The Karenins continue to live in the same house but are almost completely estranged from each other. Karenin makes it a rule to see Anna every day—in order to avoid spreading rumors of separation among the servants—but he never dines at home. Both husband and wife fervently hope that their painful situation is temporary.
Vronsky endures a dull week, entertaining a visiting foreign dignitary who wishes to experience the true spirit of Russia. Carousing with gypsy girls, the foreigner believes he is discovering Russian culture. Vronsky is pained by the resemblance between the foreigner and himself: both are healthy, confident, rather empty noblemen.
Returning home one night, Vronsky finds a note from Anna saying that she must see him, inviting him to her home when Karenin is to be at a meeting. Vronsky goes to Anna at the appointed time but is shocked to run into Karenin, whose meeting has ended early. Anna is grouchy, making barbed remarks about Vronsky’s night with the foreigner and the gypsy girls. Vronsky is sadly aware of how Anna has changed, both morally and physically: she is irritable and has put on weight.
Anna erupts in anger toward Karenin, calling him a puppet and an “administrative machine” and reproaching his lack of guts. She says that in his place she would have killed a wife like herself. Vronsky attributes Anna’s moodiness to her pregnancy, and asks when the baby is due. Anna says that it should not be long. She adds that soon everything will be resolved, as she will die shortly. Vronsky accuses Anna of speaking nonsense, but she declares that she has had a prophetic dream—a vision of an old peasant man rummaging in a sack and talking about the necessity of beating iron. The peasant in the dream told her that she would die in childbirth.
Karenin passes a sleepless night after his run-in with Vronsky, angered that Anna has violated the only condition he placed on her—that she never receive Vronsky in Karenin’s house. Karenin tells Anna he plans to initiate divorce proceedings, and seizes her love letters from Vronsky to use as evidence. Anna begs Karenin to allow her to keep custody of Seryozha. Karenin replies that although he no longer loves the boy, he will take him anyway.
The next day, Karenin visits a divorce lawyer, who assumes Karenin wishes to pursue a mutually consenting divorce. Karenin explains that he wants to prove involuntary exposure of an adulterous affair, using the love letters as evidence. The lawyer warns him that such cases require the involvement of religious authorities, and that often letters are not sufficient evidence. The lawyer asks Karenin for freedom to proceed with the specifics of the divorce as he thinks best, and Karenin agrees.