Anna Karenina in first edition and contemporary binding

TOLSTOY, Lev Nikolaevich

Anna Karenina

Publication: T.Ris, Moskva, 1878.

TOLSTOY, Lev Nikolaevich, Anna Karenina

Tolstoy’s masterpiece in first edition: a complete example of this classic of Russian and world literature in contemporary Russian binding.

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Our Notes & References

The first complete edition – and the first book edition – of the celebrated novel.

Tolstoy started writing Anna Karenina in early 1873; in May 1873 he finished the first draft. Many drafts would follow: Tolstoy was searching for that perfect opening line, a perfect name for his heroine, perfectly balanced plot lines. In one of the drafts Anna is called Pushkina: Tolstoy gave her physical features of Pushkin’s eldest daughter Maria (“the little wilful tendrils of her curly hair that would always break free about her neck and temples”, hereafter trans. C.Garnett). Several drafts opened with a scene at a farm fair: Ordyntsev (future Levin) is exhibiting his livestock and by chance meets Alabin (future Stiva). In another draft, Tatiana (future Anna) leaves her husband for Balashov (future Vronsky), gets a divorce, but, unhappy in the company of her new dissolute friends, drowns herself in the Neva river. Eventually, Tolstoy came to choices that had made the novel just right.

The opening line – “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – gave foundation for the famous “Anna Karenina principle” in social sciences, popularised by Jared Diamond in his 1997 book Guns, Germs and Steel. Psychoanalysts still use Anna’s “stream of consciousness” before her suicide as a valid description of depression and narcissistic disorder (e.g. Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory, 1993). Tolstoy’s novel continues to reverberate through various disciplines to this day, but we still admire it primarily as a ground-breaking literary text. The term “stream of consciousness” was not applied to literature until 1918; it became a literary technique in James Joyce’s “Ulysses” (1920) and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs Dalloway” (1925). Tolstoy used this technique 50 years before, by capturing the inexpressible, fleeting thoughts of confused human beings. Dreams also play an important part in the novel: “Long before Freud, Tolstoy sees in the unconscious a force that determines character and directs fate…. On the very first page, Oblonsky dreams of glass tables that sing “Il mio tesoro”… This absurd picture defines Stiva’s character better than a thousand words – as something light, hollow, charmingly ringing” (Yurii Saprykin).

Tolstoy finished writing Anna Karenina in 1877. The novel was first published in instalments in the conservative periodical “Russkii vestnik” in 1875-1877, but the editor Mikhail Katkov, a proponent of Russian nationalism, refused to publish the last part, where Tolstoy derides Russia’s involvement in Serbia-Turkey war in 1876-77, for instance: “Everything that the idle crowd usually does to kill time was done now for the benefit of the Slavonic States. Balls, concerts, dinners, matchboxes, ladies’ dresses, beer, restaurants—everything testified to sympathy with the Slavonic peoples”. To complete the serial edition, Tolstoy had to publish Part 8 as a separate book in 1877. This book edition is, therefore, the first complete edition, as well as the first book edition, of the novel.

Tolstoy portrayed many historical figures in Anna Karenina (Maria Sukhotina as Anna, Nikolai Raievsky as Vronsky, Praskovia Uvarova as Kitty, etc.). The novel is an immense fresco of Russian society in the aftermath of the economic and social upheaval caused by the abolition of serfdom in 1861. “Tolstoy, as landowner and as participant in various social organizations (the census and famine commissions, for example) directly experienced important events of the transitional upheaval” (Lukacs, 118). However, the force of the novel lies in its intimate scenes: Anna and Vronsky’s lovemaking; the birth of Levin’s first child; Anna’s thoughts before suicide. For the first time in world literature, these intimate moments were captured with such degree of realism.

Theodor (Fedor Fedorovich) Ris was a German-born owner of a printing house in Moscow, which he opened in 1865. He also published the first edition of Tolstoy’s War and Peace in 1868.

Anna Karenina is a perfection as a work of art… there is nothing similar in European literature in the present era” (Dostoevsky, Dnevnik pisatelia, 1877, our translation)

“We are not to take Anna Karenina as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life” (Matthew Arnold, Essays in Criticism, Second Series, 1888).

“Read the skating-scene in Anna Karenina, the racing-scene, the meeting between Anna and her darling Seriozha. My friends, in the presence of such art words fail me; I can only cry to you, “Read, read, and read!” Read humbly, read admiringly. The reading of Tolstoy in this spirit shall in itself be unto you an education of your highest artistic sense” (Ivan Panin, Lectures on Russian Literature, 1889).

“Tolstoy is not describing a “thing”, a horse-race. He is recounting the vicissitudes of human beings” (Georg Lukács, “Narrate or Describe”, 1936).

“Tolstoy probably had quite an ambivalent relationship with Anna. And that for me is the enduring fascination of the novel. That she is a character who is, at times, cruel and yet, at times, she is also — she’s not a hypocrite, and she believes in something beautiful. And so Anna is both terrible and wonderful, and I think that’s why I love her” (Joe Wright, director of Anna Karenina starring Keira Knightley, interview to NPR, November 16, 2012).

Anna Karenina includes the interior monologue of a dog [part 6, ch.12], long before Kafka (Ben Parker, The Moments of Realism, 2015)


Kilgour 1196; Lesman 2251; Simmons, pp.340, 346-7; Saprykin, Yurii, “Anna Karenina”.

Lukács, György, “Writer and Critic: And Other Essays”. United States, iUniverse, 2005; Dostoevsky, F.M. Sobraniye sochineniy v 15 tomakh. SPb.: Nauka, 1995; Parker, Ben, “The Moments of Realism”, July 28, 2015.

Item number



Physical Description

Three 8vo volumes (22×16 cm): 369 pp., 493 pp., 413pp., all inc. title and half-title.


Contemporary quarter calf over brown cloth, gilt spine with raised bands.


Minor small damages to text, such as small holes, closed tears sometimes repaired, foxing, staining, pencil annotations, etc., some leaves reinforced at gutter esp. titles of vols. 1-2; bindings a bit rubbed, extremities worn; but a sound copy in good condition.

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