Anna Karenina is a novel by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy, first published in book form in 1878. Many authors consider Anna Karenina the greatest work of literature ever written, and Tolstoy himself called it his first true novel. It was initially released in serial installments from 1873 to 1877 in the periodical The Russian Messenger.
A complex novel in eight parts, with more than a dozen major characters, it is spread over more than 800 pages (depending on the translation), typically contained in two volumes. It deals with themes of betrayal, faith, family, marriage, Imperial Russian society, desire, and rural vs. city life. The plot centers on an extramarital affair between Anna and dashing cavalry officer Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky that scandalizes the social circles of Saint Petersburg and forces the young lovers to flee for Italy in a futile search for happiness. Returning to Russia, their lives further unravel.
Anna Karenina is the tragic story of Countess Anna Karenina, a married noblewoman and socialite, and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky. The story starts when she arrives in the midst of a family broken up by her brother's unbridled womanizing—something that prefigures her own later situation, though she would experience less tolerance by others.
A bachelor, Vronsky is eager to marry Anna if she will agree to leave her husband Count Karenin, a senior government official, but she is vulnerable to the pressures of Russian social norms, the moral laws of the Russian Orthodox Church, her own insecurities, and Karenin's indecision. Although Vronsky and Anna go to Italy, where they can be together, they have trouble making friends. Back in Russia, she is shunned, becoming further isolated and anxious, while Vronsky pursues his social life. Despite Vronsky's reassurances, she grows increasingly possessive and paranoid about his imagined infidelity, fearing loss of control.
A parallel story within the novel is that of Konstantin Lëvin or Ljovin, a wealthy country landowner who wants to marry Princess Kitty, sister to Princess Dolly and sister-in-law to Anna's brother Prince Oblonsky. Konstantin has to propose twice before Kitty accepts. The novel details Konstantin's difficulties managing his estate, his eventual marriage, and his struggle to accept the Christian faith, until the birth of his first child.
The novel explores a diverse range of topics throughout its approximately one thousand pages. Some of these topics include an evaluation of the feudal system that existed in Russia at the time—politics, not only in the Russian government but also at the level of the individual characters and families, religion, morality, gender and social class.