Summary and Analysis
Levin's household at Pokrovskoe is filled with summer guests he calls the "Schtcherbatsky element" although Koznyshev is also there. These include Dolly, her children and governesses, the old princess (supervising Kitty's pregnancy), Kitty's father, and Varenka who finally fulfills her promise to visit when Kitty is married.
Koznyshev's interest in Varenka causes everyone to hope for their marriage. Koznyshev was once betrothed to a girl when Levin was a child. When she died, Koznyshev vowed never to fall in love again. On this occasion, however, he decided to ask Varenka in marriage and the moment of declaration arrives when they find themselves alone during a mushroom hunting expedition. Nervous in the pregnant silence, Koznyshev and Varenka talk about the difference between two mushroom varieties. Their tension subsides, and each is somewhat relieved. "I cannot be untrue to the memory of Marie," thinks Koznyshev as they walk quietly and slightly abashed toward the rest of the company.
Tolstoy implies that intellectuality leads to a self-centered sterility. Koznyshev's rational approach to life, and Varenka's abstract piety, prevent them from experiencing an intense human relationship. As these passion-denying individuals accept their lonely destiny, Tolstoy compares their empty existence with the flesh and blood love Kitty and Levin experience and which enriches their lives with significance and self-fulfillment. The emphasis here is on the "natural life" where one loves and procreates, as opposed to the "unnatural life" where one lives by abstract principles. Natural man, says Tolstoy again and again, grasps life through all its realities and can then understand death. Intellect and spirit merely bypass essential truths.