Vronsky belongs to a circle of people who above all have to be elegant, handsome and bold, giving themselves over to every passion while still maintaining a composure in keeping with their stations in life. Once he leaves Moscow, Vronsky steps into this world of affectation "like putting on old slippers." (p. 114) However, as soon as Anna forsakes her virtuous circles in Petersburg to join his world, we see the former playboy become consumed by love until he feels it is just he and Anna against the world. "You and I are one for me." (p. 139)
A Man of Contradictions
For all of his past liaisons with women, Vronsky is not a man without conscience. For months Anna and Vronsky chase each other around Petersburg—Vronsky, not Anna, gushing endlessly of love and speaking to her in French. When Anna finally stops pushing him away, Vronsky feels "what a murderer must feel when he looks at the body he has deprived of life." (p. 149) He feels a loathing in himself—for Karenin, himself, or the world, he did know—and hates that he has to lie, deceive and scheme to conceal their love, all things Tolstoy describes as being "contrary to his nature." (p. 184) He is moral in ways we might not expect him to be yet he doesn't change his course.
Although Vronsky is concerned by the sacrifices Anna has to make for him, his career and social standing are starting to suffer. In his social circle, affairs are acceptable and even commonplace as long as they are kept light-hearted and hidden. His cousin Princess Betsy has a Turkish lover and even his older brother keeps a dancer. But Vronsky and Anna's behavior in public—especially in front of Karenin—becomes the source of endless gossip.
His mother, who initially approved of Anna, fears her son's liaison is foolish since he refused a new position just to remain close to Anna. And his brother advises him to step down before he loses favor in the regiment. Vronsky feels angry because deep down he knows he has stepped outside of the game and is vulnerable—this "was not a momentary passion that would go away, as society liaisons do, leaving no traces." (p. 183)
Signs of the Aging Playboy
Admired by the young men in his regiment for who he has chosen to love, lectured by family for his recklessness, and removed from the camaraderie of his old life with friends like Yashvin, Vronsky's love isolates him from his former world. In a humorous scene, Vronsky's friends tease him: "You should get your hair cut, it's too heavy, especially on the bald spot." (p. 180) Even with his flirtatious charm, perhaps Vronsky's days of turning young girls heads are coming to an end.
When he's not with Anna or his regiment, Vronsky's other passion is his horses. In an ominous moment, Vronsky breaks his horse's back during a race but walks away unharmed. He will remember it always as the most heavy and painful memory of his life. Up until this point, Vronsky has led an easy life and only had to think of himself. But love changes everything.
A Family to Call His Own
When we first met Vronsky we learned that he had never known family life. A confirmed bachelor, he thought of family, especially a husband, as "alien, hostile and ridiculous." When he finds out that Anna is pregnant, he does not mention marriage, but he does want her to run away with him. "End the lie we live in... Leave your husband and unite our lives." (p. 188)
It is a selfish wish that a single man would make on a married mother. Vronsky can't fully grasp that Anna's fear of losing Seryozha—"that word 'son' she could not utter"—is what keeps her tied to Karenin. (p. 190) Now that Vronsky is faced with fatherhood, will he fight for his family? For now, he has to trust that Anna will leave Karenin and become his mistress—and that in doing so, some happiness will come of their union.
Stiva's wandering ways