Part 4, Chapter 1 Summary
Alexey Alexandrovitch and his wife continue to live in the same house, but they are complete strangers to one another. He makes a point of seeing his wife once each day to keep up the pretense in front of the servants, but he never dines at home. Vronsky never appears at the house, but Anna Karenina sees him elsewhere and Alexey Alexandrovitch knows it. All three of them are miserable.
The only way they all tolerate their miserable circumstances for even one day is their expectation that theirs is a temporary ordeal that must be endured until things change—and they will. Alexey Alexandrovitch believes his wife’s passion for Vronsky will pass, his name will remain unsullied, and everyone will forget about the episode. Anna Karenina, on whom everything depends and the most miserable of them all, believes that things will soon “be settled and come right.” While she has no idea at all what will settle it, she believes something will happen soon. Vronsky follows his lover’s lead, against his own will and wishes, and hopes that something apart from his own actions will soon solve all their difficulties.
In the middle of the winter, Vronsky spends a tiresome week. He has been assigned by the military to ensure that a foreign prince who is visiting St. Petersburg sees what he wishes while there. Vronsky looks distinguished and conducts himself well with dignitaries, which is why he was chosen for this task. Unfortunately, the prince is eager both to see everything in Russia worth seeing and to experience all the pleasures, however decadent, it has to offer. Their mornings are spent in places of interest and their evenings are spent enjoying the national entertainments and other, less noble, pleasures.
The prince has done extraordinary things in places all over the world, and now he wants to do everything people have suggested he must do while he is in Russia. It is Vronsky’s task as the prince’s personal master of ceremonies to arrange for all of these things, including bear hunts and sledge rides and drinking among gypsies. Even worse, the prince seems determined to experience all his baser pleasures with as many native women as possible. Vronsky is revolted by the prince’s disgusting behavior and derisive condescension. In his view, the prince is a “very stupid and very self-satisfied and very healthy and very well-washed man, and nothing else.”
Though Vronsky is disgusted at seeing how base his own people can be when trying to impress this foreign prince and is outraged by the prince's open disdain for the very pleasures he is enjoying, what is most disturbing to him is his realization that he is much like the prince. It is a disconcerting and distinctly unpleasant thought, and Vronsky is glad when the prince finally makes his pleasure-seeking way to Moscow.