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“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.”
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.