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Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 3 Chapters 16 20 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 3, Chapters 16–20 | Summary



Anna is furious upon receiving Karenin's bureaucratic response to their situation in Chapter 16. She mentally accuses him of being mean and vile and stifling her life. She is sure Karenin knows she will not abandon her son, because if she did, "there [could] be no life for me even with the one I love." Anna begins to weep, thinking there is no way out for her. She goes to Betsy's house in Chapter 17 with the thought of meeting Vronsky, and finds Princess Tverskoy walking in her garden with her lover Tushkevich. Also on hand is Stremov, a colleague and rival of Karenin, and a woman he admires, Liza Merkalov, who is meanwhile having an affair with a third person. Betsy sends a note to Vronsky inviting him to dinner and discreetly gives Anna time to pen her own note to him before she seals the letter. In Chapter 18 additional guests arrive, and after Anna makes some small talk, she leaves as quickly as she can.

In Chapter 19, Vronsky is poring over his accounts, and his debt far exceeds his income. Although he is thought to be very rich, he has actually ceded his share of the family wealth to his older brother, who was in debt and married a woman without money. He has reserved a modest salary for himself and promised to do without his income until he himself marries. Vronsky's attitude toward Anna in Chapter 20 is that she deserves his highest respect as the woman he loves. Her husband is, for him, an inconvenience, and he would have gladly fought him in a duel. As he ponders his financial position, he realizes he will need money to take Anna out of her marriage.


Karenin's strength is being a government employee. His letter reads more like a negotiated deal than a marital reconciliation. Still, Anna is not fair in her assessment of the situation; he is a man who works in the highest circles of government, and she has put him in an untenable position. Given the strict rules about divorce and the disgrace that Anna will bring upon the family with an open, unsanctioned love, as well as the future social position of their son, it is not unreasonable for Karenin to demand that she give up her lover and remain in the marriage. Like Karenin has done with her, she now exaggerates his bad qualities. Although he may be cold and she may feel stifled by him, he is neither mean nor vile.

The hypocrisy of the upper class is evident in the unrepentant desecration of marriage vows that goes on in Betsy Tverskoy's social circle to which Anna is now relegated. When Anna asks Betsy about the exact relationship between Liza Merkalov and her lover, Betsy laughs it off and calls her a "terrible infant." Anna has moral scruples and wonders if the fact that she actually loves her paramour makes her better or worse than the other adulterers. She does not have an answer to the question. She looks at the women who have become her friends and cannot imagine how they manage because, of course, she is nothing like them. Anna is looking for permanent satisfaction not available in her current husband, while her society friends are merely taking the edge off their boring lives and lackluster marriages.

And Anna is not the only complicated factor in her relationship. Vronsky has far more good qualities than the average soldier or socialite. He is not greedy and has temporarily given up his inheritance to benefit his brother. And despite his lack of means, he acknowledges his responsibility to support Anna and their child.

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