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Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, Chekhov’s Annas, and Anna Karenina in Film

Online Class in a New Blended Format: Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom

Fall 2017 – Semester One

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

General Description:
Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is truly a masterpiece, and his heroine perhaps the most vital and intensely romantic woman in Western literature. Tolstoy is profoundly concerned with the values of late 19th century Russian and Western 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. Our class will examine historical, social, philosophical, and literary concerns in Russia and Western Europe at the time: the women’s question; gender roles; social hypocrisy and constriction of individual self-expression and fulfillment; the role of art; the impact of the railroad, industrialization, and urbanization; the role of agriculture; the peasants in post-emancipation Russia; and the role of the family on the path to human happiness. Together we will explore how the theme that had deeply concerned Tolstoy — the function of moral responsibility – encompasses the whole action of Anna Karenina.

The discussions will include a close look at the simplicity and lucidity of Tolstoy’s writing. One of the devices he uses is the repetition of some details that characterize a particular person best. Tolstoy is a master of contrasts: we will compare not just episodes from Anna Karenina, but the formal life in St. Petersburg versus the more relaxed lifestyle in Moscow, as well life in the countryside versus city life. The central alternating contrast, of course, is the love story of Anna and Vronsky with that of Kitty and Levin.

“The Lady with a Little Dog” Illustration by Kukryniksy, 1940s

Two short stories about Annas – “The Lady with a Little Dog” and “Anna on the Neck” – are considered Chekhov’s riposte to Anna Karenina. Comparing the stories and the novel, the students will examine the universality and symbolism of Tolstoy’s Anna, as well as the differences between Chekhov’s realism and Tolstoy’s.

I will draw upon my Russian background to provide students with a unique opportunity to appreciate some of the pleasures of the original Russian versions of Anna Karenina and Chekhov’s stories 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, which Tolstoy used with great care, to discover that they may have different meanings and connotations.

The Scavenger Hunt:

Anna by Sokolov 1946

Anna (by Sokolov – 1946)

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. The students will discern some of Tolstoy’s links using a sort of textual scavenger-hunt exercise, finding in the text and connecting particular images, themes, events, and literary devices. The students will be assigned particular items, and they will look for multiple examples of these items as they read the novel. They will post their treasure finds on the Scavenger Hunt Discussion forum. During the last couple weeks, the students will search for possible patterns, links, and the overall design of the novel.

Film Adaptations:
Anna Karenina on-screen will become our special discussion topic and we will explore a variety of film adaptations of the novel, which could be considered a favorite in cinematography with over 20 adaptations. Paradoxically, a certain fatal sign is inscribed in the first Lumiere’s train, which became a symbol in motion for cinema, as well as for Tolstoy’s novel. Each student will watch a different Anna Karenina adaptation (see the list below), and will present it during the synchronous sessions. During the last class, we will talk about the art of film adaptations: what are their goals, and how do they interpret Tolstoy’s story? Two wonderful adaptations of Chekhov’s stories will be included in our analysis as well.

New Blended Class Format (Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom): This is a blended course. This means that we will meet synchronously through a live webinar using Electa software once a week for 11 weeks for an hour and a half. We will also meet online using Canvas learning management system, and participation in all online activities is required. Students will find that the synchronous and asynchronous components of the class are interdependent and integrated.

Synchronous Component: The first synchronous session will start the week of September 18. The last synchronous meeting will be the week of December 4 (no synchronous class on Thanksgiving week). Synchronous classes will consist of a short 15 to 20-minute lecture by the teacher, students’ presentations, and group discussions. The combination of lecture, presentations, and discussions is a format that should prepare teens for the college environment. The weekly synchronous sessions will be on Fridays at 9:30 am Central time on September 22 and 29; October 6, 13, 20, and 27; November 3, 10, and 17; December 1 and 8.

Asynchronous Component: Online participation is required every week. A brief video orientation overview of the online classroom will be available at least a week before the class starts. The classroom will include an Announcements area used for weekly updates, the Discussion area, the Course Materials area, the Syllabus area, and the Assignment area. Students will post their weekly short reflection paragraphs on the Weekly Discussion forum, which will be opened on Friday before a new week begins, and ask questions or comment on the responses of their classmates not later than 2 hours before each synchronous class. A good question is as valued as a comment. Also, students will post their scavenger hunt finds on the Scavenger Hunt Discussion forum not later than 2 hours before each synchronous class. There will be a general Q&A forum where questions about class requirements and assignments may be asked. Students are encouraged to participate actively on all forums and extra points will be awarded for helping others and building an online community. Students will use the Assignment area for posting their presentation slides and working on their final paper in December, and all the revisions should be finished not later than December 18.

Course Requirements/Amount of Outside Work/Contact Info: This is a college-level class, and as such it has a corresponding workload and expectations. The reading will be considerable – up to 150 pages per week. Students are expected to read the assigned selections in advance of each online discussion and be prepared to discuss actively what they have read during the synchronous session. The workload will include weekly supplemental reading (essays, criticism, history, poetry, and philosophy); watching films; weekly short written assignments and comments; and two PowerPoint presentations on relevant, individually researched topics. Students will also be expected to write and revise one analytical paper (5 to 9 pages long in the MLA format). The teacher will log on to the online classroom nearly every day. The Q&A discussion forum is generally the best place to ask most questions. The teacher will also be available for individual consultations through e-mail and Skype calls. Communication with students is important to me!

Prerequisites: Honors-level high school English classes or AP English Composition or Literature are prerequisites. Students are expected to have experience writing essays. While I will encourage students to develop their ideas and style and to improve their skills in writing about literature, the course is intended neither to be an introduction to English composition nor to literary analysis.  In the past, students with significant experience in analyzing literature and writing about it have been the most successful in these classes. I highly recommend to consult Reading and Writing about Literature: A Portable Guide by Janet E. Garner, which is a very good resource.

Registration Information: Please click here to register.

Level: College-level

Age/Maturity Level: 15+. We are going to read adult, college-level fiction. Russian fiction may contain sexual themes and episodes of disturbing violence not appropriate for younger readers. I feel strongly against having very young children present and want the teens to feel that our discussions are a place where they can express the most difficult and controversial ideas openly. At least one film adaptation is R-rated.

Evaluations and Transcripts: Written or voice evaluations will be provided for all writing assignments and presentations. The detailed Participation Rubric will be posted online under Course Materials area and under Syllabus to understand grading criteria and expectations. Grades will be posted in the online gradebook no later than the end of the week following the due date of the assignment. At the end of each semester, students will receive grades on the final paper and an end-of-the-course grade. Detailed course descriptions and student evaluations will be sent to the students; these can also be sent to colleges/universities upon request. Although the class is not officially accredited, the grades and evaluations have been appreciated by colleges and universities and quite useful to former students in the college application process.

Grades: Grades are based on a scale of 100 points and are distributed among major assignments as follows:

  • Active participation in online weekly discussion forums: 30 points
  • Active participation in the synchronous session discussion: 25 points
  • Presentations during the synchronous session: 15 points
  • Final analytical paper: 30 points
  • Helping others on the forums will give students extra points!

Grading scale: A: 90-100; B: 80-89; C: 70-79; D: 60-69, F: 59 or below

Estimated Cost: $289 per semester. You can sign up to take both semesters or take either the fall or winter semester separately. 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 can be easily found in the public libraries or in used bookstores.

Number of Students: Minimum 6 students, maximum 14 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 or headset is required for participation in live webinars. Headsets are strongly encouraged to reduce echo.

Syllabus Fall 2017

Week 1 Week of Sept 18-24 Anna Karenina, Part 1, Chapters 1 through 21, pp. 3 – 89
Week 2 Week of Sept 25-Oct 1 Anna Karenina, end of Part 1; Part 2, Chapters 1 through 11, pp. 89 – 172
Week 3 Week of Oct 2-8 Anna Karenina, end of Part 2, pp. 172 – 270
Week 4 Week of Oct 9-15 Anna Karenina, Part 3, pp. 271 – 403
Week 5 Week of Oct 16-22 Anna Karenina, Part 4, pp. 404 – 496
Week 6 Week of Oct 23-29 Anna Karenina, Part 5, pp. 497 – 624
Week 7 Week of Oct 30-Nov 5 Anna Karenina, Part 6, pp. 625 – 758
Week 8 Week of Nov 6-12 Anna Karenina, Part 7, pp. 759 – 868
Week 9 Week of Nov 13-26 Anna Karenina, Part 8, pp. 869 – 923
Week 10 Week of Nov 27-Dec 3   Chekhov’s “Anna on the Neck” and “Lady with a Little Dog”
Week 11 Week of Dec 4 – 11 Anna Karenina in Film: Discussion of Film Adaptations
Dec 11 The first draft of the essay is due
Dec 18 Final paper is due

The weekly synchronous sessions will be on Fridays at 9:30 am Central time on September 22 and 29; October 6, 13, 20, and 27; November 3, 10, and 17; December 1 and 8.

Text List (Required):
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).

Chekhov stories are available here:

Anna Karenina Film Adaptations:
Anna Karenina. Dir. Vladimir Gardin. Perf. Maria Germanova, Vladimir Shaternikov. Russkaia Zolotaia Seria, 1914

Love. Dir. Edmund Goulding. Perf. Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, and Brandon Hurst. MGM, 1927

Anna Karenina. Dir. Clarence Brown. Perf. Greta Garbo, Frederic March, and Basil Rathbone. MGM, 1935

Anna Karenina. Dir. Julien Duvivier. Perf. Vivien Leigh, Kieron Moore, and Ralph Richardson. London Film; Twentieth Century Fox, 1948

Anna Karenina. Dir. Rudolph Cartier. Perf. Claire Bloom, Sean Connery, and Marius Goring. BBC, 1961 (TV series)

Anna Karenina. Dir. Alexander Zarkhi. Perf. Tatiana Samoilova, Nikolai Gritzenko, and Vasily Lanovoy. Mosfilm, 1967

Anna Karenina. Dir. Margarita Pilikhina. Perf. Maya Plisetskaya, Alexander Godunov, and the Bolshoi Ballet, 1974 (ballet)

Anna Karenina. Dir. Simon Langton. Perf. Jacqueline Bisset, Christopher Reeve, and Paul Scofield. Colgems; Rastar, 1985 (TV series)

Hannah and Her Sisters. Dir. Woody Allen. Perf. Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest, and Michael Caine. MGM, 1986

Anna Karenina. Dir Bernard Rose. Perf. Sophie Marceau, Sean Bean, Alfred Molina, and James Fox. Icon Entertainment Intl.; Warner Brothers, 1997

Anna Karenina. Dir Joe Wright. Perf. Keira Knightley, Jude Law. Focus Features, 2012

Film Adaptations of Chekhov’s Stories:
Anyuta: A Ballet. Dir. Alexander Belinsky. Perf. Ekaterina Maximova and Vladimir Vasiliev. Vai DVD, 1982 (ballet)

The Lady with the Little Dog. Dir. Iosif Heifits. Perf. Iya Savvina and Alexei Batalov. Ruscico, 1960. (with English subtitles)