Before we begin, a brief word about Russian names: all Russian names come with a patronymic, or father's name, in the middle. For example, Oblonsky's full name is Prince Stepan Arkadyich Oblonsky, which means that his given name is Stepan (or Stephen), his father's name was Arkady (hence, Arkady-ich), and Oblonsky is his family name.
Similarly, Anna Karenina's full name is Anna Arkadyevna Karenina. Anna is her given name, her father's name is Arkady (so, Arkady-evna; which makes sense, since she and Oblonsky are siblings) and Karenina is her married last name, with an "a" attached because she is a woman. Complex, we know, but sometimes in the novel you might see characters using both the first name and patronymic, and we wanted to get our explanation out there before things get too confusing.]
- We start with the famous first line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This, along with Moby-Dick's "Call me Ishmael" and Pride and Prejudice's "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife," is among the best-known first lines of any literature.
- Everything is a mess in the Oblonsky household: Stephen Arkadyevich (a.k.a. Oblonsky, a.k.a. Stiva to his friends) has been having an affair with a French governess, and the novel opens with his wife having just found out about it.
- His wife, Dolly, is seriously unhappy, and the entire household is a mess.
- The third day after the news breaks, Oblonsky wakes up in his study, which we're guessing is currently doubling as the proverbial doghouse.
- He's just had a great dream, but then he remembers why he's not sleeping in his own room.
- He flashes back to the day his wife Dolly discovered the incriminating note, and questioned him about his relationship with the governess. His reaction? He just smiled stupidly.
- Dolly has refused to see him ever since. Oblonsky has no idea what to do next.