Vronsky and Anna live on in the same way and have much to occupy them. Besides reading many novels, Anna studies in architectural and agricultural journals to keep up with Vronsky’s interests. Her knowledge and her memory amaze him, and he frequently discusses problems with her and finds her suggestions helpful. Appreciating all she does out of love for him, he nevertheless chafes at the loving snares she holds him in. Were it not for having scenes each time he attends a civic meeting or a race, Vronsky’s chosen career as a progressive landowner would satisfy him entirely.
In October occur the nobility elections in the Kashin province where Vronsky’s, Sviazhsky’s, Koznyshev’s, Oblonsky’s, and some of Levin’s estates are located. Vronsky is amazed how calmly Anna takes the news of his departure. Not daring to question her deeper responses, he leaves for the elections as a gesture of independence and to allay his boredom.
Since September, Levin and Kitty live in Moscow awaiting her confinement. Bored in the city, Levin agrees to accompany Koznyshev to the Kashin elections. This election is particularly important, Koznyshev explains, for the province marshal exercises tremendous power over education, use of public funds, and appointments of trusteeships. It is now necessary to elect a young, up-to-date progressive marshal to further provincial self-government. Kashin, wealthy and in the vanguard of progress, might serve as a model for other provinces to copy.
Levin does not understand the political power wrangles among the noblemen gathered at the assembly, nor does he attach much importance to the debates, speeches, or voting. He is glad to meet the old landowner he met last year at Sviazhsky’s and their conversation expresses what Levin’s friends would call a reactionary viewpoint. As the two talk of their loyalty to their farms, despite low profit and much work, Levin recognizes that he and this old landowner represent an ancient tradition of land owning that newcomers, like Vronsky, are changing by turning agriculture into an industry. Levin and his friend work more for love than for capital gain.
Sviazhsky draws Levin toward their group of victorious liberals. Unable to avoid meeting Vronsky, Levin speaks to him with unconscious animosity and tactlessness, displaying his total ignorance of the election proceedings. Vronsky is the host of the victorious election party. He has become so interested in provincial politics, and has actively participated in advancing the winning candidate. He even thinks he might run for office himself at the next election. In this happy frame of mind, Vronsky receives a note from Anna, explaining their daughter is ill with pneumonia and she is very worried. Bitterly, Vronsky contrasts the innocent election festivities with the “sombre burdensome love” to which he must return.
Anna has had no peace of mind since Vronsky left her so coldly. She knows he will be displeased to be asked to return home, and Ani is no longer seriously ill. As usual when Vronsky demands his rights to freedom, Anna concludes with the sense of her own humiliation. “He can go where he pleases, while I can not,” she thinks. His cold look shows his love is cooling, but even so, their relationship can never change. Only her love and charm can hold him. She quiets these thoughts with morphine each night so she can sleep. Only marriage will guarantee Vronsky’s felicity, Anna decides, and writes Karenin for a divorce. Toward November, they move to Moscow and set up house like a married couple. Each day they expect a reply from Karenin, then a divorce.
Even while Anna becomes a worthy helpmeet for Vronsky, advancing his interests with her own efforts, he still feels his freedom restricted. His desire to be responsible only to himself, not to her, reflects his basic irresponsibility.
The election proceedings, seen as frivolous through Levin’s eyes, underscore Tolstoy’s anarchic demand that human beings must seek personal meaning first. Working for the public good is merely an avoidance on the part of political adepts like Koznyshev to face the basic problem of self-fulfillment.