Part 2, Chapter 6 Summary
After the opera, Princess Betsy has just enough time to go home and refresh herself before her guests arrive at her huge, sumptuous house. Soon the guests have gathered into one of two circles, either around their hostess or at the other end of the room around an ambassador’s wife. Conversations are a bit disjointed as new guests arrive and are greeted.
As if she were holding court, Princess Myakaya sits between the two groups and contributes to both conversations. The small talk grows rather stale until the ambassador’s wife asks that anyone in the room share something amusing but not spiteful. Someone tries, but everyone knows that nothing is amusing if it is not spiteful, and everything clever is stale. Soon they all revert to the one thing they can all enjoy—gossip.
The gossip centers around three topics: the latest public news, the theater, and scandal. They discuss such "horrible" happenings as a woman's ordering a gown in the wrong color, a terrible sauce being served at a recent dinner, and more. In the ambassador’s wife’s circle, the topic has turned to the Karenins.
One guest remarks that something about Anna Karenina has changed since her return from Moscow; there is now something “strange” about her. The ambassador’s wife suggests that the great change is the shadow of a new suitor, Vronsky. Someone else remarks that there is nothing wrong with a shadow; in fact, there is a fairy tale in which someone is punished by losing his shadow. One of Anna Karenina’s friends says that women with a shadow usually come to a bad end, but Princess Myakaya cuts her off, for she likes Anna Karenina, although she does not like Anna's husband.
When the ambassador’s wife says her husband thinks quite highly of Alexey Alexandrovitch, the Princess says her husband does, too; however, the women have been told by the men that he is clever, so that is what they expected him to be. After making her own observations, the Princess discounts their husbands’ views and says she thinks the man is a fool. She will not listen to anyone speak unkind words about Anna Karenina, for she is charming and cannot be blamed if men fall in love with her and follow her like a shadow.
With that, Princess Myakaya and the ambassador’s wife promptly join the group surrounding their hostess. Princess Betsy asks what their group has been gossiping about, and they tell her, just as Vronsky enters the room. Because he already knows everyone, he enters without ceremony. After sleeping through the traditional opera, he had stayed for the comic opera, something they would all do, says Princess Myakaya, if it were accepted as the socially correct performance to attend.