Anna Karenina Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary

Leo Tolstoy

Part 3, Chapter 3 Summary

Sergey Ivanovitch scolds his brother for not being more involved in managing the affairs of the district, but Levin is distracted by the sight of his bailiff in the distance. When his brother asks why he no longer participates in the district council, Levin explains he was unable to accomplish anything when he was part of the council, and he is simply tired of trying.

As Sergey Ivanovitch tries to make him feel guilty for not taking a greater interest in the welfare of the peasants he so loves (something Levin has never claimed), Levin is further distracted by his bailiff, who seems to be letting the peasants leave their plowing. His brother continues his diatribe regarding the need for medical care and schools for the peasants; he believes the council should provide them for every peasant in the district and Levin should advocate for these benefits in the strongest terms.

Because his brother will not accept his true reason for quitting the council, Levin assumes the false position that he does not think the peasants are worthy of schools, dispensaries, or churches; moreover, he tells Sergey Ivanovitch he does not feel that he should be paying for peasants to have such things. Though he is surprised by the sentiment, Sergey Ivanovitch takes a new tact. He points out that they recently needed a hospital when the housekeeper injured her wrist and that an educated peasant is more valuable than an unlearned one. Levin quickly assures him that an educated peasant is an inferior workman.

Soon Levin is angry at his brother for scolding him and demands that Sergey Ivanovitch justify his position with philosophy; the issue has nothing to do with philosophy, his brother responds, and his tone suggests Levin has no right even to discuss philosophy. Levin is incensed. He declares that none of the matters a town councilman must deal with have the slightest impact on his life, and he is not interested in them. When Sergey Ivanovitch points out that he might one day need a district court or some other service a district council can provide, Levin is adamant that he will never need such things and continues to try to justify his lack of zeal for the public welfare.

Levin further contends that anything not based on self-interest is unlikely to last, a philosophical principle he has every right to discuss. Sergey Ivanovitch smiles at his brother’s vehemence, recognizing Levin is living by his own philosophies. Sergey Ivanovitch claims that the primary problem in philosophy is finding the vital connection between self-interest and social interest. When he veers off into a discussion of philosophical history, Levin falls silent. He feels defeated because his brother will never understand his beliefs. Levin wonders if he is incapable of expressing himself articulately or if his brother cannot or will not understand him. Levin's thoughts turn to other matters until Sergey Ivanovitch finally packs up the fishing tackle, and they drive home.