We're in the thick of it now! As Part Three unfolds, the play of truth and lies—authenticity vs. pretence—come into their full force. It's "reality check" time for most of our main characters!
All along we've seen Karenin's hypocrisy, but now, he is downright cruel! When Anna admits she loves Vronsky, she unleashes Karenin's vengeful side. He'll do anything to keep her from being happy, even if it makes him miserable. "In the depths of his soul he wished her to suffer for disturbing his peace and honour ... and above all, to punish her." (p. 282)
Karenin is willing to abandon his son if Anna won't live the lie of their "proper marriage." But Anna is desperate to follow her heart: "I've realized that I can no longer deceive myself, that I am alive, that I am not to blame if God has made me so that I must love and live." (p. 292) Can't you feel Anna's hopelessness? "Try as she might, she could not be stronger than she was. She would never experience the freedom of love, but would forever remain a criminal wife." (p. 293)
Worse yet for Anna, she's starting to doubt Vronsky's love for her. Clearly, Vronsky can't save her. Not only is he struggling to settle his own debts, he's not above ambition himself. I felt heartsick as Vronsky started to see his love for Anna as an obstacle to his career. Where will she turn?
All this "city scandal" stands in contrast to the "peace" of summertime in the country. For Levin's intellectual brother Sergei the country is a respite from work. Dolly thinks living in the country will be comfortable and cheap. But the "truth" of country life, as Levin well knows, isn't romance and ease—it is the full truth of life: joy, work, family, struggle and physical labor.
Even as Levin accepts the reality of country life, he's still idealistic about love and family. It doesn't surprise me that Levin comes most alive with Dolly's children—they recognize his honest heart. "Whatever Levin's shortcomings were, there was no hint of sham in him, and therefore the children showed him the same friendliness they found in their mother's face." (p. 267)
And yet Dolly is a master of illusion, deceiving herself the most of all. Whether she's faced with Stiva's affairs, life in the country or the "profile" of her children, Dolly chooses what she "wants" to see. She feels a thrilling pride as she imagines the church congregation admiring her children's beauty and behavior. In that very same day, though, "darkness comes over her life" when Tanya and Grisha's fighting makes her realize her children are ordinary. (p. 272) Her joy and pain come from the outside in, rather than the inside out. That can't lead to true happiness. In contrast, Levin continues to struggle with the truths inside his heart. In one moment, taken by the simple, physical joy of peasant life, Levin is prepared to abandon the "nonsense" of his privileged life. But a mere glimpse of Kitty riding by in a carriage—stops him dead in his tracks. "No, however good that life of simplicity and labour may be, I cannot go back to it. I love her." (p. 278) A huge fact of Levin's life is his frustrated love of Kitty.
But that isn't the ultimate truth for Levin. Confronting his dying brother Nikolai, Levin is overwhelmed by undeniable reality. For each of us, the ultimate truth is that death is the inevitable end of everything. Helpless, hopeless, in their terrible moment of truth, neither brother can say what's in his heart. "Everything else they said, without expressing the one thing that preoccupied them was a lie." (p. 347) Levin is left alone, feeling his own mortality.
What does Levin do, overcome by his sense of death and gloom? "He had to live his life to the end, until death came." (p. 352) He clings to his plan for transforming his farm—a plan for the future, no matter how illogical it seems. "He seized it and held on to it with all his remaining strength." (p. 352) Levin doesn't give up—he moves forward! I believe real strength comes from our ability to stand up, face our fear and resistance, and walk through it. Like Levin, our deepest struggle will produce our greatest strength.
And so we all move ahead to Part Four!