At the royal birthday reception, people gossip about Karenin: although he has just received an award, he has reached the cessation of his upward movement in his career. Karenin, however, is ignorant that he’s reached the pinnacle of his professional life and that it all has to be downhill from here; on the contrary, he thinks he’s more important than ever. Lydia has dressed carefully to look her best for Karenin. They discuss Seryozha’s education. Lydia tells Karenin that Anna is in Petersburg and he blanches, horrified, which makes Lydia more infatuated than ever.
Though Karenin has achieved great heights politically, everyone except him realizes that he has, as we might say today, jumped the shark. Although his political career had been on the rise as his domestic life crumbled, now that his domestic life has completely fractured, his political achievements have also stalled. New trends and new people are coming into power, sweeping Karenin to the side.