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Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

Part Seven, Chapters 17–31

Part Seven, Chapters 1–16

Part Eight

Summary

“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. But if you don’t love me, it would be better and more honest to say so.”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

The Oblonskys’ finances worsen, and Dolly demands control over her portion of their fortune. The family does not have enough money to pay the bills. Stiva resolves to get a cushy appointment on a railroad commission. He goes to St. Petersburg to speaks to Karenin about the job, as well as about his sister, Anna. Karenin claims that Anna’s life no longer interests him but promises to give Stiva a definitive answer about the divorce the next day. On his way out, Stiva meets Seryozha, who is now an older schoolboy who claims not to remember his mother. Stiva then visits Betsy Tverskaya and talks to the freethinking Princess Miagky. The latter calls Karenin stupid, saying he has become a follower of a famous French psychic named Landau.

Stiva visits Lydia Ivanovna and meets Karenin and Landau. Stiva tries to talk about Anna, but Lydia will talk only of religion. They discuss theology at length. Lydia believes that man is saved by faith alone—not, as Stiva believes, through good deeds. When Lydia reads aloud from a religious tract, Stiva and Landau fall into a slumber. Stiva awakens to hear Landau—who is allegedly talking in his sleep—tell an unidentified woman to leave the room. The next day, Karenin informs Stiva that he has decided, based on Landau’s dream speech, to refuse Anna’s request for a divorce.

Anna and Vronsky continue to reside in Moscow, though their relationship is tense and unhappy. Anna is deeply jealous and paranoid, feeling that Vronsky no longer loves her and making unfounded assertions that he must be involved with another woman. Anna knows she is being unfair but cannot control her emotions. She and Vronsky argue about women’s rights and women’s education, which he dismisses. Vronsky tries to hide Stiva’s telegram informing him that Karenin will not grant a divorce, but Anna demands to know Karenin’s decision and says she accepts it.

Anna decides that she and Vronsky must go to the country immediately. Vronsky agrees to go but says he must finish some business with his mother first. Anna demands that he go now or not at all, and she even slights Vronsky’s mother. Vronsky asks Anna to respect his mother, but Anna criticizes the whole idea of respect, calling it a replacement for love. Anna becomes more miserable, and Vronsky’s attempts to appease her fail. For the first time ever, they quarrel for an entire day. Anna is convinced their relationship is over, and she falls into despair. Vronsky departs to visit his mother.

After Vronsky leaves for the train station, Anna regrets her unfair treatment of him and sends an apologetic note asking to speak to him. She reflects that she wants only to live and that she knows they love each other deeply. Later, Anna sends Vronsky a telegram requesting he return immediately.

Restless, and not having received a response, Anna drives to Dolly’s to say farewell. Kitty hesitates to greet Anna but finally emerges and feels sympathy for her. Anna drives home, reflecting on the fact that all humans hate one another. She receives a curt telegram from Vronsky saying he cannot return before ten o’clock. Anna grows furious, interpreting the reply as a cold dismissal. She resolves to go meet Vronsky at the station.

“No, you’re going in vain. . . . You won’t get away from yourselves.”

(See Important Quotations Explained)

On the way, Anna reflects on the Moscow cityscape and on the fact that Vronsky’s love has faded. She thinks he feels only duty—not love—toward her. At the station, Anna feels disoriented, focusing on the fakeness of the people in the crowd and hardly knowing why she is there or what destination to request. She boards the train and despises the artificiality of her fellow passengers.

Stepping off the train as it stops at Obiralovka, Anna walks along the platform in a despairing daze, finally resolving to throw herself under an approaching train in order to punish Vronsky and be “rid of everybody and of herself.” A train approaches, and Anna impulsively throws herself under the wheels, begging God for forgiveness and feeling a pang of confusion and regret when it is too late. The candle of her life is extinguished.

Analysis

The surprising revelation that Karenin—seemingly the most rational of people—is under the sway of a French psychic forces us to reassess his character. His slide from a responsible and powerful government minister to a lonely and confused man with a stalled career proceeds with startling rapidity. We see the extent of Karenin’s fall in the ridiculous scene in which he goes to sleep under Landau’s influence. The very man who epitomizes rationalism and normalcy early in the novel is now guided by the flighty comments of a man who is likely a complete scam. Tolstoy highlights the French nationality of the psychic and has him deliver his odd prophecies in French (even within the original Russian text)—gestures that poke fun at the French cultural tradition, which prides itself on being rational. Tolstoy suggests that an excessive cult of reason in any culture may be just as misguided as the most outrageous occultism. Both extremes are opposed to the grounded experience of life from which Levin learns. Levin devotes himself simply to his wish to live life, rather than to visionary or mathematical theories of existence. Consequently, Tolstoy implies, Levin succeeds where others produce empty phrases and—like Karenin in the end—lead empty lives.

Tolstoy’s brilliance as a literary psychologist is evident in the last and biggest of the quarrels that plague Anna and Vronsky’s relationship. In literal terms, Anna’s anger makes no sense. Vronsky has shown himself to be agreeably flexible in assenting to Anna’s travel plans, only requesting that they leave a bit later so he can finish some transactions for his mother. Anna explodes in response to this seemingly reasonable request. Her outburst is not logical but suggests something deeper happening in her psyche. Anna’s fury at Vronsky’s mother and her resentment at his request that she “respect” Countess Vronsky stem from Anna’s criticism of the very notion of respect. She makes this criticism explicit when she says that respect is a poor substitute for love. It is likely that Anna briefly identifies with the Countess as a recipient of Vronsky’s dutiful respect rather than his passionate love. What Anna fears more than anything is what she abhorred in Karenin—that Vronsky feels duty toward her but nothing more.

Anna’s death scene is justifiably considered one of the greatest of Tolstoy’s achievements in the novel, and in Russian literature as a whole. Her suicide is not merely the end of her life but also its summation: she acts independently and alone, and she seeks to escape the falsity of the people around her, just as she did in life. Yet Anna is not a diva in death, any more than she was in life. She does not pity herself or appeal to the sympathy of the crowd; she does not care about what other people think of her. Anna does not fancy herself superior to anyone but rather includes herself in the group of people that she wishes to get rid of—she escapes not just the world but Anna Karenina as well. Tolstoy’s portrayal of Anna’s final minutes is filled not with the wrath and vengeance that the novel’s epigraph foretells but rather with great tenderness. His description of Anna’s life as a candle being illuminated and then snuffed out forever equates her life with light and truth. Tolstoy pays a quiet tribute to this character of whom he disapproves but whom he loves nonetheless.

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