By Wilde Oscar
By Wilde Oscar
During the late 1800’s, the British Empire was at its height. The English aristocracy was far above the lower classes and was seen as rich and snobbish to everyone but themselves. Because of this gap between the classes, there was a lot of social unrest, and many authors during this period wrote novels and plays dealing with social issues. Marriage plots and social comedies were still popular among the higher class, and The Importance of Being Earnest combines the traditional marriage plot with a witty exploration of Victorian social issues.
The Importance of Being Earnest was written by Oscar Wilde and premiered in London in February of 1895. Oscar Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1854, but settled in London after going to school there. Because of his intellect, his outrageous style of dress and his poems, novel, and plays, Wilde became a part of English high society, moving around in fashionable intellectual circles. By the 1890’s, Oscar Wilde was one of the most popular playwrights in London, and The Importance of Being Earnest is known today as his crowning achievement. It was, however, his last play, as a series of incidents after the opening took Wilde to court, where he was revealed to be having an affair with another man.
When this information came to light, themes in the play such as dual identities and hints of the homosexual culture of London suddenly became scandalous, and the play was subsequently cancelled. Oscar Wilde was sent to prison, where he continued writing poems, but after his release ended up broke and on the streets. He never released another play.
The Importance of Being Earnest has many hints of Oscar Wilde’s autobiography and unique (at the time) view of high society. Characters such as Algernon, for instance, were known as Dandy’s. They were young men overly concerned with appearances and dress, and in all of Wilde’s plays, engaged in circular philosophical conversations. Wilde supposedly modeled these characters after himself, as he was known for his love of dress and conversation. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon reveals the serious and trivial backwardness of Victorian high society through his witticisms, which infuriate more sensible characters, such as Jack.
The parallel between Jack and Algernon’s “Bunburying”, or assumption of double identities for the purpose of going into the town and country, relates strongly to Wilde’s own double life as a homosexual. In London high society, this theme resonated strongly with many who adopted new identities for the sole purpose of having affairs or visiting the brothels without risking their position in society and/or their marriage.
Although The Importance of Being Earnest presents itself as a trivial comedy, the themes it explores are anything but trivial. Wilde’s backwards presentation of seriousness, manners and marriage still resonate with audiences today.
The play opens at Algernon Moncrieff’s flat in London. Algernon’s Aunt Augusta (Lady Bracknell) and cousin Gwendolyn Fairfax are coming to visit, and Lane is preparing tea for them. Jack Worthing, a friend of Algernon’s, arrives before the women do, announcing himself as “Ernest”. Algernon finds this curious, since he found a cigarette case inscribed to an “Uncle Jack” from “little Cecily”. Jack admits that he goes by Ernest in town and Jack in the country. “Little Cecily” is his young ward and believes Ernest to be Jack’s older brother.
Algernon reveals that he, too, uses a made-up persona to escape from unwanted social situations. Algernon’s is called Bunbury and is his invalid friend constantly on the edge of death. Using Bunbury as an excuse is called “Bunburying” and Algernon says Jack is an expert at it, with his “brother” Ernest. Jack protests that he isn’t, and intends to get rid of Ernest as soon as he’s married Gwendolyn, whom he plans to propose to today.
Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn arrive, and Algernon uses Bunbury as an excuse not to go to his Aunt’s dinner party. He distracts Lady Bracknell, giving Jack and Gwendolyn a chance to talk privately. Jack proposes, and Gwendolyn accepts, saying that it has always been her dream to marry a man named Ernest. Lady Bracknell comes back in and reproaches the two of them, telling Gwendolyn to leave. She questions Jack’s intentions and his heritage to see if he is a suitable match for her daughter, but after finding out that Jack was found in a handbag at a railway station and has no parents, she declares that he will never marry Gwendolyn.
She leaves, and Gwendolyn comes back in. She asks for Jack’s address in the country, so she can send him mail, and Algernon, eavesdropping, writes the address down. When everyone is gone, Algernon plans on taking a “bunbury” trip to Jack’s estate to meet Cecily.
At Jack’s manor, Cecily and her governess Miss Prism are in the garden. The Chasuble comes by, and Miss Prism takes a walk with him, flirting boldly. When the governess is gone, Merriman, the servant, announces the arrival of Ernest Worthing, and Algernon introduces himself to Cecily. He finds that he has finally met his match, as Cecily is as witty as he. Algernon falls in love with her and plans to stay until Monday, when Jack is scheduled to return.
Jack, however, returns early, dressed in mourning clothes, announcing the death of his wicked brother Ernest and asking the Chasuble if he can be christened. Cecily tells Jack that Ernest is inside and brings Algernon out. Jack is outraged at Algernon’s deceit but doesn’t reveal the truth. When Jack is gone, Algernon proposes to Cecily, for he has fallen for her beauty and wit. Cecily accepts because she has always wanted to marry a man named Ernest, and Algernon exits the stage, also to ask the Chasuble about his christening.
With the two men gone chasing the Chasuble, Cecily sits alone in the garden. Merriman announces the arrival of Gwendolyn Fairfax, and the two women sit down to tea. They soon begin arguing, since they both believe they are engaged to Ernest. The men return and their real identities are revealed. The women, scorned, go into the house.
Algernon and Jack argue in the garden, eating muffins, and Jack tries to get Algernon to leave. When he won’t, the two decide to go into the house to confront the women. Cecily and Gwendolyn soon forgive them since they both have plans to be christened under the name “Ernest”.
Lady Bracknell enters; she has followed Gwendolyn. She declares that neither couple will be married, but changes her mind when she discovers Cecily is heir to a small fortune. Jack tries to strike a deal with Lady Bracknell, saying he will give Cecily permission to marry if she gives Gwendolyn permission.
The Chasuble enters, followed by Miss Prism. Lady Bracknell demands Miss Prism tell her what happened to the baby. Twenty-eight years ago Miss Prism misplaced Algernon’s older brother, leaving him in a handbag. Jack retrieves the bag and is revealed to be Ernest John Moncrieff. There is rejoicing, as all the couples can now be engaged.
Both the main male characters in the play, Algernon and Jack, use double identities to have more freedom moving around in society. Jack uses his made-up brother, Ernest, as his name in town, and as an excuse to come to town more often. Algernon uses his made-up friend, Bunbury, an invalid who is constantly ill, as an excuse to get out of unwanted arrangements. He calls this habit “Bunburying”, and believes every man should have a double identity. By the end of the play, however, when everyone is engaged, both Bunbury and Ernest are no longer needed.
All of the young characters have unusually vague or nonexistent pasts. Algernon can’t remember his parents, Jack was found in a handbag at a railway station, Gwendolyn knows her mother but never mentions her past, and Cecily writes in her diary for fear of forgetting her memories. The past is nothing more than a way to get one’s wishes in the present. For Jack, this is getting engaged to Gwendolyn. He sees no reason why he shouldn’t be allowed to marry her, but Gwendolyn’s mother insists her daughter cannot marry someone with no parents. When this mystery is solved, Jack doesn’t even ask for more details about his parents.
The characters in the play are all overly concerned with appearances, some more than others. Algernon, especially, is famous for always being over-dressed, and cannot help but comment on everyone’s clothing, and choice of snack served at tea. When Lady Bracknell discovers Algernon’s engagement to Cecily, she examines the girl’s appearance from head to toe and announces that her profile has “social promise”. When Jack shows up in mourning clothes, both Algernon and Cecily tell him to change immediately because he looks ridiculous.
Much like the character’s preoccupation with appearances and beauty, manners also play a significant role in the way the play unfolds. Every decision is made on the base of whether or not it is appropriate. Jack, for instance, accuses Algernon of not acting like a gentleman by coming to the manor under the pretense of being Jack’s brother, and accuses Algernon of treating Cecily “inappropriately”. Lady Bracknell is the character most concerned with proper manners and is constantly obsessing about what other members of society will say if someone acts out of line.
Since The Importance of Being Earnest is, at heart, a marriage plot (the play ends with three engagements) there is much discussion about the institution of marriage. At the beginning of the play when Jack wants to propose to Gwendolyn, Algernon advises against it, pointing out the horrors of marriage. Lady Bracknell, after visiting one of her recently widowed friends, and declares that she looks twenty years younger. Since marriages were often made for social status rather than love, they weren’t known to be positive. However, Algernon falls in love with Cecily and throws all his previous advice about marriage away when he proposes.
Throughout the play, there is a constant switch between seriousness and triviality. Algernon declares all serious matters trivial and all trivial matters serious. This theme continues in the character’s dialogue and treatment of matters. Algernon, for instance, when a serious event occurs (the women find out the men’s deceit) he concerns himself with a truly trivial matter (the muffins being served at tea). The play itself is a twist on this; although it is a comedy filled with triviality, it proves itself to have a much more serious nature.
The dialogue of The Importance of Being Earnest is filled with constant witticisms and circular conversation, so relentless it is, at times, hard to follow. Every character engages in this type of philosophical conversation, some more than others. Algernon and Cecily are especially philosophical, and Algernon is modeled after Oscar Wilde himself, who was a fan of fast-paced conversation. Even sensible characters, such as Lady Bracknell, constantly turn the conversation around to their political or ideological philosophies.
The Importance of Being Earnest, though a marriage plot by structure, is part comedy, part satire of Victorian high society. Wilde places such an emphasis on triviality, appearances, and manners that the play inevitably becomes a comedy, for there is no other way to take it. Wilde exposes the aspects of high society that he dislikes, even though he is trapped in that very world. It is the satire of society that makes this play so relevant, even in our present day.
The world of the play is so artificially constructed, it cannot be reality. This allowed Wilde to use the play satirically without angering anyone. Since the characters and dialogue are so fake, they could make a serious point without actually being taken seriously. This artificiality reveals itself in the simple-mindedness of the characters, the relentlessly witty dialogue, and the convenience with which the problems of the play are solved. Much like a modern day sitcom, aspects of the characters and places are believable, but they are taken to the extreme for comedic effect.
Throughout the play, Wilde uses elements of traditional comedic farce to move the plot along. Unfortunate timing, such as Gwendolyn visiting Cecily right when Algernon and Jack leave, allow for hilarious misunderstandings to take place. The confusion of identities is a classic farcical move, used to create irony. Much of the play is funny because the audience knows information that certain characters don’t, and, therefore, are in on the joke. The misunderstandings are all cleared up at the end, allowing for the marriage plot to come to a conclusion.
A young, eligible bachelor who lives in a fashionable flat in West London. An embodiment of the “Dandy” stereotypes often present in Wilde’s work, Algernon is witty, overly concerned with his appearance, and tries hard to be pessimistic and never take anything seriously. Algernon despises the institution of marriage until he meets Cecily, who he falls in love with for her ability to challenge him in conversation.
Jack Worthing is Algernon’s friend. In town, he goes by the name of Ernest, but, at his country home, he is known as Jack. He is in love with Gwendolyn and is highly optimistic and romantic, in direct contrast to Algernon. One of the more sensible characters, he constantly reprimands Algernon for being heartless and ungentlemanly. As a baby, he was found in a handbag and doesn’t know who his true parents are. In an unlikely turn of events, he finds out that he is actually Algy’s older brother and real name is Ernest.
The voice of appropriateness in the play, Lady Bracknell is Gwendolyn’s mother and Algernon’s Aunt. Her only concerns are social status and fortune, and she represents the shallowness of Victorian high society. She constantly objects to the engagements in the play, and the couples must receive her consent before they can marry.
Gwendolyn is in love with Jack Worthing, though she knows him by the name of Ernest Worthing. She accepts his proposal, saying that she has always wanted to marry a man named Ernest and that she wouldn’t accept a man with any other name. She is beautiful, intelligent and cultivated, though, like many of the characters, shallow. She find’s Jack’s mysterious origins intriguing, but refuses to marry him if his name is Jack.
The grand-daughter of Thomas Cardew, the man who raised Jack Worthing, she grew up as Jack’s ward. Eighteen and mischievous, she is quick witted, although she hates studying. She falls in love with Ernest from Jack’s stories of him and writes about their courtship in her diary. Her companion is her governess, Miss Prism. Like Gwendolyn, she dreamed of marrying a man named Ernest, and she accepts Algernon’s proposal under his false name.
Cecily’s governess of three years, Miss Prism is a respectable, intellectual woman. It becomes apparent that she is in love with Doctor Chasuble and spends time with him whenever possible. As a younger woman, Miss Prism worked for Lord Bracknell and accidentally misplaced their baby in her handbag. The baby turned out to be Jack Worthing.
The local priest, Dr. Chasuble often visits Mr. Worthing’s manner because he enjoys Miss Prism’s company. Although he takes walks with her, and flirts with her, because of his priesthood he is required to be celibate. When Algernon and Jack want to change their names, they go to Dr. Chasuble to be christened.
Algernon’s made up invalid friend. Bunbury is constantly sick, verging on the edge of death, which allows Algernon to avoid any engagements he finds uninteresting. Algernon calls this avoidance “Bunburying” and develops a culture with rules and philosophies around the practice.
Jack’s imaginary brother, Ernest Worthing. Jack uses the name Ernest in town, and when he gets back to the country he tells Miss Prism and Cecily his exploits under his double identity. Because of these exploits, Cecily becomes interested in Ernest and falls in love with him.
Algernon’s manservant at his flat in London. Lane prepares the tea, announces guests, and cleans up after Algernon. Lane and Algernon engage in playful banter, and Lane is familiar with his master’s philosophies, expressing them himself. It is not clear if his manner is serious or sarcastic during his arguments with Algernon.
The manservant at Jack Worthing’s country manor. Merriman doesn’t have much interaction with the characters, except to announce their entrance and perform small tasks such as serving tea.
The scene opens on Algernon Moncrieff’s flat in Half-Moon Street. In the luxurious morning room, Lane, Algernon’s manservant, is setting the tea. In the background, there is a piano playing. The piano stops, and Algernon walks into the room. He asks Lane about his playing, and Lane, in an attempt to prevent offense, says that it isn’t polite to listen to other people playing. Algernon admits that his playing isn’t good, but defends himself by saying that he plays with true emotion.
Algernon then asks Lane if the cucumber sandwiches for Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn are ready. The Lady Bracknell is Algernon’s aunt, and Gwendolyn his cousin. The two women are coming over to his flat for tea-time today, and he wants everything ready.
When the cucumber sandwiches are placed on the table, Algernon promptly begins eating them. He converses with Lane about the fact that every time he invites bachelors over, they drink all his champagne. Lane thinks it is because married hosts never keep good champagne in the house, and Algernon shudders at the thought of marriage.
Lane thinks marriage isn’t so miserable and admits having married once on a misunderstanding before leaving the room to get more tea. Algernon talks to himself about the importance of the lower classes to provide a convincing example for the rest, and how Lane fails in this regard. He thinks the lower class as a whole has no sense of moral responsibility.
When Lane comes back, he introduces a guest, Ernest Worthing, otherwise known as Jack. Algernon asks if he is in town for business or pleasure, and Jack says pleasure. The two of them immediately begin a bantering conversation, and Algernon asks why he hasn’t seen Jack in a while.
Jack has been in the countryside, and professes it was boring. The only people around were his neighbors, and he thinks they are horrid people. Jack wonders why Algernon is serving cucumber sandwiches, and Algernon admits that his aunt, Lady Bracknell, and Gwendolyn are coming over for tea.
Algernon says his aunt won’t be happy to see Jack back, as she disapproves of his incessant flirting with Gwendolyn. There is more banter, and Algernon says the only thing worse than Jack flirting with Gwendolyn, is how Gwendolyn constantly flirts back.
Jack admits that he is madly in love with Gwendolyn and that he came back in town for the sole purpose of proposing to her.
Algernon gives his witty reply, which is he thought Jack came to town for pleasure and not business. Jack doesn’t understand why proposing to the one he loves can’t be pleasurable. Algernon admits that it is romantic to be in love and to flirt with women, but he believes it is unromantic to propose. After the proposal, all the excitement is over because then the two have a business arrangement.
During this conversation, Jack reaches over to take a cucumber sandwich, and Jack slaps his hand away, saying they are for his aunt and Gwendolyn. Algernon has been eating the sandwiches throughout the whole scene, so this is done purely to annoy Jack. Algernon takes some bread and butter out from under the table, saying Jack can help himself to the platter, as he ordered it for Gwendolyn.
Jack eats the bread and butter so enthusiastically; Algernon accuses him of acting as if he and Gwendolyn are already engaged. He then goes on to say that Jack and Gwendolyn most likely will not be married, because they would need Algernon’s approval, and Algernon doesn’t want to give his consent. Jack is confused, until it is revealed that Gwendolyn is Algernon’s first cousin.
When Jack asks why Algernon should not give his consent, Algernon asks him who Cecily is. Jack says the name doesn’t sound familiar, and Algernon rings the bell for Lane and asks him to bring Jack’s cigarette case. When Algernon has the case, he opens it and begins to read the inscription on the inside, which reveals the case is a present from “little Cecily” with “fondest love”.
Jack accuses Algernon of being ungentlemanly, but Algernon insists he must know who Cecily is. Jack tells Algernon that Cecily is his aunt and follows Algernon around the room trying to get the cigarette case back.
Algernon questions Jack’s story, asking why, in the inscription, Cecily calls Jack “Uncle Jack”. If Jack is Cecily’s nephew, why would she call Jack uncle? In addition, Algernon points out that Jack’s name is actually Ernest.
Jack protests insisting that his name is Jack. Algernon argues, saying his name is Ernest, and it fits because Jack is the most earnest person Algernon knows. He takes one of Jack’s business cards with the name Ernest Worthing on it, keeping it as proof. Jack says in town he is known as Ernest but in the country he is known as Jack, and that he got the cigarette case in the country.
Jack agrees to tell Algernon the story of Cecily, if he gives the case back. Algernon does so, and they sit down on the couches.
Thomas Cardew, the man who adopted Jack as a child, made him guardian of his grand-daughter, Cecily Cardew, after his death. Cecily calls Jack uncle out of respect and lives at Jack’s estate in the country under the tutor of Miss Prim, her governess.
Algernon says that still doesn’t explain why Jack has two different names. Jack admits he invented a younger brother Ernest who lived in the city, and Algernon accuses Jack of being an advanced Bunburyist. Jack demands to know the meaning of that statement. Algernon has invented an alter-ego as well, named Bunbury, whose constant sickness allows him to skip unpleasant engagements.
While they are on the subject of unpleasant engagements, Algernon asks Jack if he can join him for dinner instead of dining with his Aunt Augusta. Jack thinks he better dine with his family, but Algernon insists that his Aunt always sits him next to married women who flirt with their husbands. He believes that is inappropriate behavior, and would rather dine with Jack where he can have some pleasant company.
Algernon also says that he better explain the rules of Bunburying to Jack, but Jack insists he is going to kill Ernest. If he marries Gwendolyn, he will have no need for Ernest. Algernon disagrees, saying that if Jack marries he will have even more need of Ernest than before. Jack tells Algernon not to be so cynical.
The bell rings, and Algernon says his Aunt Augusta and Gwendolyn must be here. Algernon agrees to distract his aunt, so Jack has a chance to propose to Gwendolyn, if Jack invites him to dinner. Jack thanks Algernon and Lane enters the room, announcing Lady Bracknell and Mrs. Fairfax.
Lady Bracknell greets Algernon with a smile and gives Jack a cold bow. Jack pays his compliments to Gwendolyn, and the two sit down together in the corner of the room.
Aunt Augusta apologizes to Algernon for being late, saying that she had to pay a visit to her friend Lady Harbury, whose husband just passed away. She professes she has never seen a woman so transformed, and that Lady Harbury already looks twenty years younger. Algernon agrees as he has heard her transformation has been quite profound.
Aunt Augusta asks Algernon for some cucumber sandwiches, and Algernon goes over to the plate, expressing shock that it is empty. He asks Lane why there are no cucumber sandwiches, and Lane covers Algernon’s tracks by saying there were no cucumbers at the market. Algernon apologizes to his aunt, who asks Gwendolyn to come sit next to her. Gwendolyn tells Aunt Augusta that she is acceptable where she is, and Algernon and his aunt resume conversing.
Aunt Augusta says that she is looking forward to dinner, and Algernon tells her his dear friend Bunbury is ill again and that he won’t be able to make the engagement. Aunt Augusta remarks that Bunbury has curiously poor health and says it is unhealthy for Algernon to constantly be around someone so sick. Young people should concern themselves with health and not sickness. She still wants to make sure Algernon will come to her party on Saturday, and Algernon agrees that he will. In order to distract her, Algernon asks her to listen to a piece of music he’s come up with and leads her to the music room, leaving Gwendolyn and Jack alone.
Jack tries to engage in small talk, but Gwendolyn wishes he wouldn’t, saying it always feels like small talk actually means something else. Jack tells her that this time she is right, and expresses his admiration for Gwendolyn, who responds in kind. Jack is surprised and delighted, and Gwendolyn goes on to say that she always believed it was her destiny to marry a man named Ernest because it is the perfect name.
Jack asks her if she would still love him if his name was something else, perhaps Jack. Gwendolyn says she could never love a man named Jack, as all the Jacks she knows are horrid and dull. Jack realizes he must change his name immediately, so the two can get married.
Gwendolyn tells Jack that if he is going to propose, that she will accept his offer. He gets down on one knee and begins making his proposal. She makes fun of him, saying that he hasn’t had much practice proposing to women. Jack says that is because Gwendolyn is the only woman he’s ever loved.
At this point, Lady Bracknell enters the room, and commands Jack to get up. Gwendolyn retorts to her mother that Jack isn’t finished and that they are engaged. Lady Bracknell is angry and tells Gwendolyn to go wait in the car. She tells her daughter sternly that any marriage she enters into will be arranged by her parents and that she cannot choose who she marries. On her way out, Jack and Gwendolyn blow kisses to each other behind Lady Bracknell’s back. Gwendolyn finally leaves, and Lady Bracknell turns to Jack.
She requests him to sit, because she has a few questions she needs to ask him. Jack says that he prefers to stand, and Lady Bracknell says it is all the same to her before pulling out a pen and paper.
She has a list of appropriate suitors for Gwendolyn, which Jack is not on. If he answers her questions to her satisfaction, then he might be able to get on that list.
Lady Bracknell asks Jack if he smokes. Jack says yes, and Lady Bracknell approves, saying all men should have a past-time. She asks how old he is, to which Jack replies twenty-nine. Lady Bracknell believes that a good age to be married. She asks Jack if he believes he knows everything or nothing, and Jack says he knows nothing. Jack makes seven or eight thousand a year in investments, which Lady Bracknell approves of. She also seems happy that he has a country estate. She tells Jack, however, that Gwendolyn cannot only reside in the country, and asks if he has a town house. Jack does, but it is lent to an elderly Lady in an “unfashionable” part of town.
Lady Bracknell moves on to what she calls “minor matters”, and asks about his politics and parents. Jack doesn’t concern himself much with politics and doesn’t have either of his parents. Lady Bracknell seems interested in this and wants to know what happened for him to lose two parents. She says that to lose one parent is a misfortune, but to lose two seems like carelessness.
Jack admits to Lady Bracknell that his parents didn’t die, that, in fact, he doesn’t know who his parents are. Lady Bracknell is astounded, and demands to know details. Jack tells her that he was found as a baby by Thomas Cardew. She asks where, and he reveals that Mr. Cardew found him in a handbag at the train station cloak room.
Lady Bracknell tells Jack that he can never attain a respectable position in society having been found in a cloak room and raised by a man in the country. Jack is at a lost, and asks Lady Bracknell what he must do so that he can marry Gwendolyn. Lady Bracknell says in order to become respectable, he must procure relations as soon as possible, and ideally have parents with strong lineages by the end of the season.
Jack tells Lady Bracknell that what she asks of him is impossible. He tells her that he can procure the handbag he was found in, and she is offended. Jack doesn’t understand why it matters if he was found in a handbag, and Lady Bracknell responds that Gwendolyn is her only daughter, raised with utmost care and that she will not allow her to wed anyone with a questionable background. She gets up and leaves the room in a huff.
When she is gone, Algernon begins playing the wedding march from the other room. Jack is angry and tells him to stop. Algernon is in high spirits because he assumes that Gwendolyn refused Jack, but Jack tells him that it was her mother who refused him. Jack calls Lady Bracknell a monster, and Algernon is delighted to hear his relations abused. Jack once again reprimands him for being overly cynical, and wonders if Gwendolyn will end up like her mother when she is old.
Algernon cleverly responds that all women end up like their mothers, and all men don’t, and it is tragedy on both accounts. Jack says he is tired of cleverness and wishes the world were full of fools. Algernon says the world is full of fools, and that the fools talk of the clever people. Algernon deftly changes the subject back to Jack’s dilemma, and asks if he revealed to Gwendolyn the truth about his name. Jack says he hadn’t, but he still plans on killing Ernest off. Cecily will be upset, but she will be fine.
Algernon expresses interest in meeting Cecily, and Jack forbids it, the reason being Cecily is pretty and only eighteen. Algernon asks if Gwendolyn will approve of him having a beautiful eighteen year old ward, and Jack declares that the two of them will be sisters.
It is almost seven, and if they want a reservation for dinner, they’ll have to get ready. After dinner Algernon wants to go to the theatre or the club, but Jack says he would rather do nothing. He is obviously upset about Gwendolyn’s mother still.
Lane enters the room and introduces Miss Fairfax. Gwendolyn comes in and tells Algernon to turn around because she wishes to talk to Ernest. Algernon protests, but after some banter sits turned around and pretends to read a magazine.
Jack is surprised to see Gwendolyn but happy. Gwendolyn reveals that she fears the two will never be married. However, she has heard about Jack’s story from her mother, and it has inspired her eternal devotion to Jack. She says he fascinates her, and that even if she marries someone else she will always be his. Gwendolyn has his town address, but also wants to know his address in the country. Jack gladly gives it. We see Algernon, who is listening closely to their conversation, write the address on the inside of his shirtsleeve before pretending to read again.
Gwendolyn promises to send Jack letters every day and wants to know how much longer he will be in town. Jack tells her he will be in town until Monday. Their conversation being over, Gwendolyn tells Algernon he can turn around now, and Algernon replies he already has. Jack offers to walk Gwendolyn back to her carriage, and the two exit.
Lane enters the room with several letters on a silver tray. Algernon examines them before tearing them up and declaring to Lane that he will be bun-burying this weekend. He asks Lane to get him some sherry, and to pack his bunbury clothes. Lane asks when Algernon is planning on returning to town, and Algernon says he will come back Monday (the same day Jack is leaving town). He hopes the weather to be fine, to which Lane replies it never is. Algernon compliments Lane on being a perfect pessimist and Lane sarcastically replies that his only wish is to please.
Jack comes back, his mood improved, to find Algernon laughing. When Jack asks what he is laughing about, Algernon tells him he is anxious for Bunbury’s health. Jack recommends that Algernon get rid of Bunbury for good before he gets into trouble. Algernon, however, enjoys trouble. Jack accuses Algernon of being filled with nonsense and leaves. Algernon sits down, lights a cigarette, looks at the address written on his cuff sleeve, and smiles.
The scene takes place in the garden of the manor house. It is July, and the garden and decorations are old-fashioned and quaint. Miss Prism is sitting at the table, and Cecily is watering the flowers.
Miss Prism tells Cecily that watering flowers is a waste of time and that she needs to come study her German. Cecily doesn’t like German and says it is unbecoming. Her guardian, Uncle Jack, however, stresses that she learn it. Cecily tells Miss Prism that Uncle Jack is too serious, and Miss Prism defends him, citing his admirable duty and responsible nature. Cecily still thinks Jack seems bored at home with them, and Miss Prism attributes that to the stress of having to worry about his trouble-making brother, Ernest.
Cecily thinks it would good to meet Ernest and thinks that maybe they could be a strong influence on him. Miss Prism, however, thinks Ernest is far too wicked to be helped.
Cecily begins writing in her diary, and Miss Prism asks why she insists on writing. Cecily answers that she doesn’t want to forget the marvellous secrets of her life. Miss Prism believes that is what memory is for. Cecily argues with Miss Prism again, saying that memory is responsible for too many novels. She doesn’t like novels that end happily, as they make her depressed.
The two see Doctor Chasuble entering the garden. Doctor Chasuble greets Miss Prism and Cecily, and Cecily suggests that the two take a stroll around the garden. Miss Prism tells Cecily that she is just trying to get out of studying, and Cecily openly admits not being an attentive learner.
Doctor Chasuble and Miss Prism obviously like each other, and nervously flirt. The two decide to take a walk, and when the exit the stage Cecily angrily throws her books on the table.
Merriman, the house-servant enters with a letter of introduction for Ernest Worthington who has arrived with his luggage and is waiting outside. “Ernest” has been informed that Jack is in town and wishes to speak to Cecily instead. Cecily orders Merriman to prepare a room for their guest, and to send him in.
She is nervous and thinks to herself that she has never met anyone wicked before. She is afraid he will look just like everyone else.
Algernon enters the garden, and Cecily thinks he does look like a normal person. He greets her as his little cousin Cecily. She tartly responds that she isn’t little and is tall for her age. Algernon is taken aback, but she continues on to say that she is Cecily, and he must be her wicked cousin Ernest.
Algernon tells her he isn’t wicket at all. Cecily tells him that would be dreadfully dull, and that he better not be living a double life, pretending to be wicked when he’s actually good. Algernon is amazed at Cecily, and gladly tells her that he has, in fact, been reckless recently.
Cecily is glad that he is upholding his reputation for being a troublemaker, but tells him that Uncle Jack won’t be back in the country until Monday. Algernon says he has an appointment in London that he cannot miss, so he won’t be able to stay until Uncle Jack gets back. Cecily teases him, saying that Uncle Jack is getting ready to emigrate him and is off buying him an outfit to be sent off in. Algernon tells her that he wouldn’t allow Jack to buy him clothes, as Jack has horrible taste. Cecily continues teasing, saying he won’t need neckties as he’s being sent to Australia.
Her joke came from a comment Uncle Jack made a few nights ago, about Ernest choosing this world, the next world, or Australia. Algernon tells Cecily that Australia and the next world are equally bad, and he’d prefer to stay in this one if possible.
Cecily tells him that he isn’t good enough to stay in this world, and he asks for her help in reforming himself. She replies that she doesn’t have time this afternoon, but he is welcome to give it a try if he wants.
She invites him in for food, and he picks a flower for his buttonhole. He flirtingly compares her to the flower, and Cecily tells him that is inappropriate talk, and that Miss Prism doesn’t think beauty is worth all that much. Algernon says beauty is what will ensnare any sensible man, and Cecily says it’s just as well, because she wouldn’t know what to do with a sensible man.
They exit into the manor, presumably continuing their flirtatious banter. When they exit the stage, Miss Prism and Doctor Chasuble enter.
Miss Prism is telling the Chasuble that he is too alone, and that he should get married. It can be inferred from their conversation that the Doctor is a priest and cannot marry because of his religious order. Miss Prism tells him that the old ways need to be discarded and that having a single man around all the time is a temptation.
The Chasuble asks if married men are not attractive, and Miss Prism replies that they are only attractive to their wives. The Chasuble responds that often they aren’t even then. Miss Prism states that it depends entirely on the woman. Maturity is to be trusted, and young girls are “green” (unripe). The Chasuble is startled at her frankness, and she apologizes, stating that it was just a metaphor.
Their conversation is cut off when Jack enters the garden, dressed entirely in black, and acting as though he is in mourning. Miss Prism and the Chasuble immediately ask him what is the matter, and Jack tells them gravel that his brother Ernest is dead. He died of a severe chill in Paris, and wishes to be buried there. The Chasuble offers to mention him in his Sunday service.
Jack is reminded by the Chasuble and asks if he can perform christenings. The Chasuble misunderstands, thinking he is talking about an infant, but Jack clarifies that it is he who wishes to be christened. He is concerned that he is too old to be christened, but the Chasuble assures him that no age is too old and that he can indeed perform the ceremony.
They set a time at five in the afternoon for the service, and the Chasuble says that he is doing twins at the same time. Jack thinks it would seem silly to be christened at the same time as infants, and they settle on five-thirty.
Miss Prism is glad that such a blessed event is the result of such a tragedy (Ernest’s death). Just then, Cecily enters the garden and greets Uncle Jack. As soon as she’s done greeting him, she tells him to change out of his horrid black clothes. When Uncle Jack acts morose, she asks him what is the matter, but before he can answer she tells him she has a tremendous surprise for him, that his brother Ernest has come for a visit and is waiting in the dining room.
Jack is astounded, and Cecily assures him that he arrived half an hour ago with his luggage in tow. Jack tells her he hasn’t got a brother, which Miss Prism and the Chasuble assume to mean Ernest is dead, and Cecily assumes Jack has disowned him. She tells Jack that he cannot disown his own brother, even if he is wicked. She offers to go get him and leaves the scene.
The Chasuble is joyful at the sudden turn-around, but Miss Prism seems distressed. Jack is confused, until Algernon and Cecily enter the garden walking hand-in-hand. Jack is upset and tries to get Algernon away from Cecily.
Algernon tells Jack he is sorry for all the trouble, and that he intends to be a reformed man. Jack glares at him, and refuses to shake his hand. Cecily reprimands Jack, who says “Ernest” is a disgrace, and he will never shake his hand.
Cecily is mortified that Jack would treat his own brother so. She tells Jack about Algernon’s devotion to his deal invalid friend Bunbury and that if he visits someone so ill he could hardly be considered bad.
Jack responds that “Ernest” is not allowed to talk to Cecily about anything. Algernon guilt trips him, saying his coldness is painful. Cecily is so outraged that she says she will never forgive Jack if he doesn’t shake Algernon’s hand. Jack does so reluctantly, glaring the entire time. The Chasuble and Cecily admire the “brotherly reunion” and leave them alone.
Jack accuses Algernon of being a scoundrel and forbids any Bunburying at his manor. Merriman enters and informs Jack that he put “Ernest’s” luggage in his room. Jack is incredulous, and orders Algernon to leave at once, telling Merriman that he was suddenly ordered back to town. Algernon calls Jack a liar and says he didn’t hear anyone calling him. Jack says his duty as a gentleman is calling him.
Algernon changes the subject to Cecily, and Jack forbids him to talk of her. Algernon makes fun of Jack, telling him that his clothes are ridiculous. Jack is getting more and more angry, and orders Algernon to leave again. Algernon says he won’t leave while Jack is in mourning because it would be unkind. Jack says he’ll go change his clothes, and Algernon makes fun of him again for taking too long to dress. Jack makes fun of Algernon for always being overdressed, and Algernon replies he makes up for it by being overeducated. Jack yells at Algernon that he is absurd and that he must leave immediately before exiting the scene.
Algernon admits to himself that he is in love with Cecily, and will do anything to see her again. He sees her watering flowers in the garden. She wonders where Uncle Jack is, and Algernon tells her that Jack is kicking him out of the house. Cecily is upset at being parted after just meeting.
Merriman enters, saying the cart is ready. Cecily tells him to give them five more minutes, and Merriman leaves.
Algernon tells Cecily that she is absolute perfection and Cecily tells him to pause because she’s going to copy it in her diary. She tells him to continue, and, surprised, he goes on a short monologue saying how much he loves her.
Merriman comes in again and says the cart is ready. Algernon tells him to have the cart come back in a week. Cecily says Jack will be mad, but Algernon doesn’t care, all he wants is to marry Cecily. She tells him that they have been engaged for three months now and that she fell madly in love with him after hearing all the stories about his wickedness. She settled the engagement herself, buying rings and bracelets, and even wrote love letters between the two of them.
Algernon has a small scare when Cecily says the engagement was broken off a month ago, and pleads with Cecily to take him back because he didn’t do anything wrong. He recovers when Cecily reveals that all serious engagements must be broken at least once and that she forgave him a week later. He calls her an angel and kisses her, and she runs her hand through his hair. He makes her promise never to break off their engagement again, and she says she can’t now that she’s met him. And, of course, there is the matter of his name. She has always admired the name Ernest, and pities any woman who doesn’t marry a man with such a strong, confident name.
Algernon asks if she would love him if his name wasn’t Ernest, but, in fact, Algernon. Cecily replies that she doesn’t like the name, and she could respect someone named Algernon, but not love him. Algernon tries to defend his own name, to no avail. He says he must go see the rector immediately, and that he’ll be back in half an hour. She says that is too soon, and he promises twenty minutes. He kisses her and leaves.
Cecily enters his proposal in her diary. Merriman comes in, saying that a Miss Fairfax has come to call on Mr. Worthing on a matter of urgent business. Cecily thinks he is in the library, but Merriman says he has gone to the rectory. Cecily tells him to bring Miss Fairfax and tea.
Gwendolyn enters, and they introduce themselves. Gwendolyn says she likes Cecily’s name, and that she always hopes to call her by her first name, but only if Cecily will do the same for her. Cecily agrees, and politely asks Gwendolyn to sit.
Gwendolyn tells Cecily that her father is Lord Bracknell and asks if she has heard of him. Cecily hasn’t, and apologizes. Gwendolyn says it’s okay, and that he isn’t well-known outside the family circle. She asks if it is okay for her to look at Cecily through her glasses, and Cecily replies that she is fond of being looked at.
Gwendolyn examines her and says surely she is here at this manor on a short visit. Cecily tells her that she lives here, and Gwendolyn is shocked. She wants to know if any older female relations also live here, but Cecily says the only other woman is her governess, Miss Prism. Cecily tells Gwendolyn that she has no relations and is Mr. Worthing’s ward.
Gwendolyn speaks frankly, saying that she wished Cecily were older and more plain so as not to tempt her upright and moral Ernest to stray. Cecily says there has been a misunderstanding, and that she is John Worthing’s ward, Ernest’s older brother. Gwendolyn is suspicious as to why she’s never heard of John before, and Cecily tells her that the brothers have not been on good relations, but have just only recently been reunited.
She seems happy at this news, and makes sure once again that Cecily is not Ernest Worthing’s ward. Cecily says there is no way she could be his ward, as she is engaged to Ernest Worthing. Gwendolyn is outraged and tells Cecily that it is, in fact, she who is engaged to Ernest.
As proof of the engagement, Cecily shows Gwendolyn her diary, which she wrote not ten minutes ago. Gwendolyn also produces a diary of her own and shows Cecily Ernest’s proposal at five-thirty the previous afternoon. She says that because he proposed to her first, she has first claim. Cecily says that if he proposed to her today, then he’s obviously changed his mind about Gwendolyn.
The two girls begin slinging insults at one another. Gwendolyn accuses Cecily of entrapping Ernest into an engagement, and Cecily tells Gwendolyn she is nothing more than an entanglement.
Merriman comes in with tea and sets the table. The two are silent, and then engage in tense small-talk. Gwendolyn asks if there are any amusing walks around, and Cecily tells her that from the hilltops you can see five different countries. Gwendolyn pretends not to be impressed, saying that it seems rather crowded. Cecily retorts that must be the reason Gwendolyn lives in town.
At this point, Gwendolyn is extremely nervous. She is biting her lip and tapping her foot. She tells Cecily that the manor garden is well kept but that she could never live in the country without being bored.
Cecily offers her tea, and Gwendolyn politely thanks her. In an aside, she expresses her distaste for Cecily.
When Cecily asks her if she likes sugar in her tea, Gwendolyn replies that it isn’t fashionable to drink sugar anymore. Cecily puts four lumps of sugar in Gwendolyn’s cup. She asks if Gwendolyn would like bread and butter or cake with her tea and Gwendolyn says that she prefers bread and butter, as cake isn’t seen in the best houses nowadays. Cecily gives her a small slice of cake.
When Gwendolyn drinks her tea and sees the cake, she is outraged. She stands and tells Cecily that she has gone too far. Cecily replies that she will go to any length to keep Ernest away from her.
They begin hurling personal insults again. Gwendolyn professes to have immediately distrusted Cecily, and Cecily coldly hints that Gwendolyn surely has other engagements to go to.
While the girls are staring each other down, Jack enters the scene. Gwendolyn shouts his name, Ernest, and runs to him. They greet each other passionately. Gwendolyn asks Jack is he is engaged to Cecily, and he laughs before saying that he is not.
Cecily interrupts their passionate reunion by revealing “Ernest’s” true name to be John. Gwendolyn backs away from him, distrusting.
Algernon walks in and goes straight to Cecily. She asks him if he is engaged to Gwendolyn, and he starts, not expecting to see her at the manor. He tells Cecily he isn’t engaged, and the two kiss. Gwendolyn reveals him to be her cousin, Algernon, and it is Cecily’s turn to back away.
The two girls hug each other, stricken. They ask the men if it is true, if neither of them are actually Ernest. The men admit their true names, and say they have nothing to be ashamed of. The girls apologize for accusing each other earlier, and console one another at the men’s deceit. The men pace the garden, frustrated at the girls’ camaraderie.
Cecily and Gwendolyn ask where Ernest is as they are both engaged to a man they have never met and want to get this matter settled once and for all. Jack tells the truth, that he doesn’t have a brother named Ernest, that he made him up.
The girls realize that they aren’t engaged to anyone, and Cecily remarks that it isn’t a pleasant situation to find oneself in. Gwendolyn suggests they go into the house because the men won’t dare to follow them. They leave, arm in arm, giving the men scornful looks as they leave the garden.
Jack turns to Algernon, and asks sarcastically if he is satisfied with the trouble his Bunburying has brought. Algernon, falsely cheerful, replies that this is the most exciting Bunbury he has ever gone on. Jack tells him that he had no right to Bunbury at his country manor, and Algernon says he has the right to Bunbury anywhere, and that any serious Bunburyist knows that to be a fact.
Jack throws up his hands in frustration, and expresses that the only decent thing to come out of this whole mess is that Bunbury is gone. Algernon reminds Jack that his brother Ernest is gone as well, and he will no longer have a convenient excuse go to town whenever he likes.
The two express that their only wish is to be engaged to the women inside, and they also tell each other that there is no chance of that happening, because Cecily is Jack’s ward and Gwendolyn Algernon’s cousin. Both men are being overprotective of their relations, and won’t allow the other to court them.
Algernon sits down and begins calmly eating muffins. Jack calls him heartless for eating at such a time, to which Algernon replies that eating consoles him in times of stress and that he has a particular fondness for muffins. Jack takes the muffins away and tells Algernon to eat the tea-cakes.
When Algernon protests that he doesn’t like tea cakes, Jack tells him to leave. Algernon refuses to leave without dinner and says he is scheduled to be christened under the name of Ernest. Jack tells Algernon that he is already scheduled and that they can’t both be Ernest. He reminds Algernon that he has already been christened, and can’t be again. Jack picks up the muffin tray, and Algernon is upset because there are only two muffins left.
Jack once again tells Algernon to leave, and Algernon once again refuses, saying he must finish his muffins. Jack groans and sits down, and Algernon eats his muffins.
The third scene opens inside the manor house. Cecily and Gwendolyn are looking out the window at the men in the garden and talking about their behavior.
Gwendolyn says that the fact that they didn’t follow shows that they have some shame about the way they’ve acted, and Cecily notices that they are eating muffins reproachfully. It is obvious that they want to forgive the boys but that they don’t want to lose their pride.
Gwendolyn tells Cecily to give a cough, so as to attract their attention. When they do look, however, she expresses disgust at their forwardness. Cecily points out that they are coming towards the house, and Gwendolyn says that they must maintain a dignified silence. On no account are Cecily and Gwendolyn going to be the first to speak.
When the men enter whistling a popular song, Gwendolyn immediately tells Jack that she has a question for him. Cecily asks Algernon why he pretended to be Jack’s brother Ernest, and Algernon replies that he just wanted to meet her. Cecily asks Gwendolyn if his answer was satisfactory, and Gwendolyn says yes, if she believes it. Cecily doesn’t believe it, but acknowledges that it was still a decent answer. Gwendolyn agrees and asks Jack why he pretended to be Ernest. Jack tells her he wanted an excuse to go to town as often as possible to see her.
The girls confer among themselves about the replies, and say that they seem to be true. Gwendolyn wonders if it is okay to forgive them, and Cecily says it is, then quickly changes her mind. Gwendolyn understands at once, and asks Cecily if she wants to bring up the critical issue together. Gwendolyn taps the time, and then the two say in unison that the men’s Christian names are an insurmountable issue. The men reply back, in unison, that they have already scheduled appointments to be christened.
Gwendolyn affirms this with Jack, and Cecily with Algernon. They are delighted that the men would go to such lengths to please them. Gwendolyn praises their self-sacrifice and Cecily their courage. The couples fall into each other’s arms.
Merriman enters and coughs, announcing the arrival of Lady Bracknell. The couples separate in alarm, and Lady Bracknell walks in. She immediately reprimands Gwendolyn for running away to see Mr. Worthing and Gwendolyn boldly announces that she is engaged to him. Lady Bracknell is upset, and orders Gwendolyn to her before turning on Mr. Worthing. She tells the group that she found out of Gwendolyn’s flight from her maid, and that Mr. Worthing must cease all communication with Gwendolyn immediately.
Jack tells Lady Bracknell that it is too late; they are already in love and promised to one another. Lady Bracknell once again asserts that it is impossible. She notices Algernon, and asks him if this is his invalid friend, Bunbury’s house.
Algernon stammers out that he killed Bunbury this afternoon, and quickly corrects himself, saying instead that Bunbury died. When Lady Bracknell asks what he died of, Algernon says he exploded. Lady Bracknell is confused, but Algernon assures her that Bunbury is dead, and that’s all that matters. She is glad he made up his mind to finally die and asks Algernon who the girl he is holding is.
Jack interjects, saying Cecily is his ward. Lady Bracknell coldly greets Cecily. Algernon and Cecily announce their engagement to Lady Bracknell, who sits down on the sofa in shock. She inquires about Cecily’s past, and wonders if she has any connection to the railway Jack was found in. Jack is furious at her implications but restrains himself. He tells her that Cecily is the grand-daughter of Thomas Cardew, and when she asks for proof of this he tells her he is in possession of all Cecily’s records from the time she was a child.
Lady Bracknell has heard enough, and decided that Cecily is not a suitable match for Algernon. She rises to leave, and orders Gwendolyn to come with her. Before she leaves, she asks about Cecily’s inheritance, and Jack reveals that it is quite a fortune. Lady Bracknell sits back down and reassesses Cecily, saying that so few women today are suitable matches because of their lack of fortune. She remarks that Cecily is indeed pretty and asks her to come closer. Lady Bracknell examines Cecily from all angles before declaring that her profile has social possibilities.
Algernon tells his Aunt that he doesn’t care about Cecily’s “social possibilities” because she is perfect in every way. At this, Lady Bracknell gives them consent to marry and tells Cecily to call her Aunt Augusta from now on. Cecily and Algernon both thank Lady Bracknell, who goes on to say that the marriage should take place as soon as possible, so that the two don’t get to know each other’s character too well before marriage.
Jack interrupts their happy planning; reminding everyone that Cecily is his ward and cannot marry until she comes of age. Lady Bracknell asks Jack on what grounds would he refuse Algernon, and Jack says Algernon has no moral character and is known to be untruthful. Lady Bracknell vehemently assures Jack that Algernon has strong moral character.
Jack goes on a tangent, saying that Algernon came to his house under false pretenses, drank his best wine, and ate all the muffins at tea. Lady Bracknell doesn’t think these offenses are worthy of refusing marriage and asks Cecily how old she is. Cecily replies that she is eighteen, but admits to twenty at evening parties. Lady Bracknell says she will come of age soon, and that they can hold off the marriage until then. Jack once again interrupts, saying that Thomas Cardew’s will doesn’t allow her to come of age until thirty-five.
This hurdle is once again avoided by Lady Bracknell, who states that thirty-five is a attractive age, and hints that Cecily’s fortune will have gained quite a bit from interest by then. She tells the couple that they can still marry. Cecily asks Algernon if he would wait for her, and he assures her that he would. Cecily, however, says she hates waiting. Algernon asks her, lamenting at their situation, what they should do.
Lady Bracknell urges Jack to reconsider his decision. Jack tells Lady Bracknell that if she gives him consent to marry Gwendolyn, then he will give consent to Algernon to marry Cecily. Lady Bracknell is outraged at this suggestion and says that it is impossible. She tells Gwendolyn they must leave immediately.
Dr. Chasuble enters, saying that the preparations have been made for the christenings. Lady Bracknell misunderstands, thinking the couples are already planning on having children. The matter is cleared up when the Chasuble says the christenings are for Jack and Algernon. Lady Bracknell forbids them to be christened, saying it is improper. The Chasuble asks Jack if he doesn’t want to be christened, and Jack replies that, in his current situation, christening wouldn’t do him any good.
The Chasuble then says if he doesn’t have any baptisms to perform, then he is going to return to Miss Prism, who has been waiting for him at the church. Lady Bracknell becomes alert when the Chasuble mentions Miss Prism and asks the Chasuble to describe her and her position in his household, saying it is a matter of vital importance. The Chasuble describes Miss Prism as a lady of cultivation and respect, and tells Lady Bracknell that he is celibate.
Jack reveals Miss Prism to be Cecily’s governess of the past three years. Lady Bracknell becomes severe and says she must see Miss Prism at once. The Chasuble looks outside, and notices Miss Prism is approaching the house.
Miss Prism enters and tells the Chasuble that she has been waiting for him for almost an hour. She sees Lady Bracknell and suddenly goes terribly pale. Lady Bracknell yells at Miss Prism to come to her, and Miss Prism approaches, shaking.
Lady Bracknell questions Miss Prism, asking her what happened to the baby. Everyone in the room is staring with rapt attention at the scandal unfolding. Lady Bracknell goes on to say that 28 years ago Miss Prism was charged with looking after a baby boy at Lord Bracknell’s house. She left with the baby, and later the police found the carriage with a three-volume manuscript in it, but no baby. Lady Bracknell asks Miss Prism again what happened to the boy.
Miss Prism pauses, then, ashamed, tells the story. When she was charged with looking after the boy, she had a terrible cold, and her head was fuzzy. When she went out, taking the baby with her, she accidentally placed the baby in her handbag instead of her manuscript. When she realized her mistake, she ran away.
Jack asks where she left the handbag, and Miss Prism replies vaguely that she doesn’t remember. Jack insists that she tell him, saying it is of utmost importance. Miss Prism admits that she left the handbag in the cloak-room of a railway station.
Jack turns to Gwendolyn, asking her to excuse him, but he must go to his room for a minute. Gwendolyn, overdramatic, tells Jack that she will wait for him all her life for him to come back to her. Jack rushes out of the room, flushed with excitement and agitation.
Doctor Chasuble demands to know the meaning of his behavior, and Lady Bracknell tells him she doesn’t even want to suspect. The group hears noises from upstairs, as if someone is moving trunks. Cecily wonders why Uncle Jack is so agitated, and the Chasuble tells her he has an emotional nature. The noises stop, and then redouble. Lady Bracknell hopes it will end soon, and Gwendolyn says she can’t stand the suspense, though she wants it to last.
Finally, Jack runs back downstairs, carrying a black handbag. He asks Miss Prism if this is the handbag she left in the cloak-room, and to examine it closely before answering. Miss Prism points to her initials on the purse, and is gladly surprised to have it returned to her after all these years.
Jack tells her in a pathetic voice that he was the baby she placed in the handbag. Miss Prism is shocked as Jack calls her mother and tries to embrace her. She tells Jack that she is unmarried and has no children but that Lady Bracknell can tell him who his mother is.
Lady Bracknell reveals Jack to be the son of her sister, and Algernon’s older brother. Jack, ecstatic, hugs Algy, telling him that he must act like a brother from here on out. The two shake hands.
Gwendolyn reminds Jack that the issue of his Christian name still hasn’t been solved, and Jack says in the excitement of finding out his origins, he forgot all about it. He asks Lady Bracknell if he was christened as an infant, and she says yes. He was named after his father. Impatiently, Jack wants to know what his father’s name was, but Lady Bracknell cannot recall. He asks Algernon, but Algy was only one year old when their father died, so he doesn’t remember his Christian name.
Jack thinks and goes over to the old army records. He finds his father, whose Christian name was Ernest John. Lady Bracknell comments that now she remembers why she always disliked the name Ernest, but Jack and Gwendolyn are ecstatic.
Jack apologizes to Gwendolyn, saying it is a terrible thing to find out he has been being truthful all the time and hopes she will forgive him. She does, and they embrace lovingly. Everyone is happy, and the Chasuble embraces Miss Prism, and Algernon embraces Cecily. Jack says he finally realizes the Importance of Being Ernest.
Dolly is angry over her husband’s affair and considers taking her children to her parents’. However, she knows it would easier to care for the children in their own home. Also, she still loves Stepan. He comes to her room and she sees him glowing with well-being and this makes her suffering more intense. Stepan feels remorse when he sees his wife and begs her forgiveness, if only for the sake of the children. Dolly refuses to forgive him and he leaves the house. Dolly broods over her fate but then decides she must return to her duties as mistress of the house.
Stepan holds an important position in the government thanks to the influence of his brother-in-law, Alexey Alexandrovich Karenin who is married to his sister Anna. Stepan has many connections to people in high places and gets along with almost everyone. He has a good salary and his wife’s considerable financial resources, but still is short of money. After he leaves the house he goes to his office and meets with his staff. During the meeting a man interrupts but Stepan agrees to see him later – it is an old friend Konstantin Levin. Konstantin is in love with Dolly’s sister, Kitty.
Stepan and Konstantin Levin meet later for dinner and Konstantin tells him he wants to ask Kitty (Ekaterina Shterbatskaya) to marry him. Konstantin has been in love with the three Shterbatskaya sisters by turn – Dolly, Natalia, and now Kitty. He tells Stepan that he is not worthy of Kitty and does not know what he will do if she turns him down. Stepan and Konstantin are men of two different temperaments: Stepan a lively extrovert and Konstantin a serious deep-thinking introvert.
Konstantin, who owns and manages a rural estate, while in Moscow is visiting with his famous half-brother, Sergey Ivanovitch Koznishev, a writer. Konstantin wants Sergey’s advice about Kitty. At Sergey’s home he waits to speak to him but must wait until a philosophy professor is finished visiting. He and Sergey are having a philosophical, scientific, and spiritual discussion. The reader is made aware of Konstantin’s serious nature when he gets pulled into the discussion and then waits patiently for the professor to leave.
The professor leaves and Konstantin begins to ask Sergey about Kitty; his half-brother’s condescending questions about his country estate upset him and he changes his mind about asking for Sergey’s advice. The siblings talk about the local district council that Konstantin used to belong to in the country. The conversation turns to Nikolai, who is Konstantin’s full brother and the black sheep of the family. He has returned to Moscow and is leading a disgraceful existence. Nikolai wants to be left alone but Konstantin plans to find him and gets his address but decides he must find Kitty first.
Konstantin leaves his brother’s house and goes to the Zoological Gardens where Stepan told him Kitty would be skating. Konstantin soon sees Kitty at the rink. Her cousin Nikolai comes over to him and then Kitty joins them, smiling at Konstantin which overwhelms his feelings. He puts on skates at her request and they briefly skate together. He tells Kitty his length of stay in Moscow depends on her and she is worried as she intuits he plans to propose. She is fond of Konstantin but does not love him. He makes arrangements to meet her that night at her home.
Stepan, in an exuberant mood, meets Konstantin that evening for dinner at a luxurious restaurant. Konstantin’s mind is on Kitty; he feels uncomfortable in this sophisticated setting. He regards himself as just a working country man. Stepan and Konstantin are treated with deference, as befitting their status – their choice of food and drink reflects their privileged status. The waiter is a Tatar, a member of an ethnic group within Russia of an inferior social standing. The men discuss Konstantin’s visit to the Shtcherbatsky’s and his feelings for Kitty. Stepan tells him Dolly thinks Kitty is right for Konstantin and Konstantin tells Stepan his brother Nikolai has returned.
At the restaurant, Stepan asks Konstantin if he knows Count Vronsky. Konstantin does not and Stepan tells him he might be a rival for Kitty’s affections – he is handsome, rich, good-natured and intelligent. This depresses Konstantin. Stepan tells him to press his suit with Kitty quickly but Konstantin changes the subject, and tries to set up a shooting date. Stepan tells him he is having women problems so won’t set a firm date. They begin to discuss Stepan’s “problem” hypothetically and their attitudes to “certain types” of women is revealed. Konstantin asserts that men should not cheat on their wives. They discuss different facets of love and in doing so reveal their characters.
Kitty’s background information is revealed: she is eighteen, recently come out in society. Count Vronsky is seriously courting her and Konstantin Levin is very interested. Her father (a Prince) supports Konstantin’s suit and her mother prefers the Count. Kitty’s parents have been married for thirty years; in their time aristocratic marriages were basically arranged. The Princess finds it an ordeal marrying off her three daughters and knows that modern young women have more freedom and therefore could marry someone unsuitable. Kitty is in love with Vronsky and her mother hopes his intentions are honorable. Her mother is worried Kitty might decide to marry Konstantin.
Kitty is torn between her feelings for Vronsky and Levin. She feels at ease with Konstantin but is more attracted to the Count. Konstantin arrives early that evening and she knows she will have to turn him down. As they are alone he takes the opportunity to propose. His declaration of love flatters Kitty but thoughts of Vronsky fill her mind and she turns him down. Konstantin states that he is not surprised and gets up to leave.
Kitty’s mother enters the room and realizes that Konstantin has proposed and Kitty has refused. Konstantin engages in small talk with her and other guests. He speaks with Kitty’s friend Countess Nordston; she and Konstantin despise each other. A man joins them who Konstantin thinks must be Vronsky due to Kitty’s reaction. The men are introduced and Vronsky mentions he likes the Russian countryside. The discussion turns to the supernatural and Konstantin says he does not believe in it. The group decides to conduct a séance. Kitty’s father arrives and hugs Konstantin but pays little attention to Vronsky. Konstantin slips away from the group before they can get a séance underway.
As Kitty tries to sleep that night she has second thoughts about turning down Konstantin Levin’s offer of marriage. Her parents are arguing in the Prince’s study – her father supports Konstantin’s offer and her mother is optimistic about Kitty’s chances with Vronsky. The Prince is angered with his wife’s attempts at match-making; he does not approve of Vronsky, whom he thinks lacks substance, courting Kitty. He fears Kitty will end up like her sister Dolly. His wife begins to think he might be right.
Count Vronsky is from the same level of society as Kitty, but he has much more experience and is considerably older. He, like his own mother, has had many love affairs. He likes the thrill of the chase, but has no intention of marrying Kitty. Vronsky enjoys the single life and is not concerned where his flirtation with Kitty might lead – he is just having fun. As he leaves the Shterbatsky home he is thinking about which sophisticated party scene he might go to next.
Vronsky goes to the railway station to meet his mother. He runs into Prince Oblonsky who is there to meet his sister’s train. The two women have actually traveled down together, although do not know each other. Oblonsky and Vronsky talk about Konstantin Levin and Vronsky surmises that Konstantin has proposed to Kitty. He feels a sense of satisfaction to know that she turned down Konstantin’s proposal. Vronsky’s mother arrives – it is revealed that he neither loves nor respects her, but shows both love and respect to her in person.
Vronsky notices Anna Karenina, Oblonsky’s sister, as she steps off the train and feels an instant attraction which his mother senses. She chatters about Anna and tells him that the young woman misses her little son. Vronsky and his mother begin to leave but there is a sudden commotion and they learn a guard has been killed by a train. His wife is present and Vronsky decides to give her some money. The reader infers that this is done to impress Anna, and indeed she has an uneasy feeling – she tells her brother that the guard’s death is an evil omen.
Anna arrives at her brother’s house and immediately goes to Dolly. Her sister-in-law is very depressed but welcomes Anna, whom she likes. Anna visits with her nieces and nephews and then has coffee with Dolly – she tells Dolly that Stepan has told her about the affair and that she is very sorry. Dolly complains that Stepan feels no remorse but Anna says he feels very badly. She tries to calm her sister-in-law, telling her not to torture herself, that Stepan would always put his wife and children before a mistress. She asks Dolly to try to forgive her husband.
Stepan, Dolly and Anna dine together. Stepan is optimistic that Dolly will forgive him. Her sister Kitty comes to call and to meet Anna for the first time; Anna and Kitty hit it off. Anna encourages her brother to spend time with his wife after dinner and she and Kitty entertain the children. They talk about a ball that is to be held the next week and Anna tells Kitty she met Count Vronsky at the railway station. She does not tell Kitty about his donation to the guard’s widow because she believes Vronsky was only trying to impress her.
Later that day Dolly discusses Anna’s sleeping arrangements and soon Stepan joins them. Anna hopes they have reconciled but Dolly is still rather cool toward him. When she begins to tease him in a normal manner, Anna is relieved. Later that evening Anna goes to get her photo album to show everyone her son’s pictures and as she goes Count Vronsky comes to the house. Anna catches a glimpse of him and feels both pleasure and dread. He sees her and looks slightly embarrassed. He leaves the house without joining them which impresses everyone as slightly unusual.
The ball is held and Kitty has many admirers. She looks beautiful and is soon dancing with Korsunsky, a married man. As she dances she spots Vronsky – it is the first time she has seen him since Konstantin Levin proposed. She and Korsunsky see Anna after the first dance – she looks charming in black velvet. Korsunsky asks Anna to dance and as he does, Vronsky appears and greets Anna, but she ignores him. Vronsky seems distracted and hardly notices Kitty at first but then they begin to waltz.
Kitty dances with Vronsky several times and he promises to dance the mazurka with her later. Kitty dances with many partners during the evening. At one point she sees Vronsky and Anna dancing together. Anna looks radiantly happy as does Vronsky; she senses a mutual attraction. Kitty is close enough to hear what they are saying, but it is merely small talk. She becomes upset and wants to go home. Countess Nordston says that Vronsky asked Anna to dance the mazurka with him but she reminded him that he promised that dance to Kitty. In the end Anna leaves the ball early.
As Konstantin Levin leaves Kitty’s house he broods about his lack of social graces and then decides to seek out his brother Nikolai. He goes to the hotel where Nikolai lives, thinking about his brother’s past as a religious student who was jeered at and then as a man who lived a debauched life. He sees his gaunt and sickly brother. He seems happy to see Konstantin but then tells him he does not want to see family members. He introduces Konstantin to the two people with him – Mr. Kritsky who he says is prosecuted by the authorities. The woman he introduces as Marya Nikolaevna (Masha), his girlfriend who he has rescued from a brothel. Konstantin stays to dine with them.
Nikolai is plotting against the aristocrats: he has adopted some communistic ideals. He is organizing locksmiths in a nearby village. He rails against their brother Sergey’s writings. When Mr. Kritsky leaves Nikolai labels him as “no good” as well. Konstantin has a chance to speak to Marya alone. She says Nikolai is very ill and drinking excessively. Later Konstantin and Nikolai talk about Konstantin’s life and their shared past. Konstantin suggests his brother move in with him. Nikolai says he wants to avoid Sergey at all costs. Eventually he gets very drunk and Konstantin and Marya put him to bed.
Konstantin returns to his country estate and immediately feels better. Moscow is a bad fit for him and he wants to live a simpler and better life, valuing what he has. He is willing to give up his passion for Kitty and keep track of Nikolai. He agrees with Nikolai that there are injustices in the Russian system but does not think it needs to be completely overthrown. When he reaches the farm he greets the news of its progress while he was away with a mixture of frustration and happiness.
Konstantin reflects on how living on the estate, which had belonged to his parents, is very important. He longs to have a wife and children to share it. He idealizes married life, and women in particular (his mother died when he was young). He is worried he might have to give his dream up. As he rests and reads in his study and half-listens to his housekeeper Agafea chat and gossip, he dreams about a future with a wife and family. His housekeeper notices Konstantin’s low-spirits as he sadly caresses his dog’s head.
Anna decides to leave Moscow the morning after the ball and lets her husband know telegram know she is coming home to Petersburg on the evening train. Dolly senses her sister-in-law’s dark mood but Anna assures her it is nothing and it will pass. She thanks Anna for helping her and mentions Anna has no skeletons in her past. Anna disagrees confessing that Kitty was jealous of her spending time with Vronsky at the ball. Anna has mixed feelings about Vronsky but it is obvious he is interested in her. Stepan arrives to take Anna to the train station.
Anna and her servant get on the train; she is happy to be going home. She tries to concentrate on a novel but her mind wanders to what happened in Moscow. She thinks about Vronsky she feels something like shame and realizes she does not want to examine her feelings too closely. When the train stops at a station she gets out – metaphorically leaving the heat of the train carriage to shake off the heat of her disturbing thoughts and entering the cold to clear her head.
A snowstorm is raging outside the train and the station is bustling. Anna suddenly sees a man in military uniform – it is Vronsky. He asks her politely if he can help her. She feels joy and though she knows why he is there, she asks him anyway. He replies he wants to see her – she rebuffs him and gets back on the train. Overnight she sleeps fitfully due to the happiness she feels about Vronsky. When Anna meets her husband at the station she only notices his physical and personal deficiencies. She greets him by asking him if their son is well.
Vronsky is on the train with Anna, sitting up all night, high on his feelings for Anna. He is not concerned about where this might lead; his thoughts are all in the moment. He is glad he told her how he felt. He gets out at Petersburg with hope of seeing her. Vronsky is shaken to see her husband. He notices Anna’s reserve with Karenin. Vronsky approaches and asks if she had a good night; her husband looks at him with displeasure, recognizing Vronsky. Vronsky asks if he can call on them. Karenin agrees and then the couple head off. Karenin urges Anna to call on Lidia Ivanovna, an important woman in Petersburg society.
Anna’s son Seryozha is ecstatic to see her back. Anna feels a bit disappointed on seeing her son despite her love for him. She tells him about his cousins. Later the grande dame of Petersburg society, Lidia Ivanovna, is announced. Anna had always liked Lidia but now she saw the woman with all her defects. Lidia inquired if things had been settled with Dolly and Stepan. She soon launches into a recital of local news. After she leaves Anna has another gossiping guest and then is alone. She sorts through correspondence and begins to feel she is back to normal and the upset of Vronsky recedes.
Anna’s husband Alexey is a busy man and keeps a tight his schedule. When he comes home that evening the couple keep busy – he with business and she with guests. After the evening meal he goes to a council meeting and Anna decides to stay home. She spends the evening with her son and feels virtuous. When Alexey returns they speak about her trip and his council activities. He retires to read – Alexey is a voracious reader. Anna reminds herself that he is a good man. When he beckons her to their bedroom she feels deadened, there is no spark like she felt for Vronsky.
Vronsky returns to his apartment in Petersburg to find his friend Petritsky (whom he had lent his flat to while he was in Moscow) and two others there. They drink coffee and chat about their social mores – Baroness Shilton complains that her husband wants a divorce just because she has been unfaithful. Petritsky complains of money problems and discusses romance and fashions. Vronsky feels comfortable in this world of frivolity. Later he goes out to reintroduce himself to Petersburg society – in the hopes of meeting Anna Karenina.
Kitty Shtcherbatskaya has been ill for most of the winter and now it is spring, and she is still declining. Doctors (the family physician and an expert) have been called in to examine her. The expert believes Kitty is in the beginning stages of tuberculosis. He believes a modified diet is the best treatment. The family doctor thinks travel may help. Kitty herself believes she is not ill but suffering from a broken heart. It is decided that she should go abroad but not seek other treatment. Kitty and her mother begin to plan a trip.
Dolly, who has recently had a baby girl, arrives at her parents’ place to see how Kitty is. The family does not admit to Kitty having tuberculosis; they just say she should go abroad. Dolly will miss her. Stepan is rarely at home and there is a money shortage. Dolly suspects her husband of infidelity. Kitty insists her father come on the trip with them. He loves his youngest child but blurts out something that she relates to Vronsky and she cries and leaves the room. Dolly tells her mother about Konstantin Levin’s proposal; it is implied that she will convince her sister to reconsider it.
Dolly visits her sister in her bedroom and scolds for pining for Vronsky. She insists that the problem is Kitty took Vronsky’s attentions to Anna too seriously. Kitty gets very emotional when Dolly asks if Konstantin had proposed. She chides Dolly for tolerating Stepan’s infidelity and then begs for Dolly’s sympathy. Dolly believes her sister wishes she had not turned Konstantin down. Kitty now feels she is just a pawn in the marriage market. Everything seems repulsive. She insists she wants to stay with Dolly. She does but her health does not improve and in Lent the Shtcherbatskys went abroad.
There are several sets in Petersburg’s high society – Anna Karenina is a prominent member of the government set made up of serious clever people. The center of this circle is Countess Lidia Ivanovna. Anna is also familiar with the fashionable set. Anna’s closest friend in this set is Princess Betsy Tverskaya, Count Vronsky’s cousin. Anna had preferred the more serious set until she returned from Moscow. Vronsky is a member of the fashionable set and when they meet she was filled with joy. His cousin Betsy is aware of his passion and helps the couple meet.
Vronsky relates a story to his cousin Betsy about his mediation between a husband and wife that reflects his light hearted and light minded approach to life. He then goes to the French theater to tell the colonel of his regiment the results of his mediations. This goes back to an incident involving his friend Petritsky and one Prince Kedrov who had chased a woman home only to find out she was married. The husband was furious and his ruffled feathers needed to be soothed. The colonel laughs at the story and says it will be taken care of.
Princess Betsy is hosting a soiree at her home after the theatre with a group from the fashionable set including Vronsky. They discuss the actress in that night’s performance and other things, including alluding to the married Betsy’s relationship with a young man. They soon begin a wider range of gossip. Princess Myakaya is particularly admired in the group for her plain speech. The ambassador’s wife is speculating on the change in Anna Karenina and hints that it has something to do with Vronsky, calling him her “shadow”. Princess Myakaya defends Anna and says she is blameless if men admire her.
Princess Betsy is expecting Anna Karenin at her soiree. As she arrives, Vronsky stands up – they are both acutely aware of the other but pretend nonchalance. The group begin talking of arranged marriages being preferred and Vronsky makes pointed remarks about passion tearing those unions apart. Anna says she has information that Kitty Shtcherbatskaya is very ill. Vronsky confronts her privately and she accuses him of having no honor as far as Kitty is concerned. Vronsky implies that he made a mistake with Kitty but that he loves Anna. She wants him to go to Kitty and apologize. In the course of their conversation Vronsky realizes Anna loves him. Anna’s husband walks into the room and people begin darting glances at the two talking alone. Eventually Alexey leaves and Anna goes home later, saying her goodbyes to Vronsky; he is convinced Anna will be his.
Anna’s husband Alexey was not overly concerned about his wife talking with Vronsky but he did not like the other guest’s reactions so he decides to talk to her about it. Alexey is not jealous – he did not doubt his wife’s devotion. He is a rational man and avoids emotional upheavals. He now has to face the possibility of Anna loving another man. He is unsure of what to do. He is convinced nothing has really happened between the two, whatever their feelings might be. Alexey sees himself as a guide for Anna – to show her what her proper actions should be. He is not very concerned about her feelings. He hears Anna coming in.
Anna comes in and greets her husband, surprised that Alexey is still up. He tells her he wants to talk to her. She responds with surprise that is not entirely sincere. He warns her that her demeanor around Vronsky is fueling gossip. Anna says she has no idea of what he is talking about. Her denial makes him angry but she faces him calmly. Alexey tells her she has a duty to behave as a proper wife whatever her feelings are. He declares his love for her and mentions she is putting their son at risk. Anna continues to deny anything is wrong. They go to sleep.
The Karenins continued their life as they always had. Anna was able to see Vronsky on a regular basis often thanks to Princess Betsy. Husband Alexey finds he cannot penetrate Anna’s surface calm – a barrier has sprung up. He is convinced that as he is powerful strong man and he should be able to fix his marriage. He hopes by being kind and attentive he will get through to her. But Anna has become distant and he senses deceit in her.
A year has passed since Vronsky and Anna met and finally she has declared her love to him. They have experience some physical expression of their passion. She feels much guilt and likens what she has done to murder, with all its resultant mess and cover-up. She leaves Vronsky, not wanting to speak about what they have done. She hopes to think about it all when she is calmer but this does not happen. That night she has vivid dreams about both Vronsky and Alexey, both playing the part of husbands. The dreams make her wake in terror.
Konstantin Levin has been back on his farm for three months; he still holds onto his dream of a wife and family. He knows being alone so much is not good for him. He has no interest in the women he does know as marriage partners. However strong his feelings life on his estate does distract him and thoughts of Kitty begin to lessen. He also hears from Marya that his brother Nikolai’s health has deteriorated. Konstantin had convinced his brother to see a doctor and go abroad for his health. He spends much of his time working on agricultural improvements. Spring arrives and the landscape is transformed.
With the arrival of spring Konstantin is energized for farm work. He takes care of his cattle, supervises the repair of machinery and buildings – he is frustrated that this has not been done over the winter. He feels his workers are lazy and complains to his bailiff who merely says little can be expected of peasants. Konstantin blames the bailiff but not aloud. He does not want to alienate him; his bailiffs never seem to be as forward-thinking as he is. Konstantin takes his favorite horse out for a ride around the estate – he enjoys the ride. The reader is shown how the farm is run, Konstantin’s relationship with the land and his relationship with the workers.
When Konstantin arrives home he hears the bell at the principal entrance of the house. He is eager for a visitor and happy to see it is Stepan Oblonsky. His first thought is to find out how Kitty is. Stepan says he is there to do some shooting and to sell off some of his land. He brings him the news of Moscow including the fact that Konstantin’s half-brother Sergey may visit the farm soon. Konstantin tells Stepan his plans for the farm. After a hearty country meal the men go out to shoot. Stepan hints that he has found a new, perfect woman.
The men go out to shoot, taking Konstantin’s dog Laska. They choose a spot by a stream for their stand-shooting. The area is redolent with spring. Konstantin fancies to himself that he can hear the glass growing. The reader is again presented with the motif of nature and its bounty, awakening from the long Russian winter. Stepan takes down a bird (a snipe) which Laska retrieves. The men shoot two more birds each. The sky begins to darken and the stars come out. Konstantin decides it is time to ask about Kitty. Stepan tells him she is very ill and she may not live.
Returning home, Konstantin asks Stepan about Kitty. He is happy that she may be available again but is also glad that she is suffering as she made him suffer. He dismisses Stepan’s explanation that Vronsky broke Kitty’s heart. He changes the subject to Stepan’s selling some forested land to a businessman. Stepan thinks he is getting an excellent price. Konstantin thinks he is selling it too low. When they get back to the house Ryabinin is there to talk the deal over with Stepan. Ryabinin wants the price lowered; Konstantin tells him off, saying the price was agreed to. He offers to buy the forest himself. Ryabinin quickly pulls out the money, hands it to Stepan and leaves.
Stepan now has a down payment from a buyer on the forested land. He is happy: he has money and he enjoys the shooting. Konstantin is in a dark mood. He is upset that Kitty is ill over Vronsky and angry about Stepan’s sale. Stepan argues that arguing over pennies is not what people with class do. Stepan begins to charm Konstantin’s servant Agafea while his friend sits in gloom. Later he asks Stepan where Vronsky is and he is told that the Count is in Petersburg. They discuss what an aristocrat is – Konstantin does not think Vronsky can be considered one. Stepan is aware that Konstantin would probably not think he was one either.
Vronsky’s great passions are Anna, his army regiment and horse racing. His is very popular with the regiment. Vronsky never speaks of Anna to any of his male companions, although their relationship is an open secret. The men in his society envy Vronsky his relationship – the women were happy that Anna’s sterling reputation has taken a hit. Vronksy’s mother was pleased with his liaison until he turned down a promotion so he could stay with his regiment in Petersburg to be near Anna. She sent Vronsky’s elder brother to talk sense to him.
Vronsky is at the races at Krasnoe Selo and goes to eat in the mess room of his regiment. He reads as he eats, to avoid conversation with the officers. He is thinking about Anna’s promise to see him later; she may not be able to do this as her husband has just returned. He thinks about visiting the Karenin’s summer place. His best friend in the regiment, Captain Yashvin, stops to talk. Yashvin is an immoral man with a commanding personality. Vronsky wants to tell him of his passion for Anna but is not sure he will understand. They leave together.
In the regimental camp Vronsky shares a hut with his friend Petritsky; Vronsky and Yashvin go in and they wake Petritsky up. Petritsky tells Vronsky his older brother has been by and will return later. Vronsky’s horses pull up to take him to the Karenin’s. He says he is going somewhere else, but the other men are not fooled although they say nothing. Before he leaves Petritsky remembers Vronsky’s brother has left a letter and a note. Vronsky reads the letter, from his mother, and knows his brother is there to talk about Anna. Vronsky is eager to leave and departs for Petersburg.
Vronsky goes to see his racing mare but he really wants to her see rival, Gladiator. His trainer says Vronsky is the better rider for a steeplechase. The trainer warns him that his horse (Frou-Frou) is nervous. The horse is not a perfect specimen but she is an excellent racer. The trainer tells Vronsky that it’s best he not to get excited before a race. Vronsky feels as though everyone wants to know what he is doing. On his way to Peterhof he reads the letter from his mother and is angry at her interference. He believes he is truly in love with Anna but worried it will be her ruin he decides to end their relationship.
Vronsky hopes to find Anna at home alone at her country villa. The gardener tells him she is alone. He knows he will surprise her and also hopes her son is not about, who complicates the relationship. Seryozha is confused about Vronsky even though his mother and Vronsky act with decorum around him. Today the boy is out and Anna is outside waiting for him. She is startled to see Vronsky and he feels she is troubled. Finally she tells him – she is pregnant. Vronsky says she must leave her husband and come to him. Anna does not know how they can accomplish this.
Vronsky is relieved that there is now a concrete reason for them to be together. Anna has not told her husband she is pregnant. She is surprised by Vronsky’s decisive reaction – she had been worried he would not take it seriously. Anna warns Vronsky her husband will tell her to stay, and will do anything to prevent scandal. Vronsky suggests they run away. Anna does not like the idea of being his mistress and secretly fears that all this will ruin her son. They are worried they have made each other unhappy but both deny it. Seryozha returns, Anna goes to him, but promises to meet Vronsky later, after the races.
Vronsky leaves Anna’s to complete another errand but realizes he is late. He knows he return to the race course barely in time for his own race but he does make it. Before it begins his brother Alexander finds him. His brother leads a dissolute life at court but is an important man. Vronsky tells Alexander not to meddle in his life. Soon after Stepan Oblonsky greets Vronsky and they arrange to meet the next day. He hears that the Karenins are there but does not look for Anna. He mounts Frou-Frou, who is still skittish. The race begins and Vronsky and Frou-Frou are quickly in third place.
Seventeen officers were riding in the steeplechase race, being watched by the tsar and other members of court. As the three lead runners attempt to clear a stream, Vronsky fears he will land on the horse in front. Miraculously Frou-Frou lands beyond it. Only Gladiator is ahead of them. Frou-Frou catches up to Gladiator, ridden by Mahotin, and passes them. Vronsky is way ahead but something happens when he reseats and Frou-Frou goes crashing to the ground. Vronsky can’t get her up. The horse has broken her back and must be destroyed. Vronsky is filled with remorse as he blames himself. This would be the bitterest memory of his life.
Alexey Karenin has been abroad after the long winter and in July has returned to Petersburg. Anna is at their country villa. They have not spoken of her affair again. Lidia Ivanovna also has a summer place at Peterhof but she has not seen Anna there this year. She warns Alexey about the continued presence of Vronsky with Anna, abetted by Princess Betsy. Alexey cut her short, scolding her for her comments. In truth, Alexey knows he is being deceived by his wife. His doctor comes to see him and tells him he is not in good health. After a busy day Alexey goes to the villa and on to the races afterward.
Anna sees Alexey arrive at the villa and she is disappointed that he has come, hoping he will not stay the night. He has brought a friend Mihail with him. Mihail leaves them alone and Alexey tells Anna about the doctor’s visit and that he may not be well. Their son comes in to see Alexey – the young boy is uneasy with his father. Anna asks Alexey if he will be coming back to the villa after the races and he says yes. Princess Betsy comes for Anna and she leaves, shuddering over the kiss Alexey planted on her hand.
Anna sits in the pavilion with Betsy and soon Alexey is there as well. He joins a military official but Anna can hear his voice from where she is sitting. Alexey is ignoring his inner agitation about Anna and Vronsky by socializing. Stepan Oblonsky arrives and is ingratiatingly charming, asking Princess Betsy to bet on the horses. When the race begins, Alexey watches Anna whose face is white. He subconsciously knows she is worried about Vronsky falling. A man is fatally injured on the course but Anna hardly notices. Many of the officers are down before the race even ends.
When Vronsky falls off his horse Anna is desperate to get to him. Alexey offers to take her to see how Vronsky is but she refuses. An officer comes by and tells the crowd Vronsky is not hurt but the horse’s back is broken. Anna bursts into tears of relief. Alexey convinces her to go home with him even though she is desperate to see Vronsky. In the carriage he says that her behavior is unacceptable. Anna admits him that she loves Vronsky and is his mistress. Alexey leaves her at home alone. Anna receives a note from Princess Betsy saying Vronsky is alright and he will be by later.
The Shtcherbatskys are in Germany at a watering-place where upper class people go for their health. Kitty is presented to a German princess and also meets an English Lady and a German countess and other exalted people. The family spends most of its time with other Russians. Kitty wants to get to know the Russian girl Varenka, who is a companion to the invalid Madame Stahl. Varenka seems to have a purpose in life, which Kitty lacks. Soon a Russian couple arrives – Konstantin Levin’s brother Nikolai and his girlfriend Marya. Kitty has a very negative reaction to them, especially after being told Nikolai is Konstantin’s brother.
It is a rainy day at the watering-place and the visitors are under the arcade. Kitty avoids Nikolai who is walking on the other side. Varenka is there with a blind woman and Kitty asks her mother is she may speak to her. The princess tells her she will ask Madame Stahl about Varenka before she gives her permission. Suddenly Nikolai is shouting at a German doctor and Kitty and her mother hurry away. Later they find out Varenka intervened and led Nikolai away. Kitty nags her mother to make Varenka’s acquaintance. The next day the princess introduces herself to Varenka and introduces Kitty as well.
Madame Stahl, the princess finds out, has an intriguing background. After separating from her husband, she gave birth to a child who died soon after birth. The cook of the household had had a baby the same night and this child, Varenka, was given to Madame. Madame is a complete invalid and a very religious woman. Varenka has lived most of her life abroad and has been well educated. The princess asks Varenka to play the piano and sing for them, which she does very well. Kitty finds out that Varenka has been disappointed in love – the man married someone else. The girls talk about Kitty’s shame about Vronsky and Varenka tells her she is overreacting.
Kitty makes friends with Madame Stahl and her new friendships help her own distress. Kitty begins to take more interest in religion under the influence of Madame and Varenka. She is not altogether sure of Madame’s religious sincerity. Kitty dreams of helping the down and out but she does not share her thoughts with anyone. Her mother does notice Kitty is mimicking Varenka more and more and that she is becoming more spiritual and less interested in their social scene. Kitty has been helping an artist’s wife – he, Petrov, has tuberculosis – but his wife turns cool toward her after he shows an attachment to Kitty.
Prince Shtcherbatsky, who has been away, returns to his wife and daughter. Unlike his wife, the prince found foreign life difficult and is a true Russian in every sense. He returns to find Kitty recovered, which pleases him. His is worried about her new attachment to Varenka and Madame. The prince and Kitty visit the spring, where many sick and dying people are gathered to find a cure. Kitty introduces him to her new friends, including Varenka. It turns out the prince knows Madame, and knew her before she became so religious. They meet Petrov and his wife and then Madame Stahl. The prince’s view of Madame makes Kitty think less of her.
The prince, a sociable man, has invited the resident Russians over for a tea and entertains everyone with his cheerfulness and wit. Kitty is worried about the Petrovs, and the change in their relationship. Varenka gets up to leave and Kitty follows her to the house. Kitty asks Varenka if she can help her assist the Petrovs – they are packing to leave; Varenka refuses. She tells Kitty that Mrs. Petrov is jealous of Kitty. Kitty blames herself, saying this comes from trying to better herself. She tells herself she is not suited to a life of helping others. She begs Varenka’s forgiveness and she promises to visit Kitty when she marries. Kitty returns to Moscow, cured and happier.
Sergey Koznishev comes to stay with his half-brother Konstantin Levin in May. Konstantin loves the country for its own sake – Sergey for its escape from the corrupt influences of the city. Konstantin was annoyed that Sergey politicizes the peasant into more than an ordinary person doing ordinary labor. Konstantin regards the peasant as he regards any man – some are good, some are bad. Sergey regards them as a class which he approves of. Konstantin feels his brother’s attitude to the peasants is too intellectualized. While the brothers relax together, Konstantin worries about the work he is not doing.
Summer wears on and it is hay-making time. Konstantin and Sergey go to observe it and Konstantin leaves Sergey to do some fly-fishing. When he returns Konstantin runs into one of the peasant workers and consults him about hay mowing and the weather. He collects Sergey who wants to talk about the district council. That morning a young doctor had come to the house to tend to housekeeper Agafea’s sprained wrist and, impressed by Sergey’s stature as a writer, had told him about the poor state of the council. Konstantin has no interest in talking but wants to return home to do further farm business.
Sergey urges Konstantin to stay involved with local affairs via the council. Konstantin replies that he has tried but can accomplish nothing. He is distracted by his own concerns about the farm. Sergey accuses Konstantin of not caring about providing the peasants with medical care or schools. Konstantin is upset with this criticism. He states that overeducating the peasants and other improvements will not suit his needs. The brothers argue. Sergey reminds Konstantin that they had supported ending serfdom. Konstantin agrees but says he has no talent or interest in running rural affairs. Sergey brings up many philosophical arguments that make Konstantin withdraw.
Konstantin ponders his love of scythe mowing while he is talking with his brother. He knows he needs regular physical exercise and enjoys mowing– but is afraid Sergey will laugh at him. Eventually he tells him and Sergey is skeptical – saying Konstantin would not be able to do it. One morning Konstantin gets up early and joins his peasants at mowing. As he mows his peasants quietly criticize his technique. Konstantin finds it very tiring but satisfactory work. He continues losing all sense of time and ignoring the rain. Konstantin leaves when it is lunch time and finds Sergey just getting up.
Konstantin returns to mowing after his lunch. He mows with an old experienced man and a young inexperienced man, Mishka. The easiest times were when he did the actions subconsciously and he had the best results. Konstantin enjoys the physicality of the work and being out of doors with nature. The reader gets an excellent sense of the average work day of the peasants as the author incorporates it into the narrative. Konstantin eats with the men and starts to feel a great affection for them. He knows their work output is better than it was under serfdom and they work cheerfully.
Konstantin returns home after dusk; Sergey has already had his dinner. Konstantin tells his brother about his day. He sits down to eat and Sergey tells him there is a letter from Oblonsky. Oblonsky urges him to visit Dolly, who is in some distress. Konstantin is eager to do this, and to take Sergey with him. Sergey says he spoke to some people in the village and they do not fully approve of Konstantin’s mowing. Sergey begins talking about philosophy and Konstantin only half-listens. He decides to go to the counting-house but to check up on Agafea’s wrist first.
Stepan Oblonsky is in Petersburg reminding the civil service of his existence and spending money like crazy. Darya (Dolly) and the six children are at their country place, Ergushovo, trying to live frugally. It is about forty miles from Konstantin’s. Stepan has fixed it up as best he could but the author notes that he has a difficult time remembering he has a wife and children. At first Ergushovo is run down and non-productive, the family barely has enough food. The bailiff is useless but she has one excellent servant – Marya Philimonovna. Marya has the place running smoothly within a week. Dolly’s children keep her busy and she has little time to worry about her husband.
Towards the end of May Stepan agrees to visit his family in the country and tend to the problems there. He won’t arrive until the beginning of June. Meanwhile Dolly has taken the children to church, to receive communion, which they have not done in nearly a year. Everyone is dressed up and looking beautiful and the children behave well. Afterwards they go mushroom picking and swimming and have a wonderful time, including Dolly. Some peasant women come by and Dolly gets up her nerve to talk to them about their roles as mothers.
Dolly arrives home with the children and finds Konstantin there. She is glad he is seeing them looking so well. Konstantin looks at them and wishes for a family of his own. Dolly does not realize Stepan had asked him to visit her. He is slightly embarrassed that Stepan has done this and Dolly appreciates his sensitivity, and she too is frustrated with Stepan. The children feel at ease with Konstantin although they do not remember him. Later Dolly tells him Kitty is coming for the summer. He blushes and changes the subject, saying he will look over her cows for her. They talk about the cattle although both would prefer to discuss Kitty.
Dolly tells Kitty is better but wants a quiet time in the country. She asks Konstantin why he has been angry with Kitty. He denies this but then admits Kitty turned down his proposal. Dolly says she did not know this. She explains to him that his expectations were unfair of Kitty and that he should have given her more time. She tells him Kitty’s lack of experience meant she lacked judgment about Vronsky. Konstantin stubbornly refuses to give Kitty another chance and his good mood is gone. When two of her children begin to physically fight Dolly is upset as well. A happy day has been spoiled for both of them.
Konstantin has a sister and in July the elder of her village comes to see him about her estate which Konstantin manages. The elder is worried that there is underhanded business going on concerning the division of the hay (the peasants are allowed to keep some). Konstantin goes to the farm and gets vague and unsatisfactory answers about the hay. He proves that not as much hay has been cut as the peasants say. He settles the dispute and then watches the peasants at work. The author again uses an opportunity to reveal to the reader the daily life of the peasants.
Konstantin listens to the peasants sing as they finish the haying. Konstantin envies their joy in life and wish he could share it. He enjoys his life but realizes the life of the peasant is more authentic. He mulls over how he could make his life better and feels he is at a turning point in his life. As he is thinking a carriage goes by with an old lady and a young woman whom he recognizes as Kitty. He suddenly forgets his dreams of a peasant-like life and is under Kitty’s spell once again.
Alexey Karenin is weakened by tears – if he is confronted with him, he loses his resolve. After Anna confesses her relationship with Vronsky, she begins to cry. Alexey represses any reaction. He tells her he will let her know his decision the next day. Leaving her, he experiences a feeling of relief to know the truth, that Anna is a corrupt woman. He is indifferent to her but not to his situation and thinks it over. Alexey thinks of having a duel with Vronsky but dismisses it as barbaric activity, but in truth he is a coward. Divorce would be a public scandal but perhaps they could live separately; however this might allow Anna to be with Vronsky. He wants her punished. He decides to keep Anna with him and “reform” her.
As he travels to Petersburg, Alexey Karenin thinks about writing a letter to his wife and begins it at once when he arrives home. He writes that they cannot break up a union made by a “higher power” and they must stay together for their son’s sake. He asks her to return to Petersburg and encloses some money for her expenses. He is proud that he has not been harsh. He finds a comfortable chair in his study and is soon engrossed mulling over problems from his job as a civil servant.
Anna’s thoughts are in contrast to her husband’s – she thinks she no longer will have to live a life of deception. She sees Vronsky that evening but does not tell him what happened. The next day she is wracked with remorse over what she said to Alexey. She is now terrified of disgrace, that her husband would turn her out. Anna receives a note from Princess Betsy, Vronsky’s cousin, asking her to come over. She is also told her son has been naughty and she suddenly realizes with terror that she cannot lose her son. Anna imagines leaving with Seroyzha and just one servant. She writes notes to her husband and Vronsky telling them she is leaving and begins to pack for Moscow.
As Anna is packing to leave Alexey his letter arrives. He demands she come to their home in Petersburg. Although Anna realizes he is giving her what she thought she wants – her old life back with no disgrace and being under Alexey’s care, she is upset. She feels Alexey is exhibiting Christian forbearance on one hand but she knows him to be manipulative and emotionally cold. She feels she has been cheated of love and begins to cry. She agonizes over how to answer Alexey’s but then simply writes that she received his note. She delays leaving for a day and goes to Princess Betsy’s.
Anna goes to Princess Betsy’s hoping to see Vronsky. When she arrives his footman is there with a note. She remembers that Vronsky had said he wouldn’t be going to Betsy’s. Although Anna is unhappy she feels better to be out in society rather than at home. Betsy notices she is not herself and Anna says she slept badly. The princess insists that Anna stay for tea and Betsy reads Vronsky’s note, saying he will not be coming. Anna gives his footman a note to tell Vronsky to meet her later at Madame Vrede’s. The ladies have tea and gossip.
Two guests, unknown to Anna, arrive at Betsy’s – they are Sappho Shtolz (a woman) and Vaska (a man). Vaska is obviously entranced with Sappho, who was the “latest thing” on the social scene and oozed sensuality. They also have brought along Prince Kaluzhsky, who arrives a few minutes later with other guests. One of them, Liza, attaches herself to Anna, professing to be an admirer. She says she is bored of society. Liza is with her uncle, Stremov, Anna’s husband’s enemy in government. Anna says she is going to Madame Vrede’s and they entreat her to stay. Anna is tempted but knows she has to face her future, and quickly.
A few times a year Vronsky puts his affairs in order. This puts him in a bad mood and his friend Petritsky stays out of his way. Vronsky sorts out his debts and places each one in priority lists – many are related to gambling. Other debts can be ignored for a while – they are to tailors, hotels, and the like. Vronsky has a small income from his late father’s estate but his married brother gets most of it, as Vronsky’s insistence. His mother will no longer send money as she disapproves of his love affair. Vronsky is living beyond his means. He sees only one solution – to borrow from a money-lender.
Vronsky lives by a code – for example, debts must be paid to other gamblers but not to tradesmen, one does not lie to a man but it is permissible to lie to a woman. Vronsky’s conscience is clear as long as he sticks to his principles. Now his relationship with Anna has strained his code. He regards her as an honorable woman who commanded respect. Anna’s pregnancy is forcing Vronsky to face a moral dilemma. He also has personal ambition in his army career. A childhood rival, Prince Serpuhovsky, is now a rival in the army.
Vronsky goes out to join Petritsky at a colonel’s dance at a large country house. There are singers, a band and barrels of vodka. Serpuhovsky is there – Vronsky has not seen him for three years. Vronsky observes that he looks well, successful and confident. He greets Serpuhovsky and serious socializing begins. Serpuhovsky wants Vronsky to join a political party to take charge of Russia which he sees as in decline. He says he and Vronsky are incorruptible as they are independently wealthy. He offers Vronsky a prestigious place in this political party and Vronsky replies that he is happy with how things are. Serpuhovsky indirectly warns him that a woman can be a man’s downfall. Vronsky quickly leaves after receiving a note from Princess Betsy.
Vronsky leaves the dance to meet Anna who had sent for him through Princess Betsy. He is feeling euphoric. When he sees Anna she tells him that she has told her husband everything. Vronsky thinks that he will have to duel Karenin. Anna unvoiced thoughts are that she will have to go on with her old life, but would give it all up if Vronsky says the word. Vronsky reads her husband’s letter; he is unsure if Anna should stay with her husband or leave him. She tells him she will not leave without her son. They part without making a firm decision but agree everything will be settled soon.
Alexey Karenin faces the Committee for the Reorganization of the Native Tribes and puts his points on the line, facing much opposition, but triumphs in the end. The day following his triumph he has forgotten Anna is to return that day. He does not greet her when she returns home as he is shut up in his study working. Anna waits a few hours and finally goes to him. He finds it difficult to speak to her. Finally he tells her he will not speak of her transgression and they can go on as before, as long as he is not disgraced. He asks her not to see Vronsky again.
Konstantin is tortured by thoughts that his estate is successful due to the labor of the peasants. Konstantin wants the peasants to work harder for his benefit – they simply want to work and live with little hassle. They are resistant to the changes that would make the estate more profitable. They do not deliberately sabotage his efforts but do not see why they should change their ways. Konstantin longs to see Kitty but will not go to Dolly’s to see her. He still resents her feelings for Vronsky. To distract himself he goes to see his friend Sviazhsky.
Konstantin takes his own carriage to visit Sviazhsky. On his way he stops at an old peasant’s home to refresh his horses and himself. The author uses the action to describe a typical peasant’s home and its occupants. Konstantin discusses farm work with the peasants. He is fed dinner along with everyone else. The old man tells him he has been able to buy quite a bit of land. He tells Konstantin that the reason his farm is more successful than the large landowners’ is that they are all peasants working together. Konstantin leaves for Sviazhsky’s, thinking about the peasant’s farm.
Sviazhsky is a few years older than Konstantin and has long been happily. His sister-in-law lives with them. Konstantin knows Sviazhsky would like her married to Konstantin, who dismisses the idea. Sviazhsky does not respect the nobility – he thinks Russia is ruined and the government useless. However he is a noble himself and works within the system. He regards the peasant as of a lower order but gets along well with them. He is an exemplary man in many ways but Konstantin does not fully understand his happiness. Other landowners visit and Konstantin is forced to sit with Sviazhsky’s sister-in-law who is wearing a low-cut dress which he finds distracting. He rudely leaves them and joins the men’s conversation, where they are discussing agriculture.
One of the landowners complains about how farming is deteriorating in Russia – the peasants cannot be relied on to work well. Another landowner says success depends on how one treats the peasants; his approach is quite patriarchal. They discuss how renting some of their land directly to peasants might be better. One of the men proclaims that Russia has been ruined by the abolition of serfdom, that the landowners need more power over the peasants. The author uses the discussion to show the difference between the old ways and the new ways.
Konstantin returns home ready to change everything. His bailiff is not enthusiastic about Konstantin’s idea of laborers as shareholders. When he approaches the peasants with his idea they too are more concerned about their day-to-day chores. Some are suspicious that there might be more to his idea than he was telling them, that they would be taken advantage of in some way. They resist change, but Konstantin gets his way and soon the farm is at least partly running his way, with peasant partnerships. The end of summer comes and Konstantin learns that the Oblonskys have returned to Moscow. He spends much time studying economics, looking for the answers to Russia’s problems.
Konstantin goes to bed, promising to stay for another day. He borrows books on the farming labor problem from Sviazhsky who maintains the other landowners all support serfdom. Sviazhsky says that the cause of the peasantry’s poverty is their lack of education so schools are needed. Konstantin argues it is the system that makes the peasants poor and it must be fixed. Konstantin has trouble sleeping that night, thinking over the discussions of the evening before and formulating new arguments. He comes up with a new idea which excites him. He intends to go home early the next day to implement his idea.
Konstantin divides his profits with his peasants toward the end of the summer. He plans to go abroad to learn more about international agricultural practices. Heavy rains delay the harvest but Konstantin is confident things are improving. He is working on a book about his economic ideas. He works in his study but is suddenly shaken by thoughts of Kitty. Agafea, his housekeeper, scolds him for being so gloomy and saying he has done much for his peasants. She has been his sounding board for his ideas. She tells him he has a limited control how the peasants work – some are hard-working and some are lazy. A bell rings, signifying a visitor.
Konstantin’s brother Nikolai arrives. Konstantin is disappointed – he hoped for a visitor who would cheer him up. Nikolai looks very ill and even gaunter than before. A few weeks before Konstantin had written to Nikolai telling him he had sold some land and there was a share for him. Nikolai tells him he wants to stay at the old home for a couple of months. He tells Konstantin he has dropped Marya. He also says his health has been restored but in truth, he appears to be dying. This shakes Konstantin into brooding on the inevitability of death.
Nikolai, who had been in good spirits the night before, is now irritable. Konstantin thinks the stress is caused by not facing Nikolai’s dying. The day after that Nikolai tells him his new ideas for running the farm are not original but is a form of distorted socialism. Nikolai is confident that the time for communism will come but not quite yet. The brothers argue about how the peasants should be treated. Nikolai states that he is leaving and when the time comes they make an attempt to part amicably. After he leaves Konstantin departs for his trip abroad but he is very depressed and obsessed with thoughts of death.
The Karenins live their life as before, but as strangers to each other. Karenin sees Anna every day but avoids dining with her. Anna still sees Vronsky when she can. All three are miserable and hope the situation will somehow resolve itself. Vronsky has charge of a visiting foreign prince for a week in the winter. This prince is a robust individual who has enjoyed widespread travel and amusements. He wishes to experience all pleasures that Russia has to offer. Vronsky tires of him quickly but not before he sees himself in the prince and is mortified.
After the prince leaves Vronsky receives a note from Anna, asking that he visit as her husband is out. He lies down to nap and has a terrible dream. He goes to Anna’s and is worried that he is late – it is almost nine. He almost runs into Alexey Karenin leaving the house – the man barely acknowledges him and drives on. Vronsky feels the best way to settle everything would be to duel with Alexey. When he sees her, she is despair over his being late, and hints that the relationship must end.
Vronsky tells Anna he ran into Alexey at the gate. He lies about why he is late. He tells her how he did not enjoy the prince’s visit and how he sees his dissolute life reflected in his. Anna is somewhat jealous about another woman and he questions her trust of him. Lately she has been showing more jealousy which leaves him cold. She is not as physically attractive to him now but he stills feels the old passion. They discuss why Karenin is willing to put up with the situation. She says Karenin does not have normal feelings. Anna alludes that she will die in childbirth and that it is for the best. She tells him about a dream that is eerily similar to the one he’d just had.
When Karenin returns home from the opera he paces in his study for hours. He knows Anna has broken his imposed rules and wants to divorce her and keep their son. He does not sleep all night. In the morning he goes to Anna and asks for Vronsky’s love letters. They argue passionately. Anna understands Karenin’s anger, however much she despises him and feels sorry for him. He tells her he wants to end the marriage. And the lawyer will send her directions in the morning and their son is going to his sister’s. She begs him to leave the boy with her; he refuses.
Alexey Karenin visits his lawyer and he is waved in ahead of others waiting. He states he wants a divorce and to keep his son. The lawyer offers to tell him how this might be done. Adultery is grounds for divorce and is usually granted when both parties agree to the adultery. It is the simplest way of getting a divorce. Alexey does not like this – he wants to punish Anna in court by suing for divorce due to her infidelity. This kind of divorce is handled by the church. Karenin says he will be in touch in a week.
Karenin is under much pressure in his job as a government official and some government members hold him in contempt due to his wife’s adultery. He runs into Stepan and Dolly Oblonsky in Moscow – Stepan is Anna’s brother. He tells Stepan he has been too busy to tell them he was in town. Dolly asks how Anna is and he mumbles something and then Stepan asks him to come to dinner the next day.
The next day Stepan goes to a ballet rehearsal. He has taken up with a young ballerina, Masha. He tells her he will pick her up after the last act. At noon he goes to a hotel, Dussot’s, where Konstantin, Karenin, and the new head of his department, Count Anitchkin, are all staying. He wants to make sure Karenin will come to dinner later. There will be a number of other guests, including Kitty. Konstantin tells him he has been visiting the industrial cities of Europe. He still seems to be consumed with the topic of death. Stepan asks him to come to dinner later.
That Sunday in Moscow, Karenin spends most of the morning working on a deputation from the native tribes and composing a letter to his lawyer. In the letter he told the lawyer to act as he thought best and enclosed three notes from Vronsky to Anna. As he finishes he hears the voice of Stepan Oblonsky talking to his servant. Stepan comes into his room – Alexey coldly tells him that he cannot come to dinner and why. Stepan is devastated and begs Alexey to talk to Dolly before he takes further action against Anna. Alexey reluctantly agrees and then they speak of Stepan’s new boss, Anitchkin, before Stepan, now cheerful, leaves.
Stepan arrives home just as his first guests arrive for dinner, including two leading Moscow intellectuals, Koznishev (the Levin’s half-brother) and Pestsov, who respect each other but are usually in disagreement. Kitty is already there, as is her father and her cousin, Prince Shtcherbatsky and Karenin. Kitty tries to hide her nervousness about confronting Konstantin who has not yet arrived. Stepan manages to put everyone at ease. When Konstantin arrives he is told Kitty is there – he is full of joy and dread. When she sees him she is overwhelmed. The group discusses politics and hunting and Konstantin is the center of attention, on top of the world.
The men, particularly Karenin and Pestsov, discuss what civilization is and what constitutes a good education. Stepan is glad he invited Pestsov, as he will keep a conversation going. Most of the men agree that educating women is dangerous. Sergey Koznishev argues that women just want to share in the duties of civilization and that education will make them fit to do so. Pestsov says women are humiliated by the awareness of their own “disabilities”.
During the conversation, Konstantin and Kitty had remained silent. He feels no interest in the topic although Kitty has often thought about the rights of women before this evening. She and Konstantin are having a vague meandering conversation and both of them are feeling some exhilaration from just speaking together. She convinces him that one of the guests, Turovtsin, is really a wonderful man despite his former opinion, Konstantin happily agrees with her and says he will never think badly of anyone again.
As the ladies leave the room Pestsov begins to expand on his theory that men and women are not treated equally when it comes to infidelity. Suddenly Turovtsin tells the men that there has been a duel that day and that Vasya Pryatchnikov has killed Kvitsky. Karenin asks why they duelled and he was told it was over his wife. Karenin goes into the drawing-room and Dolly takes him into the schoolroom to talk about Anna. She can’t believe Anna has been unfaithful. He states he wants a divorce. Dolly pleads for Anna but he says he hates her. He leaves.
As Kitty moves to the drawing-room, Konstantin stays with the men so as not to seem too eager to be with her. She later comes back to thank him for coming. They discuss how futile it is for people to argue. They begin to talk about the role of single women and how they should be looked after. Kitty begins to play with a chalk on a card– table. Konstantin takes the chalk, writing out initials for the words he means to ask – was her refusal of his offer of marriage permanent? They play back and forth with initials and Konstantin understands that this time she is accepting his proposal.
Konstantin will go to see Kitty’s parents the next day but he is already impatient to see her. Konstantin expresses to Stepan how happy he is and how he values their friendship – Stepan teases him that perhaps it is not time to die yet. Dolly tells him how happy she is to see him and Kitty back together. Sergey takes Konstantin to a council meeting with him. Konstantin thinks everyone he meets is good at heart. His neighbor Sviazhsky asks him to come for tea soon. Konstantin returns to the hotel in a state of euphoria, loving everyone and unable to eat or sleep.
Early the next morning Konstantin goes to the Shtcherbatsky’s but returns to the hotel as no one is up. He has trouble eating breakfast and returns to Kitty’s house by nine but they are not receiving anyone until noon. Sleep and food-deprived, he is running on emotion. As he waits for noon, the author presents the world to us as seen through Konstantin’s euphoric gaze. When he greets Kitty, she too is dazed with emotion and lack of sleep. They communicate their love to each other and tell her parents they are to marry.
The Prince and Princess Shtcherbatsky are very happy for Kitty and Konstantin. Her parents discuss when the wedding will be – Konstantin wants it as soon as possible without a lot of fuss. Kitty asks for his forgiveness over her feelings for Vronsky. Konstantin begins to prepare for the wedding, running a lot of errands, and taking others’ advice. Kitty is angered that Countess Nordston thinks she could do better than Konstantin. He confesses to Kitty that he has been with other women – she takes his badly. She is not particularly upset by his profession of atheism as she believes he has a good soul.
Karenin returns to his hotel annoyed with Dolly and irritated by the discussion of the duel fought by Kvitsky. He reads a telegram reporting Stremov has been given the job he himself wanted. A telegram from Anna begs him to return home as she is dying. He thinks it might be a trick. He knows she is close to having the baby. He decides to go to Petersburg – Anna has had the baby the day before and is now ill. The doctor, midwife, and Vronsky are there. Anna is conscious but rambling. Karenin is broken hearted. Anna is ill for three days and Karenin tells Vronsky that he forgives her and no longer wishes for her death. He says he will keep Anna with him and he will let Vronsky know if she wishes to see him. Vronsky leaves.
After Vronsky leaves the Karenin residence he experiences strong emotions, including humility. Karenin, the betrayed husband, has been pitied, but now has the power and status of a loved husband who has behaved contritely and with compassion. Vronsky feels like the lesser of the two. He returns home in a seriously despondent mood and feels he is losing his grip on reality. He picks up a gun with thoughts of suicide. He shoots himself, but not fatally. His brother’s wife, Varya, comes to nurse him. 85 OK
Karenin has forgiven his wife and feels pity for Vronsky, hearing about his attempted suicide. He even shows interest in the baby girl, Vronsky’s child. He vows to give his son Seroyzha more attention. Anna recovers and Karenin’s feelings begin to adjust to reality. Princess Betsy comes to call which does not please him. He overhears Anna’s conversation with Princess Betsy. Anna is saying she does not want to say a final goodbye to Vronsky. Karenin goes in to talk to them and Anna tells him that Vronsky wants to say goodbye before he goes to Tashkend but she does not think it right. Karenin leaves it up to Anna whether she receives Vronsky or not.
Karenin goes back into Anna’s room to speak to her, using Russian, a language of familiarity and intimacy. He repeats that she can decide about Vronsky, which irritates her and tells him she has already decided. He tells her Princess Betsy’s interference was unwanted. Karenin tells her he has sent for the doctor for the baby who is not well, who won’t nurse. Anna wants to know why she can’t nurse the baby herself. Karenin broods about his shattered life as he leaves – he know Anna hates him, society is laughing at him, and he lost a job he wanted due to his wife’s infidelity.
Stepan comes to visit just as Princess Betsy is leaving. He flatters and flirts with Betsy. She tells him Karenin is “killing” Anna. Stepan goes to his sister Anna and finds her crying. Stepan’s mood immediately shifts to sympathy. Anna tells him she can’t stand her husband and even hates his forgiveness. Stepan tells her she is simply overwrought and things will improve as she gets better. Anna’s responses show her to be overwhelmed and without focus; she simply does not know what to do and death seems like the only way out. Stepan says divorce is the only answer and tells her he will speak to Karenin.
Stepan goes to talk to Karenin. For once in his life, he is intimidated. Karenin shows him a letter that he has started to Anna in which he says he will do what will bring her happiness. Stepan is so moved tears come to his eyes but he tells Karenin what he should do is take the steps needed to dissolve the marriage, not rely on Anna to make a decision. Karenin is still resistant to the idea of allowing the marriage dissolve on grounds of mutual adultery. He is worried about their son. He also believes it would ruin Anna. Karenin finally acquiesces to what Stepan is suggesting.
Vronsky had shot himself in the chest and his wound almost killed him. When he is strong enough he tells his sister-in-law, who is nursing him, that the wound was accidental. Vronsky now believes he can go on with life but is still troubled that he may never see Anna again. His wound heals and he must go to his new posting at Tashkend. Princess Betsy is sent to ask Anna to see him but she refuses. Later Betsy comes to tell him that she has heard from Stepan Oblonsky that Karenin has agreed to a divorce. Vronsky goes straight to Anna. They make plans to go away together. Vronsky declines his appointment in Tashkend and retires from the army. A month later they leave Petersburg. Karenin is left alone with his son.
Princess Shtcherbatsky has agreed to Kitty’s wedding being held before Lent – there are only five weeks left. She decides that only a small part of the trousseau can be made before the wedding. Konstantin is still on cloud nine and does not want to consider practical things. Stepan reminds him that he needs a church certificate showing he has made confession – Konstantin has not made confession in nine years. He attends church but feels that it is all wrong. He goes to make his confession and tells the priest he has doubts about religion. The priest does not take him seriously. After some questioning he blesses Konstantin who is relieved that he has not had to lie.
On his wedding day Konstantin dined with his brother Sergey and two bachelor friends. His best man is Tchirikov, a Moscow judge. The men tease him that he is about to lose his freedom. Konstantin tells them he is quite happy to do so. Suddenly he is filled with doubt that Kitty truly loves him…perhaps she still loves Vronsky. He rushes off to her home and asks her if she wants to cancel the wedding and does she love him. They declare their love for each other. Kitty’s mother sends him home telling him not to be so foolish. He leaves to prepare for the wedding.
The church is crowded for Kitty and Konstantin’s wedding. The church looks gorgeous and the guests are beautifully dressed. Everyone is impatient to see the bride and groom but they are late. Konstantin is still in his hotel room, without all the necessary clothing. Stepan is waiting with them – they have sent a servant out to purchase a new shirt. Konstantin, now completely flustered, dresses quickly and he and Stepan rush to the church.
Konstantin meets Kitty at the church door and they walk into the church, everyone staring at them. Some of those present whisper that Kitty doesn’t look as pretty as she usually does but Konstantin thinks she looks beautiful. The couple have a chance to greet some of the guests before the ceremony begins. Konstantin has to be coached on his part in the ceremony. Soon he calms down. Kitty is filled with joy to be marrying Konstantin. They fumble with the wedding rings but soon get it right. Soon they are officially married.
Some of the guests are gossiping as the wedding proceeds, discussing outfits and the fact that the wedding is being held at night, like shopkeepers. Konstantin’s half-brother and Dolly tease each other and Stepan makes a joke about divorce. Countess Nordston comments that Kitty is too good for Konstantin. Dolly is very happy for her younger sister but feels sadness over Anna’s divorce, which she has just heard about.
The next part of the wedding ceremony is the stepping on a pink silk rug – the first one to do so allegedly will become the head of the household. The congregation pray for the couple’s fruitfulness and that they will be happy with their children. The priest puts the wedding crowns on Kitty and Konstantin’s heads. The epistle is read and the priest leads them by the hand around the lectern. The couple kiss. After the wedding supper, they leave for the country.
Anna and Vronsky have been traveling in Europe for three months and have arrived at a small town in Italy. Their daughter Annie is with them. At the hotel Vronsky runs into a Russian army friend, Golenishtchev, whom he has not seen for years. They have different political views. Vronsky is actually happy to see him, not realizing how bored he really is. Vronsky tells him he is with Anna and Golenishtchev does not seem shocked by their relationship. When he meets Anna he likes her immediately. Vronsky is a little unsettled to hear Golenishtchev has become a political writer. They visit a museum and Anna mentions Vronsky’s interest in art.
Anna’s past in many ways seems like a dream – her illness, her marriage reconciliation, the divorce, leaving her son, and so on. A period of great happiness follows. She knows she made Karenin unhappy but feels there was no other way. She is even more in love with Vronsky. Vronsky himself is not as happy and somewhat bored. They must fill up their days with activities and he can no longer live a carefree bachelor life. He clutches at any diversion to keep him amused and decides to take up painting.
Vronsky and Anna are now living in the palazzo in the small Italian town. They get to know a few interesting people and Vronsky is adapting to his role as a retired army officer, patron of the arts, and artist in the making. One day he and Golenishtchev talk about a current Russian artist, Mihailov, who has a good reputation but no support from the Russian government. Vronsky thinks he might support this man and have him paint Anna’s portrait. She suggests he paint their daughter’s. Golenishtchev says Mihailov is a savage. They decide to go see him.
Mihailov is a struggling artist, married and a father, nasty to his wife who tries to manage his affairs, and absorbed in his work which is both frustrating and rewarding. When Vronsky, Anna, and Golenishtchev arrive, he is thrilled, as they represent what he needs – the patronage of the wealthy. He has confidence in his own talent. The Russian visitors are not impressed by the artist’s appearance – he is unremarkable. Mihailov’s first impression of Anna is a memorable one.
Mihailov scrutinizes his visitors, as he does everyone, and knows he has met Golenishtchev before but remembers nothing about him. He judges the three as shallow dilettantes when it comes to art. However, he feels a liking for Vronsky and Anna. He shows them his acclaimed picture that has a religious theme. Golenishtchev compliments the picture and Mihailov is thrilled, as he agrees with his observation. Anna’s comment is approved of but Mihailov does not like Vronsky’s assessment.
Golenishtchev is speaking learnedly and cleverly to Mihailov and Anna and Vronsky are getting a little restless. They begin exclaiming over another picture of two boys fishing. Vronsky asks if it is for sale and Mihailov grumpily assents that the pictures are displayed to be sold. The visitors leave and the artist makes slight adjustments to his religious painting. Golenishtchev, Vronsky and Anna talk animatedly about Mihailov on their way home, saying how talented he is. They particularly like the picture of the fishing boys.
Vronsky purchases the painting of the boys finishing and Mihailov agrees to paint Anna’s portrait. The portrait is beautiful. Although he had unsuccessfully tried to paint her himself, Vronsky says it is all about Mihailov’s technique, subtly disparaging the artist’s talent. While at the palazzo Mihailov is sullen and almost rude. The wealthy Russians do not like him much. Mihailov finds Vronsky’s attempts at painting offensive. Vronsky finishes one painting and did not attempt to do any more. Anna and Vronsky soon begin to find the palazzo depressing and dull. They plan to return to Russia.
It is three months after Konstantin and Kitty’s wedding. Konstantin is happy but discovers marriage is not all smooth-sailing. He is an idealist – he did not think his marriage would be like all others. He had no idea that Kitty would have interests other than him and take such interest in running the household. He was also surprised at their having quarrels and is overwhelmed by the emotions she shows when angry with him. They are able to reconcile but still have disagreements. It is a period of adjustment.
Konstantin is working on his book and his happy to have Kitty doing needlework nearby as he writes. His book is about the causes of failures in agriculture in Russia, the unequal distribution of wealth, and the failure of reform. Kitty goes for tea and Konstantin begins to ponder that he is not getting enough done – he wants Kitty to be more occupied but that he should still be the center of her universe. He would like Kitty to have more serious interests. He blames her lack of a serious education. He does not understand that Kitty’s obsession with her “nest” is a prelude to her career as wife and mother.
Konstantin’s housekeeper Agafea is very fond of Kitty; at first she was unhappy about having a new mistress. When Konstantin joins them for tea Kitty gives him a letter from his brother’s common-law wife, Marya Nikolaevna. The letter says his brother Nikolai is dying. Kitty wants to go with him to see Nikolai but Konstantin does not believe her sincerity – he thinks she just wants to get away and go on a trip. He tells her she would be in the way and that she should not meet Marya. Kitty tells she him that as his wife, she should be with him at such a time. They quarrel, she cries, and then it is decided she will accompany him.
Nikolai is staying at a run-down hotel in a provincial town. It is dirty and depressing. The hotel has only one room left and Konstantin is feeling stressed about having to look after Kitty when he just wants to see his brother. He meets Marya out in the hall and she does not want to run into Kitty. Kitty looks out into the hall and both Konstantin and Marya are embarrassed. Konstantin goes to see Nikolai, who is obviously dying. They talk and Nikolai expresses his gladness that Kitty is with Konstantin. Konstantin goes to fetch her and she takes Nikolai’s hand and speaks soothingly to him. She tells Konstantin they must get him a better room.
Konstantin is overwhelmed by his brother’s dying and the situation repels him. Kitty, on the other hand, feels compassion for Nikolai and immediately makes plans to make him more comfortable. With her maid and Marya she begins to clean the room and get the staff to do as she asks. She sends for a new doctor. The state of the room improves and so do Nikolai’s spirits. The doctor comes and prescribes food and medicine. Nikolai is enthralled with Kitty. Kitty asks Konstantin to turn his brother over for the night as she and Marya are not strong enough. Nikolai holds on to Konstantin’s hand and then kisses it. Konstantin leaves the room crying.
Konstantin realizes that the intellectualization of death by the greatest thinkers is nothing compared to what women like Kitty and Agafea can do in the face of it. He has no idea of what to do for his dying brother. Back in their room Kitty does all that is needed to prepare it for their stay, to make it like home. They talk about the fact that Kitty has convinced Nikolai to receive the last rites. Kitty observes all religious conventions and does not take Konstantin’s atheism seriously. Konstantin tells her he is glad she came. He recalls how charming Nikolai was as a youth.
The next day Nikolai receives the last rites which he takes very seriously. Konstantin does not – he knows Nikolai has not suddenly reverted to religion. After this Nikolai seems better and even eats a little. Soon Nikolai is worse. Konstantin and Kitty eventually go back to their room. Marya comes to tell them he is dying. Nikolai lies motionless for a long time but still breathing. Konstantin tells Kitty to leave and sits with his brother for hours. Nikolai is wearing everyone out and they soon begin to wish for his inevitable death. He lingers on – Kitty and Konstantin have now been there for ten days. That night Nikolai dies. Konstantin learns that Kitty is pregnant.
Alexey Karenin’s life is drastically changed by his divorce. Immediately after her departure he tries to go on with his life as usual. Karenin had been an orphan who became a star pupil with much political ambition. The brother he was closest to had died in early adulthood. Anna’s aunt had brought them together, he fell in love, and she agreed to marry him. Karenin is close to no one now that Anna was gone. He is fond of his chief secretary, Sludin, but their relationship is more professional than personal. His doctor is too busy to be of much help. Karenin does not consider women worthy of his time.
Countess Lidia Ivanovna goes to see Karenin to counsel him. At first he is resistant but relents, almost crying and saying he is crushed. Lidia urges him to draw on God for support. Karenin insists it is simply his pride which is wounded and the day-to-day running of the household and caring for his son is sapping his energy. Lidia offers to help him. She prays for him. She goes to Seryozha and tells him his mother is dead. She attempts to run the household although she is incompetent. Karenin’s valet steps in and rights her wrongs. Lidia does give Karenin the moral support he desperately needs and turns him back to his religion, which he has neglected.
When young Lidia Ivanovna had been in love with and married to a ne’er-do-well for a short two months. He had abandoned her and they divorced. Lidia now loves many people in different ways. She believes she is truly in love with Karenin. She has just learned Vronsky and Anna are in Petersburg. Lidia receives a note from Anna. She reads that Anna wishes to see her son and asks for arrangements to be made. Lidia does not send an answer and writes a note to Karenin asking him to meet her at a reception, where Alexey is being honored, later.
Karenin is at the reception (also called a levee) for the Imperial family and is being gossiped about by the other attendees. They talk about Countess Lidia and about Anna being back in Petersburg. Unlike the others in his circle, Karenin does not realize his career has reached a standstill due to his marital situation. Under Lidia’s influence he has become more religious and finds comfort in the scriptures. He also finds comfort in Lidia’s love for him. At the reception they talk about his son’s education and then Lidia tells him that Anna is in Petersburg.
Back home, Alexey goes to Lidia’s house to wait for her. They talk over tea and Lidia gives him the letter she received from Anna. He reads it and says he does not think he can refuse Anna the right to see her son. Lidia protests and he says he has forgiven Anna. Lidia prays and then advises him to not give in to Anna. He agrees and she writes a note to Anna telling her Alexey has refused her request. When Alexey goes home he is full of doubts about his decision.
It is the day before Seryozha’s birthday. He asks the hall porter if anything has been left for him and he is told that Countess Lidia has left a gift. The boy is excited for his birthday and is restless. He excited that is father has been presented with the “Alexander Nevsky” by the Tsar, a medal for surface to his country. Seryozha dreams that he too will one day receive accolades. When his grammar teacher arrives the boy disappoints him by not knowing his work.
Seryozha waits for his father to come for his Bible lesson. He daydreams about his mother whom he knows is alive for despite what Countess Lidia told him, he has found out the truth from his nurse. His father arrives; Seroyzha looks for signs of joy from receiving the Alexander Nevsky. Alexey tells the boy the reward was in doing the work, not getting the star. Seryozha’s mood plummets. They begin the Bible lesson but the boy has trouble concentrating. Alexey punishes him by not allowing him to see his friend Nadinka, Lidia’s niece. When he goes to bed Seroyzha prays that he will see his mother for his birthday.
In Petersburg, Anna and Vronsky stay in separate suites in an excellent hotel. Vronsky goes to visit his brother and sees his mother too as she is in town. They ask him about his trip abroad but do not mention Anna. His brother visits the next morning and asks Vronsky about Anna – the Count says he wants to marry her. Vronsky knows their world is now closed to Anna although still open to him. He sees his cousin Princess Betsy who soon visits Anna but only for a few minutes. His mother will not see Anna. He hopes his sister-in-law, Varya, will, but she refuses, saying his would damage her daughters’ chances. Vronsky tells her their friendship is over and leaves. Their stay in Petersburg is very painful.
Anna is very eager to see her son now that she is back in Petersburg. She finds there are obstacles to doing this. When she writes to Lidia and receives no answer she is humiliated and does not even tell Vronsky. He would not understand her need to see Seroyzha. When she does receive Lidia’s note turning down her request she is angry. She decides to go to the house to next day, to see her son on his birthday. A servant admits her and she sees her son, who is just waking up. She cries for joy.
The Karenin house is upside down with excitement with the news that Anna is back. The servants realize they have to keep Anna’s visit a secret from Karenin. She and Seroyzha both know she must leave before he comes to the nursery but the boy begs her not to leave yet. Anna tells him she must and as she goes to leave Karenin comes in. She feels hatred and jealousy. Before she goes she leaves Seroyzha his gifts.
Seeing Seroyzha has affected Anna deeply. She cuddles her baby daughter but in her heart knows that her feelings for Seroyzha are deeper and their relationship more real. She wonders where Vronsky is and why he has left her alone in her misery. Anna wonders if Vronsky does not love her anymore. A servant tells her Vronsky is coming with a guest, Prince Yashvin, whom she has met before. She invites him for dinner. She asks Vronsky when they will be leaving Petersburg, and he replies “soon, soon”.
Vronsky later returns home to find Anna out and no word left as to where she is. He is worried about her, her mood seems erratic. She finally returns with her old unmarried Aunt, Princess Oblonsky. Anna seems wound up. She asks another guest, Tushkevitch, to stay for dinner, and then suggests they get a box at the theatre. Vronsky does not think she should go out in public and tells her so, they she might be embarrassed. Anna purposefully misunderstands his comments and pretends he thinks her aunt or Tushkevitch would cause them embarrassment.
Vronsky is, for the first time, angry with Anna. He feels her theatre clothes are inappropriate. He doesn’t understand why she cannot see this for herself. Vronsky leaves for the theatre by himself; Anna has gone ahead. At the theatre she is in a box with Yashvin. The people in the box next to Anna leave, obviously objecting to her presence. Vronsky goes to his brother’s box where his mother and sister-in-law are. They tell him Anna has caused a scene with the people next to her. He goes to Anna’s box but she soon leaves and he does as well. They argue, express their love, and the next day leave Petersburg.
Dolly Oblansky spends the summer with her children at her sister Kitty Levin’s. Stepan spends most of his time in Moscow. Kitty’s mother comes too, as does Varenka, Kitty’s friend from Soden. Konstantin’s brother Sergey comes to stay sometimes as well. Overall Konstantin feels very overwhelmed with all these visitors but is solicitous of his pregnant wife. There seems to be a romance blooming between Varenka and Sergey. The group troop off to pick mushrooms.
Later all the ladies assemble on the Levin terrace. They are knitting baby clothes and overseeing Agafea’s making of jam while they discuss giving gifts to the servants. They talk about Varenka and Sergey’s romance and that it is time for Sergey to propose. The women remember their own proposals. They discuss Vronsky and this leads to Anna. Konstantin comes along and they have to change the subject. They know that even now Konstantin can be jealous of Vronsky.
Kitty and Konstantin go off to join the others looking for mushrooms. They are glad to have a few moments together. They talk about Sergey and Varenka. Konstantin talks about the girl Sergey was in love with many years before. Konstantin says he envies Sergey his happiness and tells Kitty he is happy but not entirely content with himself, he feels he is flawed. They play a game with a flower, pulling petals to see if Sergey will propose or not.
Varenka is anticipating Sergey’s proposal. He is very attracted to her – he has not felt this way since his youthful love affair. He goes off on his own to pick mushrooms and he thinks about whether he should propose or not. Varenka has all the qualities he seeks in a wife – she is charming, youthful but not too young, she is affectionate, and she lives by religious principles. He is not unhappy that she is lacking a large family. The only thing that worries him is his age but he feels he is a youthful forty. As he sees Varenka on the edge of the wood he realizes how much he cares.
In his head, Sergey proposes to Varenka by telling her she is the woman he has been waiting for all his life. He rejoins Varenka; she is surrounded by the children. He uses the subject of mushrooms to get her away from them. Varenka is torn – she knows Sergey would be a good husband for her but she is not sure if she is in love with him. They continue to speak of mushrooms and the moment for a proposal seems to have passed. They leave the woods and Kitty sees them – she knows that no proposal has been made.
The adults gather on the terrace and talk about various things. The Princess Shtcherbatskaya is convinced her husband, the Prince, won’t visit although he had promised. She will have to go home, where she feels bored and useless. Konstantin goes to give Dolly’s son Grisha his Latin lesson. Varenka goes to supervise Agafea preparing supper. Sergey asks if Stepan is coming and how different he and Konstantin are. Suddenly Stepan arrives, bringing a cousin, Vassenka Veslovsky. Konstantin is unhappy the old prince has not come and dislikes the new arrivals and goes off to the counting-house.
Konstantin comes back to the house but he is still in a bad mood. Stepan and Veslovsky want to go shooting the next morning. Stepan tells Dolly that Veslovsky has been to see Anna, who is only fifty miles away. Veslovsky sits next to Kitty, which does not please Konstantin. They talk about Anna’s planned move to Moscow and Dolly says she will visit her. Kitty is embarrassed when Veslovsky asks her if she will go. Konstantin grows jealous of Veslovsky, although he later denies this to Kitty. She is angry with his jealousy. Konstantin realizes he has been a fool.
Stepan and Veslovsky prepare to go shooting the next morning. Konstantin is late because he is talking to Kitty, again asking her for forgiveness over his jealousy. He joins the other men but is in an agitated state. He has to deal with the carpenter over the building of a staircase. The men leave, looking forward to their day of shooting and hoping not to disgrace themselves. Konstantin decides he likes Veslovsky after all, that he is just a harmless fellow.
The men stop to shoot at a couple of places before their intended destination. Konstantin stays in the carriage while the other two go into the marsh. An accident is narrowly avoided when Konstantin bumps against a cocked gun and it goes off. At the second marsh Stepan and Veslovsky again go into shoot and Konstantin then goes in by himself. Soon he realizes Veslovsky has driven the carriage into the marsh and it is stuck. He has to work by himself to free it. The men drive on to their intended destination, the Gvozdyov marsh.
The men reach the Gvozdyov marsh. By now neither Konstantin nor Stepan is very happy at having Veslovsky along. Three begin to hunt Konstantin tells Veslovsky to stay beside him; he is nervous about Veslovsky’s carelessness. Konstantin does not have a successful start and is upset; Veslovsky is unsuccessful but does not care. Later in the day they run into a group of peasants and Konstantin is tempted to take them up on their offer of vodka. Veslovsky regards them as an almost alien species. His poor day continues and then he meets Stepan who has killed fourteen birds to Konstantin’s five.
Veslovsky is already at a peasant’s hut that Konstantin regularly stops at. He tells them the peasants have fed him bread and vodka. The hut is filthy and smells of the marsh but the men are happy. They talk about Malthus, a man who has made a fortune in the railways. Konstantin does not believe great fortunes should be made through white-collar work. Veslovsky goes off for a walk and to search out the singing maids they can hear. Stepan urges Konstantin go come too – that he needs to be more of a man, and not tied to his wife. Konstantin stays in the hut. He has trouble getting to sleep, troubled by what Stepan has said.
Konstantin is ready to go out shooting at dawn but his companions are deep in sleep. Even the animals are slow to wake. Konstantin and his dog Laska head back into the marsh. Konstantin shoots a grouse and is elated. It is now fully dawn. Konstantin shoots more birds – he has a young peasant boy as an audience. The chapter has much description of the marsh and of dawn.
By mid-morning Konstantin has shot nineteen birds and enjoys Stepan’s envy. A note from Kitty has arrived. She tells him a midwife has been to check on her and everything is fine. But he is unhappy to find out that one of the horses is exhausted and that all the provisions have been eaten up, leaving nothing for him. They do some more shooting and drive home in the evening. Veslovsky regales them with stories of his exploits from the night before. Konstantin realizes that he has enjoyed this excursion.
The next morning Konstantin takes Veslovsky to see his horses. He is still not happy about the Veslovsky’s attentions to Anna. His mother-in-law talks to him about moving Kitty to Moscow to have the baby which they claim will be within days. He is torn between elation of having a child and confusion about the mystery of it all. Kitty does not know how to stop Veslovsky’s attentions. Konstantin leaves in a black mood to deal with a mechanic. Kitty follows him and asks him what she is supposed to do about Veslovsky. They settle their differences and return home happy.
Konstantin goes to Dolly to ask her advice. He tells her he and Kitty have quarrelled for the second time since Stepan’s arrival. Dolly knows he really means since Veslovsky arrived. She agrees that Veslovsky seems to be taken with Kitty but when Konstantin says he will send him away, she is horrified. Konstantin goes to find Veslovsky and tells him he must go. Stepan comes and asks Konstantin why he is doing this, that he is jealous and being ridiculous. Veslovsky leaves and in time everyone calms down except the Princess, who disapproves of Konstantin’s action.
Dolly goes to see Anna despite Konstantin and Kitty’s disapproval. Konstantin insists she take his horses for the trip. On her way there, Dolly has time to think, a rare occurrence in her life. She worries about her children particularly her son Grisha’s education. She dreads another pregnancy, and possibly losing another child. Thinking about the whole business makes her feel exhausted. A woman’s lot is difficult. She begins to think of men other than her husband and knows some are attracted to her; Anna feels some sympathy for Anna and her plight.
Dolly arrives at Vozdvizhenskoe just as Vronsky, Anna, Veslovsky and other guests are returning from an outing in horseback. Anna on horseback at first seems not proper to Dolly. Anna is very happy to see her sister-in-law and hugs and kisses her. She is recognizes another guest, Princess Barbara (Varvara), who is her husband’s aunt. She has little respect for her. Dolly think Anna looks very happy, like a woman in love. Anna gets into Dolly’s carriage with her and Dolly is embarrassed because it is dirty and plainer than what Anna is used to.
Anna, while not commenting, does not think Dolly looks as well as she used to. They ride in the carriage and Anna asks Dolly what she thinks about her status now but Dolly is reluctant to. Anna implies that if Dolly loved her she would not judge her but love her regardless. She shows her the land and buildings Vronsky is developing, including a hospital. They soon come upon the main house, which belonged to his grandfather. In the courtyard they are met by Vronsky and Veslovsky. Anna and Dolly go into the house and talk about various things.
Vronsky’s house is elegant and sumptuous, not decorated in a typical Russian manner. Everything is new and fashionable, including the maid. Dolly is received when Anna sends an old familiar maid to her, Annushka. Annushka wants to gossip about Anna but Dolly discourages her. Anna comes in and Dolly asks her about her daughter Annie. Dolly is told that Annie’s last name is Karenin. They go to see the baby, who has at least three servants just for her. She is now able to crawl. It is apparent to Dolly that Anna does not visit the nursery often. Anna proceeds to tell Dolly about the other visitors there.
Dolly goes out to sit on the terrace with Princess Varvara. Varvara declares that she has come to help Anna adjust to her new life. The men come in and they talk about how they pass the time at Vozdvizhenskoe – playing lawn tennis, walking in the garden, and rowing. They go for a stroll. Dolly understands Anna’s life-choices but does not feel entirely comfortable. She thinks Varvara is there only to take advantage of the luxuries. They look over the progress of the new building. Vronsky shows them all the up-to-date items in the hospital. Dolly is very impressed with his enthusiasm.
Vronsky walks Dolly back to the house. She senses he wants to talk to her. He tells her she is the only one who really cares about Anna and how sad he feels about the position he has put his lover in. Dolly tells Vronsky that Anna is happy and he agrees but is worried about the future. He does not like is daughter being legally a Karenin, as will be any other children they may have. Vronsky tells her he loves his life now and what he is doing with his property. He wants Dolly to urge Anna to get the divorce settled.
It is almost time for dinner and still Anna and Dolly have not had a heart-to-heart talk. The meal is served and it is very elegant and perfectly presented. Dolly understands that Vronsky himself is behind the perfect order of his household. Anna’s role is to make sure the conversation flows. They talk about rowing and about the new reaping-machine. Veslovsky is flirtatious with Anna but Vronsky does not seem to mind. Vronsky announces he is pleased to have been appointed a Justice of the Peace and would be happy to sit on the local council. Later they play croquet and Veslovsky continues charming Anna. In bed that night Dolly decides to go home the next day.
Dolly is ready to go bed when Anna comes to visit her, wanting to talk. At first she cannot find the words to say. Instead, she asks about Kitty, if she is angry with Anna. Dolly denies this and then Anna asks her what she thinks of her life, although she does not let Dolly answer, but offers her own explanations. Anna asks Dolly what Vronsky was talking to her about and Dolly says it was about Anna getting a divorce, to legitimize their daughter. Anna admits she cannot have more children. Dolly thinks that Vronsky will find other women, just as her own husband has.
Dolly presses Anna to get a divorce but she doesn’t want to discuss it. Dolly says she does not like the way Veslovsky speaks to Anna but she says he simply amuses her. Anna then admits the thought of marrying Vronsky is tearing her apart and she needs morphine to sleep. She says Karenin won’t give her a divorce – he is being influenced by Lidia Ivanovna. Anna is afraid if she divorces Karenin she will lose Seryozha forever. Anna leaves and Dolly is even more determined to return home and she leaves the next morning. The coachman complains about Vronsky, saying he is cheap.
Vronsky and Anna continue as they are and no steps are taken for a divorce. They live a quiet life with their child – Anna reads a lot and Vronsky continues with his hospital project with Anna’s input. He is enjoying the role of a wealthy Russian landowner. In the fall he goes to observe the elections for Kashinsky province, in which his estate is located. He is nervous about telling Anna he is going away but she does not seem to mind. He feels she is hiding something but does not press her on the subject.
Konstantin and Kitty move to Moscow in September to await the birth. He has time on his hands and when his half-brother Sergey plans to go to the elections in Kashinsky Konstantin decides to go as well – he also has some business to do in that province. He has problems getting his business done due to the elections. Bureaucracy seems to overwhelm everyone. Konstantin has learned patience since his marriage and does not let it all get to him. He goes to the election speeches and to the cathedral. The election process is closely tied to nepotism of the old landed families.
The nobles meet for the election of the marshal in Kashinsky. There is a sharp divide between the older nobleman and the younger ones, but only in their numbers, not in a political sense. The membership of the old and new parties is mixed. Stepan comes forward and says he is placing is support behind Konstantin’s brother, Sergey, to replace the current marshal, Sviazhsky, Konstantin’s neighbor. There is some political chicanery going on, and Konstantin is not sure what is really happening.
Many of the nobles hate Sergey and dispute his winning the vote. They want another vote cast. The nobles are extremely agitated and Konstantin does not like the atmosphere. He leaves the room and goes to the refreshment-bar. He is watching the waiters when a government official who he knows tells him that Sergey is looking for him for an important vote. Konstantin is unsure how to vote and fumbles his white ball.
The noblemen prepare to vote and there is a festive and almost pre-battle atmosphere. Konstantin avoids his group of friends because Vronsky is with them. He is not interested in or excited by the process. Some of the men are getting drunk. An acquaintance speaks to Konstantin who admits he does not understand these provincial elections. The acquaintance says there is nothing to understand, it is all decaying and meaningless and runs on inertia. They discuss how little they make off their land despite all the work they do.
Konstantin’s old friend and neighbor Sviazhsky comes over and takes him back to his group of friends where Konstantin has no choice but to speak to Vronsky. Konstantin snubs his greeting and turns to speak to his brother Sergey. The men discuss if any of them should stand for the council, Sviazhsky refusing to, almost in a panic. Vronsky asks Konstantin why he is not a justice of the peace. Konstantin says that it is a foolish institution. He is convinced the whole political system is a sham.
Vronsky is celebrating the election results. He has come to the elections because he is bored with life in the country and he wants to show Sviazhsky his support. Sviazhsky has helped him in the past. He finds himself caught up in the excitement of the elections, much to his surprise. Vronsky has supported the winner and he thinks that if he can marry Anna he might stand for election himself in time. The nobles are having a sumptuous feast. He receives a rather hostile telegram from Anna asking him to return home (he had stayed a day longer than he had planned) because Annie is ill.
Anna felt Vronsky’s coldness when he left for the elections. Part of his reason for going was to show his independence. During the five days he is gone Anna keeps busy during the day and relies on morphine at night to keep calm. Annie takes ill, but not seriously. She uses Annie’s illness as a pretext to send for Vronsky. Varvara is there but is no help to her. Vronsky arrives home and she tells him Annie is better. Vronsky is not convinced about the seriousness of Annie’s illness. They discuss their relationship and Anna says it is obvious she must get a divorce. She writes to Karenin and she and Vronsky go to Moscow in November.
Konstantin and Kitty have been in Moscow for three months and the baby has not yet been born. Everyone is becoming uneasy except for Kitty. Konstantin is spending a lot of time in the country. She knows he is happier there and is a different person in the city, as he hates society. Kitty runs into Vronsky when she visits her godmother. At first she is embarrassed but then is able to handle the situation. He father is silently supportive of her and she feels at ease. When she tells Konstantin she has seen Vronsky, they handle it well.
Konstantin is in Moscow and going out to see some friends and he tells Kitty he will be home before dinner. Konstantin shows he is a little worried about money when she asks him for some. They talk about her coming confinement and she says she is not worried. Konstantin later thinks that he is getting used to the expense of living in the city.
While in Moscow Konstantin sees his old friend Professor Katavasov – the two men get along well and enjoy each other’s company. Katavasov thinks Konstantin’s book is coming along well and tells a celebrated intellectual, Metrov about his writing. He introduces him to the man and they briefly discuss the war and Russian politics. They talk about Konstantin’s book on labour and the Russian peasant. Konstantin has a more personal view of the peasant than Metrov does. The men go to a lecture together.
Konstantin, while spending the winter in Moscow, had gotten to know Kitty’s brother-in-law, Lvov, quite well. Lvov is married to Kitty’s sister Natalia and had spent most of his career abroad in the diplomatic service. They are now in Moscow; he is working at the court. Konstantin goes to see Lvov. The men speak in French and talk about the latest political situation. Lvov discusses the education of his sons (Natalia’s stepsons), which he takes very seriously. Konstantin thinks highly of the boys. Natalia comes into the room and they decide Konstantin will go to a concert with her.
Konstantin pays serious attention at the concert; he does not regard it as a light social occasion as so many people do. He is not sure what to make of the music which is a fantasia, King Lear. During the intermission he speaks to a musical connoisseur whom he knows, Pestsov. The men discuss the music and expand to discussing music of the Wagner school and are soon talking about art in general. During the second set of music, a quartet of Bach, Pestsov talks through the performance, and this annoys Konstantin. Later he realizes he is supposed to visit Countess Bol.
Konstantin visits the Countess Bol who is at home with her two daughters and a Moscow colonel. They have been at the funeral of Madame Apraskin and could not attend the concert. The talk turns to opera and culture. Konstantin finds this all very tedious – he does not understand society’s obsession with meaningless small talk. He puts in just enough time to be socially correct and then leaves. He goes to the public meeting to pick up Natalia. He sees Sviazhsky there who invites him to a meeting of the Society of Agriculture. Mental fatigue causes Konstantin to make a faux pas commenting on a current trial. He goes home to Kitty, who is well, and then goes to the club.
Konstantin goes to the club which he has not been to since his university days. It is still very impressive and a center of aristocratic propriety. The porter, who Konstantin does not know, seems to know all about him and his friends and relations. Many of them are already there, including his father-in-law, Vronsky, and his half-brother Sergey. Stepan Oblansky soon arrives and everyone enjoys the food and drink and small talk. Later on Vronsky joins them and Konstantin is civil, commenting on the Count’s racehorse. They chat like old friends, fueled by alcohol and good food.
Konstantin is enjoying his visit to the club, despite himself. He meets his father-in-law who warns him that the members of the club eventually become “shlupiks” – useless old men. They tour the club, visiting different rooms where men are gambling, playing billiards, talking, and reading. The prince goes off to play cards. Konstantin comes upon Stepan who is with Vronsky. Stepan tells Konstantin Vronsky is his greatest friend and he wants them to be friends too. Champagne is ordered to celebrate but the two men have little to say to each other. Later the men decide to take Konstantin to meet Anna.
Stepan’s carriage takes the men to Vronsky’s. Konstantin soon regrets that he agreed to meet Anna. Stepan says how glad he is that his wife has been to see his sister, as well as Lvov. He tells Konstantin that she is trying to get a divorce but it dragging on due to issues over her son. Stepan complains that Anna is isolated due to society’s censure and that she is not overly occupied with her daughter but is spending time writing a children’s book and has taken in an English family whose father is a drunk. Konstantin is admiring Anna’s portrait and then turns to meet the woman herself.
Anna is charming upon meeting Konstantin, saying how glad she is to meet him. Konstantin feels at ease with her immediately. The men discuss Anna’s portrait, saying how fine it is. They discuss the artist Vashtchenkov and his recent works. Anna talks about Dolly’s recent visit and the conversation flows back and forth easily, although much of the conversation is not personal, but about art. The more he converses with Anna, the more impressed he is with her. He feels she hides nothing from the world. When they leave Anna begs him to ask Kitty to forgive her.
Konstantin has been won over by Anna’s beauty and charm and yet knows she is unhappy. Thinking of Anna, Konstantin goes home where he has to face some business issues. He feels guilty about frittering away time when he should be dealing with his sister’s affairs. He goes upstairs to his wife and tells her about Vronsky and then he has met Anna. Konstantin is not entirely comfortable with Kitty’s reaction; she seems to be holding something in. Within minutes she begins to cry, saying he is in love with Anna. They talk for hours and Konstantin tells her he will avoid both the club and Anna.
After Anna’s guests leave she thinks about how she tried to make Konstantin fall in love with her. She finds him attractive but gives him little thought once he has left. Anna’s real concern is why she and Vronsky seem to be drawing apart – Konstantin’s attention is just a passing amusement. When Vronsky comes in, she tries to behave in a normal way but soon is criticizing his staying out that night and breaks down in tears. He tries to comfort Anna but later shows by his cold manner that he is not happy with her. Anna feels an “evil spirit of strife” between them.
Konstantin falls asleep easily and when Kitty’s movements wake him he falls back asleep, unaware that she is in early labor. At seven she tells him, adding that she is not afraid. Konstantin feels guilty for his actions of the day before and suffers with her as she has labor pains. They send for the midwife and Konstantin sends for the doctor. He tells her he is going to Dolly’s, heads out on foot and meets the midwife arriving. She tells him that there is no hurry yet but to get some opium at the chemist’s.
Konstantin arrives at the doctor’s and finds he is not up yet, so he goes to the chemist’s and gets the opium. He returns to find the doctor still asleep, and bribes the assistant to let him up to see the doctor. He implores that he hurry. The doctor is unconcerned but promises he will leave soon and Konstantin returns home. Kitty’s labor is progressing normally but he is distressed. After five hours he feels he is going crazy. He loses all sense of time and what is going on around him and turns to prayer.
Kitty has been in labor all day. Late at night Konstantin an unearthly shriek which the doctor seems to approve of. Konstantin pushes his way into the bedroom to see Kitty. His wife begs him to stay, all the while telling him she is not afraid. Within minutes she is screaming at him to leave, which he does, although Dolly calls after him, telling him it is alright. Kitty continues screaming and when the doctor tells him it is the end, he assumes she is dying. But before long the baby is born, a healthy son, and all is well.
Konstantin is still in a daze after the birth of his son Dmitri. He leaves the men and goes to visit Kitty who is making plans for the christening with her mother. Konstantin is overcome with emotion upon seeing Kitty. The midwife brings the baby to Kitty so she can show him off to Konstantin. At first he finds the baby somewhat repulsive but begins to slowly feel some compassion for the newborn infant and even pride and joy when the baby suddenly sneezes.
Stepan is broke. He is convinced it is because his salary is not large enough. He has been looking around for a new opportunity within the civil service and had found one that pays well. He has to go to Petersburg to see about the job and also to continue working on securing Anna’s divorce. He begs his wife for money just to get to Petersburg where he sees Karenin whom he asks to help him get the job. When Karenin finds out what the salary will be he complains of the high pay that some government workers are receiving. Karenin says he thinks it is in the hands of Volgarinov, whom Stepan had seen that morning. Stepan resents that a Jew, Volgarinov, had kept him waiting and then refused to consider him for the job.
Stepan begins to talk to Karenin about Anna. Karenin looks weary and asks Stepan what he wants. Stepan appeals to his pity to settle the divorce for once and for all. Karenin still insists that the terms of the divorce mean his son stays with him. Stepan continues to appeal to his better nature but with little success. Karenin maintains that divorce is not the Christian thing to do, even though the church allows it. He almost loses his temper with Stepan but then asks to think it over for a couple of days.
While at Karenin’s Stepan meets with Seroyzha, Anna’s son. He has not seen the boy for a while and realizes he is no longer a child. Seroyzha seems a little subdued upon seeing his uncle. The boy has not seen his mother for a year. He does not like being reminded of her, which Stepan does by his mere presence. Stepan later talks to the boy alone, and Seroyzha is more relaxed without his father there. Stepan asks him if he remembers Anna, and the boy says he does not. Later Seroyzha’s tutor finds him alone, in a depressed mood.
Stepan likes to get out of Moscow, away from the petty details of his life. He finds the people and atmosphere of Petersburg relaxed and open and feels years younger there. Stepan mentions to a friend that he wants a certain job because he is in debt. The friend laughs at the small size of Stepan’s debt. Stepan realizes that many of his friends live way beyond their means. When he visits Princess Betsy he flirts dangerously with her and is saved by the arrival of another princess. They talk about Anna and how Karenin has taken up with Lidia Ivanovna. Stepan says he has received an invitation to see Lidia. The princesses tell him that Lidia and Karenin are consulting a clairvoyant, Jules Landau, about Anna.
Later that evening Stepan goes to Countess Lidia’s. The porter tells him Count Bezzubov, aka Jules Landau, is also there. He goes upstairs and is received by Lidia and Karenin, and meets Landau. Karenin and Lidia tell him about Landau, saying he has a heard a voice telling him to go to Paris. Stepan is skeptical. Lidia wants him to be on the same spiritual plane as Karenin. Lidia tells him there is only one “holy truth”. She and Karenin discuss religion and Lidia reads an essay on Christianity while Stepan listens.
While listening to Lidia and Karenin discuss religion Stepan’s head begins to spin either from their talk or the cognac. His thoughts are a jumble of confusion and eventually he falls asleep. He comes to when he hears Lidia remark that Landau is asleep. He sees Karenin taking Landau’s hand. By this point Stepan is so upset he leaves without asking Lidia’s support for the job he wants. He heads for the theatre and then home to the senior Oblanskys, where he is staying. There is a note from Princess Betsy saying she wants to see him the next day. He goes to bed feeling low.
Anna and Vronsky continue to stay in Moscow; although they both dislike the city intensely they cannot make a decision as a couple to leave. Anna is miserable because she believes Vronsky loves her less than before. It is dusk and she is waiting for him to return from a bachelor dinner. She thinks of the quarrel of the day before which began when Vronsky derided education for females. He also thinks she pays too much attention to her English foster daughter and not enough to their own child. She also thinks he may have another woman. Anna decides they must go away to the country the next day.
When Vronsky returns home at ten that night he finds Anna in a good mood. They talk about going to the country, and he tells her about his evening out. Vronsky mentions that they cannot leave until Monday because he has to visit his mother on Sunday. Anna is jealous because Princess Sorokin is staying with Countess Vronsky and she imagines Vronsky is interested in her. She becomes upset and challenges his love for her. He tells her she is being illogical. Anna decides that she must end the relationship. Later Vronsky comes and tells her they can go on Sunday. She tells him he must be rid of her, that she is ruining his life. They make up and embrace.
Anna feels good about her reconciliation with Vronsky and gets ready to go to the country. He prepares to visit his mother and while eating his morning meal receives a telegram from Stepan, saying there is no divorce yet and hope is fading. Vronsky had attempted to hide the telegram from Anna, which arouses her old distrust of him. They get into another verbal wrangle over whether Vronsky loves her or not. She also speaks disparagingly of his mother. Vronsky’s friend Yashvin visits them and knows a quarrel is taking place. Anna continues to be cold to Vronsky and when he returns at night refuses to see him.
Anna is convinced Vronsky hates her and has another woman. They spend a day talking about ending their relationship – Vronsky suggests she go back to her husband. He had not visited her the night before; she had told him not to but thought if he truly loved her, he would have. She views death as a way of punishing him and reviving his love for her. The next morning Vronsky receives money and deeds from his mother, delivered by Madame Sorokin and her daughter. This upsets Anna again and now says she won’t be going to the country with him. He decides to ignore her moods and leaves in the carriage.
Anna is convinced Vronsky is gone for good but she is told he has gone to his stable. She sends a servant with a note imploring him to come back. She goes to the nursery to play with Annie but gets no comfort from it. She can’t remember doing her hair although the mirror proves that she has – Anna feels she is losing her grip on reality. The servant returns and says they could not catch Vronsky before he left for the city. She sends him to Vronsky’s mother to intercept him. Her female servant gives her sympathetic looks as Anna prepares to go to Dolly’s, desperate to get out of the house.
In the carriage Anna’s thoughts of death recur. She decides to talk to Dolly about her domestic situation. Her mind wanders and her thoughts are disorganized and incoherent – full of current influences and past experiences. Kitty is at Dolly’s, which reminds her of Vronsky’s past flirtation with the young woman. Dolly talks to her alone which Anna perceives as a snub from Kitty. Dolly gives Anna a letter from Stepan and Kitty comes in to visit with her, feeling more kindly when she sees how wretched Anna looks. The ladies talk for awhile and after she leaves they agree there is something piteous about Anna.
Anna returns to her carriage more confused than ever. Her thoughts continue to be tortured and incoherent. She feels both Dolly and Kitty despise her and all of mankind is full of hatred. When she gets home there is a telegram from Vronsky saying he can’t be home before ten. Anna begins to feel hatred for Vronsky and decides she must go find him at the railway station. She packs a small bag, skips dinner, and went out in the carriage once more, with a servant accompanying her to buy her a train ticket.
Heading for the railway station, Anna is again filled with incoherent thoughts and tirades against her fellow man. She begins to feel Vronsky never did love her – that his attraction was all about vanity. She now looks at their affair differently – that she loves him but his love for her has died. She does not want him to stay out of duty and now a divorce from Karenin really makes no difference. She even feels she has learned to love without Seryozha. When she gets to the station her servant buys her ticket to Obiralovka, to Vronsky’s mother’s home.
Anna’s black mood continues as she settles down for the train journey. A couple join her in her compartment and to her they are monstrous and she is convinced they hate each other. She overreacts to everything they do. When she reaches her destination, she is not sure why she is there. Vronsky’s coachman shows up and gives her a note saying Vronsky will be home at ten. She dismisses him and walks aimlessly along the platform. She thinks of the man who died on the tracks the day she met Vronsky and she thinks of suicide. Anna watches for a chance and throws herself under a passing train. She dies almost immediately.
It is two months later. Konstantin Levin’s half-brother, Sergey, has finished his book on government in Russia and Europe and he was hopeful for its success now that it had been published. Weeks passed and the world seemed unimpressed with his work – few mention it and three months later there is just one review. Sergey had no respect for the reviewer and thought the piece was terrible. His energy is now dedicated to the cause of the Slavonic States, as is everyone else in his circle. Everyone was supporting the cause of the Servians and Montenegrins. He worked hard and was finally heading to his brother’s in the country for a rest.
Sergey goes to the station with Katavasov where many volunteers are going to the front. He sees a princess who says more than a million men have signed up. They discuss how the Turks are losing ground after three days of heavy fighting. She tells Sergey Vronsky is on the train, heading out as a volunteer. Suddenly Stepan Oblonsky appears, happy to see Sergey who tells him he is off to see Konstantin and Kitty. Stepan tells him his wife Dolly is there as well. The princess tells him Vronsky is leaving on the train and Stepan looks momentarily sad. Vronsky walks by with his mother looking unhappy. He soon gets on the train.
Sergey and Katavasov get on a train full of soldiers. Katavasov is curious about the men so he goes to the second-class carriage to talk to them. There is a loud young man there Katavasov engages in conversation. He forms a negative opinion of him. The second man, an officer, does not impress him either. Another, an artilleryman, does impress him with his quiet demeanor. Katavasov later talks to an elderly military officer who had been listening in – he did not consider the young men great soldiers. When Katavasov returns to his carriage he tells Sergey the men will make great soldiers, contradicting what he really thinks.
When the train stops Sergey walks up and down the platform and sees Vronsky’s mother in the one of the carriages. Vronsky has gone somewhere and they talk about Anna’s death. His mother describes his behavior over the past six weeks – not eating, not speaking, and almost suicidal. She says Anna’s death was “low and vulgar” and that she ruined two men, her husband and Vronsky. Vronsky went into complete shock after her death and gave up his daughter to Karenin. Vronsky is now prepared to go to war for the Servians. His other looks upon it as a distraction for him.
Sergey crosses over to the other platform to speak to Vronsky, who is walking up and down. Sergey offers to give him letters of introduction to Servian leaders, but Vronsky refuses, saying he is ready to find the Turks. He says he now has a reason to live. Sergey wishes him well. Vronsky is full of anguish, not able to blot out the image of Anna’s dead body at the train station. He kept recalling her saying he would be sorry when she was dead. He cannot remember the good times as they have been contaminated by her final action.
Sergey, with Katavasov, goes to see his brother – he has not wired ahead to let Konstantin know he is coming. The men joke about the area being a “peaceful backwater”. Kitty’s father is also visiting, as well as his sister Dolly. Kitty is still nursing her baby son and hurries to feed him, scolding Agafea for letting the baby scream. She settles down to feed him and the two women tease each other about who the baby knows better. Kitty already thinks the sun and rises and sets with young “Mitya.”
Kitty thinks about Konstantin as she nurses the baby, how he spends a lot of time in the bee house. She knows he is better now that he was earlier in the year but worries about his moods and attributes them to his lack of religious belief. She does not understand his philosophical leanings, worries about his soul and that he thinks too much. In her opinion, Konstantin spends too much time alone. She is glad Katavasov is visiting – Konstantin enjoys their discussions. She appreciates Konstantin’s goodness and his honesty. She hopes her son will be like his father.
Konstantin has given much thought to death since his brother passed away. He is frightened by its unknown quality. These thoughts have been bothering him even more since his life has settled into a routine with Kitty and the baby. Questions of religious belief crowd his mind. He marvels that other men so easily change their ideas with fashion and wonder how sincere they are. Most people seem to accept traditional beliefs as truth. He is amazed at himself for praying while Kitty was in labor. Konstantin is a man who needs to know the answers to his questions.
Konstantin’s questioning has led him to read deeply of many philosophers. None of them truly answer the questions he has, although some of their ideas intrigue him, including the idea of the Russian church existing thanks to God’s wishes. When he reads other writers on the Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, they put forward the same argument. Konstantin is still confused and his questions have not been answered. To find the answers suicide looks like the only answer – he is tempted, but goes on living.
Konstantin at times questions his sanity. Going back home to the country from Moscow he returned to his old rural life. He is determined to maintain the life that his forefathers lived so that he will pass on to his descendants. He shoulders some responsibility for the affairs of Dolly (Stepan has just about ruined their finances), Sergey, his own family, and the peasants who depend on him. He is constantly comparing best business practices with what is honest and right. He cannot tolerate bad behavior on the part of his peasants, such as theft or dishonesty but he must make sure his ill and elderly peasants are taken care of. Life is a constant juggling act.
When Sergey arrives at his brother’s the farm is very busy; it is the height of the farming season. Despite the hard work Konstantin always feels energized at this time of year. The endless toil of the peasants leads him to thinking of what they live and die for – their lives are often short and consist mainly of work. He goes into the fields and begins to work some of the machinery with a peasant named Fyodor. They discuss how some peasants work for themselves and some for God. This idea excites Konstantin and he heads home, his mind full of ideas.
Konstantin seems to have “seen the light” after his discussion with the peasant, almost a religious conversion. Intellectually he does not accept the idea of “living for God” but as an idea, and emotionally, it appeals to him. He understands that man must work for the sake of what is good. On his way home he lays down in the woods and just enjoys nature, which is the force of God that he knows has always driven him. Konstantin also realizes that the meaning of life comes in the living of it – that his happiest times have been when he was fully engaged in living.
Konstantin has observed Dolly’s dealing with her children’s mischief – she threatens them with all sorts of dire consequences but the children seem to know nothing will happen and simply listen passively. They would much rather try out new fun activities than worry about being caught. He believes this mirrors his own quest for the truth, as well as those of other humans. He is more convinced than ever that the truth of God has been revealed to him. He is less certain that the churches have the answers. But he feels awakened to faith and as he lies in the grass he cries over finding God.
Konstantin is returned to reality when his coachman tells him his brother and another visitor has arrived. He feels that now all his relationships will change for the better but it isn’t long before he loses his patience with the coachman. Katavasov and Sergey have arrived. Sergey tells him he has come to stay for two weeks and that he has business in Moscow. Konstantin thinks this is something to do with the Servian conflict and he does not want to discuss it. His old lack of ease with other people has not disappeared. He goes alone to bee house and ponders his earlier spiritual feeling, hoping it is not just temporary.
Dolly tells Konstantin that Sergey saw Vronsky on the train, heading for the Servian front. Katavasov adds that Vronsky is taking a squadron with him at his own expense. Prince Shtcherbatsky, Kitty’s father, wants to know what the conflict is all about and Sergey explains that it is an undeclared conflict with the Turks. Konstantin states that private persons cannot take soldiers there without permission from the government. The men start discussing the conflict and whether it is based on religion, with Christians being slaughtered.
The men discuss the political process and if being able to vote is wise for the people of Russia. The prince mentions his son-in-law Stepan and how he has got a well-paid job in the civil service where he really has nothing to do. They also say the newspapers have a stake in promoting war as they make money off it – sales go higher. Sergey says things are improving in Russia because now people are brave enough to speak up about the things that need improvement. Konstantin draws on religious arguments against war, but does not get far with the other men.
The group disperse, leaving the bee house and heading back to the farm house. A storm is beginning. They reach the house just as the rain begins. They notice when they get there that Kitty and her baby are not home. Agafea says they are in a copse in the woods where it is cooler. Konstantin hurries off to find them. The wind is blowing ferociously. As he approaches the copse there is a lightning strike and a huge oak falls. He prays to God that everyone is safe. Konstantin finds Kitty, Mitya, and the nurse unharmed. He is at first angry but then thanks God that they are safe.
Konstantin is happy with relief and his newfound spirituality. His house is crowded, but he enjoys the company and the discussions with his guests. Called by Kitty while she is giving their son a bath, he has to tear himself away from the discussion of Russian social change tend to the simple domestic arrangements of home. In the nursery Kitty joyfully tells him that Mitya can now recognize his parents and he does seem to know Konstantin, who was delighted. Kitty is glad that he is bonding with his son. Konstantin recognizes his fear for his wife and son during the storm is part of his love for them.
Konstantin goes out on the porch to be on his own for a while. The storm is has moved miles away. The stars are coming out. He again ponders on Divinity and wonders if non-Christians are damned. He comes to the conclusion that it is not for him to know, as a mere mortal, what will happen to those of other religions. Kitty joins him outside and finds him calm and happy. She asks him to see if Sergey’s room is alright and rather than talk to her about his new revelations, he agrees – he knows he will continue his life as before, but with a new faith and with prayer to guide him.
Cover Image © Elena Schweitzer – Fotolia.com