Anna Karenina Part 1, Chapters 1-6
The first line of the book is one of the most famous in literature: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Part 1, Chapter 1, pg. 1
The line leads into a household crisis between a wife and husband, Dolly and Stiva, but also forecasts the issues that will arise throughout the rest of the book, all of them having to do with personal relationships and family structures: especially those of Stiva and Dolly, Anna and Karenin, and Anna and Count Vronsky.
Stiva's habits are described in detail. To avoid arguing with Dolly about an affair he had with another woman, Stiva tries to distract himself by plunging into his work. He reads a liberal newspaper and comes off as a bit of a rogue (Tolstoy himself was a conservative). Stiva follows the liberal tradition, which denounces religion and marriage as cheap institutions. When a widow drops by to ask Stiva's help with a petition she's submitting to the government, Stiva helps her--not because he actually cares about the woman or her cause, but because he wants her to think well of him.
We find out about Stiva's history: he was lazy in school but nevertheless used his connections to achieve a distinguished government career. Stiva represents the worst aspects of the social world, since he hasn't earned his way through life.
On his way out of the house, Stiva almost forgets to apologize to Dolly. When he does so, she becomes furious with him, humiliated by his pity. She realizes she wants his love but can never have it. It is important to note here that Dolly and Stiva are the product of an arranged, "French," marriage, in which romance was not a major element.
Their marriage, modeled on those of 18th and 19th century France, was arranged to augment the families' social status. Russian nobility during this time often modeled their behavior after the French, who, they thought, lived a more stylish lifestyle.
A man named Konstantin Levin arrives to see Stiva. This is the first appearance of one of the book's protagonists. It is easy to notice the contrast between Levin and Stiva. Stiva is the height of sophistication, and Levin seems blue-collar by comparison; it is the difference between city life and country life that stands out. Levin is shown to have a better background, purer values and a more positive attitude toward marriage than Stiva.