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In Moscow, Levin and Kitty await the birth of their child.
Kitty notes how anxious and wary Levin is in the city compared to
the countryside. He dislikes the men’s club and its attendant socializing but
has few other ways to pass the time. In her condition, Kitty rarely
goes out. On one occasion, however, she does leave the house and
encounters Vronsky, whom she addresses calmly, pleased at her ability
to master her former romantic feelings for him.
Levin is uncomfortably aware of the expenses of city life,
noting that the cost of his city servants’ uniforms could pay for
two summer workers on his farm. He meets the scholars Katavasov
and Metrov and discusses his book on Russian agriculture with them.
Metrov is agreeable but understands agricultural issues solely in
terms of capital and wages, ignoring the cultural factors that are
central to Levin’s thinking. Levin concludes that intellectual advancement
can come only from each scholar following his own ideas to the end.
He leaves to visit Lvov, the diplomat husband of Kitty’s sister
Natalie. Lvov complains about the studying required to keep up with
his children’s education, which he supervises.
Levin then goes to a concert and hears an orchestral piece
based on Shakespeare’s King Lear. Levin dislikes
the piece’s random connection of disparate moods, and the audience’s
enthusiastic applause perplexes him. Later, at a reception, Levin
discusses a recently concluded trial and finds himself repeating
words that he heard someone else say the day before. Then Levin
goes to the club, where he enjoys lewd and drunken conversation
with Stiva, Vronsky, and others, laughing so loudly that others
turn to look. Levin decides he likes Vronsky. Stiva asks Levin whether
he likes the gentlemen’s club—their “temple of idleness”—and notes
how lazy some of the members are. Levin gambles and loses forty
rubles. Stiva suddenly proposes a surprise visit to Anna, whom Levin
has never met. Levin agrees. Stiva explains Anna’s loneliness in
Moscow, saying that she passes her time writing a children’s book
and assisting in the education of the daughter of an impoverished
Stiva and Levin reach Anna’s home, where Levin immediately notices
Mikhailov’s portrait of her. Anna delights Levin with her sincerity,
beauty, and intelligence. The two discuss a variety of topics in
an easy and familiar way, and Levin is amazed by Anna’s grace and
facility in conversation. Levin asks why Anna supports the English
girl but not Russian schoolchildren. Anna replies that she only
loves this particular girl, and love is paramount. On parting, Anna
tells Levin that she does not wish Kitty to forgive her, for forgiveness
would be possible only if Kitty were to live through the same nightmare
Anna has experienced. Levin blushes and agrees to tell Kitty.
Levin returns home, aware of his fascination with and
attraction to Anna. He tells Kitty he has met Anna, and Kitty jealously
provokes a quarrel. Meanwhile, Anna, alone, wonders why Vronsky
is colder to her than Levin. When Vronsky returns, she chastises
him for preferring his male friends to her. Vronsky notes the clear
hostility in her tone. Anna speaks vaguely and ominously about a
disaster she is nearing and about her fear of herself.
Surprising even himself, Levin grows accustomed to his
expensive and superficial city life. One night, Kitty awakens him
with news that her labor has begun. Levin is dazed, aware only of
her suffering and the need to alleviate it. He picks up the doctor,
frustrated by delays. During the long labor, Levin becomes convinced
that Kitty will die during childbirth. When the doctor announces
that the birth has taken place, Levin can hardly believe he has
a son. Kitty is fine, but the sight of the red, shrieking infant
makes Levin feel a bizarre mix of pity and revulsion.
The meeting between Anna and Levin is a key structural
point in the novel, as the parallel story lines converge and the
two most emotionally intense characters in the work finally come
face to face. Lost in the immensity of Tolstoy’s novel, we may not
even initially realize that this is the first time the two protagonists
meet. Postponed for so long, the encounter acquires symbolic importance.
The result is harmonious, as Levin and Anna like each other and
connect easily. Indeed, it is hard to avoid speculating on what
a marriage between Anna and Levin might have been like. Beyond a
physical attraction, they seem to share a social and spiritual connection.
The frequently awkward Levin has no difficulty conversing with Anna,
and he never finds her artificial, as he finds many others. Levin’s
awareness that in Anna there is “truth,” as he calls it, highlights
the dogged search for sincerity that both these protagonists have
led throughout the novel. Levin knows he is besotted with Anna,
as his reflections on the way home make clear. Moreover, Kitty’s
jealousy of Anna hints that she feels Levin’s infatuation too. Of
course, nothing comes of this interaction between Anna and Levin.
The meeting simply invites us to compare their characters directly
and to note the affinities between their respective searches for
These chapters also give us a glimpse into Anna’s increasingly strange
and unstable mindset as she begins to slip into suicidal feelings.
She is clearly tormented, yet it is striking how little objective cause
for torment there is. To be sure, Anna’s social life is no bed of roses,
but earlier we see her radiantly happy in her outsider status when
Dolly meets her on horseback. Anna blames Vronsky for coldness toward
her, yet Vronsky’s readiness to adapt to her plans and his promptness
in answering her telegrams hardly appear coldhearted. She reproaches
Vronsky for spending time with his male friends, but his socializing
does not appear excessive. It would surely be unreasonable for her
to expect Vronsky to spend every waking moment with her. Indeed,
Anna admits in her apologetic note that her accusations are unfair.
Yet we should not judge Anna too harshly; for it seems cruel to
accuse her of making it all up, hysterically inventing reasons to
be anguished. Her need for love at this time in her life—having
abandoned son, husband, friends, and society—is overwhelming. As
she repeatedly tells Vronsky, love is all she has left. We may feel
that nothing is objectively wrong in Anna’s life, but for her, subjective
feelings of love are more important than objective physical well-being.
King Lear on the Heath, the fictional
musical fantasia that Levin hears performed, is based on Shakespeare’s
great tragedy about isolation and mistrusted love, in which the
hero, Lear, spends an anguished night on the moors confronting his
own madness. Lear ends up alienated from others—an alienation that
we see mirrored in both Levin’s and Anna’s experiences. Both Levin
and Anna seek peace of mind in the country, yet both are disappointed
when they withdraw into solitude only to discover their private
demons—Levin’s dissatisfaction with his unproductive life and Anna’s
furiously jealous fits. Moreover, Lear’s rejection of the love of
his affectionate daughter Cordelia reminds us of Anna’s forthcoming rejection
of Vronsky’s love. In both Anna’s and Lear’s stories, a powerful
emotion is the turning point of the plot. The reference to King Lear reminds
us of the intensely subjective focus of Anna Karenina. The
status of Tolstoy’s novel as a realist work full of historical references
sometimes threatens to obscure the fact that it is centrally about
the human heart. While social themes are clearly present, Anna
Karenina is anchored in the psychological states of its
main protagonists, and the way they perceive reality colors the
entire sweep of the novel.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Anna Karenina!