Anna Karenina Part 2, Chapter 23 Summary
by Leo Tolstoy

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Part 2, Chapter 23 Summary

Anna Karenina’s husband does not know she is pregnant. Vronsky has had little success getting her to face the reality of their situation in the past, but he is hopeful this will finally cause her to see the hopelessness of her current situation and precipitate a change. Instead, she asks Vronsky what he suggests they do now. She had been concerned that he would take her news too lightly, but now she is annoyed that he has so quickly deduced that some action must be taken. Vronsky does not hesitate: Anna Karenina must tell her husband everything and then leave him.

She knows how such a conversation with her husband will go. He will remind her that she was warned (by him) of such possibilities and will refuse to allow her to bring disgrace on their family. He is a “spiteful machine” when he is angry, and he will never allow her to walk away from him or their son. Despite that, Vronsky believes that, at the least, they must tell Alexey Alexandrovitch the truth and let his reaction guide their next move.

When Vronsky suggests they might run away and she can be his mistress, Anna Karenina is disgusted at the shame that would bring to her son. Vronsky cannot understand how such an inherently truthful woman can endure such a constant state of deceitfulness without longing to escape it. He does not suspect that it is her son which keeps her bound to her life of lies. She finally begs Vronsky not to mention the idea of running away to her again and is adamant that he promise.

He is hesitant to make such a vow; she assures him she understands the horror of her position but that leaving is not nearly as easy as he seems to think it is. Vronsky finally makes the promise, though he tells her he can never be happy knowing she is so unhappy. He is convinced she has ruined her life for him; she is certain he has sacrificed everything for her sake. Neither of them can forgive themselves for doing these things, and both are unhappy despite the reality of their love for one another.

Suddenly they hear her son returning. She gets up instinctively at the sound and walks toward Vronsky. Anna Karenina raises her hands to his face and swiftly kisses Vronsky’s mouth and eyes. They make plans to meet at one o’clock that night, after the races.