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Anna travels to Moscow from Petersburg (her home) by train to mediate between Dolly and Stiva Oblonsky. (The married couple is feuding after it has been discovered that Stiva has been engaged in an affair.)
On the train voyage, Anna meets a certain Count Vronsky, who is immediately smitten with her.
Once Anna arrives in Petersburg, she and Vronsky discover that a drunken train attendant has been crushed on the tracks. Vronsky offers the man's family some money to impress Anna.
During her visit, Anna manages to get Dolly to forgive Stiva for cheating on her.
At a ball in Petersburg, Anna sees Vronsky again. He is so taken with her that he does not ask Kitty Shcherbatsky to marry him (as everyone expects). Instead, he and Anna dance.
Vronsky follows Anna from Moscow to Petersburg, where he continues to pursue her.
Anna's husband, Karenin, begins to suspect that something is going on between her and Vronsky. Once he asks her if she has anything to confess about her feelings toward Vronsky, Anna becomes so angry that she dismisses her worries about starting an affair with Vronsky.
Anna and Vronsky begin their affair, which everybody in Petersburg knows about.
Anna exposes her feelings about Vronsky to Karenin when they both attend Vronsky's horse race and he (Vronsky) takes a dangerous fall. Anna's visible concern over Vronsky tips off Karenin, who accuses her of adultery as they return home together.
Anna confesses all to Karenin, who asks her to stay in their house in Moscow while he works out what to do.
Anna tells Vronsky that she's blurted out their affair to Karenin. She decides that she wants to leave Moscow, even though Karenin has refused her request for a divorce. The problem, however, is that she can't bring herself to give up her social position.
Anna goes to Petersburg, where Karenin tells her she may stay without fulfilling her wifely duties (i.e., sleeping with Karenin), as long as she never receives Vronsky or gives the servants anything to gossip about.
Anna decides instead to head to their country estate, where Vronsky is waiting to continue their affair.
Anna gets pregnant with Vronsky's child.
Karenin bumps into Vronsky in the front hallway of their country house, and becomes enraged. Karenin steals Vronsky's love letters to Anna and visits a lawyer in Moscow about getting a divorce.
Anna sends Karenin a note saying that she is deathly ill and wants him to visit her bedside. The illness is the result of giving birth to a little girl, Annie.
Even though Karenin finally offers Anna a divorce, she refuses it, and head to Europe with Vronsky on a rest cure for Anna.
Anna misses her son, Seryozha, on her European tour, and returns to Petersburg expressly to see him. However, she is too ashamed to approach Karenin directly, so she asks his associate, Countess Lydia, to arrange a meeting. Countess Lydia refuses the meeting.
Anna goes to see Seryozha secretly anyway, but cannot stay because she's afraid of seeing Karenin.
Anna blames Vronsky for taking her away from her son. She resents the fact that he can move freely and openly in society while she is a social outcast.
Vronsky and Anna head to the countryside. Their trip to Petersburg has been disastrous for their relationship.
While Dolly is staying at her brother-in-law Levin's country estate, she calls on Vronsky and Anna to see how Anna is doing. Vronsky asks Dolly to talk to Anna about getting a divorce from Karenin, but Anna wonders what the point would be. After all, she is not going to have any children, so she doesn't have to worry about illegitimacy. Her choice to have no more children upsets Dolly, who is glad to leave.
Anna is convinced that Vronsky is growing tired of her, so she finally writes to Karenin to ask for a divorce, as Vronsky has been asking.
While they're waiting on word for the divorce, Anna and Vronsky relocate to Moscow to live as a married couple (even though they are not).
Anna meets Levin while he and Kitty are staying in Moscow, and he immediately falls for her. She wonders why she can make decent guys like Levin go for her, but she can't seem to keep Vronsky.
Anna gets clingier and more neurotic by the day, which turns off Vronsky. Vronsky chooses to hang out with his friends instead of coming home in an attempt to test his freedom from Anna.
After several missed notes and evenings alone, Anna becomes so paranoid that she resolves to go and see Vronsky, who has retreated to the countryside to get away from her.
At the train station, Anna is so caught up in loathing for life that she decides to kill herself.
On the train tracks, waiting for the oncoming train, she begs for forgiveness from God. All of the darkness of her recent life appears for a moment illuminated, before she is killed.