After his stint in Moscow society, Levin feels worthless and ill at ease. He goes to visit Nikolai, his troubled brother, and finds him thinner and sicklier than when they last saw each other. Although Nikolai is gruff at first, Levin’s timidity softens him. Nikolai introduces Levin to Marya, his mistress and de facto wife, whom he took from a whorehouse.
Levin’s misery is internal, but Nikolai’s ruin has extended to his external circumstances. Nikolai’s relationship with the former prostitute is another type of companionship: though it is outside of societal convention, Nikolai treats Marya as his wife.