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Reading Groups

Characters, Acts, Situations: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina with Mike Levine

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8 Weekly Sessions via Zoom Tuesdays, 6:00 pm EDT - 7:30 pm EDT March 30 to May 18, 2021

The ‘With Book’ option includes a copy of Anna Karenina at a 15% discount.

Is Anna Karenina the greatest novel ever written? Like all the most interesting questions, this one is unanswerable, but that has not stopped many of the book’s readers from making the case. Tolstoy has few rivals when it comes to a feature shared by all great novels – an almost alchemical fusion of the particular and the universal. Along with Anna and her lover, Vronsky, and the couple whose relationship runs parallel to theirs, Levin and Kitty, all of Tolstoy’s characters are rendered in astonishing detail, yet we still see ourselves in them.

The novel’s panoramic scope seems to take in every corner of nineteenth-century Russian society, but the novel’s power arises from its profound investigation of what it means to be human. What is the nature of desire? What constitutes happiness? Above all, as both individuals and as members of a society, how do we weigh our obligations to others against our obligations to ourselves? Tolstoy writes as if there could be nothing about his characters and their world he does not know. At the same time, his novel is about, in his words, something to which words describing “characters, acts, situations” can only refer indirectly. Perhaps he brings us as close as any novelist has to life’s deepest mysteries. But mysteries they remain.

Reading Schedule
The novel is divided into eight parts, so we will discuss one each week. Please read Part One prior to the first session.


Led by

  • mike levine

    Mike Levine

    Mike Levine

    Mike Levine is an independent editor. He was previously an acquisitions editor at Northwestern University Press. Among the authors he published were Jen Beagin (Whiting Award winner), A. E. Stallings (National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, finalist), and Stephen Karam (Pulitzer Prize in Drama, finalist). He has also been a senior editor at the Great Books Foundation. Since 2000, he has taught literature and film seminars in several continuing education programs. He has a BA from Washington University in St. Louis and a PhD in English from Rice University.