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Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 2 Chapters 16 20 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 2, Chapters 16–20 | Summary



In Chapter 16, Levin is happy to hear that Kitty did not end up with Vronsky, although he tries to hide his pleasure from Stiva. The merchant Ryabinin comes to complete the purchase of the wood and tries to knock the price down. Levin is already disgusted by how little his friend is getting for the acreage and threatens to buy it himself, and Ryabinin backs down. Levin is cross with Stiva over the sale of the wood in Chapter 17, and angry that Kitty was insulted by Vronsky. Stiva assures him that her head was only temporarily turned by Vronsky's "aristocratism." Levin scorns the idea that Vronsky is an aristocrat, citing his father's uncertain pedigree and his mother's sordid affairs. He also says he is over Kitty, which Stiva calls "nonsense."

Chapter 18 returns to Vronsky in Petersburg, whom the narrator says is well loved and respected by his regiment. Moreover, his friends approve of his affair, which everyone knows about even though he has never said a word about it. Vronsky's mother is initially pleased, but when she learns he turned down a promotion to be near Anna, she changes her mind. Besides his passion for Anna, Vronsky loves horses and has signed up to race in the officers' steeplechase. In Chapter 19 Vronsky runs into Yashvin, a captain in the cavalry and his best friend, and the two go back to the cottage where Vronsky is staying for the summer. When they arrive in Chapter 20, Petritsky is coping with a hangover. Vronsky's friends begin drinking, but he leaves for the stables and also plans to see Anna.


Stiva's visit to Levin brings him the good news that Kitty is not attached, and both he and Stiva know he is glad. Still, his pride is hurt, and he feels that Vronsky is his enemy, both because he bested him in love and because he has insulted the woman he loves. Stiva's misdeeds are not restricted to the sexual; he also gambles and overspends, putting his family's security and future at risk. Through him, Tolstoy shows how weakness becomes pervasive and systemic. Levin takes his own role as caretaker of his own ancestral property quite seriously. He studies agricultural methods and works in the fields alongside his laborers. Thus, he sees Stiva's casual mishandling of Dolly's property as an insult to him as a land-holding gentleman.

Vronsky's feelings for Anna are beginning to change him and will transform him as the novel progresses—which is to say, he will experience great unhappiness. People like Vronsky's mother and the officers in the regiment allow themselves their numerous sexual affairs so long as they are carried on discreetly behind the curtain of respectability. The presence of Stiva forces the reader to question the feasibility of such a system.

Vronsky's mother initially thinks that "nothing ... gave the ultimate finish to a brilliant young man like a liaison in high society." Anna is a beautiful, desirable woman, married to a powerful and important man, so Vronsky's "conquest" gets kudos from his friends and even his mother. But Vronsky finds himself living by a new code; his old coldness cannot accommodate authentic passion. Thus, Anna becomes a point of division between him and his mother.

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