Oprah's E-mails About Anna Karenina
Liza Knapp responds: "You're right—the title is misleading. Usually a novel named after a main character will focus on that one character. Take David Copperfield, for example. Dickens introduces us to a number of different characters, but David is what holds the novel together. Because he is also the narrator, the "I" who tells the story, we get a heavy dose of him. One explanation for the title may be that Tolstoy intended for the novel to focus more narrowly on Anna. His drafts show him starting out with Anna's plot and adding others' later.
"In the case of Anna Karenina, the multiple plotlines and the title are in conflict. We're left with the question of what Levin's life has to do with Anna's. And what does farming have to do with adultery? Plenty of readers and critics have wondered why Tolstoy bothered to intertwine the two plots at all. Do they really belong together? Some have even suggested that Tolstoy was so self-absorbed that he simply couldn't keep the focus on Anna and her loves and kept reverting back to his own life story, which he fictionalized in the Levin sections of the novel.
"Thanks to the multiple plotlines, we see various characters responding—directly and indirectly—to Anna. Dolly, at one point, has to ask whether Anna is to blame for wanting to live and whether she herself would have done otherwise. Is she any better than Anna or just luckier because circumstances never tempted her in this way? The same might be asked of Kitty. By telling Anna's story alongside her brother's, Tolstoy forces us to ask all sorts of baffling questions about why Anna suffers so for falling in love with Vronsky, whereas the serial adulterer Stiva seems to get off scot-free.
"Perhaps one function of this title is to remind us of Anna, even when everyone else seems to forget about her. As the novel progresses, Anna is often absent, not only from the action, but from the minds and hearts of many of those who should love her..."