The Shcherbatskys are concerned about Kitty’s health, which has been failing ever since the ball at which Vronsky slighted her. Though secretly convinced that love is the cause of Kitty’s ill health, the Shcherbatskys consult numerous doctors. Dolly attempts to talk with Kitty about her feelings. Kitty is initially resistant but then breaks down in tears. Dolly intuits that Kitty has rejected Levin only to be forsaken by Vronsky, and that the pain of this turn of events has devastated her.
Anna frequents a different social circle now, preferring the company of Vronsky’s worldly cousin Betsy Tverskoy to that of her former companion, the morally righteous Lydia Ivanovna. At a party, rumors about Anna’s liaison with Vronsky spread, and Anna falls prey to some vicious gossipers, though others defend her.
Anna and Vronsky meet at Betsy’s. Anna begs Vronsky to drop their relationship and ask for Kitty’s forgiveness. Vronsky affirms his hope for happiness with Anna, as her eyes assure him that she loves him. Karenin enters but soon leaves, while Anna decides to stay at Betsy’s for supper. At home Karenin meditates on his feeling that something is amiss. He feels jealous, though he knows jealousy is illogical. When he tries to picture Anna’s personal life to himself, he becomes confused and uncomfortable.
When Anna arrives home from Betsy’s, her husband confronts her, warning her about the risks of her behavior. Anna becomes mildly indignant, affirming her right to a little merriment. Karenin states that some things should lie hidden in one’s soul, implying that Anna’s attraction to Vronsky is one such thing. Karenin tells Anna he loves her, but she wonders what this means. She tells him she wants to go to bed, and withdraws.
The narrative skips forward almost a year, to the point at which Anna and Vronsky have finally consummated their affair. After the deed is done, Anna sobs, saying that all she has now is Vronsky. She tries to drive away her thoughts. Sleeping, she dreams that both Karenin and Vronsky are her husbands.
Meanwhile, Levin’s sadness about Kitty’s rejection lingers. He busies himself with farm planning on his estate and sends his brother Nikolai, who suffers from tuberculosis, off to a spa in Europe for treatment. Levin feels frustrated with his farm work and with the stubbornness and stupidity of his peasant workers.