Part Four Summary:
As this portion of the book opens, the Karenins are living together in a state of tension. They are "utter strangers" and Anna continues to see Vronsky outside the house. Karenin is aware of this and does nothing. One night, Anna can barely stand her loneliness, and asks him to come at seven, when Karenin has a council meeting. Vronsky appears and literally runs into Karenin in the doorway. Karenin, who looks like a death's head, storms past him. Somewhat abashed, Vronsky goes into Anna, but he is forced to recognize that her jealous fits and pregnancy make her less attractive to him. Anna takes joy in mocking her husband to Vronsky and tells him of a nightmare she had concerning a dirty old peasant muttering about how "it must be beaten, the iron, pounded, kneaded." Vronsky had the same nightmare shortly before coming to see Anna and is terrified.
While Vronsky was in his house, Karenin went to the opera as he had planned, and sat through the first two acts as social propriety recommended. But he cannot rest for his fury, and he leaves for home. The next morning, he confronts Anna again. Faced with her implacable resolve, he tells her that he intends to begin divorce proceedings. She begs him to leave her Seryozha. Karening goes to see a famous Petersburg lawyer about divorces, and learns that he will still have to provide physical evidence of Anna's infidelity. He decides to consider this carefully. At the same time, faced with resistance with colleagues at work, he leaves for the provinces on official business.
On his way to the provinces, Karenin stops in Moscow for meetings. By chance he runs into Oblonsky and Dolly, and reluctantly accepts an invitation to dinner. Oblonsky delights in giving dinner parties and goes about the preparations with glee, including the invitations for Kitty and Levin. When he goes to remind Karenin about the invitation, however, Karenin bluntly tells Oblonsky that he is seeking a divorce with Anna, Oblonsky's sister. Oblonsky encourages Karenin against hasty decisions and urges him to come to dinner and discuss the matter with Dolly.
At the dinner, the guests mingle amiably, thanks to Oblonsky's excellent host techniques. Karenin, Koznyshev, and a man named Pestsov discuss politics while Levin and Kitty enjoy a happy reunion. Levin marvels that Kitty seems completely differentmore fragileand they tune the others out, forming their own little enclave of conversation. As their feelings deepen, Dolly unsuccessfully tries to talk Karenin out of divorcing Anna. Meanwhile, Kitty and Levin play a word game in which Levin discovers that Kitty will marry him if he asks again. For two nights he does not sleep and the material concerns of the world seem frivolous. Then he visits the Shcherbatskayas to ask for, and receive, Kitty's hand in marriage. But Levin is tortured that Kitty does not know two things about him: that he is not a virgin, and that he does not believe in God. In the interest of full disclosure, he gives her his diaries. Though she is horrified, she accepts him anyway.
After Oblonsky's party, Karenin receives a telegram from Anna: "Dying, beg, implore you come. With your forgiveness will die more tranquilly." He weighs the pros and cons and finally decides to go back to Petersburg that night. There, he rushes in to find Anna very ill from giving birth to Vronsky's daughter. The doctors claim she may be dying. Vronsky is in an outer room, weeping. Seeing Anna in her agitated state stirs Karenin to forgiveness. Weeping freely, he forgives both her and Vronsky in a state of great joy and happiness. Then Anna spends three days alternating between comatose and writhing in pain. As she suffers, Karenin shames Vronsky by saying that no matter how the two of them humiliate him, Karenin will not leave Anna. Devastated by Karenin's nobility, Vronsky goes home and attempts suicide by shooting himself with a revolver. The bullet misses his heart, and he recuperates with the help of his sister-in-law.
Anna recovers from her illness slowly. Karenin become the parent to both childrenespecially the daughter, also named Anna, for whom he feels a special affection. Anna remains awed by her husband's generous feelings, but she still feels stifled, especially once she hears news that Vronsky has been offered a prestigious military post in Tashkent. Oblonsky, sensing the torture of the situation, visits Karenin and encourages him to begin divorce proceedings againbut by accepting blame himself, so that Anna has the moral authority in the settlement. In an emotional moment, Karenin agrees. Upon hearing this news, Vronsky immediately abandons his military duties and rushes to the Karenins' house. But though Anna is elated to see him, and though she agrees to leave for Italy, she says that "nothing matters now," and that she will not accept Karenin's offer of a divorce.
Part Four Analysis:
If Part Three was perhaps slow and loaded with economic and social affairs, Tolstoy makes up for this lapse with Part Four. Things begin to move tremendously fast now, as the relationship between Anna and Vronsky reaches a climax, Kitty and Levin reunite and discover that they have a future together, and Karenin comes forth as a powerful character in the action.
This is the section wherein Anna and Levin divurge. No longer will they both hold the status of frustrated romantics; Levin begins to flourish in a happy and healthy relationship. Throughout the novel, these two act as "doubles" for each other. Only Levin has the resources of passion that Anna can claim, but his are not destructive for a number of reasons. He certainly has more outlets for his passion. One of those outlets is his land, as shown in part three. But he also has a greater idea of the humility and compromise it takes for a relationship to grow in a healthy, socially acceptable way, as his persistent wooing of Kitty shows. Although Levin eventually finds peace and happiness in the novel and Anna is consumed by her passion, they are two sides of the same coin. Their tales contain a great deal of simultaneous convergence, albeit with different outcomes. Levin's story is merely Anna's story with a morally acceptable ending.
The emergence of the twain is underlined by Anna's assumption of Levin's death obsession. This is a portion of the book overwhelmed with portents, dreams and death imagery. Vronsky stumbles on Karenin in the doorway looking like a death's head: "bloodless, worn facemotionless, dull eyes." Anna's dream foreshadows her death in Part Seven; the "iron" the peasant discusses is the iron of the railroad tracks, and the "pounding" he is talking about is her body on the rails. This dream is brought out by Anna's actual death scene: the last thing she sees is a peasant on the railroad tracks. Finally, both Anna and Vronsky brush with death in this part: although they recover, these brushes with death foreshadow their ruin later in the book.
Critics are conflicted about Karenin's emotional scene of forgiveness. It is certainly out of character: for the first four hundred pages of the book, he has proven himself a cold and calculating bureaucrat, far from evil, but far from loving as well. Some critics hold that the entire scene is merely Tolstoy lapsing into melodrama; others believe that it proves the authenticity of Karenin's humility and good heart. At any rate, it inspires the appropriate shame and awe in Anna (who spends the next three days writhing in bed, as much out of her mental turmoil as out of her physical anguish) and Vronsky (who, confronted with the greatness of his rival, makes a cowardly attempt at suicide). It also proves to be Karenin's undoing: from this point on, he is considered a cuckolded laughingstock in society, while Vronsky regains some of his honor from the suicide attempt. After Anna leaves with Vronsky, without even giving Karenin the closure of a divorce, he sinks even lower in public opinion.
Though Anna leaves with Vronsky for Italy, readers are meant to hold the idea of a lasting union in doubt. Vronsky is clearly too egotistical for the great sacrifices that such a relationship will require; Anna, because of her ruined social position, is completely at Vronsky's mercy. Their obvious counterpart is Kitty and Levin, whose slow and maturing love and commitment is the model for a relationship that can go the distance. Although both of them still have a great deal to learnespecially Levintheir humility is admirable.
One of the things that Levin has to change is his vision of Kitty. He idolizes her as child-like and the embodiment of a perfection that he cannot attain; as if to prove this, he gives her his diaries. As expected, her horrified reaction makes him feel even more base and unworthy of her love. When Levin comes to accept God later on in the book, his relationship with Kitty become all that much stronger, for he stops seeing her as a heavenly figure.