Anna Karenina Part 3, Chapter 21 Summary
by Leo Tolstoy

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Part 3, Chapter 21 Summary

Petritsky comes to get Vronsky for a party at the colonel’s, celebrating Serpuhovskoy’s arrival. He is a classmate who is now a general and expecting his own command. Vronsky tells himself that he is happy at having to sacrifice his ambition for love. Vronsky is genuinely glad for his friend’s success and is delighted to see him.

The singers and the band have begun the festivities, and there is plenty of dancing and drinking among the soldiers in attendance. Serpuhovskoy looks just the same to Vronsky except for a distinct air of contentment in success which Vronsky knows well. The two friends greet one another warmly but then get separated as the party progresses. Later they have a quiet moment to talk, and Vronsky discusses ambition with Serpuhovskoy. When his friend admits to being ambitious, Vronsky says that is probably because he has been successful and that he has found contentment in living a life not based solely upon ambition.

They talk about an incident in Vronsky’s career, a mistake he made when he had a chance to be promoted and refused the position, hoping his refusal would enhance his value. The strategic move did not have the desired effect, however, and his ambitions have suffered because of it. Serpuhovskoy says Vronsky cannot be satisfied with that, unlike his brother who is content with whatever he is given; he assures Vronsky that men like him are needed in this world.

Society has enough men who act only for their own expediency and benefit; it is in dire need of principled men who cannot be bought. As Serpuhovskoy talks, Vronsky knows that great things are ahead for his friend, knows how powerful he might become, as he is able not only to see but articulate the needs and wants of the governing world. Vronsky is rather ashamed at the feelings of envy which this conversation arouses in him.

When Vronsky confesses to his classmate that he once had a desire for power but that it is now gone, Serpuhovskoy avers that it may be gone now but he is certain it will return. He offers to be a kind of protector to...

(The entire section is 539 words.)