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The novel depicts Vronsky as a handsome, wealthy, and charming
man who is as willing as Anna is to abandon social standing and
professional status in pursuit of love. His commitment to his
hospital-building project also shows a Romantic passion for carrying
out an individual vision of good. But the novel also shows Vronsky's
many realistic faults and imperfections. His thinning hair, his
error in judgment in the horse race, his thwarted ambitions of military
glory all remind us that Vronsky is not a Romantic hero but a man
like any other. He does not symbolize escape from social pressures,
for he suffers from these pressures himself. He may be an exceptional
man, but he is only a man. This limitation in Vronsky provides Anna’s
greatest disappointment in the novel: she yearns for a total escape into a
love affair of unbounded passion, only to discover that Vronsky's
passion has its limits. Tolstoy gives Vronsky the same first name as Karenin,
suggesting that Anna’s longing for another Alexei leads her to a
disappointing repetition of her first relationship.
Vronsky’s devotion to Anna appears to wane in the
later chapters of the novel, but much of this appearance stems from
Anna's paranoid fears that he has fallen out of love with her. On the
contrary, no indisputable evidence indicates that Vronsky loves Anna any
less at the end. Certainly he cares for her more than ever: he outfits
his country home luxuriously and elegantly, largely (it seems) in an attempt
to make Anna happy. His commissioning of Anna’s portrait and his prominent
display of it in their home suggests that he is still enraptured by her.
Vronsky occasionally feels the pang of thwarted ambition, especially after
meeting his school chum who is now highly successful, but at no point does
he hold Anna responsible for his failures. He accommodates her whims and
endures her paranoid fits with patience. These actions may be mere solicitude—
or “duty,” as Anna calls it—on Vronsky’s part, rather than true love. But since
the novel rarely shows us Vronsky’s thoughts as he shows us Anna’s,
we simply cannot know for sure.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Anna Karenina!