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As Levin and Kitty’s wedding date is set, Levin remains
in his blissful daze. He performs all the duties expected of him
but is almost mad with joy. Stiva reminds Levin that he must go
to confession before his wedding. Levin meets with the priest and
confesses that he doubts everything, including the existence of
God. The priest sternly warns Levin that the Christianity of his
future offspring is at stake. Later, Levin enjoys a bachelor party
with his brother Sergei and Sergei’s university friend, Katavasov.
The bachelors ask Levin if he is prepared to give up his freedom
for the constraints of marriage. Levin, feeling insecure and wondering
why Kitty should ever love him at all, asks Kitty whether she wants
to go through with the wedding. They have a brief argument but are
That evening, the wedding guests await the groom in the
church. Levin is late because a mix-up involving his clothes has
left him without a proper shirt to wear. The ceremony is delayed
and the guests become impatient, but Levin finally arrives at the
church. Kitty cannot understand the priest’s words as she hears
them, for she is swept away by love. Levin cries during the ceremony.
The wedding concludes majestically, and Levin and Kitty leave for
his country estate.
Vronsky and Anna, meanwhile, travel in Italy for three
months together and settle down and rent a palazzo. Vronsky, seeking
distraction, is delighted to meet an old school friend, Golenishchev. Golenishchev
and Anna get along well. Vronsky listens as Golenishchev expounds
on the book he is writing, and Anna tells Golenishchev that Vronsky
has taken up painting.
Anna, for her part, has been very happy. Far from Russia,
she feels no more disgrace. Vronsky is less contented, however:
all his desires are satisfied, so he misses desire itself. He begins
to paint a portrait of Anna. Hearing of a Russian painter named
Mikhailov who lives in their town, Vronsky reflects on the new generation
of Russian intellectuals who have talent but lack education. Anna, intrigued,
proposes visiting Mikhailov.
When Vronsky and Anna arrive at Mikhailov’s studio, the
artist is flattered to receive attention from wealthy Russians.
He shows them a painting in progress, a scene from the life of Jesus
Christ. Anna and Vronsky praise Mikhailov’s rendering of Pontius
Pilate, and Anna delights in the expression of pity on Jesus’ face.
The visitors enjoy even more a landscape painting of Russian boys
relaxing by a river. Vronsky asks whether the latter painting is
for sale and hires Mikhailov to paint Anna’s portrait. Vronsky abandons
his own portrait of Anna and becomes dissatisfied with their Italian
Levin slowly adjusts to married life. He imagines that
Kitty needs only to be loved, forgetting that she has desires and
aspirations of her own. Kitty throws herself into housekeeping with
gusto in a way that initially annoys Levin but then pleases him.
Quarrels occasionally erupt. One day, Levin gets lost on the way
home from the fields, and Kitty is jealous and suspicious of where
he has been. He is offended but then forgives her.
Meanwhile, Levin continues work on his book about the
Russian agricultural system, but his slow progress distresses him.
He chastises himself for being spoiled by married life, and silently reproaches
Kitty for her lack of interest in anything other than housekeeping.
Levin receives a letter from Marya Nikolaevna, saying that she is
back with his brother Nikolai, who is dying of consumption. Levin
says he must visit Nikolai, and Kitty insists on going with him.
Levin does not want her to come, resenting his lack of freedom and
shuddering at the idea of Kitty meeting a former prostitute. Levin
and Kitty fight, but finally he allows her to come along.
Levin’s confession to the priest brings religion out from
the background—where it has been consistently throughout Anna -Karenina—and
into focus in the foreground. Like many thinkers of his era, Tolstoy
was skeptical of religious faith but also yearned for its potential
for transcendence. In the novel, Tolstoy gives Levin—his namesake
in the novel, as Lev is Tolstoy’s first name—this same ambivalence
toward religion. Levin is a deeply soulful person, as we see in
his ecstasy in both farming and marriage. However, though he has
the spirituality that faith demands, he lacks belief in its dogma and
rituals. With characteristic candor, Levin tells the priest that
he doubts the existence of God—a remarkable statement even for Levin.
This contradiction, however, is exactly Tolstoy’s point: Levin is
in the church not because of faith but because of social convention,
as a confession certificate is required for marriage. Tolstoy invites
us to see religion as divided between spirituality on one hand and
social expectations on the other. He does not attack religion but merely
suggests that observance of its social institutions often replaces
Meanwhile, the account of Vronsky and Anna’s time in Italy hints
at the lovers’ future difficulties as refugees from Russian social conventions.
At first glance, they seem to live in an expatriate paradise: they
are wealthy, have servants and a beautiful palazzo, and pass their
time strolling and painting, with no enemies to attack or demean
their love. Anna is happier than she ever imagined, and Vronsky
feels that all his desires are satisfied. Nonetheless, there is trouble
in this seeming paradise. Vronsky misses desire—in particular, we
feel he misses the professional ambitions that guided his life in
Russia. Even in exile, Russia draws the lovers back into its grip. Significantly,
the people important to Anna and Vronsky in Italy are Russians—Golenishchev
and Mikhailov. No Italians are significant enough to be named in
the novel. The painting that Vronsky loves most is not the portrait
of Jesus—a rebel like him and Anna—but rather a Russian landscape.
For all his love of Italy, Vronsky is pulled back toward the very
country where he and his lover are damned, defiled, and excluded.
Social conventions, we see, are not easy to escape. They are part
of us, and we continue to live within them even when suffering because
As Tolstoy continues to develop the plots involving Levin
and Anna in parallel, he invites us to compare the differing honeymoons of
the novel’s two recently formalized romantic relationships. Despite
the fact that Levin’s majestic church wedding contrasts starkly
with Anna’s scandalous flight to Italy, the two unions are surprisingly
similar. The difference between their respective legal statuses
hardly matters when we focus on their internal dynamics. Both couples
settle in the countryside, leaving behind social ambitions, and
both struggle with the disorientation that comes from having their
desires satisfied. Vronsky finds total satisfaction to be irksome,
and Levin admits to Kitty that he is discontented even though he
is happy. Both men are unable to do the work they dream of doing:
Vronsky is antsy after resigning from his regiment, and Levin cannot
bring himself to work on his book on agriculture. The similarities
between Vronky and Levin remind us not to exaggerate the importance
of Anna’s so-called immorality. Relationships are relationships
whether or not they bear social or religious stamps of approval.
Tolstoy encourages us to look beyond social rules and to examine
the inner workings of romantic unions with an open mind.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Anna Karenina!