Summary and Analysis
Stepan Arkadyevitch arrives that afternoon with another guest named Vassenka Veslovsky. Good-natured and handsome, brilliant in society, the newcomer has just spent some time at Vronsky's estate fifty miles hence. Although Vassenka makes a favorable impression on everyone else, Levin dislikes him, for he seems to pay especial court to Kitty. When Dolly, the old princess, and Kitty eagerly listen to Vassenka's stories at dinner, Levin's jealousy intensifies. He imagines that Kitty is already in love with Vassenka and perhaps has even planned a rendezvous. Later, Levin blurts out his suspicions to Kitty. She explains that she listened so intensely to Vassenka because he told them of Anna's life with Vronsky. Levin feels guilty for suspecting dishonorable intentions of such a "capital fellow."
Intending to be cordial, Levin with Vassenka and Stiva sets off for a two-day shooting expedition. Through Vassenka's heedlessness, many small reversals occur throughout the outing. Veslovsky's bungling prevents Levin from a successful catch of snipe. Nevertheless, Levin overcomes his hostility and concludes that, after all, Vassenka is simple, good-hearted, and congenial.
At home once more, Levin's jealousy flares up again. Kitty, as well, is made miserable by Vassenka's attentions. Despite acknowledging his guest's basic guiltlessness, Levin asks Veslovsky to leave. Everyone finds this ridiculous; Levin has no right to indulge his hypersensitivity to needlessly insult a guest. But Kitty and Levin are much relieved to be rid of Vassenka's bumbling presence.
This petty incident lasts for ten chapters, although one is devoted to a discussion of economics among the three sportsmen. Innocent and bungling though he is, Vassenka has just been with Anna and Vronsky and, being naive and impressionable, has carried some attitudes from one host's house to the other. Thus the relationship between Anna and Vronsky has polluted the purity of Levin's home; Vassenka has become the "worm in the Garden of Eden." Newly married, Levin and Kitty are particularly sensitive to the narrow bounds between lawful and unlawful love. Their irritability on this point shows, not only the depth and intensity of their own love, but an implicit sense of guilt they feel being so happy together. Their attitude implies that married love is too transient and delicate a matter for basing one's life upon it. This foreshadows the moment when Levin finds supreme solace in religion rather than in sensual and material happiness.
Petty and insignificant though the situation may be, Tolstoy uses it as a vehicle — unconsciously or not — to suggest his own strict views of marital crnduct. Later in life, especially in the story The Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy affirms the extreme position that sexual relations between men and women are basically evil. Levin, who considers Kitty "sacred" while she is pregnant, reflects Tolstoy's potential puritanism and rejection of profane love. Vassenka, on the other hand, superficial and unselfconscious, would be willing to effect a liaison with Kitty were she disposed. Usually sympathetic and compassionate towards Anna, Tolstoy here asserts his moralistic viewpoint as he presents, through Vassenka, the possibility — in parody — for another Anna-Vronsky affair.