Having recently published a book which was poorly received by the public, Koznyshev devotes his energies to promote the cause of the Serbian War which engages the sympathy of the slavophilic newspapers and the entire nation. After working for this cause throughout the spring and summer, he looks forward to a fortnight’s rest at his brother’s country estate. Koznyshev and his friend Katavasov take a train almost entirely occupied by a load of volunteers on their way to the front. Vronsky and his mother are at the station. Famous not only for his terrible misfortune of two months ago, the Count is known for volunteering himself and a whole squadron which he personally outfitted for the Serbian War. Chatting with Oblonsky, Koznyshev then goes to greet the Countess Vronsky. She describes her son’s condition after Anna’s death, how he would not speak for six weeks, and only accepted food when she forced him to eat. Begging him to speak with Vronsky, she says he is still miserable and suffers from a toothache as well.
Koznyshev feels dutybound to acclaim Vronsky for what he is doing for the sake of “all Slavic peoples.” Lined with suffering, Vronsky’s face has aged and his expression is of stone. Since my life is loathsome to me and useless, he tells Koznyshev, I am willing to waste it in this way as in any other. An approaching switch engine reminds him of his pain, and he tries to recall his best moments with Anna. Memories of his cruel and vindictive love poison his recollections. He can clearly picture the mangled body, with her beautiful head still intact, and the expression on her face as if she repeated that dreadful threat — that he would be sorry — she had uttered in their last quarrel. His face distorted by sobs, Vronsky turns from Koznyshev until he masters himself. At the ringing of the bell, they take their respective places on the train.
Fiercely pacifist during the sentimental pan-Slavic fervor which brought Russia into the Serbian war against the Turks, Tolstoy’s antiwar views implicitly undercut Vronsky’s heroism and self-sacrifice. Thus we see Vronsky’s gesture is another surrender to impulses which are basically frivolous. When he explains this is as good a way as any other to waste his useless life, Vronsky admits his self-indulgence. The incident underscores his limited morality. Vronsky thus disappears from the novel, hopelessly seeking a goal in life to replace the void left by Anna’s death But his pilgrimage is doomed to fail. Finding an excuse in the war gives him a chance to avoid the basic confrontation with death, a confrontation which would be his means of salvation.