Despite their great love, the first period of Levin's married life is a trying one. Not knowing what is important to each of them, they have frequent arguments. After each quarrel, however, they experience a renewed tenderness and reaffirmation of their love. Only during their third month of marriage, after a four week stay in Moscow, does life begin to run smoothly.
Working on his book explaining his system of land reform, with Kitty embroidering near him, Levin recalls how he used to write in order to subdue the feeling of all-pervading death. Now he works to subdue the feeling of "unspeakable brightness" and joy. Having always believed that marriage was the time one started the business of life most seriously, Levin marvels at his months of idleness, for he has not done farm work or touched his book since his wedding. He does not understand Kitty's idleness and lack of "serious" interests derive from her instincts of nest building. Tolstoy explains that Kitty is preparing herself for the time when housekeeping and child raising become the total significance of her life.
Levin receives a letter from Marya Nicolaevna which tells that his brother is dying, and prepares to leave for Moscow. Kitty insists to accompany him, despite Levin's reluctance to have his wife confront a "fallen woman."
They arrive at the dilapidated, dirty country inn where Nicolai Levin and Masha are staying. Levin is repulsed by the dirt and disorder of the sickroom, by the writhing and groaning of the living corpse which is his brother. Kitty sits by Nicolais bed, holding his hand and comforting him by sympathetic, unoffending words. She orders a better room for Nicolai, supervises the maid at dusting and scrubbing, has fresh linen put on the bed, fresh clothes for the patient, sends for the doctor, the chemist, summons the waiter. Nicolai has a new expression of hope on his face as he is freshly attired, resting comfortably in a sweet smelling orderly room. At Kitty's urging, he agrees to receive the sacrament and extreme unction. But his only faith, he whispers to Levin, rests in the phial of opium which releases him from his constant pain. For three days, Nicolai hovers on the brink of death. The long vigil is a terrible physical and emotional strain on those around him. When his brother finally dies, Levin is in utter despair at the enormity of death. He must cling more strongly than ever to life, to love. At this point, he learns that Kitty is pregnant.
Out of more than two hundred chapters, only the one dealing with Nicolais last illness has a title. This chapter — Chapter 20 — called "Death," had great significance for Tolstoy, wherein he records the death of his own brother. The moment holds tremendous significance for Levin as well. He discovers more poignantly than ever that the mysteries of existence are not revealed to the intellect. Only an emotional experience can provide an individual with tools to accept the fact of death. While Levin finds himself still blocked at confronting death, Kitty is able to handle the situation. Marveling at his wife's intuitive ability to confront sickness and death, Levin remarks to himself, "Thou hast hid things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes." Until he can renounce intellectual seeking to life's problems, Levin will still lack self-fulfillment. Kitty, on the other hand, fulfills her human destiny because she has no intellectual orientation.