Part 7, Chapter 18 Summary
Stepan Arkadyevitch finally broaches the subject of his sister’s divorce. As soon as he hears Anna Karenina’s name, Alexey Alexandrovitch’s face loses all of its life and looks weary and dead. He asks what Anna Karenina wants from him specifically. Stepan Arkadyevitch asks the man to have pity on her and for her awful position in society.
In a high, almost shrill voice, Alexey Alexandrovitch says he would have thought she would have everything she desired for herself. She has refused the divorce if he retains custody of their son, and Alexey Alexandrovitch shrieks that the matter is finished. Ever the statesman, Stepan Arkadyevitch speaks calmly about his sister’s position.
She is quite aware of the terrible wrong she did her husband by leaving, and she was moved by his generosity in allowing her to go. In fact, because she knew how much she had wronged her husband, she did not, could not consider everything. Experience has taught her, though, that her position is unbearable, even impossible. None of this moves Alexey Alexandrovitch, and Stepan Arkadyevitch admits that his sister probably deserves the circumstances she is in. That is why she asks nothing for herself; it is her family and friends who want to beg him to reconsider his position.
Alexey Alexandrovitch feels as if he is being put in a position of blame, but Stepan Arkadyevitch assures him that is not so. He has the power to alleviate Anna Karenina’s suffering without losing anything by doing it. Stepan Arkadyevitch will arrange it so there will be no repercussions for him, and he reminds Alexey Alexandrovitch that he did promise his wife he would give her a divorce. The younger man appeals to him one last time, asking Alexey Alexandrovitch to put himself in Anna Karenina’s position, a position in which this divorce holds the power of life and death for her.
If he had not promised to grant her a divorce, she and Vronsky would have stayed in the country; instead he made the promise and they moved to Moscow, where every day she waits for the divorce to happen. It is like keeping a condemned criminal for six months with a rope around his neck, promising either death or mercy. After a few attempts to defend his position, Alexey Alexandrovitch finally says perhaps he promised too much, and he needs time to consider how much of what he promised is still possible.
Stepan Arkadyevitch bursts into a passionate plea, but the other man says that he is a believer and cannot, in such a grave matter, act in opposition to Christian law. While divorce is allowed, the church does not actually sanction it. After a brief pause, Stepan Arkadyevitch reminds him that he has always been a man of simple Christian feeling, willing to forgive and ready to make any sacrifice. Alexey Alexandrovitch can bear no more and promises to give him a final answer the day after tomorrow.