the beautiful wife of a government official in St. Petersburg. At the beginning of the book, she is a grande dame in the highest circles of society. She has one son, Seroyzha, by her husband, whom she loves dearly. She possesses a great vitalityTolstoy calls it "animation"that makes her irresistible to men and women alike. She also possesses a great deal of passion and refuses to live her life without contradictions. These two characteristics eventually cause her downfall, when she falls in love with Count Vronsky.
Anna's husband. A complicated figure, he is cold and calculating at the beginning of the book, completely unable to think outside of the notions of social propriety and try to reach Anna on an emotional level. As the book wears on, he proves himself to be a man in possession of both great emotional depth and great cruelty. He refuses Anna a divorce after he has promised her one, greatly affecting her life, but he is also ruined by her actions.
Count Alexis Vronsky
A wealthy and dashing young officer of a calvary regiment. Supposedly interested in Kitty Shcherbatskaya, he abandons her when he meets Anna. He is instantly smitten with Anna and gives up his career and his place in society to be with her, though he finds that without these thingsand when Anna becomes increasingly jealous of his greater freedomhis love for Anna sours. He is often condemned by critics for his shallowness.
Constantine Levin (Levin)
Anna's "double" in the book. Only he matches Anna in terms of his intensity and his passion. Awkward in urban high society, he prefers to live on his country estate, where he is very involved with agricultural work and the lives of his peasants. He has high expectations and high demands for those close to him, including his wife, Kitty. An agnostic for most of the book, his spiritual conversion forms the crux of the novel's closing.
Levin's half-brother. An intellectual who is too shy to propose to a young woman, although he pontificates on a variety of subjects with misinformed and uniformed courage. Tolstoy often uses him to parody the intellectual ideas of the 19th century, and to warn against the prospect of Western "progress" (which Tolstoy considered corrupting) invading Russia.
Levin's elder brother. He has squandered his fortune and lives in circumstances of deprivation and crassness. He is also an intellectual, though he represents death for Levin. A consumptive, he is ill throughout most of his appearances in the novel. The scene of his death sparks an existential crisis in Levin.
At eighteen, she is the youngest daughter of the Shcherbatskaya clan. She rejects Levin's first proposal in the hopes of obtaining a husband in Vronsky, but Vronsky does not propose. This shatters her and she comes to learn about herself through the experience. She accepts Levin's second proposal a wiser woman, and proves herself invaluable as a companion, a caretaker (to Nicholas) and new mother.
Dolly Shcherbatskaya Oblonsky
The eldest Shcherbatskaya daughter; she is married to Oblonsky and has six children. She struggles to accept her husband's infidelity and financial irresponsibility. She is a model for Tolstoy's ideal of the all-sacrificing wife and mother, and her commentary throughout the book is meant to stand as honest and credible throughout.
Anna's son. At the beginning of the book, he is eight years old and the love of her life. Anna is constantly concerned about what will happen to him if she gets a divorce from Karenin. He loves his mother deeply and is hurt and confused when she abandons him to leave with Vronsky.
Prince (Stiva) Oblonsky
Anna's brother and Dolly's husband. Though charming and winning in every way, he possesses many faults. He hurts others, always unintentionally, with his philandering and his financial irresponsibility. It is one of the book's biggest ironies that Anna comes to Moscowthereby meeting Vronsky, the man who will destroy her marriagewhen she is attempting to repair Oblonsky's marriage. Oblonsky is also shallow and unable to feel anything deeply. For example, after Anna's death, he recovers the quickest of any character.
Countess Lydia Ivanovna
An ecstatic Christian who makes Karenin her "project" after Anna leaves him. Her Christianity is of the emotional variety, consisting of great passions and sensuality. She is also hypocritical and cruel, encouraging Karenin to refuse Anna a divorce or visiting rights for her son.
Vronsky's cousin. She encourages the affair between Anna and Vronsky until they elope, after which she refuses to visit them or help them enter into high society.
A "sponging" woman who lives off of Vronsky and Anna after they fall from favor in Petersburg society.
Vronsky's mother, a society woman who once had many affairs herself. She encourages the affair between her son and Anna at first, but stops approving when Vronsky's career is derailed and finally comes to despise Anna altogether when Vronsky's life is ruined.
(elder) Princess Shcherbatskaya
The matriarch of the Shcherbatskaya family is vitally worried about her daughters' health and safety. She is a bit short-sighted: for example, she encouraged Kitty to wait for Vronsky to propose rather than to accept Levin's first proposal.
(elder) Prince Shcherbatskaya
A kind, generous, and wise man. He wished that Kitty would accept Levin's first proposal rather than wait for Vronsky. He and Levin become friends later on in the book; he is a consistent voice of honesty and wisdom.
A pious young woman Kitty befriends at the German spa she attends in order to recuperate after Vronsky leaves with Anna. She is sweet and shy and encourages Kitty to think about things other than marriage.
Varenka's adoptive mother. A mysterious figure, she moves in the highest circles of society but rarely deigns to speak to anyone. She is known for being exceptionally pious.
A famous Italian painter. He is supremely dedicated to his art. His portrait of Anna puts Vronsky to shame and convinces the latter to give up painting.
Nicholas' beleaguered female companion. She was once a prostitute and this causes Levin to be uncomfortable around her.
A peasant on Levin's farm. Due to his influence, Levin experiences a religious epiphany at the end of the book.
A friend of Vronsky's. He rents Vronsky's apartment in St. Petersburg.
A friend of Oblonsky's. A handsome, foppish young man who flirts inappropriately with Kitty.
A socialite who humiliates Levin at a party.
A landowner whose estate lies close to Levin's. They have a long discussion about peasant labor, after which Levin formulates his agricultural theory.
Anna Karenina Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Anna Karenina is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
No, Anna was originally just coming to visit her brother's home. But she does become embroiled in the problems of her brother and his wife, which stem from her brother's infedelity and affair with his children's governess.
Anna decides to kill herself because she mistakenly believes it is the only escape from her unhappy life, specifically in regards to her marital and family woes. None of the viable options, i.e. fleeing, divorcing seem to offer her freedom. Only...