Part One, Chapters 18–34
It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile.
Vronsky waits for his mother at the train station. Before she appears, Vronsky sees a woman with gentle, shining gray eyes whose face becomes animated at the sight of him. This is Anna Karenina, whom Stiva has come to the station to meet. Anna and Vronsky briefly exchange glances. Vronsky’s mother appears and introduces Vronsky to Anna. As they are leaving the station, a worker is run over by a train and killed—whether it is suicide or an accident is unclear. Anna gloomily views the death as a bad omen.
Stiva takes Anna to his home, where Dolly, devastated by grief over her husband’s adultery, wishes to see no one. But Anna, having heard about the betrayal, insists on seeing Dolly and meets her warmly and compassionately. She does not attempt to console Dolly but is deeply sympathetic. She tells Dolly that Stiva is suffering and that he is capable of total repentance. Dolly feels much better.
Later that day, Kitty arrives at the Oblonsky residence, and Anna receives her warmly. Anna hears about Kitty’s interest in Vronsky, and says she met Vronsky at the station and liked him. At teatime, Dolly emerges from her rooms, and Kitty and Anna understand that Dolly and Stiva have been reconciled. They discuss the upcoming ball, and Kitty urges Anna to wear a lilac-colored dress. Later, Vronsky stops by the Oblonsky household and seems ashamed when he sees Anna.
At the ball held not long afterward, Vronsky dances the first dance with Kitty, who looks radiant. Anna appears, dressed not in lilac but in black, which Kitty immediately realizes is Anna’s best color. Kitty is puzzled by Anna’s refusal to respond when Vronsky bows to her. Kitty dances many waltzes with Vronsky but later finds Anna and Vronsky dancing together. Anna looks elated and triumphant. For the final mazurka, Kitty turns away her suitors, expecting Vronsky to ask her to dance. She is stunned to see that Vronsky has spurned her to dance the last dance with Anna.
Meanwhile, Levin gloomily reflects on his life after Kitty’s rejection. He decides to pay a visit to his brother Nikolai. Upon arriving, Levin finds his sickly brother much thinner than he remembered. Nikolai introduces Levin to his companion, Marya Nikolaevna, whom he saved from a whorehouse. Over dinner, Nikolai speaks at length about his socialist views. Marya privately tells Levin that Nikolai drinks too much. Levin leaves, having made Mary promise to write to him in case of need. Levin returns to his country estate, grateful for the blessings of his peaceful existence.
At the Oblonskys’, Anna and Dolly dine together by themselves. Anna is unwell, and Kitty sends word that she has a headache. Anna expresses her amazement at having danced with Vronsky. She is confident that Vronsky will still pursue Kitty, but Dolly is not so sure. Anna leaves for St. Petersburg, relieved to escape Vronsky. On the train she is tormented by self-doubt, unsure of who she is. As the train pauses at a station, Anna glimpses Vronsky on the platform and feels a joyful pride. He has followed her from Moscow.
Arriving in St. Petersburg, Anna meets her husband, Karenin, at the station. Vronsky watches them together and can see that Anna does not love Karenin. Anna introduces the two men, and Vronsky asks if he may call at the Karenin home. At home, Anna’s son, Seryozha, runs up to greet her, and Anna feels a sudden pang of disappointment in her son. She speaks to her morally upright friend Lydia Ivanovna and feels secure that nothing scandalous has happened in her relations with Vronsky. Anna dismisses her anxieties.
While in St. Petersburg, Vronsky socializes with his colleague Petritsky, to whom he has lent his apartment, and Petritsky’s lady friend, Baroness Shilton. They lightheartedly chat before Vronsky leaves to make appearances at various places where he hopes to encounter Anna.
In his depiction of Anna’s appearance at the train station during her first meeting with Vronsky, Tolstoy emphasizes Anna’s spiritual rather than physical attributes. This method of characterizing her is important, for it reinforces the intellectual and philosophical aspect of this novel of ideas. While Anna and Vronsky are clearly attracted to each other, their mutual interest is more abstract than bodily, more about attractiveness of personality and manner than about sexual fantasy. Though Anna’s figure is ravishing, Vronsky is drawn primarily to her “gentle and tender” eyes. Her eyes are not a sultry brown or coquettish blue but rather a subtle gray, the same color as the eyes of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom—hardly a symbol of unbridled passion. (Although Tolstoy may also have had in mind Shakespeare’s writing, in which gray eyes represent the paragon of female beauty.) At the ball, Anna appears not in the archetypal red of a femme fatale but rather in a stunning but tasteful black dress. These clues tell us from the very beginning that although Tolstoy may harshly condemn adultery on an abstract level, he does not portray Anna as a passion-crazed vixen—as popular novels of the time often represented the straying wife.
Anna’s appearance also reinforces the importance of family life in the novel. Anna is not a vamp who thwarts old-fashioned Russian family values or shows hostility to domestic harmony. On the contrary, her initial appearance in Moscow—and in the novel—is prompted by her desire to see a family stay together. Anna’s mission to reconcile her brother and his wife is successful; she brings a couple on the verge of separation back together. Anna is also naturally motherly: in her conversations with Dolly’s children, she shows that she is aware of their individual personalities almost as much as their own mother is. Moreover, Anna is clearly devoted to her own eight-year-old son, Seryozha, from whom she is apart for the first time in his life when she goes to Moscow. Even more important, Anna has no bone to pick with society’s expectations of propriety. She does not willfully flout public norms of behavior. When she finds herself dancing with Vronsky, she is startled by her own actions.
The parallel structure of Anna’s and Levin’s story lines—one of Tolstoy’s strokes of genius in composing Anna Karenina—allows us to make subtle and continuous comparisons and contrasts between the two characters and their fates. On the most obvious level, their stories begin on very different notes: Anna finds love with Vronsky just at the moment when Levin loses love with Kitty. Anna’s decision to act on her feelings brings her thrills and excitement, whereas Levin’s decision brings him dejection and depression. These contrasts, however, only point out how similar the two characters are. Both Anna and Levin seek truth in their personal relationships, unwilling to settle for anything less. Anna discovers that she would prefer to suffer with her true love rather than continue to lead a life of lies and deceit with a man she does not love deeply. Anna’s unconventional actions are prompted by a desire not for rebellion for its own sake but for absolute sincerity in her emotional life. Similarly, Levin, after Kitty’s rebuff, does not go after the next girl on his list but resigns himself to eternal bachelorhood and withdraws to the country. Like Anna, Levin wants all or nothing in love.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!