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Literature Study GuidesAnna KareninaPart 6 Chapters 21 26 Summary

Anna Karenina | Study Guide

Leo Tolstoy

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Anna Karenina | Part 6, Chapters 21–26 | Summary



In Chapter 21, Vronsky makes an opportunity to speak to Dolly privately: he is worried about the future. His daughter does not belong to him legally, and neither will any other children he has with Anna, which is why he wants her to get a divorce. Then he can petition the tsar about adopting his child. He asks Dolly to help talk Anna into writing to Karenin.

The party assemble for dinner in Chapter 22, and the conversation ranges over a number of subjects. At one point, Sviyazhsky says Levin is "cracked" because he does not believe in the zemstvo and thinks machines are "harmful for Russian farming." Vronsky, who has become a justice of the peace and hopes to be elected to a council position, says landowners have an administrative responsibility to the state. Dolly defends Levin, saying he is an educated man, "strict in fulfilling his responsibilities."

While Dolly is getting ready for bed in Chapter 23, Anna comes to chat with her. She asks about what Vronsky said, and Dolly conveys his concerns about legitimizing his children. Anna says there will be no more children and then tells Dolly how she is preventing pregnancy. She wants to retain her good looks, and also does not wish to bring additional "unfortunate children" into the world. In Chapter 24, she argues that Karenin will no longer give her a divorce because he is being influenced by Lydia. Anna also mentions that she has to take morphine to fall asleep. Even if Karenin agreed to a divorce, he would not allow her to have her son. "I love only these two beings," Anna says, "and the one excludes the other. I can't unite them, yet I need only that. And if there isn't that, the rest makes no difference." The next day, Dolly leaves and is relieved to return to her own home and problems.

Chapter 25 recounts how Anna and Vronsky stay in the country through the summer and part of autumn, and Anna spends a lot of her time reading novels and nonfiction. She studies subjects Vronsky is interested in, including architecture, agronomy, and even horse-breeding, so that she can talk to him and advise him. Vronsky feels somewhat burdened by Anna's excessive attention. Highly successful in managing his estate at a profit, he has promised Sviyazhsky he will attend the elections in Kashin province. He expects Anna to put up a fight about the proposed trip, but she accepts his departure without making a fuss.

In Chapter 26 it is September, and Levin moves to Moscow with Kitty as they await the birth of their first child. Levin is doing nothing, so he decides to go with his brother Koznyshev to the elections, because he has a ballot and also has business there. Levin finds it hard to follow the machinations of the elections, and his brother explains the progressives support public education and the zemstvo and want to oust the current provincial marshal to help spread reform. Sviyazhsky is elected unanimously as the district marshal for Seleznev.


Vronsky has settled into life as an estate manager, philanthropist, local administrator, and gentleman farmer. He is good at what he does and contented in his work. Still, he is concerned about his children, who legally belong to another man, and Dolly cannot blame him. When she broaches the subject with Anna, however, she learns that Anna has a different view. Anna knows that Karenin will not at this point grant her a divorce because he has reverted back to his previous rigidity under the influence of Countess Lydia. Even if he did agree to a divorce, she knows he will name her as the adulteress, and now that she is living with Vronsky, there is plenty of proof. Although she does not see Seryozha, their connection is not completely severed; once she gets a divorce, she will lose Seryozha forever, and she cannot bear that thought. She sees herself as having to choose between Vronsky and Seryozha, and she does not want to choose Vronsky over her son.

Because she does not expect her situation to improve, Anna has determined to stop having children who will be subject to the scorn of society. She also does not want children because she will lose her looks, and she feels that she needs to remain beautiful to hold onto Vronsky. Dolly sighs when she says this because she knows from experience that it is always possible to find a woman more beautiful than the one at home, and Anna's strategy is a precarious one. Now that Anna is cut off from society, Vronsky is the center of her world, and if she loses him, she has nothing.

To keep herself busy as well as to maintain Vronsky's favor, Anna is reading many books and keeping up on all of his interests so that she can speak intelligently about these subjects. Sadly, in one sense she has replaced herself with Vronsky in her own soul. Thus, it is no wonder that Anna is anesthetizing herself on a regular basis with morphine, to ward off anxiety, to keep herself from being overcome by strong emotions, and to be able to sleep. The reader does not find out how Anna is practicing birth control, and clearly Vronsky is not aware of it, because he mentions they will have more children. Tolstoy inserts a long ellipsis where that information should appear.

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