Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 6 Chapters 16 20 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 6, Chapters 16–20 | Summary



In Chapter 16, Dolly goes to see Anna, and on the carriage ride thinks about marriage and children. The young peasant at the inn who recently lost her child says it was a release from bondage. Though shocked by this reply, Dolly admits the truth in it. She has lost her looks and sees the same thing already happening to Kitty as a result of marriage. She thinks of the pain of breast-feeding, the fear of the children's illnesses, the deaths of some of her children, financial worries, and the thousand other sufferings of marriage and motherhood. She loves her husband, but at the same time wonders if she should have left him when she learned of his infidelity and perhaps had a chance with a man who loved her. She thinks that Anna acted "splendidly," and she will not reproach her for choosing happiness. She even fantasizes about doing the same thing.

When Dolly arrives in Chapter 17, she finds Anna and Veslovsky riding with Vronsky. Also in the party are Sviyazhsky, the provincial marshal of the district and Levin's friend; Princess Varvara Oblonsky, now living on the largesse of Vronsky; and Tushkevich, Betsy's cast-off lover. Anna is glad to see Dolly and tells her in Chapter 18 that she is "unforgivably happy." In Chapter 19, Dolly asks Anna about Annie, who still carries Karenin's name. When Dolly is taken to see the child, she can tell that Anna has little to do with her raising, which is left to the wet nurse, nanny, Russian maid, and disagreeable English governess. In Chapter 20, Dolly tries to make herself at home among the guests, and Vronsky takes her around the estate, showing her a hospital he is building for the use of the peasants.


Chapter 16 provides the reader with a privileged view of Dolly's most secret thoughts, which show how marriage and motherhood are an oppression for women. Dolly's body has been battered by several pregnancies, and motherhood is difficult. Tolstoy boldly goes where other 19th century novelists would not dare to tread, mentioning "nausea, dullness of mind, indifference to everything, and, above all, ugliness ... [she] shuddered at the mere recollection of the pain from cracked nipples she had endured with almost every child." Dolly admits to herself that it all amounts to "[a] whole life ruined" and the peasant woman is not entirely wrong.

From a moral perspective, she is exemplary and perhaps heroic. First, she does not lie to herself about her life. Second, even though she has had opportunities to conduct extramarital relations (for example, Stiva's friend Turovtsyn is in love with her and even helped take care of the children when they had scarlet fever), she soldiers on honorably in wifehood and motherhood. Third, she stays a true friend to Anna by visiting her, and she accepts her as she is without condemnation or judgment. She even sympathizes with her, thinking she did the right thing to choose happiness. Tolstoy elevates Dolly as the Virgin Mary of mothers, a holy martyr who can do no wrong.

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