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Dolly, unhappy with her own run-down estate, moves in
with Levin and Kitty for the summer. Kitty’s friend Varenka and
Levin’s half-brother, Sergei, are also present. Sergei is friendly
despite the others’ awe of his fame. Dolly and Kitty even discuss
the possibility of setting him up with Varenka. Levin is skeptical
of this idea, explaining that Sergei is used to a spiritual life
whereas Varenka is more earthy. Levin tells Kitty that he envies
Sergei, who lives for duty and thus can reach satisfaction. Kitty
asks why Levin is not satisfied himself. Levin mentions his work
frustrations but affirms he is happy overall.
Sergei and Varenka do indeed like each other greatly,
and Sergei fantasizes about proposing marriage. One day, the two
go out picking mushrooms together, and both of them suddenly realize
Sergei is on the verge of proposing. At the last minute, however,
he is unable to bring himself to do so, as he wishes to be loyal
to the memory of a deceased lover from his youth. The opportunity
gone, Sergei and Varenka both realize they will never marry each
One day, Stiva arrives with a friend, the handsome Veslovsky. Stiva
mentions that Veslovsky has visited Anna. Dolly asserts that she
will visit Anna too, though Kitty is reluctant to go. Veslovsky flirts
with Kitty, which makes Levin insanely jealous. Levin and Kitty
quarrel and Levin apologizes, promising to make Veslovsky feel welcome
on their hunting trip the next day.
Setting out with Stiva and Veslovsky, Levin is ashamed
of his earlier anger, for he now finds Veslovsky comical and good-natured. But
once they begin hunting, the presence of the somewhat hapless Veslovsky
again bothers Levin, distracting him and causing him to shoot badly.
The others bag far more game, and Levin’s irritation grows. Veslovsky
stupidly sets his gun off accidentally and gets their cart stuck
in a marsh.
The men discuss a railroad magnate neighbor whose fortune Levin
disdains, considering it ill gotten, the product of financial tricks,
not hard work. Stiva mocks Levin for being a nobleman who does not
work for his fortune, and Levin is irked. Levin goes to bed frustrated,
while the other two go off in pursuit of farm girls, which Stiva
says is acceptable as long as his wife does not find out.
Waking early the next morning, Levin goes off hunting
alone. His dog flushes out several enormous snipe, which Levin kills
effortlessly. Delighted, Levin returns hours later with nineteen
birds. His joy disperses, however, when he learns that Stiva and
Veslovsky have eaten all the food. Kitty then discusses her need
to go to Moscow to see an obstetrician. Levin initially resists,
believing doctors to be unnecessary, but finally assents. Veslovsky
engages Kitty in a conversation about whether love can be above
social conventions, but she finds his tone objectionable. Kitty
and Levin quarrel and make up once more. Finally, Levin, again annoyed
at Veslovsky’s flirtation with Kitty, kicks him out of the house,
despite his awareness that such an action is ungracious.
Dolly sticks to her plan of visiting Anna. She plans to
hire her own horses rather than ask for Levin’s, as she is reluctant
to seek his aid for a potentially shameful mission. Levin, however,
insists on giving Dolly his horses. During the trip, Dolly reflects
on love and marriage, remembering a peasant girl’s comment that
motherhood is bondage. She understands Anna’s need to live her life
on her own terms, and wonders whether she too could love and be
loved in a real way.
It might seem puzzling that Tolstoy suddenly chooses to
focus on the courtship of two fairly marginal characters, Sergei
and Varenka, at a point in the novel when Levin’s and Anna’s relationships
are in full swing. However, the endearing and awkward romance between these
two minor characters offers us an important contrast to other instances
of love we glimpse in the novel, and makes us reflect on the nature
of relationships in general. Sergei and Varenka are both spiritual
creatures: Sergei is a born intellectual, and Varenka is often termed
a born saint. They both seem to dwell in the air rather than in
the flesh. Levin and Kitty are both aware of their differences from these
two: Levin cannot follow Sergei’s highly analytical approach to
life’s questions, and Kitty cannot follow Varenka’s example of moral
good works at the German spa. But Tolstoy suggests that spiritual
gifts may be a disadvantage in life and love, as we watch Sergei
and Varenka’s touching but pathetic attempt to make romantic contact.
Sergei dreams of declaring his love but ultimately can only dare
talk about mushrooms. Their limitations are clear. Tolstoy may value
purity of mind and heart, but he appreciates the worldly wisdom
of physical beings still more.
Levin’s hunting frustrations give us an interesting insight
into his psyche. His difficulty in bagging game may be attributed
to simple bad luck, or to the annoyance of having others nearby—but
it may also go much deeper. When Tolstoy shows Levin’s annoyance
with Veslovsky, we suspect that the reason for Levin’s poor shooting
may be unconscious anger. He certainly resents Veslovsky’s flirtations with
Kitty, as we have seen earlier. Levin’s irritation, however, may also
have a philosophical and social dimension: he may be angry at the
irresponsible lifestyles these Russian noblemen enjoy. Veslovsky—whose
name contains the Russian word for “merrily,” veselo—lives
for pleasure and thinks only of himself. He nearly shoots his comrades
by accident and laughs about it later, and he gets the cart stuck
in the marsh through pure obliviousness. Veslovsky and Stiva also
gobble up the food meant for Levin, again simply without thinking.
On the whole, Veslovsky’s womanizing and pleasure seeking are exaggerations
of similar traits in Stiva, and they symbolize the harmful selfishness
of the Russian noble classes that Levin generally dislikes. Levin
wishes to care for and be mindful of something larger than his own
urges; these other men do not.
Dolly’s decision to visit Anna is an extraordinarily significant event.
It reveals not just Dolly’s strength of character—she dares to call
on a woman shunned by society, simply because she loves her—but
also a dimension of Dolly’s inner thoughts that we have not seen before.
Her willingness to hire her own horses, rather than use Levin’s
for fear of shaming him, shows that she is well aware of the stigma
that her visit may bring. We never doubt Dolly’s true love for Anna
in paying her this visit, as Dolly is nothing if not sincere in
her expression of affection. But on a deeper level, Dolly mentally
puts herself in Anna’s place throughout her trip, vicariously trying
out Anna’s experiences. Although happily devoted to her children, Dolly
wistfully recalls overhearing a peasant say that motherhood is bondage.
Dolly goes on to associate Anna with a freedom from this bondage,
for Anna has abandoned her son. Anna represents freedom and happiness
for Dolly, and her example is provocative, prompting Dolly to think
about her own life philosophically. The climax of Dolly’s interior
monologue comes when she wonders whether she could be loved in a
real way—hinting that she knows that the slick Stiva does not have
real love for her.
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