Levin’s half-brother, Sergei Koznyshev, takes a break from his intellectual work by visiting Levin at his country estate. Whereas Koznyshev sees the countryside as a place of leisure, Levin sees it as a place of hard labor. The brothers also have different attitudes toward the peasantry: Koznyshev is naïvely affectionate, whereas Levin has a close familiarity with the peasants that makes him occasionally critical. But if one were to ask Levin whether or not he loved the peasantry, he would be unable to answer.
On his walks with Levin in the country, Koznyshev waxes lyrical about the beauty of nature, while Levin prefers simply to look at his surroundings without comment. The men discuss the zemstvo board and the sad state of local affairs. Koznyshev wonders why nothing good comes from the money landowners pay to local bureaucrats, as there are no schools, doctors, or midwives to show for these payments. He chastises Levin for withdrawing from the zemstvo, where he might have exerted a positive impact. Levin asserts that such bureaucratic work was futile and frustrating for him. The next day, Levin works through his troubles by doing hard labor, mowing his fields alongside forty-two peasant men. The work exhilarates him, and he feels a higher force moving his scythe. Back home, Koznyshev hands Levin a letter from Dolly, in which she writes that she is at her nearby estate of Yergushovo.
Dolly has moved to the country to reduce household expenses, but she finds the hardships of rural life almost unbearable. Only with the help of the nanny, Matryona, is Dolly able to set up house decently. One day, Levin visits Dolly, who eagerly broaches the subject of Kitty. Levin reveals that he had proposed to Kitty and been refused. Contrary to Levin’s assumption, Dolly did not already know about his rejected proposal. Dolly affirms that Kitty is suffering even more than Levin. Dolly attempts to talk about the future of a relationship between Levin and Kitty, but Levin gets angry, saying that such possibilities are dead forever.
The next day, Levin inspects his hay reserves, finding that the peasants have been cheating him of a considerable portion of his income, although they all cheerfully deny his claim. Despite this annoyance, Levin feels that the countryside is where he belongs and that he is not destined to marry. But when he glimpses Kitty passing by him in a carriage one day, his love for her suddenly returns.
Karenin sticks to his routine doggedly after Anna’s revelation of her adultery, attempting to live as if nothing has changed. Inwardly, however, the pain he feels and represses leads him to curse Anna as a “depraved woman.” He also grows more distant and cold toward his son, Seryozha. Karenin recites to himself the long list of men whom women have ruined over the course of history, from ancient to modern times. He considers challenging Vronsky to a duel but rejects the idea out of fear of pistols. Karenin reasons that the best punishment for Anna is to keep her bound to him, unable to divorce. He writes a letter to her explaining this plan to her formally.
Anna is utterly surprised by Karenin’s decision, disappointed that the divorce for which she yearns will not come to pass. She is enraged at the prospect of prolonging her life of lies with Karenin. She writes a letter to him, telling him she is leaving the house and taking her son with her, but in the end she does not send the letter.
At a party at Betsy’s, Anna talks to some young members of the fashionable St. Petersburg set and is struck by how bored they are despite their merry lives. One of the party guests, Liza, asks how happy one can be lolling around on a sofa all day.
Though Levin’s extended meditations on farming may at first appear to be a digression away from the primary concerns of the novel, this focus on agriculture, much like Kitty’s experiences at the spa, leads us toward questions that are relevant to Anna’s story. Levin struggles with the dilemma of how to establish a sustainable relationship with the natural world, which he finds beautiful, rich, and giving, and which he loves dearly. His love for the countryside is evident from the bliss he experiences in mowing all day. Yet Levin realizes that bliss is not enough, and that his relation to nature is threatened on all sides by others, including the peasants who mistrust him and the westernized agricultural theorists who counsel fruitless so-called improvements. Levin tries hard to practice good husbandry but always seems to fail. Levin’s problems with his land have elements in common with Anna and Vronsky’s predicament. Anna and Vronsky’s love is true and natural, and their early spiritual delight in each other is comparable to Levin’s feeling of rapture and fulfillment when mowing. Yet we see that, like Levin, Vronsky and Anna have trouble managing this love that should be so simple and natural but that society resists from all sides. The central question in both situations is whether society can ever learn to accommodate nature—whether grain fields or love—without loss or sacrifice.
It is symbolically important that Dolly suddenly appears in the countryside after being associated with the city up to this point in the novel. For Levin, Dolly is a sort of stand-in for her sister, Kitty. Levin was once in love with Dolly too, as well as with the rest of the Shcherbatsky family. We learn that Levin viewed the Shcherbatsky girls as goddesses or dreams fleetingly descending to greet him. After Kitty rejects Levin, he keeps her on her dreamy pedestal as an untouchable figure. But when Dolly moves to the more rugged Russian countryside—where she can no longer be an idealized dream but must deal with daily hardships—she brings the Shcherbatskys down to earth for Levin. Dolly represents a hope that the two things Levin loves most, Kitty and the countryside, may be united. While Levin still outwardly insists that his relationship with Kitty is over, we feel that the flame of his love for her still burns. Ideal life and real life may join for Levin eventually.
Tolstoy’s representation of Karenin changes gradually but drastically, so that by this point in the novel we are likely to have a very different image of him from the image we had earlier, without fully realizing that our perception of him has altered. Karenin is a competent but colorless statesman: a perfectly nice person but too absorbed in policy decisions and abstract issues to develop much of a distinct personality. Tolstoy initially depicts Karenin in neutral situations, with characters referring to his public role as one of the most important men in St. Petersburg. But at this point in the novel, Tolstoy reveals more of Karenin’s feelings, which do not enhance our respect for him. Karenin believes himself to be rational, but when he thinks of Anna as a “depraved woman,” we feel he exaggerates irrationally. Similarly, when Karenin reviews the list of men whom women have wronged throughout history, he comes across as pretentious and comical, just as he does when he rejects the idea of a duel because he is scared of pistols. Our regard for Karenin sinks, just as Anna’s regard for him does. This shift is precisely Tolstoy’s intention, making us feel as if we evolve along with the heroine of the novel.