Anna Karenina Part 3, Chapter 20 Summary
by Leo Tolstoy

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Part 3, Chapter 20 Summary

Vronsky lives his life within a certain code of principles to which he adheres religiously. While this code only covers a very small set of circumstances, the principles are clear. Because Vronsky never strays from that set of circumstances, he has never hesitated about doing what he ought to do based on his personal code.

The invariable rules of the code begin with these: he needs to pay a card debt but he does not need to pay a tailor, he must never tell a man a lie but may lie to any woman, he may not cheat anyone but he may cheat a husband, and he must never pardon an insult though he is allowed to give one. Though these rules are neither reasonable nor good, they are invariably certain and as long as he adheres to them Vronsky feels a sense of peace in his heart. Only since he began his affair with Anna Karenina does he begin to realize that his code of principles do not cover every contingency or provide direction for future difficulties.

In the case of Anna Karenina, however, his code of conduct clearly and precisely defines his actions. Because she is an honorable woman and she loves him, he believes she has a right to the same respect—or perhaps more—than a lawful wife is entitled to have. He would sooner chop off a hand than show her disrespect in any form. Society has every right to wonder and speculate about their relationship, but none have a right to speak of it. If anyone does dare to say anything, Vronsky has the right to defend the honor of the woman he loves.

The clearest position of all is Vronsky’s behavior toward his lover’s husband. From the moment Anna Karenina gave him her love, Vronsky has believes his right to her supersedes her husband’s right to her. The only recourse Alexey Alexandrovitch has is to challenge Vronsky to a duel, and Vronsky is prepared for that to happen at any time. But now something new has entered the relationship; for what Anna Karenina expects of him now...

(The entire section is 533 words.)