Part Three Summary:
In the summer, Levin's half-brother Koznyshev decides to take a break from his intellectual labors in order to visit Levin in the country. Levin is happy to see his brother, though their differences regarding the purpose of a country estate annoy him. Levin is actively involved in everything regarding his farm, while Koznyshev regards the country as an opportunity for rest and idleness, "a useful antidote to depravity." There are also differences between the two brothers regarding the peasants. Koznyshev likes "the people," even to the point of idealizing their simplicity and good attitude, while Levin is more familiar with their weaknesses as well as their strengths and therefore cannot idealize them or their role in the labor market. Koznyshev also wants Levin to assume a position of responsibility in the area and criticizes him for abandoning the district council. Levin gets rid of some of his annoyance by mowing his fields with the peasants.
The physical activity is invigorating and puts Levin in a good humor; relations between himself and Koznyshev improve as a result.
Meanwhile, Oblonsky has gone to Petersburg for necessary bureaucratic functions, sending Dolly and the children to their country estate in Yergushovo to save money. While Oblonsky attends the horse races and lives like a bachelor in Petersburg, his family has a difficult time adjusting to the hardships of country life. After a week, the country house is in working order and Dolly has a moment of matriarchal triumph at her children's excellent behavior at Mass. Levin visits after Communion, and Dolly suggests that he propose to Kitty again. The suggestion embarrasses Levin, and they argue for a bit. Their bad humor seems to affect the children, whose good behavior earlier in the day disintegrates. Levin, inwardly scoffing at Dolly's mothering skills, leaves quickly. He goes next to deal with the sale of his sister's hay-harvest in a village some fifteen miles from Pokrovsk. After he has settled the business accounts, he observes a cheerful peasant family working hard at their labor. Their seeming happiness affects him greatly, and he returns to his questions about economics and spiritual happiness. As he leaves the fields, he glimpses Kitty passing in a carriage, and he realizes that he still loves her.
Karenin struggles with Anna's revelation about Vronsky by pondering his options. He does this in a very clinical, bureaucratic way. The traditional response would be to challenge Vronsky to a duel, but he considers duels dishonest and foolish besides. The most important thing to him is to "safeguard my reputation, which I need in order to continue my career unhindered." In order to gain a divorce, he would have to provide "proof" of Anna's infidelity, and he considers such things coarse. Plus, the divorce would be disruptive and publicly humiliating for him. So he decides that the only option is to force Anna to break off relations with Vronsky and stay with him. Outwardly at least, this will preserve the status quo. Inwardly, he also recognizes this as punishment for her. He writes to tell her of his decision and throws himself into his bureaucratic duties with relish.
Anna wakes up the morning after her outburst in the carriage seized by fear. Frightened that Karenin will throw her out of the house, she hatches a desperate plan to flee with her son, without Vronsky. She writes Karenin a letter to this effect. Then she receives Karenin's letter, and is chilled by both his generosity and his coldness. She leaves for a croquet match at Princess Betsy's. Betsy has arranged for a number of high-society women with lovers to attend, in order that Anna might "learn" from their example. The women show up with both their lovers and husbands in tow. The match temporarily distracts Anna, but she remembers what awaits her at home and leaves.
The same morning, Vronsky spends the morning putting his financial affairs in order. His calculations reveal that he has many debts and a limited income. A visit from his friend Serpukhovskoy sparks Vronsky's jealousy, Serpukhovskoy is a general expecting an even higher appointment, while Vronsky's career has stagnated.
But when Serpukhovskoy offers him the chance to jump-start his career by leaving the regiment, Vronsky refuses because it will take him away from Anna. After his meeting, he finds Anna. She tells him about Karenin, and Vronsky is excited, but Anna suggests that everything will remain the same. Vronsky believes a duel is inevitable, but she knows better. Sure enough, Karenin does not challenge Vronsky to a duel. He is absorbed in his work, and a temporary triumph over a political enemy distracts him from family matters. When Anna comes to him in emotional despair, his manner is chilling and vindictive. He tells her in no uncertain terms that she will remain with him and break off relations with Vronsky.
Levin spends the rest of the summer contemplating economic and agricultural strategies while he attempts to avoid thoughts of Kitty, who is staying with Dolly less than twenty miles away. He visits Sviyazhsky, the owner of a nearby estate, to go shooting, and they engage in an involved discussion of peasant labor. Though he disagrees with Sviyazhsky, who wishes to reintroduce serfdom (abolished in 1861), the conversation sparks Levin's thinking about the peasants. Levin believes the best way to inspire them is not to force them to work, but to give them a stake in their work through ownership. He develops a "theory" of economic labor that involves cooperative labor and ownership. He attempts to implement this theory on his farm, but the peasants respond with far less enthusiasm than Levin does.
At the end of September, Levin receives a surprise visit from his brother Nicholas. Nicholas is emaciated and obviously very sick; his death is imminent. Though Levin is horrified by his brother's appearance and concerned about his future, Nicholas' fate is not a topic for discussion. Nicholas even claims that his health is improving. Instead, they fight about Levin's economic theory. Nicholas scoffs at his brother's beliefs, calling them a distorted form of communism. This disillusions Levin about the potential of his idea. Nicholas leaves, and Levin sinks into moroseness. He begins seeing death everywhere and is depressed about his own soul.
Part Three Analysis:
It is here, in part three, that Tolstoy develops his remarkable secondary story of Russia's changing economic society in addition to the story of relationships within Russia's High Society. Many critics have argued that Tolstoy's work here is what makes Anna Karenina such a lasting piece of literature; there is no doubt that his descriptions of agricultural life and his complex understanding of economic and historical forces, rendered in lucid prose, deepen and richen the novel. At the same time, some critics believe that Tolstoy's in-depth look at economics and agriculturehe relates every speech and every theoryis monotonous and distracts us from the "real" action. Regardless of critical debate, Tolstoy's goal in writing Anna Karenina was not just to tell a story but to provide "a slice of life." The agricultural focuswhich certainly would have been a large topic in 1870s Russiais a part of that.
Part Three is where, as one critic claims, Tolstoy has "images of life overthrowing theories." Or, to be more specific, "mowing wheat" overthrows theories. The simultaneous stories of Anna and Vronsky and Levin and Kitty are subordinated to Tolstoy's look at the Russian economic order. But in doing so, Tolstoy also provides us with valuable character development. We cannot take Koznyshev and Nicholas' theories about economics and peasants seriously because they do not, like Levin, have the experience of tilling the earth. The theme of the earth runs strongly through this part, and we are meant to judge characters by how they respond to the earth. Only characters who have a sensuous relationship to the earthLevin, Dollyare considered sympathetic in this section. Characters who do not have a relationship to the earthKoznyshev, Nicholas, Oblonskyseem misinformed and depraved. Indeed, it has been argued that some of Anna's depravity stems from her lack of a relationship to the earth; her inability to leave large urban centers is partially responsible for bringing her down.
The problems of the landowner's station are of prime importance in this section, and much of what happens is a reflection of Tolstoy's own reactionary beliefs. Though he did not favor a return to the slave-like conditions of serfdom, Tolstoy believed in the primacy of the landowner's patriarchal relationship to his peasants and his lands. At least some of the failure of Levin's theory is based on Tolstoy's own rebuke of communism. Nonetheless, Levin is a deeply conflicted man of ethics and human understanding (he does not make the mistake of idealizing the peasants, nor does he consider them inferior), and this creates difficulties in his vision of economics. How can he, Levin, make his living off the labor of others?
This question and a serious obsession with death tortures Levin throughout the novel. It is very important to keep these two matters in mind, particularly the latter, as they form the crux of Levin's development as a spiritual being later in the novel.
Karenin's behavior in this part of the novel shows both his cruelty and his bizarre sense of morality. It is true that he does the most generous thing by inviting Anna to come back into the fold rather than throwing her to the wolves, but it is also true that in doing so, he inflicts on her a punishment that is psychologically far more terrifying. Anna sought her relationship with Vronsky in order to liberate some of the repressed "animation" that, as we saw in Chapter 18 of Part One, is her natural state. Karenin's solution is to stifle that animation completely. Karenin knows that his generosity will punish Anna further, and he takes great vindictive delight in "doing the right thing." The irony of this situation also works to Karenin's self-interest. He coldly calculates pros and cons in a scene that is terrifying for the lack of emotion Karenin brings to an essentially emotional affair. If he gets a divorce from Anna or challenges Vronsky to a duel, the disruptive outcome may affect his career. And his career, as we see from his manner, is the most important thing.
Betsy's party is an amazing "slice of life," and frequently undiscussed part of the novel. Betsy brings two women, both placed high in society, with their lovers and husbands, to a croquet match. Her intention is to show Anna how women can conduct affairs in a non-damaging way. But although both women have retained their positions and their lovers, neither of them are positive models for Anna. One woman suffers from insomnia and boredom; the other is whorish. Juxtaposed against such examples, Anna's passionate, all-or-nothing manner is positively refreshing.
It is no accident that Levin spots Kitty just as he is feeling invigorated by the lives of the peasants. Just as their simple life inspires him, Kitty represents something child-like and innocent to him. But in Part Three, they are still not ready to meet for the purposes of love and marriage. An important theme in Anna Karenina is that of making choicesjust as Anna follows through with her destructive love affair to the bitter end, Levin and Kitty must be ready to commit themselves to a life together. This will take a bit more growth for both persons.