Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina Summary and Analysis of Part Two

Part Two Summary:

Kitty Shcherbatskaya remains shattered at the beginning of this section; her heartbreak has made itself known in a number of physical symptoms. Her entire family, especially her mother, feels distressed and guilty over their roles in forcing proposals from the two men. Kitty is particularly emotional during the early pages of Part Two. Irritable, distraught, and free to say what she likes under the cloak of illness, she vents her feelings to Dolly. She feels, Kitty says, coarse and vulgar, and she also claims that she will never do as Dolly has done: to continue to live in the same house as a man who has been dishonest. Kitty almost immediately regrets the cruelty of this last statement, coming as it does at a time when Dolly is already feeling insecure about Oblonsky's past and future infidelities. The two sisters have an emotional reconciliation and Kitty returns home with her sister to nurse the Oblonsky children through an outbreak of scarlet fever. But Kitty's own health does not improve, and her family decides to take her to a spa in Germany.

Chapter Four opens with a detailed description of the three different social circles Anna has at her disposal. The first is the business circle of her husband's associates, the second is a small group of learned and pious men and women, nicknamed "the conscience of Petersburg society." And the third is the largest circle of grand society: balls, dinners, playing at cards, etc. Previous to her Moscow trip, Anna had typically consorted with the second circle, but upon her return, she begins circulating more frequently in the third circle, where she is sure to meet Vronsky. They share a mutual friend, Princess Betsy Tverskoy, who is also Vronsky's cousin and takes great delight in watching their passion progress. Anna at first believes that she is merely allowing Vronsky to pursue her, but soon she admits to herself that his feelings constitute the whole passion of her present existence.

Their behavior quickly escalates into the realm of the Socially Unacceptable. This is clear one evening at Princess Betsy's house. While the other guests amuse themselves in conversation and the Princess Myagkaya holds court with her wit and her blunt sense of humor, Anna and Vronsky withdraw to their own table and engage in a lengthy, private conversation. This would not be unusual, but they do so in the presence of Karenin, Anna's husband, and so others take notice. Eyebrows begin raising all over St. Petersburg.

With his typical disinterest and naivete, Karenin does not believe there is anything wrong with Anna's behavior, but he notices the effect of her conversation on others. Karenin is a man vitally concerned with external appearances, and it is for this reason that he confronts Anna about the incident. She arrives home very late, much to his displeasure, and then proceeds to cheerfully disregard his concern. Frustrated by his inability to communicate with his wife, Karenin withdraws from Anna, and she from him. From this point on, Anna's primary attachment is to Vronsky.

Vronsky and Anna consummate their love in heavily coded language (which was shocking for the time‹and the censors) and Anna, with more clarity than she has ever had about the affair before, says, "Everything is finished. I have nothing but you now. Remember that." She leaves immediately, and when she goes to bed that night, she dreams of being married to both Vronsky and Karenin, and being ravished by them at the same time. She is horrified by this dream.

Meanwhile, Levin prepares his estate for the arrival of spring. Unlike many estate owners, Levin delights in doing heavy labor on his estate; Tolstoy gives many descriptions of Levin's physicality and his deeds during this section. Levin does the work not only because it gives him pleasure, but also because it distracts him from thoughts of Kitty. A visitor arrives at his estate: fearing that it is his brother Nicholas, Levin is delighted when it turns out to be Oblonsky. With characteristic aplomb, Oblonsky announces his three intentions: to visit, to shoot and to sell one of his forests to a local dealer named Ryabinin. The deal goes through and Ryabinin takes advantage of Oblonsky by paying far less than the forest is worth. Levin is furious at Oblonsky and takes advantage of the opportunity to lecture Oblonsky on his financial affairs. Oblonsky laughs him off. Before he leaves, Oblonsky tells Levin that Kitty is ill and that Vronsky has left Moscow in pursuit of Anna.

In Petersburg, Vronsky and Anna's affair is rapidly becoming common knowledge. Though the affair is condoned because they remain discreet, the women of Petersburg Society are waiting eagerly for Anna to make a mistake, and Vronsky's family is becoming concerned that this affair is distracting him from progressing in his career. In the midst of all this concern, Vronsky is preparing to ride in the annual horse race for officers of his regiment. Right before the race, Vronsky visits Anna in the garden of her house. He pauses to admire her, looking beautiful and tragic on the terrace, but she tells him a piece of startling news: she is pregnant. He does not sense the import of this announcement, but rashly proposes that they elope. Anna refuses, claiming that she cannot bear to unleash the forces of civic, political and religious society upon her and her son. They make plans to meet later, and Vronsky then hurries to the race. He meets his brother, who makes several insinuating comments about his affair with Anna. Anna and her husband both attend the race, but sit separately in the stands. Vronsky begins the race in the lead, but he fails to remain in motion with his nervous mare, Frou-Frou during a hurdle. The horse falls and breaks her back; Vronsky, in anger, kicks the dying mare, though he himself is unhurt.

Karenin, who has been conducting relations with his wife much as before, sees a doctor before the race about his health. The doctor prescribes cures that are impossible for Karenin‹no worrying, little intellectual activity and a great deal of physical labor‹and then leaves, disturbing Karenin. At the race, he watches Anna's reactions from across the stands. He is furious to see her openly fawn over Vronsky as he is riding and then to see her react physically when he falls. With great difficulty‹for Anna does not know if Vronsky is hurt or not‹he manages to force her to come home with him. In the carriage, he confronts her about her affair, with more strength this time. Not only does Anna confess her feelings for Vronsky, but she lashes out at Karenin, saying that she hates him. Karenin demands that she observe "external conditions of propriety" until he can protect himself, presumably through a divorce.

At the German spa, Kitty makes the acquaintance of Varenka, a young woman who cares for Madame Stahl, her adoptive mother. Stahl is a mysterious figure, a member of the highest society who is too ill, and, the old Princess Shcherbatsky claims, too proud, to consort with other Russians. Varenka is pious, with a deep sense of morality, and she devotes much of her time looking out for the less fortunate. Kitty is taken with Varenka and tries to imitate her sense of deep spirituality. Nicholas Levin and his female companion, Masha, are also at the same resort. He is poorly dressed and has no social graces. Kitty is repulsed, not just because he is unpleasant but also because he reminds her of Levin.

Varenka assures Kitty that there are far more important things in the world than marriage. Thus shamed, Kitty aspires to be charitable and begins looking after Petrov, a sickly painter. This backfires when Petrov falls in love with Kitty and his wife gets angry at the girl's attentions. At first Kitty is sad that she cannot be like Varenka, but then she meets the mysterious Madame Stahl and discovers that Stahl, who claims to be pious, is actually hypocritical and rather cruel towards Varenka. Her father makes fun of Stahl and does a great deal to restore Kitty's spirits. Thus assured, Kitty prepares to return to Moscow with a greater understanding of herself. She retains her love for Varenka, begging her to come visit. Varenka promises she will as soon as Kitty is married.

Part Two Analysis:

Part Two helps readers to understand the seriousness of Anna and Vronsky's affair. The theme of family relations is strong in this portion of the book. Not only are the stakes raised with Anna's pregnancy, but Tolstoy's portrayal of the complicated emotional networks between families shows how Anna and Vronsky's behavior will hurt the people around them in addition to themselves.

In order to understand the depth of these networks, it is important to understand a few legalities, de juro and de facto, of Russian society. At this time, divorce was granted only for the most serious conditions of adultery or abuse. A divorce was only obtainable by the innocent party, and the guilty party was neither allowed custody of any children nor the right to marry again. For Anna, then, a divorce would mean losing access to her beloved son. It would also mean living as Vronsky's mistress. As a mistress, not only would she be a permanent social outcast, but she would lack legal power in all of her social relationships. Vronsky's children would not have legitimacy, and therefore they would be unable to inherit any of his property or titles.

In addition to this legality, Russian society had its own rules. Although affairs were common and perfectly acceptable for both men and women, they were condoned only so long as what Karenin called "external conditions" were maintained. Neglect of one's spouse in public in order to pay attention to one's lover was considered a breach of those conditions, as was outward disrespect for the wronged husband or wife. If those conditions were breached, especially by a woman, Russian society would turn upon the offender with full force. Anna risks not only her own social humiliation and ruination but that of her son as well.

Under such dire circumstances, it is understandable that Anna hesitates at Vronsky's rash suggestion. Vronsky, whether from ignorance or naivete, fails to understand what these two powerful rules will mean for himself and Anna, and he goes off to the race barely disturbed beyond a serious feeling of "disgust" at the entire situation.

The most powerful figure in this equation, then, is Anna's husband Karenin. Though critics have demonized Karenin for his coldness towards Anna and his preoccupation with "external conditions" rather than "internal conditions"‹for his hypocrisy‹he is one of the more complicated figures in the book. He may be cold, but he is willing to suffer public humiliation if Anna will simply behave herself. This is truly generous of him and speaks well of his selflessness. Anna senses the greatness of his gesture, and this is one reason why she hates him. Indeed, her dream of having both men as husbands reflects on her own wish to have not both men but both sets of personalities‹Vronsky's passion and Karenin's generosity‹at her disposal. Of course, they cannot merge in the same man, and this is part of Anna's tragedy.

Vronsky, meanwhile, showcases some of his less flattering aspects during the race. He rushes off to the race after Anna's pronouncement with barely a concern beyond the condition of his horse. And when, due to his own mistake, the horse, fails him, his cruelty is startling. Despite his later regret, Vronsky is shown to be a man of great passions but limited emotional depth.

While Anna and Vronsky begin their descent into chaos, Kitty gradually grows in maturity and independence. Through the figure of Varenka, she comes to understand another vision of life that does not center around marriage, but good deeds, as the purpose of a woman's life. Though she does not chose this route, her exposure to it lessens her concerns about Vronsky's humiliation and allows her to envision a new life for herself. The role of her family, especially her father, in supporting Kitty forms an alternative portrayal of familial relations to the debacle in St. Petersburg.