Summary and Analysis
At the German spa, Kitty is strongly attracted by a Russian girl who arrived with an invalid lady named Madame Stahl. She observes how this Mademoiselle Varenka, an adoptive daughter to her companion, makes friends with all who are seriously ill. Varenka's dignity and her absorption in her work — that of performing charitable services for the patients around her — inspire Kitty to emulate her. Despite her pretty face and nice figure, Varenka lacks sensuousness: This is one source of her appeal to Kitty.
Soon after the Shtcherbatskys arrive, two newcomers who provoke "universal and unfavorable attention" appear regularly at the springs. They are a bony Russian man and a pock marked, peasant faced woman named Marya Nicolaevna. When Kitty learns this is Levin's brother Nicolai, she feels disagreeably inclined toward the couple.
Becoming friends with Varenka, Kitty begins to plan her life according to the example of Madame Stahl and her companion. Helping those in trouble, distributing and reading the Gospel to "the sick, and criminal, and the dying" is a career of peace, happiness and goodness for Kitty. Through Varenka, Kitty realizes that to live an exalted life, one must only forget oneself and love others.
Her life's plan backfires humiliatingly. The wife, in one of the families she assists, blames the husband for being infatuated with the young Princess Shtcherbatsky: The woman acts cool, almost rude, to Kitty. Through her father's ironic, critical attitude toward the Pietists (as he calls Madame Stahl and her followers) Kitty realizes the potential hypocrisy of this religious enthusiasm. Her confusion causes her to be disagreeable to Varenka, and after she begs forgiveness of her friend, she gives up this new life's calling. But Kitty does not give up everything she learned from this experience. She becomes aware of her self-deception in "supposing she could be what she wanted to be." She also becomes aware of "all the dreariness in the world of sorrow, of sick and dying people" among whom she lived, and suddenly feeling this oppressive atmosphere, she longs for the fresh air of Russia, of Yerhushovo where Dolly and her family are spending the summer. Kitty returns home cured, no longer carefree and light-hearted, but at peace. The misery she experienced in Moscow is only a memory.
Kitty's sojourn at the German spa is the story of her maturation. This period of reflection and purification allows her to accept fulfillment through marriage and family life. Because she violently rejected her womanhood at first, Varenka was Kitty's ideal of perfection. Tolstoy describes Varenka as lacking precisely what Kitty had too much of — "a suppressed fire of vitality and a consciousness of her own attractiveness" — qualities of sensuousness, in other words. As Kitty attempts to live a "soulful" life as Varenka does, she learns it was impossible to deny one's own nature. This became apparent to her when she is accused of turning the head of a married man, although the reader learned this sooner when Kitty immediately rejected the very ill Nicolai Levin. Varenka, Kitty's opposite, learns the same lesson in a different way: Later in the novel she is unable to achieve the love of Koznyshev. Both girls submit to their peculiar destiny, Varenka by remaining single and living selflessly, and Kitty by accepting her womanly nature.