Part 2, Chapter 4 Summary
The ruling society of St. Petersburg is one social set comprising several distinct social circles. Anna Karenina moves within three of them. She knows her husband’s government colleagues well, but their masculine, political world does not interest her. She avoids this group whenever she can.
Anna Karenina had been more interested in the social circle that helped make her husband’s career possible: older women—benevolent, ugly, godly, and elderly—and ambitious, clever, educated men. At the center is Countess Lidia Ivanovna. Alexey Alexandrovitch esteems these people most highly. Anna Karenina has also made friends in this circle; however, since her return from Moscow, it seems she and they are all quite insincere, and she has begun to avoid them, particularly the countess.
The third social circle with whom Anna Karenina associates is the world of the fashionable. These people cling tightly to the crown and the court to avoid falling into a lower social sphere. Her connection to this world is her cousin’s wife, Princess Betsy Tverskaya, who enjoys an outrageously large yearly income. At first Anna Karenina avoided the princess because associating with her required spending money Anna did not have and because she preferred the first group; however, since her return from Moscow, she most prefers the fashionable circle.
Now she avoids her serious-minded friends and spends her time with members of the fashionable group because Vronsky is Tverskaya’s cousin. Anytime Vronsky has a chance to see Anna Karenina, he attends the event and takes the opportunity to speak to her of his love. Although she never encourages him, she is aware of her delight in his presence, a feeling she is unable to hide.
At first, Anna Karenina really believed she was unhappy with Vronsky for following her to St. Petersburg; however, when she expected to see him at a party and he was not there, she was forced to see that she had been deceiving herself. Now she not displeased with Vronsky’s pursuit: It has become the sole interest of her life.
Vronsky’s cousin scolds him for holding out hope of ever being with Anna Karenina, but Vronsky is perfectly aware that he runs no risk of becoming ridiculous. In the fashionable world, a woman who pursues a lover unsuccessfully will indeed be considered dangerous; however, a man who risks everything, who stakes his life to win a married woman, is viewed as heroic and grand rather than ridiculous.
One night, Vronsky and his cousin meet at the opera. When Princess Betsy asks why he was not at dinner, Vronsky explains that he was doing something outrageous and out of character for him: reconciling a husband with a man who had insulted his wife. It is so unusual a scenario that Princess Betsy sits down to hear the entire story.