Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 3 Chapters 21 23 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 3, Chapters 21–23 | Summary



Vronsky's friend from the military academy, Serpukhovskoy, arrives in Chapter 21, and the regimental commander throws a party for him. He and Vronsky are childhood friends who graduated at the same time, but Serpukhovskoy is a general, while Vronsky, who passed up a promotion, is still only a captain. Serpukhovskoy offers to help Vronsky advance his career. Vronsky then gets the note from Betsy with Anna's postscript and excuses himself, promising to talk later. When he arrives to see Anna in Chapter 22, she tells him she has confessed to her husband and gives him Karenin's letter. Vronsky thinks he should not bind himself to Anna but still urges her to leave her husband. When Anna begins to cry, saying she does not want to leave her son, Vronsky feels responsible for her unhappiness.

In Chapter 23 Anna goes to Petersburg, following Karenin's instructions. She announces she cannot stop seeing Vronsky, nor is she able to resume conjugal relations with Karenin. He excuses her from her marital duties and tells her he never wants to meet Vronsky at his house.


Vronsky is not without ambition, and the arrival of his friend reminds him that he once had high hopes for his career, and it might even still rise quickly. His friend wants to help him move into a wider circle of influence, which will require leaving the comfort of his regiment and most likely Petersburg, also. But just as he is getting interested in what Serpukhovskoy has to say, Vronsky is called away by Anna, who clearly takes precedence over every other thing. Vronsky is conflicted about his desire for personal success and his sense of obligation, and this conflict does not bode well for Anna.

Anna is equally as frank with Karenin as she was with Vronsky. But unlike Vronsky, Karenin is not conflicted, only weak. He accepts the fact that she will not sleep with him while she continues to have sex with Vronsky, demanding only that the affair remain discreet. In this matter, Karenin represents the ineffectual Russian government, managing well within its own confines but having little idea how to manage an unruly and messy populace.

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