Anna Karenina comprises more than the story of Anna Karenina, a married socialite, and her affair with the affluent Count Vronsky, though their relationship is a very strong component of the plot. The story starts when she arrives amid her brother’s family being broken up by his unbridled womanizing—something that prefigures her own later situation.
A bachelor, Vronsky is eager to marry Anna if she agrees to leave her husband Karenin, a senior government official. Although Vronsky and Anna go to Italy, where they can be together, leaving behind Anna’s child from her first marriage, they have trouble making friends. When they return to Russia, Anna suffers shunning and isolation because of the relationship. While Vronsky pursues his social life, Anna grows increasingly possessive and paranoid about his supposed infidelity.
A parallel story within the novel is that of Konstantin Levin, a wealthy country landowner who wants to marry Kitty, sister to Dolly and sister-in-law to Anna’s brother Stepan Oblonsky. Levin has to propose twice before Kitty accepts. The novel details Levin’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.