Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 5 Chapters 16 20 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 5, Chapters 16–20 | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 16, Levin's old housekeeper, Agafya Mikhailovna, is getting used to the new regime under Kitty. Levin gets a letter from Marya Nikolaevna, his brother Nikolai's mistress, which says his brother is dying. Levin must go and then gets into an argument with Kitty because she believes it is her duty to accompany him. Levin gives in, and in Chapter 17 he and Kitty travel to Nikolai's hotel, which is actually a flophouse. Levin is mortified to have brought his wife to a pigsty, but Kitty immediately takes charge.

While Levin cannot bear the sick room in Chapter 18, Kitty naturally takes on the role of caretaker and "the pity in her woman's soul produced none of the horror and squeamishness it did in her husband, but a need to act." She sends for the doctor and works with the maid and Marya Nikolaevna to clean Nikolai's room. Levin begins to think in Chapter 19 that, although he is more intelligent than his wife and has thought more deeply about death, he "did not know a hundredth part of what his wife ... knew about it." He admits to her that he is glad she accompanied him. Nikolai receives the last rites in Chapter 20, and they begin the death watch. Kitty gets slightly ill in the second week of the visit, and the doctor confirms she is pregnant. As Nikolai dies, Levin's horror of mortality comes back with a vengeance, but Kitty's presence helps to calm him.

Analysis

In these chapters, Kitty shows her fitness as Levin's wife, first insisting that he take her along for the visit to his brother and then taking charge of the sick man. Initially, he does not want to bring her because she will be exposed to a "fallen" woman (Marya Nikolaevna) and rough conditions. It is to Levin's credit that he gives in and easily puts these social restrictions aside to please his wife. Kitty's insistence also shows that she is not a doormat and can stand up to the formidable Levin.

Once they get to the hotel, Levin is overwhelmed, but Kitty saves the day with her organizational and housekeeping skills. Levin is amazed that she seems to have a natural ability to comfort the sick and does not shy away from death and attributes this to the special qualities of her woman's soul. As a woman, Kitty also has a more natural relationship to death than Levin does. Levin loves his brother and must grieve in losing him. Still, his fear of death is unnatural and linked to his atheism. At least Levin now has Kitty to comfort him. Significantly, as Nikolai dies, Kitty learns that she will be bringing a new life into the world.

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