Part Six Summary:
For various reasons, Levin and Kitty have to make room in their country house for lots of people. Dolly and her children are visiting, in large part because their own country house is in ruins. Varenka, Kitty's pious friend from Part Two, makes good on her promise to come visit when Kitty is married. The elder Princess Shcherbatskaya is determined to stay with Kitty throughout her first pregnancy. And Koznyshev, as usual, seeks his yearly relief from the stress of the city. Koznyshev is attracted to Varenka, and this excites the whole house. Kitty and Dolly eagerly scheme about the possibility for Koznyshev's proposal, while the elder Princess worries after Kitty, telling her that excitement is bad for her health and insisting on all sorts of excessive precautions for the health of the unborn child.
When Varenka and Koznyshev go out to pick mushrooms, Koznyshev decides that this is his opportunity to propose. But when he approaches Varenka, his timidity takes over, and they wind up having a banal conversation about the mushrooms. The moment passes, and both know that it will never happen again.
Oblonsky arrives with a Vasenka Veslovsky, a handsome young playboy. Levin is irritated because he was expecting the old Prince Shcherbatskaya, and because he notes immediately Veslovsky's attraction to Kitty. He rapidly feels very jealous of Veslovsky and feels insecure about his relationship to Kitty. He is prone to exaggeration, as Tolstoy notes, "He already saw himself as a deceived husband, who was needed by his wife and her lover only in order to provide them with the comforts of life and with pleasures." He agrees to go on a hunting trip with Oblonsky and Veslovsky, and Veslovsky's ineptitude comforts him. But when they return to the house, Veslovsky continues to flirt brazenly with Kitty. Dolly tries to tell Levin that he has nothing to be worried about, but Levin is livid and throws Veslovsky out. Everyone is shocked, but Levin feels better, and eventually everyone except the elder Princess Shcherbatskaya sees the humor in the situation and is able to laugh.
Dolly goes to visit Anna at Vronsky's country estate, a day's travel by carriage from Levin's house. She worries about her childreneverything from their health and behavior during the day she is gone to the question of how she will get them started in life. She feels nervous leaving them, but is determined to fulfill her promise to visit Anna. When Dolly pulls up, Anna gallops up to the carriage on a horse and throws herself at Dolly with a great deal of joy. Dolly is at first impressed by the luxurious surroundings of Vronsky's estate and Anna's vitality, but she gradually becomes disturbed as the visit wears on. Though they are surrounded by peoplePrincess Barbara, Veslovsky, and an old friend, Sviyazhskytheir visitors are "sponging" off of them and are of a lower class than they usually associate with. Vronsky seems to be happy and occupied with multiple occupationshe relishes in the role of the large landowner, is getting involved in local politics, and enjoys making grand gestures like building a hospital for the peasants. But soon Dolly realizes that there is a great deal of turmoil beneath the surface of their lives.
Anna still refuses to accept Karenin's offer of a divorce despite Vronsky's urging. He wishes that his children will be legitimate so that they may inherit his lands. Dolly tries to convince Anna as well, but Anna refuses to consider it. Dolly also notes with concern that Anna does not seem at all interested in her little girl. Anna and Dolly have an extended tete-a-tete in which Anna reveals that she is practicing birth control. She cannot get pregnant again, she says, because Vronsky will not find her attractive if she does. Dolly, naïve about such matters, is horrified and fascinated. We also learn that Anna has been taking morphia at night in order to sleep. Dolly leaves the next day feeling distinctly uncomfortable, and is relieved to return to the Levins. But she continues to defend Anna to everyone else.
Vronsky goes to Moscow for the provincial nobility elections, leaving Anna at home. He expects a struggle, but she does not argue at all. This fact makes Vronsky even more nervous, but he decides to deny his feelings and appreciate the peace. The Levins also move to Moscow for the last month of Kitty's pregnancy. A few other nobles from the provinceSviyazhsky, Oblonsky, and Koznyshevalso converge in Moscow for the elections. Levin, who is expected to participate in the energy and excitement surrounding the election, is bored and impatient with the entire affair. The debate is endless and the highly bureaucratic process contains not even a scrap of concern for merit. Levin lacks the temperament for the elections and makes several social mistakes. Levin and Vronsky meet; the latter is charming as usual, but Levin is rude to him. Vronsky stays one day longer than he had planned and throws a dinner party for the victors. Reveling in the masculine company and discussion, Vronsky is extremely satisfied with everything until he receives a rather hostile note from Anna enjoining him to return at once. The note claims that little Annie is sick.
At home, Vronsky learns that the note was a ruse for Anna. Princess Barbara complains that Anna takes morphia when he is gone. Anna wished him to return home because she was jealous and lonely. They reunite passionately, but Vronsky feels increasingly irritated and hemmed in by her constant demands. Anna recognizes that he craves freedom, what he calls "my masculine independence," and that the future of their relationship depends on it, but she is unable to conceive of giving him more space. Her own loneliness and the high degree of insecurity in her position make it impossible for her to act other than clinging to him. But she agrees to write Karenin for a divorce, and the couple moves to Moscow.
Part Six Analysis:
The contrast between the two couples continues in this section. Both couples, we see, are clinging to surface tranquilities that threaten to explodeexcept in the case of the Levins the explosion is farce and in the case of the Vronskys we will see that it is tragic.
The lovely, delicate story of Varenka and Koznyshev shows with Chekhovian observation that the power of the intellect can turn into putty when faced with the power of the heart. Koznyshev, who has an answer for everything, cannot ask a simple question of a guileless and good-hearted girl. Their story shows the failure of a marriage before it even begins and represents, in some ways, Levin's own yearnings for an untouchable bride.
Both families go through jealous rages during Part Six. Levin, still refusing to compromise on anything, flies into a rage at the sight of a foolish young man flirting with his wife. Veslovsky is ridiculous and Kitty's faithfulness is never in doubt, at least by herbut Levin's response is to his own fears rather than to reality. Reacting to his own doubts about his ability to make Kitty happy, and to his own fears about the problems with marriage, he puts the house into an uproar. But the result is pure comedyVeslovsky fleeing as he attempts to tie one of his great foppish ribbons, Levin throwing his luggage aroundand the rest of the house reacts accordingly, making it the great tale of the evening.
The result of Anna's jealousy, however, is not funny at all, and we are meant to recognize the difference in the two situations immediately. Unlike Levin, Anna does not have a specific target to focus her jealousy on, and she lashes out at Vronsky instead. While she is perhaps right to resent Vronsky's "masculine independence," her rage only drives him further and further away. She senses this, and it causes her to create even greater scenes of fury to convince herself of his love.
Feminist critics have written that Anna may have masochistic tendencies. Her behavior at the opera is one of their favorite examples, but they also use the fights with Vronsky during this chapter to illustrate this point. This is an interesting reading because Anna certainly does have a tendency towards self-destruction, if nothing else, and many of her choices deliberately bring pain to herself. She also has a mild obsession with death, and her dreams about the peasant (who symbolizes carnal excess and death) underline this point.
But Anna's refusal of a divorce should not be equated with her tendencies towards self-destruction. Anna refuses a divorce because to marry Vronsky and start a new family would merely place her back in the situation she was already in. Though it seems odd, considering her passion for Vronsky, it is no accident that Tolstoy gave both Karenin and Vronsky the same first name. Anna insists on maintaining a highly individualized romance in order to avoid the stifling tedium of another bourgeois marriage, even though she is merely trading one type of torture for another.
We see proof of Anna's decline vividly during Dolly's visit. Dolly, poor, long-suffering Dolly, is drawn in strict comparison to Anna in this section. Anna is rich, beautiful, and supposedly happy while Dolly is unattractive, wane, and burdened by financial problems as well as a large family, but Dolly senses that she is much better off than Anna. She is particularly concerned about Anna's refusal to have more children because it will make her less attractive to Vronsky. As Dolly aptly notes, "If that's what he's looking for he'll find women whose dresses and manners are even gayer and more attractive." Anna is desperate to keep Vronsky, but she will never accomplish it by such means. Dolly, despite her husband's infidelities, recognizes the goodness in her situation and would not wish to have Anna's.
Anna's death is also hinted at by her use of morphia. Her growing dependence on the drug in order to function normally foreshadows her eventual conclusion that it is too difficult to go on living.