At Sviyazhsky’s house, Levin’s host seems intent on arranging a marriage between Levin and his sister-in-law. Levin does his best to avoid talking to the sister-in-law, knowing in his heart that he can marry only Kitty or no one at all.
At dinner, Sviyazhsky entertains two old-fashioned landowners who miss the bygone days of serfdom in Russia. One of the landowners claims that farming was better in those days, and that the emancipation of the serfs has ruined Russia. Levin meditates on the fact that, in virtually all aspects of Sviyazhsky’s life, there are huge contradictions between what Sviyazhsky inwardly believes and what he outwardly lives.
Sviyazhsky argues that all farming should be done under a rational, scientific system, whereas one of the landowner guests asserts that farming simply requires a firm authority looming over the peasantry. Levin agrees that his attempts to introduce farming innovations to the peasants have been disastrous. Sviyazhsky maintains that serfdom is a thing of the past and that hired labor is the future that all Russian landowners must accept. He asserts that education is the key to winning over the peasants, but Levin disagrees. Thinking about the matter afterward, Levin believes the answer is to treat the peasants not as an abstract workforce but as specifically Russian peasants whose specific traditions and nature must be factored into all decisions involving labor. Levin is determined to put his new theory into practice on his estate, making the peasants financial partners in the harvest. The peasants resist, however, suspecting Levin of somehow trying to cheat them.
As Levin makes plans to visit farms in western Europe to research his new agricultural theory, his brother Nikolai visits. Nikolai, who is even sicker than before, has abandoned Marya Nikolaevna. Since only one room in the house is heated, Levin allows Nikolai to sleep in his own bedroom. Nikolai’s incessant coughing and cursing keep Levin awake all hours of the night. With his brother obviously dying, Levin can think of nothing but death. He gets up to examine his graying temples, affirming that he has a few good years left in his life. He goes back to bed wondering whether there is anything he can do to help his brother.
The next day, conversation between the brothers is strained, as the despairing and self-pitying Nikolai purposely irritates Levin by mocking his ideas about agricultural improvement. Nikolai leaves but at the last minute asks for Levin’s forgiveness. Levin later meets a friend, to whom he speaks about death. Levin is aware that he must live out his life to the end, come what may.
In this portion of the novel, Tolstoy shows us some of the unexpected and seemingly contradictory aspects of Vronsky’s character. Though Vronsky’s methodical accounting practices appear to be at odds with his devil-may-care image, we see that they are as integral to his character as his wild horse-racing style. Vronsky divides all the bills he receives into three distinct categories, ranked in order of urgency of payment, and he never deviates from this system. He likewise has strict moral regulations for himself: he may lie to a woman but never to a man, and so on. On the whole, Tolstoy suggests that Vronsky is perhaps as much of a stickler for rational systems as the other Alexei, Anna’s analytical husband. Karenin applies his methods to public policy, whereas Vronsky applies his to his finances. Regardless, it is clear that both men value intellectual systems over intuition, instinct, or whim. Tolstoy thus thwarts our expectation of a stark contrast between a cold, rational Karenin and a stormy, passionate Vronsky. The two are certainly different but not absolute opposites. Anna, who has little interest in applying systems of thought to her personal life, may be less similar to either of them than they are to each other. Indeed, she never once appeals to any rule or process of deduction to determine her actions. In her ruling instincts Anna resembles Levin more than her husband or her lover.