The Who’s Who of Anna Karenina

One of biggest hurdles for people just starting to read Russian literature is the large amount of characters and their complicated Russian names. I thought that it would be handy to make a Who’s Who of Anna Karenina. Because that's an excellent novel to start with and it would be a huge shame if you didn't finish it because of the names. I'll give a short description of each character and their (nick)name and I'll try not to give too much away.

Oblonsky

Stiva, Prince Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky. He is Anna's brother and Dolly’s husband. His first name is Stepan, but intimates call him Stiva. His father's name was Arkady, hence the patronymic Arkadyevitch. Tolstoy usually refers to him as Oblonsky, and sometimes as Stiva or Stepan Arkadyevitch. Oblonsky is a central character in the novel, he connects all the other characters. He knows everyone and is on friendly terms with everyone. His closest friend is Levin. He’s a real bon vivant.

Dolly

Dolly, Princess Darya Alexandrovna Oblonskaya, née Shtcherbatskaya. She’s Kiity’s sister. At that time it was fashionable to have an English nickname. Her patronymic and last name take the female form: Alexandrovna Oblonskaya. She is usually called Dolly, but also Darya or Darya Alexandrovna, but never Oblonskaya. The Oblonskys form a hectic family with lots of children. They live above their means and it's Dolly who keeps things together.

Anna

Anna, Anna Arkadyevna Karenina, née Oblonskaya. She has the same father as Stiva and thus the same patronymic. She is married to Karenin. Anna is probably the best known character from Russian literature. She is the personification of the double standard: her brother has an affair and gets away with it; she does the same and is shunned by society. Her turbulent life never ceased to captivate readers.

Levin

Levin, Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin. The hero of the novel. Tolstoy adorned him with many autobiographical character traits. He’s considered a bit of an eccentric, because he prefers to live in the countryside instead of in the city. Those who know him well, know he has a heart of gold. He’s in love with Kitty. Like the Shtcherbatskys, the Levins are an old aristocratic family from Moscow. He’s fairly rich.

Kitty

Kitty, (the young) Princess Ekaterina Alexandrovna Shtcherbatskaya, also called Katya. In spite of what the title suggests, Kitty is the real heroine of this novel. She’s the youngest daughter and after some confusion she finds her true love, and has a fairytale wedding (Harry & Meghan, move over!). She too has a heart of gold and quickly becomes the reader’s favourite.

Vronsky

Vronsky, Count Alexey Kirillovitch Vronsky. A very handsome and very wealthy officer. This eligible bachelor has a bossy mother. The reader can never quite see through him, but his overall impression is not so good.

Karenin

Karenin, Alexey (yes, there are two Alexeys) Alexandrovitch Karenin, Anna's husband and a very important politician in Petersburg. Alexey Alexandrovitch cares a lot about his good name. He is distant, a workaholic and extremely religious. In other words: a total bore.

The Shtcherbatskys

The old Prince and Princess, the Shtcherbatskys. Although they bicker all the time, they are loving parents and it's a warm and close family.

Brothers

Levin’s brothers, Nikolay Dmitrievitch Levin and Sergey Ivanovitch Koznishev. Nikolay is an alcoholic who's in poor health, he lives with Masha. Their half brother Sergey is a famous writer and intellectual. Although Levin feels closer to Nikolay, he doesn't see Nikolay as often as Sergey, due to Nikolay’s problems.

The Lvovs

The Lvovs, Natalia Alexandrovna Lvova and Arseny Lvov. Natalia is Dolly and Kitty’s sister. She and her husband, a diplomat, have two children.

Vronsky's mother

The old countess Vronskaya, Vronsky’s bossy mother and Vronsky’s brother Alexander. Vronsky is not exactly close with his family, he is as polite with them as with complete strangers, if not even more so.

Yashvin

Yashvin, described by Tolstoy as “a gambler and a rake, a man not merely without moral principles, but of immoral principles,” he's Wronsky’s closest friend in the regiment, which of course says a lot about Wronsky.

Countless countesses

Countess Betty, she's Wronsky’s aunt and Anna’s friend. Countess Lidia, she's Karenin’s friend. Both countesses like to gossip, but Lidia belongs to the highest Petersburg circles. And then there's Kitty’s friend Countess Nordston.

Agafea Mihalovna

Agafea Mihalovna, Levin’s old nurse. Until Levin is married she's his housekeeper. And that doesn't mean that she's the cleaning lady, but it means that she runs the household at Levin’s country estate. Nurses had a very special position in Russian aristocratic families, they were often looked after until they died, in return for their selfless devotion to the children.

Varenka

Mademoiselle Varenka, Varvara Andreevna. She keeps the elderly Madame Stahl company and helps poor and ill people. She becomes Kitty’s good friend. Not to be confused with Princess Varvara, one of Anna's friends.

Veslovsky

Vassenka Veslovsky, a distant cousin of the Shtcherbatskys. A cheerful and enthusiastic young man with the tact of an hippopotamus.

Children

Children: Anna's: Seryozha and Annie. The Oblonskys’: Grisha, Tanya, Nikolinka, Masha, Vassya. Levin’s: Mitya.

Staff

The staff: Annushka, Anna's maid; Kapitonitch, the Karenins’ porter and Seryozha’s great friend; Matvey, Oblonsky’s valet; Korney, Karenin’s valet; Lizaveta Petrovna, the midwife.

Dogs

And finally the dogs: Laska, Levin’s dog and Krak, Oblonsky’s dog. They are clever and loyal hunting dogs and because Tolstoy employs the omniscient narrator technique, we know exactly what they are thinking. As a matter of fact you'll think that Tolstoy had a pensieve so that he could look inside your head too. This is a novel to be enjoyed by men just as much as by women, it is not without reason that it always ends up in the top 10 of the best books ever. Happy reading!


© Elisabeth van der Meer – text and photo

 

53 thoughts on “The Who’s Who of Anna Karenina

  1. “One of biggest hurdles for people just starting to read Russian literature is the large amount of characters and their complicated Russian names. I thought that it would be handy to make a Who’s Who of Anna Karenina.”

    So true, Elisabeth and what a great idea. This post was so much fun tor read.

    Stiva “knows everyone and is on friendly terms with everyone. His closest friend is Levin. He’s a real bon vivant.’

    So true. He reminds me in this respect of my father. And, the same capacity (as my Dad had) to enjoy a good time. Like when Stiva dines on oysters at the beginning of the novel. At a price that would be equal to some person’s salaries (as Tolstoy points out).

    “In spite of what the title suggests, Kitty is the real heroine of this novel. … She too has a heart of gold and quickly becomes the reader’s favorite.”

    I agree with the second statement, but I’m not sure (for whatever my opinion is worth) about the first. But, it makes me look at the novel with a fresh eye.

    Levin; “He’s considered a bit of an eccentric.” True (Of the novel), But, then, most of the people in his circle are conventional and narrow minded.

    “Those who know him [Levin] well, know he has a heart of gold.”

    Well put. I wonder to what extent Tolstoy was the same.

    Levin’s brothers. Wasn’t at least one of them based on one of Tolstoy’s bothers?

    “Agafea Mihalovna, Levin’s old nurse. Until Levin is married she’s his housekeeper. And that doesn’t mean that she’s the cleaning lady, but it means that she runs the household. …”

    Shrewd observation.

    “As a matter of fact you’ll think that Tolstoy had a pensieve so that he could look inside your head too.” You do get this feeling with Tolstoy.”:

    Well put. That he looks inside his characters’ heads (and does), down to the smallest little thought or impression. And, as you say, by extension, to all of humanity’s. Where did you come up the word “pensieve”? Great choice!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I confess – I do get confused with all the names. What I find most engaging, however, is that the names mirror the complexity of life, the twists and turns of fate, of how serendipity prompts new paths. Leo Tolstoy gives us vibrant personalities, sad narratives, joyful reunions, passionate love, unknown destinies. Although I am but a beginner in understanding Russian literature (thanks for being a great teacher, Elisabeth) I am filled with awe at the multidimensional nature of the storyline. I look forward to all of your posts!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Roger, for your appreciating words. This is meant as a reference post to be found on Google, but I’m glad to hear it was fun to read as well.
    Sometimes Tolstoy can’t help disapproving of his characters, although Oblonsky is a highly likeable person, your father must have been good company!
    Tolstoy was probably much more eccentric than Levin! And yes, Nikolay’s character was based on one of his brothers’.
    The pensieve was invented by J.K.Rowling:-)

    Like

  4. That’s good to hear, Rebecca. I love the way you describe Russian literature. Yes, it’s complex, but so is life, and Russian literature really is life. It’s interesting how you say that that is mirrored in the names. I was thinking while I wrote this post that Russian makes it easy to make nuances when referring to a character. Kitty can be Kitty, as we know her; Katya, as Levin likes to call her; the young Princess, as society sees her; or formally as Ekaterina Alexandrovna.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. What a lovely idea – I wish I’d had this to hand when I read it. I only came to the book later in life and I think my responses would have been very different when I was younger. Nowadays I have a sneaking sympathy for Karenin and a dislike of Vronsky….

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you, Karen. Yes, you’re right, reading Anna Karenina through the years your response to the novel changes. I first read it almost 30 years ago, and I like Vronsky a lot more then than now. Goes to show how clever Tolstoy was!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great post, This summary of characters is very useful, given as you say that there are too many characters in Russian novels …. and that they have difficult names. Also, I have noticed that at times they are called the same way (sort of Nicknames redundancy, maybe!?…). I haven´t read Anna Karenina. But I know it is one of the best books when it comes to Russian Literature. Is there any movie or series based on this novel?…
    Love & best wishes, dear Elisabeth. Merry Christmas to you! 🤶💕♨️

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I got it now 😊 Yes, dear, there is a movie with the wonderful Keira Knightly, it’s a bit strange, though, but beautifully made.
    The other problem with the names is that up to today Russians use only a small number of names, so they’re all called Tatiana, Nikolay, Dmitri, Katarina… they’re a traditional lot in that sense.
    Thanks for stopping by and once more, happy holidays to you and yours! 💕❄️🎄

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I´ll look for the movie… ((Hope to find it on Netflix)… I got you as to Russian names: it definitely makes sense!. Hugs and happy holidays, dear Elisabeth. All the best to you 😀 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The edition I’m reading (almost finished now..) has a brief summary of main characters, but this is much more comprehensive and useful! I owned my copy for years before I finally decided to open it up and read it because I thought the names would make the whole thing too difficult to follow the story, but it turned out ok. I just had to read slowly over the names to figure out the pronunciation and commit them to memory. Speaking of which, “Lvov” and “Tverskoy” were two of the names I couldn’t figure out. How would you pronounce those?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Oh good that you persisted! You pronounce “Lvov” by putting a tiny ‘e’ between the L and the V, so it’s more like ‘Levov’ pronounced so the the O is longer than the E, if that makes sense. You can do the same with the T and V from “Tverskoy”.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Have you read Viv Groskop’s very engaging book The Anna Karenina Fix? I really enjoyed it, although I am by no means an expert on Russian literature like you are, so perhaps you don’t need to pick it up. Anyway, a combination of that book and your blog is suggesting to me that I really need to spend much more time with these brilliant works – I may well start with AK in the new year…! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. It is a great assistance you provided for the readers. All the pompous names are difficult to follow up. Confession. I have finished The Brothers Karamazov and even War and Peace, but I quit Anna Karenina after Part 7. I liked the book, but I thought that it was enough. I felt drained. Realism is a “heavy” genre.
    Have a wonderful Christmas and a happy, fulfilling New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hey Liz, no I haven’t read The Anna Karenina Fix yet, heard a lot about it though, so I’m curious about it. Thanks for recommending it.
    I wish you an inspired 2018, Liz! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Thank you, Inese, with this blog I try to make Russian literature more accessible, because as you say, it can be a bit heavy. I understand how you felt about Anna Karenina.
    Wishing you a wonderful Christmas and a beautiful, happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Anna Karenina is such a great read and once you get into the story, you figure out who is who, but you are right, in the beginning it can be confusing! It’s a bit like some Latin American stories (Garcia Marquez!). So nice of you to have made this list because this is a great book for those who are just starting to explore Russian literature.
    Have a good New Year’s Eve celebration and looking forward to many more discussions in 2018!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Thanks for stopping by, Leticia. I hope that this post will be of use to readers.
    I certainly look forward to discussing with you in 2018 and I wish you a wonderful New Year’s Eve!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Actually, I can read Russian. However for foreigners it is too hard to understand Russian life, traditions, culture and numerous small everyday things around that. It takes time to penetrate in their mind and let them to understand all that stuff. Your efforts make it easy to achieve this.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. He’s a good man with his heart in the right place for the one person he cares about, but he’s got an extensive criminal record and works in the black market. In short, he’s got many layers to him.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. This is one I hear about time and again! I will have to read it one day, dear Elisabeth 🙂 Thanks for helping readers make the most of the story by outlining the characters so well here.

    Liked by 2 people

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