Anna Arkadyevna Karenina
A beautiful, aristocratic married woman from St.
Petersburg whose pursuit of love and emotional honesty makes her
an outcast from society. Anna’s adulterous affair catapults her
into social exile, misery, and finally suicide. Anna is a beautiful
person in every sense: intelligent and literate, she reads voraciously,
writes children’s books, and shows an innate ability to appreciate
art. Physically ravishing yet tastefully reserved, she captures
the attentions of virtually everyone in high society. Anna believes
in love—not only romantic love but family love and friendship as
well, as we see from her devotion to her son, her fervent efforts
to reconcile Stiva and Dolly Oblonsky in their marital troubles,
and her warm reception of Dolly at her country home. Anna abhors nothing
more than fakery, and she comes to regard her husband, Karenin,
as the very incarnation of the fake, emotionless conventionality
Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin
Anna’s husband, a high-ranking government minister
and one of the most important men in St. Petersburg. Karenin is
formal and duty-bound. He is cowed by social convention and constantly
presents a flawless façade of a cultivated and capable man. There
is something empty about almost everything Karenin does in the novel,
however: he reads poetry but has no poetic sentiments, he reads world
history but seems remarkably narrow-minded. He cannot be accused
of being a poor husband or father, but he shows little tenderness
toward his wife, Anna, or his son, Seryozha. He fulfills these family
roles as he does other duties on his list of social obligations. Karenin’s
primary motivation in both his career and his personal life is self-preservation.
When he unexpectedly forgives Anna on what he believes may be her
deathbed, we see a hint of a deeper Karenin ready to emerge. Ultimately,
however, the bland bureaucrat remains the only Karenin we know.
Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky
A wealthy and dashing military officer whose love
for Anna prompts her to desert her husband and son. Vronsky is passionate
and caring toward Anna but clearly disappointed when their affair forces
him to give up his dreams of career advancement. Vronsky, whom Tolstoy
originally modeled on the Romantic heroes of an earlier age of literature,
has something of the idealistic loner in him. Yet there is a dark
spot at the core of his personality, as if Tolstoy refuses to let
us get too close to Vronsky’s true nature. Indeed, Tolstoy gives
us far less access to Vronsky’s thoughts than to other major characters
in the novel. We can never quite forget Vronsky’s early jilting
of Kitty Shcherbatskaya, and we wonder whether he feels guilt about
nearly ruining her life. Even so, Vronsky is more saintly than demonic
at the end of the novel, and his treatment of Anna is impeccable,
even if his feelings toward her cool a bit.
Konstantin Dmitrich Levin
A socially awkward but generous-hearted landowner
who, along with Anna, is the co-protagonist of the novel. Whereas
Anna’s pursuit of love ends in tragedy, Levin’s long courtship of
Kitty Shcherbatskaya ultimately ends in a happy marriage. Levin
is intellectual and philosophical but applies his thinking to practical
matters such as agriculture. He aims to be sincere and productive
in whatever he does, and resigns from his post in local government
because he sees it as useless and bureaucratic. Levin is a figurehead
in the novel for Tolstoy himself, who modeled Levin and Kitty’s
courtship on his own marriage. Levin’s declaration of faith at the
end of the novel sums up Tolstoy’s own convictions, marking the start
of the deeply religious phase of Tolstoy’s life that followed his
completion of Anna Karenina.
Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya
A beautiful young woman who
is courted by both Levin and Vronsky, and who ultimately marries
Levin. Modeled on Tolstoy’s real-life wife, Kitty is sensitive and
perhaps a bit overprotected, shocked by some of the crude realities
of life, as we see in her horrified response to Levin’s private
diaries. But despite her indifference to intellectual matters, Kitty
displays great courage and compassion in the face of death when
caring for Levin’s dying brother Nikolai.
Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky (Stiva)
Anna’s brother, a pleasure-loving aristocrat and
minor government official whose affair with his children’s governess nearly
destroys his marriage. Stiva and Anna share a common tendency to
place personal fulfillment over social duties. Stiva is incorrigible,
proceeding from his affair with the governess—which his wife, Dolly, honorably
forgives—to a liaison with a ballerina. For Tolstoy, Stiva’s moral
laxity symbolizes the corruptions of big-city St. Petersburg life
and contrasts with the powerful moral conscience of Levin. However,
despite his transgressions, the affable Stiva is a difficult character
Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya (Dolly)
Stiva’s wife and Kitty’s older sister. Dolly is one
of the few people who behave kindly toward Anna after her affair
becomes public. Dolly’s sympathetic response to Anna’s situation
and her guarded admiration for Anna’s attempt to live her life fully
hint at the positive aspects of Anna’s experience. Well acquainted
with the hardships of matrimony and motherhood, Dolly is, more than
anyone else in the novel, in a position to appreciate what Anna
has left behind by leaving with Vronsky. The novel opens with the
painful revelation that Dolly’s husband has betrayed her, and her
even more painful awareness that he is not very repentant.
Sergei Alexeich Karenin (Seryozha)
Karenin and Anna’s young son. Seryozha is a good-natured
boy, but his father treats him coldly after learning of Anna’s affair.
Anna shows her devotion to Seryozha when she risks everything to
sneak back into the Karenin household simply to bring birthday presents
to her son.
Nikolai Dmitrich Levin
Levin’s sickly, thin brother. The freethinking Nikolai
is largely estranged from his brothers, but over the course of the
novel he starts to spend more time with Levin. Nikolai is representative of
liberal social thought among certain Russian intellectuals of the
period; his reformed-prostitute girlfriend, Marya Nikolaevna, is
living proof of his unconventional, radically democratic viewpoint.
Sergei Ivanovich Koznyshev
Levin’s half-brother, a famed intellectual and writer
whose thinking Levin has difficulty following. Koznyshev embodies
cold intellectualism and is unable to embrace the fullness of life,
as we see when he cannot bring himself to propose to Varenka.
Levin’s former nurse, now his trusted housekeeper.
Vronsky’s judgmental mother.
Alexander Kirillovich Vronsky
Alexander Vronsky’s wife.
Prince Alexander Dmitrievich Shcherbatsky
The practical aristocrat father of Kitty, Dolly,
and Natalie. Prince Shcherbatsky favors Levin over Vronsky as a
potential husband for Kitty.
Kitty, Dolly, and Natalie’s mother. Princess Shcherbatskaya
initially urges Kitty to favor Vronsky over Levin as a suitor.
Countess Lydia Ivanovna
A morally upright woman who is initially Anna’s friend
and later her fiercest critic. Hypocritically, the religious Lydia
Ivanovna cannot bring herself to forgive or even to speak to the
“fallen woman” Anna. Lydia Ivanovna harbors a secret love for Karenin,
and induces him to believe in and rely
Elizaveta Fyodorovna Tverskaya (Betsy)
A wealthy friend of Anna’s and Vronsky’s cousin.
Betsy has a reputation for wild living and moral looseness.
A former prostitute saved by Nikolai Levin, whose
companion she becomes.
seemingly devout invalid woman whom the Shcherbatskys meet at a
German spa. Madame Stahl appears righteous and pious, but Prince
Shcherbatsky and others doubt her motivations.
Varvara Andreevna (Varenka)
A pure and high-minded young woman who becomes Kitty’s
friend at the German spa. Varenka, who is a protégée of Madame Stahl,
nearly receives a marriage proposal from Koznyshev.
wild friend from the army. Yashvin has a propensity for losing large
sums of money at gambling.
Nikolai Ivanovich Sviyazhsky
A friend of Levin who lives in a far-off province.
Fyodor Vassilyevich Katavasov
Levin’s intellectual friend from his university days.
A young, pleasant, somewhat dandyish man whom Stiva
brings to visit Levin. The attentions Veslovsky lavishes on Kitty
make Levin jealous.
French psychic who instructs Karenin to reject Anna’s plea for a