Dolly keeps her promise to pay Anna a visit. Driving along, she ponders on the problems of married life. She sighs, considering her whole existence is spent either being pregnant or nursing babies, caring always for children and sometimes losing one despite the cares and worries. She wonders why is everyone so against Anna? Anna has someone who loves her, whereas she (Dolly) has a husband who loves others. Thinking of her life if it included a love affair, all sorts of passionate, impossible romances appear to her fancy. “Anna did quite right.” Dolly concludes, “at least she is happy and is making another person happy. I certainly have no reproaches for her.”
As her carriage approaches the manor house on Vronsky’s estate, Dolly meets Anna on horseback with Veslovsky, Sviazhsky, the Princess Varvara (Anna’s aunt), and Vronsky. Anna’s face lights up as she recognizes Dolly, and Vronsky warmly greets her. Dolly finds everything about Anna brightened by her love; she is now more beautiful than ever.
Admiring the estate, Dolly is impressed by many new buildings. Those are the servants’ cottages, Anna explains. She points out the stud farm, the stables, the new park, and “Alexey’s newest passion,” a brand new, partly constructed hospital Vronsky built for his peasants. Anna brings Dolly into the well appointed nursery, furnished with modern and expensive English goods. Impressed by the healthy dark-haired little Ani, Dolly remarks how well she crawls, how pretty she looks.
We always have visitors, Anna says. Men need recreation and Alexey needs an audience. “I must make it lively here or Alexey will look for something fresh.That is why I like all this company,” explains Anna, partly to apologize for her free-loading aunt, Princess Varvara Oblonsky. When Dolly calls on the old lady, the Princess says she is here to stand by her niece now that everyone else has thrown Anna over. “They live like the best of married couples,” says the aunt, “it is for God to judge them, not for us.”
Anna suggests a walk before dinner to show Dolly around the estate. Finding herself with Vronsky, Dolly feels ill at ease for she has never liked his proud manners. But as he enthusiastically explains about his building plans, their architectural design, his intentions for the new hospital, Dolly begins to warm toward him and understands the qualities Anna loves. Drawing her out of earshot of their friends, Vronsky begs Dolly to use her influence and persuade Anna to obtain a divorce. We have one child now, he says, and might have others. Yet they legally belong to Karenin: “unless she can obtain a divorce, the children of the woman I love, will belong to someone who hates them and will have nothing to do with them.” Deeply moved, Dolly promises to talk to Anna.
Dinner is elegant and well-prepared: Vronsky is responsible for the excellent choice of food and wine. Anna appears in the third gown Dolly has seen her in that day, while Dolly feels ashamed to wear the one good frock she brought along, and that already patched. She is disturbed at the flirtatious exchanges between Anna and Veslovsky, which Vronsky seems to enjoy. Dolly recalls how Levin dismissed Vassenka for the same behavior. The impersonal atmosphere of this everyday, yet elegant, dinner makes Dolly uncomfortable. Her feelings intensify during the after dinner game of lawn tennis which to her has the “unnaturalness of grown-up people playing a child’s game in the absence of children.” In this idle atmosphere she suddenly misses the maternal cares and worries after only a one day holiday from them.
While Dolly prepares for bed, Anna comes to her for a private talk. She asks what Dolly thinks of her life. Though looking forward to the end of summer when she and Vronsky will be alone together, Anna says everything shows that “he will spend half his time away from home.” Dolly advises divorce so Anna and Vronsky can marry and legitimize Ani and future children. When Anna firmly declares “there will be no more children” because she wishes it so, an unheard-of world presents itself to Dolly for the first time. My only ties to Alexey are those of love, continues Anna, and she must always be fresh and lovely to keep his interest. Dolly feels an impassable gulf of questions separate her from Anna, questions they can never agree on and which remain better unspoken.
Divorce would mean she permanently loses Seriozha, Anna explains to Dolly. Loving her son and her lover equally, “but both more than myself,” she continues, is an impossible dilemma. “I cannot have them both, and that’s the only thing I want . . . Nothing else matters,” Anna concludes.
Filled with pity for Anna’s suffering, Dolly sees her own life with renewed charm. She is eager to go home the next morning, while Anna is sad to see her go. She realizes that with Dolly’s departure the feelings aroused in her will never be stirred again.
The comparison between Dolly and Anna in this section shows the judgment of Tolstoy the moralist who finds a woman’s happiness and source of fulfillment is through raising children. He portrays Anna in her luxurious idleness as if she is one of the guests at Vronsky’s estate. Implying she is kept as a high class courtesan where everything is arranged according to Vronsky’s tastes and interests, Tolstoy shows that even in daily life Vronsky does not include Anna as an integral part of his career. Confronting Anna’s insecurity and suffering, Dolly finds her own routine life with her unloving husband preferable to Anna’s life of frivolity. Dolly is also shocked that Anna denies the birth of future children. Her wonderment expresses for Tolstoy the decadence and immorality of Anna’s relationship with Vronsky.
Yet this is what Vronsky demands, although he is unaware of it. Considering himself as a resolute family man, Vronsky tells Dolly he would like to marry Anna and legitimize his children. But Anna is aware he would become bored with her if she became a housewife like Dolly: Dolly is very nice, says Vronsky, but “too much terre a terre.” With this understanding, Anna must remain attractive, avoid pregnancy, and live only for her lover. Though she is honored as a married woman, her position is yet that of a courtesan. The hopeless dilemma is complicated by her inability to choose between Seriozha and Vronsky. Since nothing else matters unless she can have them both, Anna can recklessly live a day by day existence. Her new habit of flirting is a guilt acknowledging gesture which exercises the charm that ties her to Vronsky. Tolstoy thus shows how Anna is already on the road to self-destruction. Dolly’s departure, representing Anna’s leavetaking of her virtuous past, shows her further commitment to the course of decadence and eventual suicide.