In Moscow, Levin and Kitty await the birth of their child. Kitty notes how anxious and wary Levin is in the city compared to the countryside. He dislikes the men’s club and its attendant socializing but has few other ways to pass the time. In her condition, Kitty rarely goes out. On one occasion, however, she does leave the house and encounters Vronsky, whom she addresses calmly, pleased at her ability to master her former romantic feelings for him.
Levin is uncomfortably aware of the expenses of city life, noting that the cost of his city servants’ uniforms could pay for two summer workers on his farm. He meets the scholars Katavasov and Metrov and discusses his book on Russian agriculture with them. Metrov is agreeable but understands agricultural issues solely in terms of capital and wages, ignoring the cultural factors that are central to Levin’s thinking. Levin concludes that intellectual advancement can come only from each scholar following his own ideas to the end. He leaves to visit Lvov, the diplomat husband of Kitty’s sister Natalie. Lvov complains about the studying required to keep up with his children’s education, which he supervises.
Levin then goes to a concert and hears an orchestral piece based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. Levin dislikes the piece’s random connection of disparate moods, and the audience’s enthusiastic applause perplexes him. Later, at a reception, Levin discusses a recently concluded trial and finds himself repeating words that he heard someone else say the day before. Then Levin goes to the club, where he enjoys lewd and drunken conversation with Stiva, Vronsky, and others, laughing so loudly that others turn to look. Levin decides he likes Vronsky. Stiva asks Levin whether he likes the gentlemen’s club—their “temple of idleness”—and notes how lazy some of the members are. Levin gambles and loses forty rubles. Stiva suddenly proposes a surprise visit to Anna, whom Levin has never met. Levin agrees. Stiva explains Anna’s loneliness in Moscow, saying that she passes her time writing a children’s book and assisting in the education of the daughter of an impoverished English family.
Stiva and Levin reach Anna’s home, where Levin immediately notices Mikhailov’s portrait of her. Anna delights Levin with her sincerity, beauty, and intelligence. The two discuss a variety of topics in an easy and familiar way, and Levin is amazed by Anna’s grace and facility in conversation. Levin asks why Anna supports the English girl but not Russian schoolchildren. Anna replies that she only loves this particular girl, and love is paramount. On parting, Anna tells Levin that she does not wish Kitty to forgive her, for forgiveness would be possible only if Kitty were to live through the same nightmare Anna has experienced. Levin blushes and agrees to tell Kitty.
Levin returns home, aware of his fascination with and attraction to Anna. He tells Kitty he has met Anna, and Kitty jealously provokes a quarrel. Meanwhile, Anna, alone, wonders why Vronsky is colder to her than Levin. When Vronsky returns, she chastises him for preferring his male friends to her. Vronsky notes the clear hostility in her tone. Anna speaks vaguely and ominously about a disaster she is nearing and about her fear of herself.
Surprising even himself, Levin grows accustomed to his expensive and superficial city life. One night, Kitty awakens him with news that her labor has begun. Levin is dazed, aware only of her suffering and the need to alleviate it. He picks up the doctor, frustrated by delays. During the long labor, Levin becomes convinced that Kitty will die during childbirth. When the doctor announces that the birth has taken place, Levin can hardly believe he has a son. Kitty is fine, but the sight of the red, shrieking infant makes Levin feel a bizarre mix of pity and revulsion.