“. . . [M]y life now . . . is not only not meaningless, as it was before, but has the unquestionable meaning of the good which it is in my power to put into it!”
Two months pass after Anna’s death. Sergei Koznyshev’s book on statehood in Russia and Europe, on which he spent six years of work, is published to virtually no public recognition. Sergei tries to forget his failure by focusing his attention on the movement to liberate the Serbs, Montenegrins, and other Slavic groups from the Muslim rule of Turkey—a cause that seemingly occupies the whole Russian nation.
Sergei and Katavasov accompany a large number of Russian volunteers who are traveling to occupied Serbia to offer military support to the Slavs. A bystander affirms that Vronsky is among the volunteers, and that he has even outfitted a squadron at his own expense. Stiva appears from the crowd and greets Sergei. “God Save the Tsar” resounds from the patriotic crowd. Sergei meets Vronsky’s mother, who is accompanying her son. The Countess Vronsky insults the dead Anna as “mean and low” and says that Karenin has taken custody of Anna’s young daughter. Finally, Sergei speaks to Vronsky, who is ready and willing to die for the Slavic cause, as nothing in life has value for him now.
Sergei and Katavasov visit Levin’s estate. Kitty greets them and feeds her infant son, Mitya, while waiting for Levin to come home. She is glad Levin has visitors, for she has been worrying about his gloomy mood, which she attributes to his lack of religious faith. Levin has been more focused on philosophical questions ever since marriage and fatherhood, searching for the meaning of life. He has read the classics of philosophical idealism, seeking a non-materialist answer to his question. Unable to find any, he has flirted with suicide. When Levin stops thinking and simply lives, he finds himself happy.
The day Sergei arrives, Levin is tormented by seeing his peasant workers and imagining them dead and forgotten in a few years. Levin speaks to a peasant, Fyodor, about a local innkeeper who rents some nearby farmland. Fyodor explains that the innkeeper lives only for his belly, unlike many who live for God and goodness.
Fyodor’s words galvanize Levin. He recognizes that living for God and goodness is the answer to his questions about the meaning of life. He feels freed from life’s deceptions. Living for oneself and aiming only to satisfy one’s own desires is childish, as Levin notes when he catches his children behaving mischievously. Life is good, whereas thinking is bad. The sky is not infinite but a vault overhead, however irrational that may be.
Lying on his back in a field, gazing up at the sky, Levin knows he has found faith and thanks God for it. He resolves never to allow quarrels or estrangement to divide him from other people. Just a few minutes later, however, Levin argues with his driver on the way back home after meeting Sergei and Katavasov. Levin feels self-critical but knows that his faith will survive despite his little moral failures. At home, he meets Dolly and her children, tells her the news about Vronsky’s departure with the volunteers, and takes everyone on a picnic. Discussing the Slavic cause with Sergei, Levin states his opposition to the war and expresses skepticism about the Russian people being unanimously behind it. He tries to argue but realizes he is helpless against the wits of the more intellectual Sergei and Katavasov.