Part Eight Summary:
It is the middle of the summer. Koznyshev is getting ready to move to Levin's country estate, far behind schedule. Koznyshev has experienced many life changes over the past year; the biggest being the publication of his book on theories of government. He spent six years writing the book and was very invested in its reception; he is very upset that it barely made a stir in any circles. No one seems to have read it, and it garnered only one printed review, which was negative. Luckily, the publication of his book coincides with a movement of Russian sympathy towards the Slavic peoples ruled by the Serbs. Although Koznyshev recognizes that the Slavic question "had been turned into one of those fashionable diversions that in constant succession always serve society as a focus of interest," he throws himself into the cause.
When Koznyshev and Katavasov go to the train station to head into the country, there are several groups of men who are volunteering to fight with the Slavs. One of the women who have come to send off the volunteers tells them that Vronsky is volunteering. Before Koznyshev can find out more, Oblonsky pops up in the crowd with his usual cheers and jests. Everyone is annoyed by his presence, including Vronsky, whom he bothers while the latter gets on the train.
During the ride, Katavasov has conversations with the volunteers and finds them to be spoiled, dissolute, and unpleasant. Meanwhile, Koznyshev speaks with Vronsky's mother, who is escorting him part of the way on the train. She tells him that the volunteer movement is Vronsky's only hope; he has been a wreck since Anna's death. The fight has given him something to be interested in, and the Countess is thankful for that, although she is worried about her son's safety. Alexis Karenin has taken Vronsky's daughter, and Vronsky is unable to get her back. When Koznyshev speaks to Vronsky later on the trip, he understands the Countess' words. Vronsky has aged many years and acts as though he is living in a mental prison.
The Levins' home is a portrait of domesticity and happy, effective labor. Kitty is so in tune with her baby that she knows to feed him when she feels her milk gush to her breasts. Dolly, who has recently sold off part of her own estate in order to pay Oblonsky's debts, and her children are also staying with the Levins. Levin himself remains very active on his farm and continues to study various subjects. Yet he is tortured by religious doubts and spiritual strivings, and these matters are so clearly troubling to him that even Kitty has begun to question what is going on in her husband's head. Levin's basic question, as he puts it, is this: "If I don't accept the answers given by Christianity to the questions of my life, what answers do I accept?" He wonders about his moment of prayer during Kitty's labor and constantly questions and tortures himself about his doubts. At times it becomes so bad that he wishes to kill himself. He attempts to distract himself with his family and farm duties, and in this he is moderately successful.
He is in a particular state of anguish the day of Koznyshev's arrival. It is the hardest three weeks of the harvestthe peasants are required to work twenty hours a day in order to mow, reap, and cart the rye and oats. As Levin rides up and down, watching the peasants strain themselves, he asks over and over again what the meaning of life is. He stops to correct a peasant named Theodore, and in the midst of their conversation he asks him a question about God. Theodore's answer"he lives righteously, in a godly way"provides Levin with the answer he is looking for. He experiences an epiphany and realizes that he has already been living for God. By appreciating his family and his workers, and dedicating himself to the well-being of others around him, he is behaving the way God wishes him to. He feels that because he knows the answer now, his life will be perfect.
Almost immediately, Levin is corrected in this last belief. Katavasov and Koznyshev approach, and the old hostility between the brothers re-emerges. At first Levin is plunged into doubt, but his faith holds. The brothers, Katavasov, the elder Prince Shcherbatskaya and Dolly debate faith and the Serbian War. Then, suddenly, a tremendous thunderstorm interrupts the discussion. Dolly rushes her children into the house, and Levin discovers from the maid that Kitty has taken the baby to the woods. Horrified that they have been harmed, he runs into the forest. While he hunts for them, lightening strikes a tree in front of him. The tree is scorched and tumbles in front of him.
When he finds them a moment later, unhurt, he is overcome with relief. The experience renews his belief in God.
That night, the discussion continues between the members of the household. As Levin is engaged in the conversation, Kitty calls him to the nursery. The baby has shown his first signs of recognizing the people around him, another moment that fills Levin's heart with love. Later that night, Levin reflects once more on the nature of his questions, and decides that his belief in God belongs to him alone, and that he has no right to remark on others' relationships with the Lord. Kitty comes in and asks him what he is thinking about, but he demurs to talk to her about it. It is a personal matter, he realizes, one that may not affect his external life but that will make all the difference to his inner peace.
Part Eight Analysis:
Part Seven ended the story of the book's heroineAnnawith death. To complete the story of the book's heroLevinTolstoy shows how one may choose life rather than death. With the completion of these two stories, the doubling of the novel is complete, and the novel comes to a neat, equitable closure. It also completes Tolstoy's portrayal of Russian Society and offers his final remarks on the book's other characters.
The section opens with a disapproving look at the movement to help the Slavs. It is difficult to say whether this disapproval is for the cause itself or for the elements in Russian Society trying to "help," but Tolstoy takes advantage of the opportunity to jab at the superficiality and shallowness of Russian society once again. The volunteers are also failures. They are not volunteering for the good of the Slavs, but for their own self-advancement.
The volunteers are failures, and Vronsky is among them. Like them, he is merely going to save himself. There is little doubt that Anna has made a tremendous impact on his lifehis suffering and pain are realbut the blame that both Vronsky and his mother place on Anna is unfair. Vronsky ignores his own role in Anna's downfall and behaves as if his ruination was caused by her will alone. He goes off to destroy himself again, perhaps causing his own death this time.
The scenes of the volunteer movement conclude the motif of trains running through the novel. As in the earlier sections, trains represent death and the invasion of Western progress. No fewer than six scenes of death and carnal excess occur on trains in this novel. Vronsky's final breakdown, in front of Koznyshev, occurs on the train platform. And he leaves on another train to fight a potentially hopeless cause, and possibly to meet his death.
The main character in this section, though, is Levin. Critics have questioned the credibility of Levin's spiritual conversion in this last section, especially since Tolstoy was in the midst of his long feud with the Greek Orthodox Church during the composition of Anna Karenina. And though it was hinted at earlier in the book, the conversion itself is rather hasty and unconvincing, given the torturous nature of Levin's doubts. Though this may create head-scratching, the continual debate over Levin's conversion is one of the reasons that Anna Karenina continues to be of interest to scholars and critics. The combination of Levin's ambivalent conversion and the incredible appeal of Anna as a character make it difficult to position the book as a simple parable of good and evil.
The success of Levin and Kitty's marriage, though, provokes little debate. They succeed where others have failed because they respect each other while allowing each other room for private reflection and growth. They inhabit separate social spheres, which is healthy for their relationship. A couple, Tolstoy is saying, needs room to have private thoughts and feelings. A stifling relationship, such as the one between Anna and Vronsky, fails because the two people are not allowed to grow on their own. This theory, obviously, comes with conditions--the same "space" could be said of, say, Dolly and Oblonsky. But while Levin and Kitty respect each other's roles, they also grant each other respect and aim to treat each other with concern. Within the sphere of marriage, these things are more important and lasting than carnal desire.