Quotes From Leo Tolstoy's Classic 'Anna Karenina'

What the novel says about love, adultery, and death

Painting of Anna Karenina by H. Manizer

Henrich Matveevich Manizer/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain


"Anna Karenina" has long been considered one of the greatest works in world literature. First published in 1877, the Russian classic was inspired by a tragic incident that author Leo Tolstoy witnessed. The lengthy novel spans a wide breadth of subject matter, including love, infidelity, and death.

Get better acquainted with its themes with the following quotes, or revisit "Anna Karenina" if you've read the novel already but haven't done so recently. This expansive novel is divided into several different books.

Excerpts From Book 1

Book 1, Chapter 1

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Book 1, Chapter 9

"The place where [Kitty] stood seemed to him a holy shrine, unapproachable, and there was one moment when he was almost retreating, so overwhelmed was he with terror. He had to make an effort to master himself, and to remind himself that people of all sorts were moving about her, and that he too might come there to skate. He walked down, for a long while avoiding looking at her as at the sun, but seeing her, as one does the sun, without looking."

Book 1, Chapter 12

"The French fashion — of the parents arranging their children's future — was not accepted; it was condemned. The English fashion of the complete independence of girls was also not accepted, and not possible in Russian society. The Russian fashion of matchmaking by the officer of intermediate persons was for some reason considered disgraceful; it was ridiculed by everyone, and by the princess herself. But how girls were to be married, and how parents were to marry them, no one knew."

Book 1, Chapter 15

"I see a man who has serious intentions, that's Levin; and I see a peacock, like this featherhead, who's only amusing himself."

Book 1, Chapter 18

"And as soon as her brother had reached her, [Anna] flung her left arm around his neck and drew him rapidly to her, and kissed him warmly, with a gesture that struck Vronsky by its decision and its grace. Vronsky gazed, never taking his eyes from her, and smiled, he could not have said why. But recollecting that his mother was waiting for him, he went back again into the carriage."

Book 1, Chapter 28

"'I've been the cause of that ball being a torture to her instead of a pleasure. But truly, truly it's not my fault, or only my fault a little bit,' she said, daintily drawling the words a little bit."

Passages From Book 2

Book 2, Chapter 4

"The highest Petersburg society is essentially one: in it everyone knows everyone else, everyone even visits everyone else."

Book 2, Chapter 7

"Steps were heard at the door, and Princess Betsy, knowing it was Madame Karenina, glanced at Vronsky. He was looking toward the door, and his face wore a strange new expression. Joyfully, intently, and at the same time timidly, he gazed at the approaching figure, and slowly he rose to his feet."

Book 2, Chapter 8

"Alexey Alexandorivich had seen nothing striking or improper in the fact that his wife was sitting with Vronsky at a separate table, in eager conversation with him about something. But he noticed that to the rest of the party this appeared to be something striking and improper. He made up his mind that he must speak of it to his wife." 

Book 2, Chapter 21

"She flew over the ditch as though not noticing it. She flew over it like a bird; but at the same instant Vronsky, to his horror, felt that he had failed to keep up with the mare's pace, that he had, he did not know how, made a fearful, unpardonable mistake, in recovering his seat in the saddle. All at once his position had shifted and he knew something awful had happened."

Book 2, Chapter 25

"He vividly recalled all the constantly recurring instances of inevitable necessity for lying and deceit, which were so against his natural bent. He recalled particularly vividly the shame he had more than once detected in her at this necessity for lying and deceit. And he experienced the strange feeling that had sometimes come upon him since his secret love for Anna. This was a feeling of loathing for something — whether for Aleksey Alexandrovich, or for himself, or for the whole world, he could not have said. But he always drove away this strange feeling. Now, too, he shook it off and continued the thread of his thoughts."

Highlights From Book 3

Book 3, Chapter 1

"To Konstantin, the peasant was simply the chief partner in their common labor."

Book 3, Chapter 5

"The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed that the scythe was mowing by itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and precise by itself. These were the most blissful moments."

 Book 3, Chapter 12

"He could not be mistaken. There were no other eyes like those in the world. There was only one creature in the world who could concentrate for him all the brightness and meaning of life. It was she. It was Kitty."

Book 3, Chapter 23

"'I want you not to meet that man here, and to conduct yourself so that neither the world nor the servants can reproach you...not to see him. That's not much, I think. And in return you will enjoy all the privileges of a faithful wife without fulfilling her duties. That's all I have to say to you. Now it's time for me to go. I'm not dining at home.' He got up and moved toward the door."

Book 3, Chapter 32

"Levin said what he had genuinely been thinking of late. He saw nothing but death or the advance toward death in everything. But his cherished scheme only engrossed him all the more. Life had to be got through somehow till death did come. Darkness had fallen, upon everything for him; but just because of this darkness he felt that the one guiding clue in the darkness was his work, and he clutched it and clung to it with all his strength."

Quotes From Books 4 and 5

Book 4, Chapter 1

"The Kareninas, husband and wife, continued living in the same house, met every day, but were complete strangers to one another. Aleksey Aleksandrovich made it a rule to see his wife every day, so that the servants might have no grounds for suppositions, but avoided dining at home. Vronsky was never at Aleksey Aleksandrovich's house, but Anna saw him away from home, and her husband was aware of it."

Book 4, Chapter 13

"Levin got up and escorted Kitty to the door. In their conversation everything had been said; it had been said that she loved him and that she would tell her father and mother that he would come tomorrow morning."

Book 4, Chapter 23

"Oh, why didn't I die? It would have been better!"

Book 5, Chapter 1

"'What doubt can you have of the Creator when you behold His creation?' the priest went on in the rapid customary jargon. 'Who has decked the heavenly firmament with its stars? Who has clothed the earth in its beauty? How could it be without the Creator?' he said, looking inquiringly at Levin."

Book 5, Chapter 18

"Levin could not look calmly at his brother; he could not himself be natural and calm in his presence. When he went in to the sick man, his eyes and his attention were unconsciously dimmed, and he did not see and did not distinguish the details of his brother's condition. He smelled the awful odor, saw the dirt, disorder, and miserable condition, and heard the groans, and felt that nothing could be done to help. It never entered his head to analyze the details of the sick man's situation."

Book 5, Chapter 18

"But Kitty thought, and felt, and acted quite differently. On seeing the sick man, she pitied him. And pity in her womanly heart did not arouse at all that feeling of horror and loathing that it aroused in her husband, but a desire to act, to find out the details of his condition, and to remedy them."

Book 5, Chapter 20

"In spite of death, he felt the need for life and love. He felt that love saved him from despair, and that this love, under the threat of despair, had become still stronger and purer. The one mystery of death, still unsolved, had scarcely passed before his eyes, when another mystery had arisen, as insoluble, calling to love and to life. The doctor confirmed his suspicion about Kitty. Her indisposition was pregnancy."

Book 5, Chapter 33

"Hideous! As long as I live I shall never forget it. She said it was a disgrace to sit beside me."

Selections From Book 6

Book 6, Chapter 16

"And they attack Anna. What for? Am I any better? I have, anyway, a husband I love — not as I would like to love him, still I do love him, while Anna never loved hers. How is she to blame? She wants to live. God has put that in our hearts. Very likely I should have done the same."

Book 6, Chapter 18

"'The one thing, darling, is that I am so glad to have you!' said Anna, kissing her again. 'You haven't told me yet how and what you think about me, and I keep wanting to know. But I'm glad you will see me as I am. Above all, I wouldn't want people to think that I want to prove anything. I don't want to prove anything; I merely want to live.'"

Book 6, Chapter 25

"And he set off for the elections without appealing to her for a candid explanation. It was the first time since the beginning of their intimacy that he had parted from her without a full explanation. From one point of view this troubled him, but on the other hand he felt that it was better so. 'At first there will be, as this time, something undefined kept back, and then she will get used to it. In any case, I can give up anything for her, but not my independence,' he thought."

Book 6, Chapter 32

"And though she felt sure that his love for her was waning, there was nothing she could do, she could not in any way alter her relations to him. Just as before, only by love and by charm could she keep him. And so, just as before, only by occupation in the day, by morphine at night, could she stifle the fearful thought of what would be if he ceased to love her."

Excerpts From Book 7 and 8

Book 7, Chapter 10

"Tell your wife that I love her as before, and that if she cannot pardon me my position, then my wish for her is that she may never pardon it. To pardon it, one must go through what I have gone through, and may God spare her that."

Book 7, Chapter 11

"An extraordinary woman! It's not her cleverness, but she has such wonderful depth of feeling. I'm awfully sorry for her."

Book 7, Chapter 11

"You're in love with that hateful woman; she has bewitched you! I saw it in your eyes. Yes, yes! What can it all lead to? You were drinking at the club, drinking and gambling, and then you went."

Book 7, Chapter 26

"Now nothing mattered: going or not going to Vozdvizhenskoe, getting or not getting a divorce from her husband. All that did not matter. The only thing that mattered was punishing him. When she poured out her usual dose of opium, and thought that she had only to drink off the whole bottle to die, it seemed to her so simple and easy that she began musing with enjoyment on how he would suffer, and repent and love her memory when it would be too late."

Book 7, Chapter 31

"But she did not take her eyes from the wheels of the second car. And exactly at the moment when the midpoint between the wheels drew level with her, she threw away the red bag, and drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her hands under the car, and with a light movement, as though she would rise immediately, dropped on her knees. And at the instant she was terror-stricken at what she was doing. 'Where am I? What am I doing? What for?' She tried to get up, to throw herself back; but something huge and merciless struck her on the head and dragged her down on her back."

Book 8, Chapter 10

"But now, since his marriage, when he had begun to confine himself more and more to living for himself, though he experienced no delight at all at the thought of the work he was doing, he felt absolutely convinced of its necessity, saw that it succeeded far better than in the past, and that it kept on growing more and more."

Book 8, Chapter 14

"Just as the bees, whirling round him, now menacing him and distracting his attention, prevented him from enjoying complete physical peace, forced him to restrain his movements to avoid them, so had the petty cares that had swarmed about him from the moment he got into the trap restricted his spiritual freedom; but that lasted only so long as he was among them. Just as his bodily strength was still unaffected in spite of the bees, so too was the spiritual strength that he had just become aware of."

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Lombardi, Esther. "Quotes From Leo Tolstoy's Classic 'Anna Karenina'." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/anna-karenina-quotes-738574. Lombardi, Esther. (2023, April 5). Quotes From Leo Tolstoy's Classic 'Anna Karenina'. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/anna-karenina-quotes-738574 Lombardi, Esther. "Quotes From Leo Tolstoy's Classic 'Anna Karenina'." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/anna-karenina-quotes-738574 (accessed June 2, 2023).