Views & Reviews Medical Classics

Anna Karenina

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 07 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5416
  1. Mursheda Mahbub Chowdhury, associate specialist in palliative medicine, St Michael’s Hospice, St Leonard’s-on-Sea, East Sussex
  1. mchowdhury{at}

Most people are vaguely familiar with this sweeping novel as the tragic tale of a doomed love affair. However, this is just one story in the book. Other storylines are interweaved, portraying all of life—birth, childhood, love, marriage, illness, and death. Tolstoy was a contemporary of Dickens but his style is very different. There are no caricatures here: people are portrayed as flawed, fallible creatures with shades of good and bad within them and with a realism that is disarming.

As a palliative care doctor, one chapter in particular resonated with me, in which Tolstoy depicts a character’s death from tuberculosis. In the 19th century, …

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