Part 1, Chapter 16 Summary
Vronsky has never really had a home life. His mother was a young, scintillating socialite who, even once she was married, was notorious in the fashionable world for her many love affairs. His father was only a dim memory to him, and Vronsky had been educated among the Corps of Pages.
He left school as a brilliant young officer and had at once been absorbed into St. Petersburg’s society of wealthy army men, though most of his love affairs have been conducted outside of that circle. It was a rather coarse and luxurious life. After coming to Moscow, he for the first time felt the charm and innocence of a girl in his own social standing who cared for him. It never occurred to him that there could be any harm in enjoying Kitty’s company.
At balls he dances mostly with her, and he is a constant visitor in her home. He talks the usual nonsense of flirtation with her, but he attaches special meaning to it in her case. Though he enjoys Kitty’s obvious and growing dependence on him, he has no idea that he is committing one of the evil actions men of his rank often do: courting an innocent girl without any intentions of marrying.
If he had heard the Shtcherbatskys’ conversation, he would not only have been surprised, but he would not have believed that his interplay with Kitty was harmful or that he ought to get married. In his world and experience, marriage is something to be avoided. He has no great feelings of family, and in his bachelor world marriage is seen as something foreign, abhorrent, and supremely ridiculous.
While he has no idea what Kitty’s parents are discussing about him and his future, Vronsky does feel after his visit tonight that something more must be done, some other step must be taken—though he has no idea what it might be. As always, he leaves the Shtcherbatskys’ with a “delicious feeling of purity and freshness.” In part, that is due to not having smoked all evening, but in large measure this is due to Kitty’s innocent and total trust in him. Without words, she tells him always that she loves him; this knowledge makes him feel purer and better, as if he has a heart worthy of loving.
But when he asks himself what must be done, he thinks that everything is as good for her as it is for him and then thinks no further. He ponders where he should finish his evening and dismisses many of his former haunts as too vulgar—another reason he likes spending time at the Shtcherbatskys’—and simply goes home to bed.