Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapters 12-17
In the early days of his return to the country Levin suffers deeply. Gradually the bitter memory of his rejection disappears as the daily incidents of his country life absorb him. With the coming of spring and his plans for many improvements on his estate, he is quite happy.
Stepan Arkadyevitch appears one evening for he is to sell a forest on his wife's property nearby. Stiva and Levin enjoy an excellent day of stand-shooting, returning with a good catch of snipe. While Oblonsky and the prospective purchaser, Ryabinin, haggle over the price of the forest, Levin fumes. Stiva, hungry for cash, settles for a much lower price than Konstantin thinks the property is worth.
Later on, the two friends talk of the Shtcherbatskys, and Levin learns of Kitty's illness, of Vronsky's rejection. Stiva says Kitty had only a "superficial attraction" for the young officer, that Vronsky's being "such a perfect aristocrat" impressed her mother but not Kitty. Levin's anger at Ryabinin, the fraudulent sale of the forest, and at Vronsky focusses on the concept of "aristocrat." Those like Vronsky or like Ryabinin who gain success by currying favor are not aristocrats, he says. Russia's aristocracy consists of people produced through generations of landowners, not those parasites who deplete and devalue her land and resources for their own gain (like Ryabinin). "I prize what's come to me from my ancestors or been won by hard work," pursues Levin, rather than maintaining myself "by favor of the powerful of this world." He and Stiva part as friends despite the painful subject which could have caused a rift.
In these episodes we gain insight into Levin's way of life as a landed proprietor. His dislike of Ryabinin, a land speculator, and his anger at Stiva's cheap sale of the forest derives from a threat to his basic values. This devaluation of valuable property, by a destructive agent who deals in money rather than in values, is a devaluation of resources, tradition, rootedness. Stiva, by his desire for monetary gain, becomes an unwitting tool for undermining the source of Russia's strength and, indeed, the whole existence of "aristocracy," defined by Levin as those who have a vested interest in protecting the basic values of national life. If the peasants cheat landowners out of their property, then at least the land goes to those who deserve it because it is their mainspring of existence. Ryabinin, on the other hand, represents the irresponsible overthrow of the old order; appreciating no values but those of cash and material gain, he intrudes chaos and impoverishment where constructive change and enrichment is required. Vronsky who, like Ryabinin, is uncommitted to the land and basic traditions, whose career is socially and politically oriented, contributes no values to stabilize either himself or other human beings. Kitty's illness, her "devaluation" by Vronsky, proves Levin's point.
Through Levin's arguments, Tolstoy states a general system which generates his philosophy. Human beings must be committed to deeply-rooted values — a personal need corresponding to love — in order to maintain their humanity. Without a source of inner strength, an individual's life becomes empty of meaning and frivolous, capable of destroying other lives besides perverting his own.