s marriage — and reputation — apart, she throws herself onto the train tracks in literature’s most famous suicide. The extreme emotions and passionate affairs it describes make Anna Karenina one of the most acclaimed novels ever written.

Life and death

For Anna, who is haunted by mortality throughout the novel, death becomes an escape from the despair she feels as her life falls apart. For the novel’s other main character, Levin, thoughts of death and the loss of his brother force him to contemplate the true meaning of life.

Passion

Anna and Vronsky’s passionate affair has disastrous consequences: Anna finds herself isolated from society, separated from her family, and so desperate that she ends her own life. Many of us still search for passion in our lives — but what does that really mean?

Happiness

‘All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.’ These are the opening words of Anna Karenina, whose main characters struggle to find fulfilment throughout the novel. Should happiness be our ultimate goal? And how can we find it?

Social change

Russia in the 1870s was a society at a crossroads. As old traditions began to fade, questions of gender roles, European influence, and class all contributed to feelings of uncertainty, confusion and doubt. How is our own culture changing?

Religion

Tolstoy reflects on the nature of religion throughout Anna Karenina. Many of the novel’s most devout figures are ridiculed for hypocrisy, but Levin eventually comes to find comfort and faith in a purer form of Christianity. How is religion viewed today?