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Anna Karenina | Part 4, Chapters 1–5 | Summary

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Summary

By midwinter following the summer of the horse race, Anna, Karenin, and Vronsky have settled into an odd truce, as explained in Chapter 1. Karenin sees his wife every day but does not dine with her. His hope is that her mad passion will pass and things will return to normal. Anna, too, somehow thinks the situation will "clarify itself very soon." Vronsky is called away for a week to entertain a foreign prince. Upon returning in Chapter 2, he receives a note from Anna, asking him to call at the house that evening, because her husband will be at a meeting.

Vronsky takes a nap and wakes up from a terrible dream of a dirty peasant and realizes he has slept past his appointment with Anna. When he gets to the house, he runs into Karenin leaving, and they reluctantly acknowledge each other. When Anna sees him in Chapter 3, she expresses her jealousy, because she has heard that the prince's entertainment involved women, and Vronsky is exasperated by her doubt. In fact, he is glad to be rid of the prince, who reminds him of his former self—"stupid, self-confident ... contemptuously good natured with his inferiors." Because Vronsky is his social inferior, he suddenly feels what it is like to be on the other end side of that contempt.

Anna tells Vronsky of an old dream of a frightening peasant rummaging in a sack and was told in the dream she would die of childbirth. Vronsky is horrified about the similarities in their dreams but says her fear is unfounded.

At the opera in Chapter 4, Karenin is fuming about Anna's disregard of the one condition he has placed on her. When he comes back, he barges into Anna's bedroom and takes her portfolio that contains Vronsky's love letters. Karenin accuses Anna of being base and then says he will move to Moscow and be in touch with her about a divorce. He will move Seryozha to his sister's house, although Anna begs him to let the boy stay until she gives birth.

When Karenin visits a lawyer in Chapter 5, he learns that divorce on the grounds of adultery requires "exposure of the guilty party by mutual agreement" or "involuntary exposure," and advises the best course is adultery by mutual consent. Karenin says the first option is not possible; moreover, he has letters to confirm the adultery. The lawyer explains that eyewitnesses are required and assures Karenin he can get them.

Analysis

Karenin is still hoping to reclaim his wife, although Anna seems entirely unaware of it. She has allowed for things to continue as they are, mostly out of inertia, but she is also terrified about the possibility of losing Seryozha. Her jealousy of Vronsky increases proportionately with her inability to take an active part in society. Although at this moment in time, he feels cold toward her because of how she looks (pregnant; "like a faded flower he had plucked") and because of her unjustified jealousy, he knows "his bond with her could not be broken." He feels frustrated that Karenin has not asked him to duel so that they can bring matters to a climax and conclusion.

When Karenin confronts his wife after coming back from the opera, she refuses to acknowledge his suffering in addition to her own. Readers must decide for themselves both the degree of Karenin's sincerity and Anna's passion. Although Karenin has avoided a scandal up until now, Anna's invitation to Vronsky puts him beyond his patience, and he is finally forced into action. Unfortunately, Karenin is confronted with three, equally unpleasant, choices: to take the blame, to have Anna take the blame, or to get ironclad evidence of Anna's infidelity.

The dirty, dwarfish peasant is a recurring symbol in the novel, and both Anna and Vronsky see this figure and dream of him. The peasant can be identified as the archetypal figure of Trickster. In his mildest form, he humorously disrupts the status quo. In his extreme form, he brings chaos, transformation, and often destruction into being. The affair is something that will change both of them but ultimately destroy them, and the visitation of the peasant is a warning, which both of them fear, but which neither of them heeds.

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