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Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 3, Chapters 11–15 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 11 it is July, and Levin goes to his sister's village to check on the haying where he finds he has to negotiate with the headman to ensure he is not cheated of his fair share of hay. As Levin watches peasants at work in Chapter 12, the previous argument forgotten, he thinks about how he needs to change his life. When he leaves the meadow and begins walking toward the village, he sees a coach passing, and inside is Kitty. Levin realizes he has not given up his dream of marrying her and that she is "the only possibility of resolving the riddle of his life."

Chapter 13 returns to Petersburg and Karenin. While his wife's words are painful, he feels "like a man who has had a long-aching tooth pulled out." Now he thinks back on their lives and judges Anna as having been always "depraved." He wishes to "shake off ... the mud she had spattered on him ... to continue on his path of active, honest, and useful life." Karenin is afraid to challenge Vronsky to a duel, which also would be incongruous, given his position as a statesman. Divorce is not an option, either, because he would have to drag them both through a considerable amount of mud. Neither can he condone a separation, which would allow her to be with Vronsky, as would a divorce. He wants her to suffer and also wants to do what will least disturb his life.

He decides they will stay together and she will stop seeing Vronsky. This also coincides with his religious view of giving her an opportunity to reform. Karenin writes a letter to his wife when he gets home in Chapter 14, advising her of his decision and asking her to move back to Petersburg. He then mentally lines up additional new work projects to keep himself busy. In Chapter 15, Anna feels both fear and shame the next day when she thinks about her confession and begins to think Vronsky is growing tired of her. She also thinks that, whatever happens, she cannot leave her son. She writes a letter to Karenin, saying she is leaving with her son, and prepares to go to Moscow.

Analysis

Karenin's rewrite of his history with Anna, like Anna's accusations of him, must be understood in the light of a deeply dignified man who has been made to look ridiculous and who has no remedy. Revenge is not possible for him, given his social position and his constitution, taking both a duel and a divorce off the table and furthering his impotence.

Also at play is his desire to continue his control of Anna. Either separation or divorce would allow Anna to live with Vronsky outside the bounds of marriage, but she would lose her son. Thus, the best solution, in Karenin's view, is for her to remain in the marriage. He argues that he cannot in good conscience put himself, or her, or their son through "the coarse proofs [of adultery] the law demanded," but given the public nature of Vronsky and Anna's affair, his argument is specious.

Anna is helpless. She is largely ignorant of divorce law, knowing only that she cannot legally take her son away from his father. Vronsky has no legal obligation to protect her, and now, neither does her husband. Still, her passion will not allow her to relent.

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