Monday, September 17, 2012

Anna Karenina: Part One Summary

Title: Anna Karenina
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Translation: Constance Garnett
Originally Published: 1875-77
Copy Published: Barnes & Noble 2003

Part One Summary

The Lazy Husband

Russia, 1870s – Stephan Oblonsky, a government worker, really did it now!  His wife Dolly found the love letter to their young governess, and the love affair is out.  In order to save their marriage, Stephan sends for his sister Anna Arkadyevna.

Dolly cannot bring herself to leave Stephan, and his good nature annoys her, which is what everyone loves about him.  He’s nothing but a lazy liberal because it’s convenient.  He's content to be the bare minimum in life.

Unlike Stephan

His friend, Konstantin Levin, is a different man: a country gentleman, a hard worker, who does not think too highly of himself.  He wants to propose to Kitty, Dolly’s youngest sister.

When Levin meets up with Kitty, her mother reluctantly invites him to dinner.  Kitty gives mixed signals.  Maybe this is why: Kitty likes Levin, but there is someone else on her heart: Vronsky – well up in society, wealthy, with a career in the army.  

Therefore, when Levin arrives early for dinner, Kitty must tell Levin the engagement cannot be.  Before Levin can creep away, the guests arrive, including Vronsky.  Levin is curious to find out what kind of man he is.  When the conversation turns to calling the spirits of the dead, Levin slips out. 

Anna Arrives to Save Her Brother an Inconvenience

Finally, the protagonist arrives: Stephan picks up Anna at the station; and lo and behold, Vronsky is there also to pick up his mother – who, by the way, was conversing with Anna in the same car all the way.  Small world!

Foreshadow: an accident happens on the tracks while the parties are leaving, and Anna calls it an omen.  (I know what happens because I read Susan Wise Bauer’s summary listed in TWEM.)

Of course, Anna’s job is to cause Dolly to see the importance of remaining married to her unfaithful husband, which Dolly does, like a good woman.  And Kitty, who has heard much about Anna, comes over to meet her.  They both develop a respect for each other.

The Sensitivities of Dancing

At the ball, Kitty recognizes something different in Vronsky.  Instead of asking her to dance the mazurka, he dances with Anna.  How offensive!  Besides, she can see there is something different in Anna, too.

Poor Levin cannot take it anymore to think Kitty would have wanted to join her life to his, so he finds his sick brother, Nikolay, who babbles on about his communist/socialist ideals.  Levin says people do not know Nikolay’s heart.

By the time Levin returns home to his farm, his brother’s communist talks have sunk in, and now he thinks he should work harder with less to show for it.  Huh? 

A Righteous Idea About Marriage and Family

One good thing about Levin is his idea of women and marriage: he believes women are for marriage, and marriage is for families.  His whole happiness rests on this.

Back to Anna: she must leave at once to avoid any contact with Vronsky because she realizes he has tempted her.  Good girl, Anna.  Get back home to your husband and son.  But it may be too late; the poison has spread.  She experiences a strange sensation to live life, as opposed to just read about it in her novels.  Forces around her challenge her, and she likes it.

Vronsky's Ill Intentions

When she exits at her station, that snake is there!  Yes!  Vronsky followed her because he wants to be where she is.

Now Anna sees everyone in new light: she sees their defects – her husband’s, her son’s, and her acquaintance’s.  She does think of her husband as a good man with good qualities, but she still doesn’t like his ears. 

Finally, part one ends with Vronsky’s selfish, warped view of men, women, and marriage.  Let’s just say, Vronsky has ill intentions.


Christine said...

Bravo! Well done. I waited to read your review until I finished Part I (which I did last night). Excellently summarized!

Ruth said...

Thank you!

traininblank said...

What do you mean by "Vronsky’s selfish, warped view of men, women, and marriage." Explain. And why do you think he has ill intentions? He's handsome and charming enough to have multiple affairs, yet he chooses Anna. I think your perception of him is way too simplistic. He may not be as complicated as Anna, but he's not that flat.

Ruth said...

Well, Traininblank, it's been a long time since I read this, but if I recall...Vronsky did not value marriage or families like Levin did; he was the total opposite. He seduced a married woman, and he had no respect for Anna's husband, or any men who tie themselves to a woman for life when they can conveniently use them for their own selfish pleasures. Vronsky is a man of zero morals; so yeah, he has ill intentions. I don't agree that my perception of him is simplistic.