Part Seven Summary:
As this portion of the novel opens, the Levins have been in Moscow for over two months. Kitty's child is past due, to the alarm and concern of everyone except Kitty. The relationship between Levin and Kitty is improving; they rarely argue once they get to Moscow. While visiting a family friend, Kitty and her father meet Vronsky. Kitty impresses herself by treating him calmly and civilly, but without interest. Levin is far more upset, though he manages to calm himself and decides that he will treat Vronsky with kindness the next time he sees him, now that he has no reason to be jealous.
As always, Levin is uncomfortable in the city. He is annoyed at the large, seemingly frivolous expenses that come with living in an urban center. He finds it difficult to work on his agricultural theory book and is awkward when it comes to making social calls. He renews his friendship with old University friends like Katavasov and meets new intellectuals, like Metrov. He visits with Kitty's family, including her sister, Nataly, whom he escorts to a concert. During a particularly awkward visit to the Bols family, he meets Oblonsky, who sweeps him away with typical charm. Under Oblonsky's influence, Levin not only makes peace with Vronsky but also agrees to visit Anna, whom he has never met.
Levin steps into the Vronskys' home and meets not Anna, but her portraitravishingly done by the Italian painter, Mikhailov. He is completely taken by the otherworldly beauty of the portrait and the real-life woman, who charms him completely. Anna seems, to him, to be the epitome of womanworldly, educated, charitable (she is taking care of an orphaned English girl) and interested in a variety of subjects. When he returns home, Kitty is distraught that he went to see Anna"She's bewitched you," she claims. He stays up late comforting Kitty and assuring her of his love.
After Levin leaves, Anna analyzes her situation. She put on a special effort to charm Levin, in an effort to test her powers. She is bitter and angry because she feels neglected and deprived of love. She realizes that her hold over Vronsky is crumbling; they typically greet each other with hostility. Anna knows this is destructive but cannot stop herself. She feels that their fighting has become necessary"she felt that together with the love that bound them together some evil spirit of strife had grown up between them that she could not cast out of his heart, and still less her own." She has not heard from Karenin about her request for a divorce, and this makes their relations still more tense.
That night, Kitty wakes Levin and says that she is not feeling well. She goes into labor. The midwife, Mary, is sent for, and Levin rushes to fetch the doctor. The doctor keeps him waiting for several hours and then appears indifferent, which enrages Levin, but the doctor explains that there is no rush. Indeed, the birth takes 22 hours, during which Levin troubles the midwife, Dolly, and the elder Princess with his dramatic demands and outbursts. But he also prays, for the first time in years, and thinks of his brother Nicholas. When the child is born (a boy), Levin experiences a feeling of profound joy and happiness.
Plagued by debt, Oblonsky sets off towards Petersburg that spring in order to obtain a more lucrative post as a committee member for a railroad company. Obtaining the post requires self-abasement in a number of humiliating ways. While he is in town, he visits Karenin to press him about divorcing Anna. Karenin reacts with great emotion and claims that his Christianity will not allow him to do such a thing. He sees Seryozha, who has painfully adjusted to his mother's absence by casting her out of his mind. Despite his efforts, he is upset by Oblonsky's appearance and cries after he leaves.
Oblonsky hears from Princess Betsy that the fate of his sister depends on Jules Landau, a half-wit mystic who supposedly gives remarkable advice while he is asleep.
This turns out to be true. During a business visit to Princess Lydia, in an effort to procure his job, he finds Lydia and Karenin in the company of Landau. Lydia champions Karenin's newfound Christianity. A bizarre scene follows when Landau offers his sage advice while asleep. Oblonsky flees the scene, only to receive a definite "no" from Karenin the next day. He realizes that Karenin's answer is in response to Landau's unconscious advising.
Relations between Anna and Vronsky continue to sour. Anna grows more jealous, and Vronsky goes colder and more distant. Vronsky spends more time out of the house, and his mother encourages him to marry the young Princess Sorokin. Anna wishes to move back to the country, where bachelor temptations will not be so great. Vronsky agrees, but does not wish to leave right away. He is expected to pay a visit to his mother the next day. At this news, Anna's jealousy sparks. She suspects his mother is attempting to arrange a marriage between Vronsky and Princess Sorokin; her fury provokes another devastating fight. They quarrel that night and then again the next morning; Vronsky leaves in disgust. Anna takes a dose of morphia and writes Vronsky a note begging his forgiveness and pleading with him to return at once. Then, despairing, she goes to visit Dolly.
The next several chapters take place mostly in Anna's head. She goes to see Dolly, but Kitty is there. The two sisters react to Anna awkwardly, and they have little to talk about. Anna does not have the opportunity to have her talk with Dolly. She leaves and returns home, where she finds everything and everyone repulsive. Desperate to see Vronsky, she leaves for the Nizhni train station. She hopes to catch a train out to his mother's estate and confront all three of themVronsky, his mother, and the Princess Sorokin.
On the way to the train station, Anna is in a terrifying mental state. To her, everything is despicable and the world is full of ugliness, misery and hate. She reviles the people in the station and on the train. A couple who sits across from her on the train seem to be false and ridiculous; a little girl on the platform is full of grimaces and vulgarity. Overwhelmed, she gets off the train after one stop. She runs into Vronsky's coachman, who gives her a cold note from Vronsky. Insane with misery, she wanders along the platform. Suddenly, she remembers the porter who died the first day she met Vronsky, and decides what she must do. She descends onto the tracks and waits for the oncoming train. She begs God for forgiveness, and then looks up--her last vision is of the dirty peasant from her dream.
Part Seven Analysis:
The noveland Tolstoy's narrative brilliancecome to full fruition in Part Seven. This section contrasts birth and death and makes a remark on the type of relationship which will foster the former rather than the latter.
The section begins with Levin in Moscow. Tolstoy takes advantage of his narrator to remark on urban society once again: under Levin's gaze it seems corrupt and costly. Levin's brush with Moscow degenerates him briefly. He drinks and becomes infatuated with a sensuous woman. Fortunately, thanks to his strong attachment to the country, his love for Kitty, and his own good sense, he has the wisdom to shake off these influences. Though temporarily taken by Anna, he recognizes the goodness of Kitty and manages to shake loose of her spell. His growing Christian consciousness will come to a head later on in the section, but he manages to shake loose of Anna's admittedly strong charm because of his own recognition that passionate attachments without concern for God are wrong. He is rewarded for this with lifea son. Anna, meanwhile, as a consequence for her behavior, spirals lower and lower into madness and death.
Many critics have speculated on the potential of a Levin-Anna relationship. The possibilities are intriguing, because of all the characters in the book, Levin comes closest to equalling Anna in terms of passion. There is evidence that he would be most likely to understand Anna's tremendous vitality and complex personality. For example, the first scene in which Levin sees Annaand it is important that he does not see her at first, but her portraithe recognizes with excitement that here is a remarkable woman. His ensuing conversation with her underlines his first impression, and he is charmed as much by Anna herself as the prospect of meeting someone with similar depths of emotion and feeling.
Unfortunately, Anna is too far-gone by this point in the book to possibly sustain the idea of a relationship with Levin. Devoured by jealousy and paranoid about losing Vronsky's love, she is completely unaware of anyone or anything that she is doing. What she is doing, in fact, is sabotaging herself, a fact she realizes but is unable to resist. Again she dreams of the peasant on the railroad tracks, another premonition of her death.
After Levin's visit, the contrasts between the two relationships become clear. He experiences genuine contrition for his behavior towards Anna in contrast with Vronsky's hostile acquiescence to Anna's demands. Levin and Kitty honestly discuss their problems and jealousies rather than allowing them to fester. And in a striking portrayal of choosing life rather than death, Levin finds God while the Vronskys continue their death dance.
The one bright spot in this book is the birth of the Levins' child. The birth of his son sparks a religious breakthrough in Levinan epiphany. He considers the inevitability of death while he waits anxiously for the birth, thinking of his brother Nicholas, and yet he finds, in prayer, something to live for. The birth of his son gives him an even stronger reason to believe in the goodness of God. Though Tolstoy fell out with the Greek Orthodox Church, he believed that God was the answer to the type of carnal excess and groundless passions found in a relationship like the Vronskys'. Levin's breakthrough represents a serious stage in his personal growth. From here on, he will no longer look for the answer to his doubts in his relationship with Kitty or in other worldly matters. It is this belief, Tolstoy maintains, that makes his long-term relationship with Kitty successful where Vronsky's relationship with Anna has failed.
The chapters leading up to Anna's suicide take the reader straight into Anna's head. Tolstoy powerfully prefigures 20th-century modernist techniques with these chapters, which are practically stream-of-consciousness. We follow Anna into her final descent, and the path is terrifying. She is completely dislocated from reality. The ugliness of her relationship, her deeds, and her behavior all crush Anna as she runs frantically around Petersburg. The entire world has become ugly, and the only thing Anna can think of is to end the filth and misery by killing herself. That she commits suicide in part to punish Vronsky is unquestionable; that she does it to punish herself is equally true, though not as apparent. Two things that were used earlier in the novel to foreshadow her suicide both appear: her memory of the murdered porter and her vision of the dirty peasant. And yet, even at the end, we can never completely condemn Anna; she is too fully a character in our imaginations. The fact that her last thought is a prayer proves that Tolstoy has not abandoned her either.
Although Tolstoy intended to have a strong Christian message underlying Anna Karenina, he did not blindly believe in every form of Christian religion. The Landau episode satirizes overblown postures of Christian belief. Landau is another merciless jab at Countess Lydia courtesy of Tolstoy. It also serves to show how fall Karenin has fallen. Once decisive and calculating, he has turned to the services of a French mystic for advice on how to handle his wife. His decline is almost as severe as Anna's.