After the dinner party, Karenin broods over the interaction with Dolly and the conversation about infidelity, in particular one man’s praise of dueling. A valet brings Karenin two telegrams. One tells him that a rival of his at work has received the promotion Karenin wanted, and the other is from Anna, saying that she is dying and begging Karenin’s forgiveness.
Karenin often receives information about his work life and his home life in parallel course. This time, two telegrams that appear identical on the outside—thus maintaining Karenin’s longing for an unblemished reputation—contain two very different types of news: while work is going better than ever, Anna is dying.
Though Karenin initially thinks Anna is lying just to get him to legitimize the child she is bearing, he decides to return home. When he arrives home, a servant says that Anna has had a baby girl, and that she is alive, but only barely. Karenin realizes that he still loves her. Vronsky is there as well, weeping. Karenin goes into the bedroom, where Anna speaks deliriously to him, not realizing that he’s there. Karenin feels bliss in the idea that he could forgive her.
Despite Anna’s infidelity, underneath his cold veneer, Karenin does still love her deeply, which he realizes through his reaction to her when he sees her dying. He lets go of the bitter grudge against her through his love for her, ultimately, rather than through a need for societal justification. And in his selfless action, Karenin finds joy and bliss.
Anna calls for Vronsky, who enters hiding his face in his hands. Anna asks Karenin to forgive them both, which he does. Anna cries out for morphine, thrashing in pain. After three touch-and-go days, the doctors finally say that there is some hope for Anna to live. Vronsky asks Karenin to forgive him. Karenin says that when he saw Anna on the verge of death, he forgave her, and has thus also forgiven Vronsky. Karenin feels lofty and buoyed by his capacity for forgiveness.
The anger and bitterness that Karenin had held against Anna and Vronsky disappears in the face of Anna’s crisis: her hour of desperation brings out his true feelings about her, and, as it turns out, he truly does love her, which enables him to detach himself from the whole sordid situation, rather than get pulled into a raging, jealous battle against Vronsky..