Anna Karenina Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary

Leo Tolstoy

Part 2, Chapter 8 Summary

Though Alexey Alexandrovitch had seen nothing improper in his wife sitting with Vronsky and engaging in “eager conversation,” he knows others felt the impropriety and now he, too, feels the wrongness of it. He waits up for her so he can talk with her about it. After he has done his nightly reading and prepared himself for bed, he does not go to bed as usual but paces the floor with his hands clasped behind his back. He cannot sleep until he thinks the matter through thoroughly.

It was easy for him to decide to talk with his wife, but when he imagines the actual conversation, suddenly things seem complicated. He is not jealous because that implies a lack of confidence in his wife, and he has no experience in that area. The thought he is now faced with—that his wife might love someone other than him—is something illogical and irrational.

Alexey Alexandrovitch has created an artificial life for himself, and he is horrified at the realization that his world may be imploding. As he paces, he thinks about telling her things must stop, but then he realizes there may be nothing to stop. He is in torment as he paces, deciding to express his views toward…toward what, he does not know. Just as he decides it was all nothing, he remembers the feeling he had in Princess Betsy’s drawing room that something was, indeed, happening.

He sits at her boudoir table and tries to imagine her personal life, but it is an exercise he finds harmful because he so seldom thinks about anything but his own life and how others are connected to him. Now he thinks he will leave the matter to her conscience and principles, and he feels better for having put the idea in its proper place.

Her feelings must be dealt with by her conscience; his duty is now clearly defined. He is the head of the family and should therefore point out to her the danger he perceives and warn her, using his full and complete authority. Now that he has formulated this plan, the conversation will be easy; he even regrets having to spend any of his time and “mental powers” on a trivial domestic issue with so little to show for it.

He writes the conversation in his head as he would a ministry report with four main points upon which he will expound. First is the value of decorum in the face of public opinion; second is the religious significance of marriage. Third is the potential harm to their son, and fourth is the unhappiness which she is likely to experience. When he hears the sound of a carriage below, he stops pacing.

Anna Karenina is coming up the stairs and Alexey Alexandrovitch is ready to begin his speech. She is close now, and though he is satisfied with his speech he is suddenly frightened of the explanation which is to come.