Explore the best Anna Karenina quotes by Leo Tolstoy in order to reflect on their timeless wisdom and the profound themes, particularly of love and family, that they evoke.

If you’ve already read the 19th-century Russian classic romance novel, then you know that, unlike the title suggests, it’s not just about the protagonist and her tragic love affair. While this Winter-themed novel progresses into an exploration of themes like society and class, Russian politics, and morality, it remains, essentially, a tale of family and love, told through the eyes of several characters.

From the famous opening line, Tolstoy references the unique unhappiness each family may experience and, wrapped up in this, are societal notions of love and marriage at the time and place of Anna Karenina:

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Read More: Most Famous Opening Lines in Literature

Over the course of 800+ pages, the reader learns exactly how love and family make for happiness or, more commonly, unhappiness. (I’ve heard people say the book can be described in one sentence as “Russian people making each other unhappy.”)

The families in the novel share common ideals of love and happiness, but each of the characters takes a unique path of unhappiness in striving to achieve it.

The saga begins as an unhappily married Anna Karenina meets a wealthy military officer named Count Vronsky at a train station, where a drunken guard is killed by a train. How’s that for an ominous “meet cute”?!

The train scene is also symbolic of Russia’s transition into a more industrial, capitalist system, and Anna’s transportation from an unhappy marriage to Alexei Karenin, a St. Petersburg statesman, to a passionate love affair with Vronsky. (The symbolism doesn’t end there: As you may know, late in the novel, the train plays another pivotal role in Anna’s life, not to go unnoticed, but also not to be spoiled here.)

Besides these characters, love and family are also explored primarily through the parallel storyline of Levin, a philosophical countryside landowner in love with the young and kind-hearted Kitty, as well as Stiva (Anna’s unfaithful brother) and his loyal wife, Dolly (Kitty’s older sister).

With that as a backdrop, this post shares all the best Anna Karenina quotes on these main themes of love and family.

While Anna Karenina is by no means a joyous novel, I know many people look for quotes that are more inspirational in nature, so I focused on sharing those types of literary love quotes here (the kind that can be used in real life for things like wedding ceremony scripts), as well as quotes that were realistic in what they conveyed, but not sorrowful in their tone.

Anna Karenina is known for its exquisite language that has stood the test of time, so I want to celebrate the types of words that were so beautiful I felt compelled me to break out my highlighter (which doesn’t often happen), even if these little sparks of joy in the novel were fleeting.

Then, I’ll share a few tips for reading Anna Karenina, based on the questions I’m often asked about it by readers.

Best Anna Karenina Quotes

Anna Karenina Opening Line

What is the famous line from Anna Karenina?

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

the opening line of anna karenina by leo tolstoy: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Anna Karenina Love Quotes

“[I]f it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.”

“He stepped down, avoiding any long look at her as one avoids long looks at the sun, but seeing her as one sees the sun, without looking.”

“He knew only that he had told her the truth, that he was going where she was, that the whole happiness of life, the sole meaning of life, he had now found in seeing and hearing her.”

“What is so exquisite is that not a word has been said by me or by her, but we understand each other so well in this unseen language of looks and tones, that this evening more clearly than ever she told me she loves me.”

“There were no other eyes like those in the world. There was only one creature in the world who could concentrate for him all the brightness and meaning of life. It was she.”

“Perhaps I am mistaken, but believe me, what I say, I say as much for myself as for you. I am your husband, and I love you.”

“But the law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable.”

“But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her.”

“It’s not so much that he can’t fall in love, but he has not the weakness necessary.”

“He suddenly felt that the very thing that was the source of his sufferings had become the source of his spiritual joy; that what had seemed insoluble while he was judging, blaming, and hating, had become clear and simple when he forgave and loved.”

“You can’t ask Why about love!”

“[W]ithout this love there is no happiness or unhappiness for us — there is no life.”

“[T]o find out what love is really like, one must first make a mistake and then put it right.”

“He felt that love saved him from despair, and that this love, under the threat of despair, had become still stronger and purer.”

“And then all at once love turns up, and you’re done for, done for.”

“Love. The reason I dislike that word is that it means too much for me, far more than you can understand.”

“Through love she knew all his soul, and in his soul she saw what she wanted, and that such a state of soul should be called unbelieving was to her a matter of no account.”

“It’s hard to love a woman and do anything.”

“Every heart has its own skeletons.”

“And where love ends, hate begins.”

“[T]he passion that united them was so intense that they were both oblivious of everything else but their love.”

“I’ve enough pride never to let myself love a man who does not love me.”

“Energy rests upon love; and come as it will, there’s no forcing it.”

“I’ve always loved you, and when you love someone, you love the whole person, just as he or she is, and not as you would like them to be.”

“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be.”


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Anna Karenina Family Quotes

“Strange as it may appear, it was with the household, the family, that Konstantin Levin was in love[.]”

“Marriage had never presented itself to [Vronsky] as a possibility. He not only disliked family life, but a family, and especially a husband was, in accordance with the views general in the bachelor world in which he lived, conceived as something alien, repellant, and, above all, ridiculous.”

“In order to carry through any undertaking in family life, there must necessarily be either complete division between the husband and wife, or loving agreement.”

“[Levin] was happy; but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he had imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little boat. He saw that it was not all sitting still, floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for an instant to forget where one was floating; and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only to look at it that was easy; but that doing it, though very delightful, was very difficult.”


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Anna Karenina Reading Tips

Anna Karenina is probably the book I’m asked the most questions about reading. So, if you have not yet, read or finished reading Anna Karenina, here are a few reading tips for this 800+ page classic:

Read a great translation.

Anna Karenina was originally written in Russian, so it helps to have a good translation of it. I really liked the version I read, which was the version picked for Oprah’s Book Club and won the PEN/Book of the Month Translation Prize.

Read a few pages at a time.

It took me four months to get through Anna Karenina, and there’s no shame in that. It’s a long and difficult novel, with parts that are particularly challenging. If you try to do too much at once, you may likely give up on this one.

Use a character chart.

My version had a chart in the beginning, which I referenced frequently. This is extremely helpful since the characters have very long names and are often referred to differently. I think it would be really hard to read this one on audio and/or without a chart.

Read alongside summaries and analyses.

Anna Karenina is made up of eight parts. At the end of each part, I read a summary and analyses on SparkNotes, which helped me make sure I didn’t miss or misunderstand anything, and it also provided important historical context.

Watch an adaptation.

I watched “the Keira Knightley version” after reading the book. It was very good, and it definitely helped set the scene. That said, it is NOT a substitute for the book. It focuses more on Anna’s storyline and, while it generally follows the storyline, much of the philosophy of the novel isn’t really captured the same way.

Read a modern re-telling.

A few years prior to reading Anna Karenina, I read Anna K by Jenny Lee, which I would describe as a modern Gossip Girl inspired re-telling set in New York with AAPI diversity. It made learning the storylines and characters easier (and more fun!). It’s an excellent way to start reading the classics.

Watch alongside Gilmore Girls.

Finally, I can’t help but mention Gilmore Girls, as Anna Karenina is said to be Rory Gilmore’s favorite book in Season 1, Episode 16. (No surprise, since the show is also uniquely one of love and family.) It’s also famously mentioned in Rory’s graduation speech (Season 3, Episode 22), in which she says she “rode a sad train with Anna Karenina” through her love of reading. Other references include Season 4, Episode 12 and Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Episode “Summer.”


Conclusion

Now that you have read all the best Anna Karenina quotes by Leo Tolstoy on love and family, do you agree with his overarching thesis that: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”?

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