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Fall 2014: Tolstoy’s Family Happiness and Anna Karenina

Anna by Sokolov (1946)

Anna by Sokolov (1946)

We will focus on close textual analysis of Family Happiness and Anna Karenina over a period of 10 meetings, supplemented by biographical, historical, and critical information related to the novels and introduced by the teacher and students at each meeting. The class will consist of several parts: the lecture by the teacher, student presentations, and the informal group discussion.[/caption]

Starting with Family Happiness, Tolstoy wrote this short novel in 1859 as he settled on his family estate at Yasnaya Polyana and began thinking about marriage and a family. Family Happiness contains admirable writing and Tolstoy’s shrewd observations, but it also possesses a certain awkwardness, for Tolstoy was at his best when he knew things intimately before he settled down to writing about them. Still, even this early work demonstrates how Tolstoy, as always, contrasts the idealizing poetry of his heroine in the first part with the sober reality of life after marriage, turning to the themes of uneasiness and guilt that will be further developed in Anna Karenina.

At raceTolstoy’s Anna Karenina is truly a masterpiece, and his heroine perhaps the most vital and intensely romantic woman in Western literature. Tolstoy is, above all, a stern moralist, profoundly concerned with the values of late 19th century Russian society as he struggles to discover what constitutes the good life and to understand why there is such a difference between the way we live and the way we ought to live. We will discuss the novel’s place in Tolstoy’s life and works and will examine historical, social, philosophical, and literary concerns in Russia at the time: the “women’s question,” gender roles, dysfunction in the family, social hypocrisy and constriction of individual self-expression and fulfillment, the impact of the railroad, industrialization, and urbanization, the role of agriculture in the Russian economy, the peasants in post-emancipation Russia, and especially the role of the family on the path to human happiness. Together we will examine how the theme that had deeply concerned Tolstoy in War and Peace — the function of moral responsibility – encompasses the whole action of Anna Karenina.

Mikhail Vrubel’s Illustration to “Anna Karenina” (1887)

Mikhail Vrubel’s Illustration to “Anna Karenina” (1887)

I will use my Russian background to offer the students a unique chance to appreciate some of the pleasures of the original Russian versions of Family Happiness and Anna Karenina that are inevitably lost in any translation. We will look closely, for example, at the semantics and pronunciation of the Russian names (frequently anglicized, jarring the Russian text) and their diminutives used by Tolstoy with great care to discover that they may have different meanings and connotations. Anna Karenina on-screen will become our special discussion topic and will allow us to explore a variety of film adaptations of the novel, which could be considered a favorite in cinematography with over 20 adaptations.

In a letter to a critic who failed to discern the novel’s architecture, Tolstoy wrote, “I’m proud of the architecture—the arches have been built in such a way that it is impossible to discover the keystone. That is what I most of all wished to achieve. The structural connection is not the plot or the relationship of the characters (friendship), but an inner link.” This link connects the opposing situations of Anna’s tragic experience with marriage and the relatively happy one of Kitty and Levin. The whole novel can be viewed as a labyrinth of linkages. We will go on a textual scavenger hunt to discover some of Tolstoy’s links, finding and connecting in the text particular images, themes, events, and literary devices.

Illustration by Alexander Alexeev

Illustration by Alexander Alexeev

Registration: The deadline is August 30, 2014. Use this link to register.

Level: College level

Class Time and Format: Classes for the fall/winter semester will begin in September 2014 and end in December 2014. The class will meet once a week for ten weeks on Wednesdays from 7 pm to 8:30 pm CT. Classes will consist of a 20 to 30 minute lecture, students’ presentations, and group discussion. The combination of lecture, presentations, and discussion is a format that should prepare teens for the college environment.

Age/Maturity Level: 13+ (mainly because of the content). We are going to read adult, college-level fiction. The texts we will read contain sexual themes and episodes of extreme violence. I feel strongly against having very young children present. I want the teens to feel that our discussions are a place where they can express the most difficult and controversial ideas openly.

Course Requirements and Workload: The amount of reading will be considerable – up to 150 pages per week. Students are expected to read the assigned works in advance of each session and be prepared to discuss what they have read. In addition, the workload will include the reading of supplemental texts from various fields (essays, criticism, history, poetry, and philosophy); writing short assignments for each class; and making one or two presentations. One analytical paper (3 to 5 pages long in the MLA format) is expected. As the class is discussion-based, students are expected to take an active part in all discussions. The teacher will be available for individual consultations through e-mail and phone calls.

Prerequisites: Students are expected to have experience writing essays. While I will encourage students to develop their ideas and style, the course is not an intended to be an introduction to English composition.

Evaluations: Written evaluations will be provided via email for all writing assignments and presentations. I will be evaluating papers, participation, and presentations with in-depth comments. I plan on giving grades on the paper and an end-of-the-course grade.

Weekly Written Assignments: 25%
Paper: 30%
Class Discussion: 30%
Presentations: 15%

Cost: $235.00. There will be 15% discount for the siblings taking the class. Payment is due before the first session. Payment will be accepted through PayPal. Both credit card payments and cash transfers are accepted at It is not necessary to have a Paypal account to pay with a credit card via 90% of class fees are refundable if a student withdraws before the official start of the semester. 50% of class fees are refundable during the first two sessions of the semester. After the second session, no refunds are given for any reason. You may decide to buy the books we are going to read. Most of the books and films can be easily found in the public libraries or in used bookstores.

Number of Students: Minimum 7 students, maximum 16 students.

Technical requirements: All students must have a PC or Macintosh with internet access and a supported browser to participate in courses. High-speed internet is strongly recommended. A microphone and headset is required for live webinars. Headsets are strongly encouraged to reduce echo.

Fall 2014 Syllabus for Tolstoy’s Family Happiness and Anna Karenina

Class 1 (Week of Sept 29) Family Happiness, pp. 1 – 82 in Great Short Works
Class 2 (Week of Oct 6) Anna Karenina, Part 1, Chapters 1 through 21, pp. 3 – 89
Class 3 (Week of Oct 13) Anna Karenina, end of Part 1; Part 2, Chapters 1 through 11, pp. 89 – 172
Class 4 (Week of Oct 20) Anna Karenina, end of Part 2, pp. 172 – 270
Class 5 (Week of Oct 27) Anna Karenina, Part 3, pp. 271 – 403
Class 6 (Week of Nov 3) Anna Karenina, Part 4, pp. 404 – 496
Class 7 (Week of Nov 10) Anna Karenina, Part 5, pp. 497 – 624
Class 8 (Week of Nov 17) Anna Karenina, Part 6, pp. 625 – 758
Class 9 (Week of Dec 1) Anna Karenina, Part 7, pp. 759 – 868
Class 10 (Week of Dec 8) Anna Karenina, Part 8, pp. 869 – 923; the first draft of the paper is due.

Text List (Required):

Great Short Works of Leo Tolstoy by Leo Tolstoy, Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2004 (ISBN-13: 978-0060586973).

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy translated by Constance Garnett; revised by Leonard J. Kent and Nina Berberova, The Modern Library Classics, 2000 (ISBN: 0-679-78330-X).


Anna Karenina directed by Vladimir Gardin (Russkaia Zolotaia Seria, 1914). Cast: Maria Germanova, Vladimir Shaternikov.

Love directed by Edmund Goulding (MGM, 1927). Cast: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, and Brandon Hurst.

Anna Karenina directed by Clarence Brown (MGM, 1935). Cast: Greta Garbo, Frederic March, and Basil Rathbone.

Anna Karenina directed by Julien Duvivier (London Film; Twentieth Century Fox, 1948). Cast: Vivien Leigh, Kieron Moore, and Ralph Richardson.

Anna Karenina directed by Rudolph Cartier (BBC television series, 1961) Cast: Claire Bloom, Sean Connery, and Marius Goring.

Anna Karenina directed by Alexander Zarkhi (Mosfilm, 1967). Cast: Tatiana Samoilova, Nikolai Gritzenko, and Vasily Lanovoy.

Anna Karenina directed by Margarita Pilikhina (ballet, 1974). Cast: Maya Plisetskaya, Alexander Godunov, and the Bolshoi Ballet.

Anna Karenina directed by Simon Langton (TV series, Colgems; Rastar, 1985). Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Christopher Reeve, and Paul Scofield.

Anna Karenina directed by Bernard Rose (Icon Entertainment Intl.; Warner Brothers, 1997). Cast: Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean, Alfred Molina, and James Fox.

Other Recommendations on Tolstoy and Anna Karenina:

Lectures on Russian Literature: Chekhov, Dostoevski, Gogol, Gorki, Tolstoy, Turgenev by Vladimir Nabokov, Harcourt Brace & Co, 1981

Understanding Tolstoy by Andrew D. Kaufman, The Ohio State University Press, 2011

Tolstoy by Pietro Citati, Schoken, 1986

Leo Tolstoy: Resident and Stranger by Richard Gustafson, Princeton University Press, 1986

Tolstoy’s Major Fiction by Edward Wasiolek, University of Chicago Press, 1978

Eikhenbaum on Tolstoi: The Young Tolstoi, Tolstoi in the 60s and Tolstoi in the 70s by Boris Eikhenbaum, Ardis, 2003

Anna Karenina in Our Time: Seeing More Wisely by Gary Saul Morson, Yale University Press, 2007

On Russian History, Culture and Literature: The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture by James H. Billington, Vintage Books, 1970

Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia by Orlando Figes, Metropolitan Books, 2002

The Magical Chorus: A History of Russian Culture from Tolstoy to Solzhenitsyn by Solomon Volkov, Knopf, 2008

Land of the Firebird by Suzanne Massie, Heart Tree Press, 1980

A History of Russian Thought from the Enlightenment to Marxism by Andrzei Walicki, Stanford University Press, 1979

Russian Thinkers by Isaiah Berlin, Penguins Books, 1978

Life on the Russian Country Estate: A Social and Cultural History by Priscilla Roosevelt, Yale University Press, 1995

A History of Russian Literature: From Its Beginning to 1900 by D. S. Mirsky, Northwestern University Press, 1999

A Window on Russia by Edmund Wilson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972

The Russian’s World: Life and Language by Genevra Gerhart, Slavica Pub, 3rd edition,

The Penguin Historical Atlas of Russia by John Channon and Rob Hudson, Viking, 1995

Common Places: Mythologies of Everyday Life in Russia by Svetlana Boym, Harvard University Press, Massachusetts, 1994 (The book has good information on “poshlost” and some Soviet realities as “communal apartments,” which will help for reading 20th century authors)

Biographies and Books about Tolstoy:

Tolstoy: A Russian Life by Rosamund Bartlett, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011

Tolstoy by Henri Troyat, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1967

Tolstoy by A. N. Wilson, Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1988

Song Without Words: The Photographs & Diaries of Countess Sophia Tolstoy by Leah Bendavid-Val, National Geographic, 2007

Gorky’s Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences by Maxim Gorky, Yale University Press, 2008

The Liberation of Tolstoy: A Tale of Two Writers by Ivan Bunin, Northwestern University Press, 2001