Ever since she found out about Oblonsky’s affair, Dolly has remained alone with her children, isolating herself from society. Nevertheless, she has prepared the house carefully for Anna’s arrival. Anna meets Dolly compassionately and tells Dolly that Oblonsky has told Anna about the affair. Though she does not attempt to take sides, Anna is deeply sympathetic towards Dolly.
While Oblonsky has continued merrily about his business since Dolly found out about the betrayal, Dolly has removed herself from the world, nestled in her grief. Anna does not take sides: she is sympathetic to Dolly, but she does not blame or judge Oblonsky.
Dolly tells Anna that she never thought that Oblonsky could be unfaithful. The worst part of the affair, in Dolly’s perspective, was that it wasn’t an act of torrid, uncontrollable passion but one of cool, deliberate deception. She has spent her beauty and youth on her husband and children, but for no reason, since Oblonsky has betrayed her.
An affair that seemed to have sprung unbidden from an uncontrollable, bodily passion would be something that Dolly could understand and rationalize, but Oblonsky’s calculated deception indicates that this was not a one-time, reckless matter but a pattern.
Anna convinces Dolly to forgive Oblonsky if Dolly still has love in her heart. Dolly asks Anna if Anna could forgive adultery, and Anna says that she could forgive in such a way that she could go on as if it hadn’t happened. Dolly is relieved and comforted by Anna’s advice.
Anna’s stance toward adultery––that even though things can never be the way they were, one can forgive as though it had never happened––ironically turns out to be the stance her husband will later take regarding Anna and Vronsky’s affair.