Anna Karenina

by: Leo Tolstoy

Part Three, Chapters 19–32

Summary Part Three, Chapters 19–32

Vronsky’s conversation with Anna at the country house is the first hint at a decline in the intimacy of their relations. For the first time in the novel we are aware of Vronsky having a thought that he fails to share with Anna—his memory of Serpukhovskoy’s warning about the dangerous effects of women on men’s ambition. Tolstoy heightens the drama of this moment at the country house by showing us Vronsky’s thought and then telling us of his inability to communicate it to Anna. Serpukhovskoy’s advice itself is not necessarily valid, for Anna has proved herself a capable wife to the extremely ambitious Karenin. What is more important is that the advice cannot be shared, which signals the formation of a boundary between Vronsky’s mind and Anna’s. As the novel progresses, this boundary becomes increasingly insurmountable and foreshadows the end of their union. Another hint of a bleak future comes in Vronsky’s reference to Anna’s “humiliation,” a very public form of shame. Anna rightly rejects this term, saying she does not feel humiliation. She is aware only of love, a private emotion. Vronsky’s focus on humiliation suggests that he feels beholden to the pressure of social values—a pressure that represents a clear danger to their love.

Just as Vronsky’s rationality comes as a surprise, so do Levin’s thoughts of mortality and of his own death. Though Levin is a healthy and vigorous man ablaze with future plans, Tolstoy has him meditate on death for several reasons. First, Levin’s thoughts reveal his deep empathy with his critically ill brother. Like Anna, Levin is unable to distance himself from the suffering of anyone close to him. Second, Levin’s reflections on mortality endow him with a wise humility that other characters, such as Karenin and even Vronsky, lack. Levin is no frailer than they, yet some vainglorious quality about those other men makes it hard to imagine either of them contemplating his own demise. Even Vronsky, who has come near death in the horse race, has not let the experience noticeably alter his views. Levin is different: his closeness to his ailing brother causes him to realize and accept his human nature and limited life span. Finally, Levin’s thoughts of death align him with Anna, who thinks about death the first moment we meet her, after the casualty in the train station. Levin and Anna are linked not only in the intensity of their lives but also in their recognition of the closeness of death.