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Oblonsky got his job through Anna’s husband, Karenin, though he wouldn’t have had a difficult time finding a similar post in many places, because he is well-connected and well-liked. He does not quarrel, treats everyone equally, and is always cheerful, which makes people happy to be in his presence.
Oblonsky owes his whole position in life to his connections and to being well liked. He is genial and affable, and is generally comfortable with his lot in life, not ambitious for anything more.
Levin comes to Oblonsky’s office, interrupting a council meeting. Levin and Oblonsky are friends from childhood, but they have led very different lives. Levin lives in the country and is awkward and shy, whereas Oblonsky is self-assured and socially at ease in the urban world.
Levin is awkward in the city, since he is much more suited to a rural life. In contrast, Oblonsky knows how to navigate Moscow and feels at ease in urbane surroundings.
Oblonsky introduces Levin to his partners, saying that Levin works for the zemstvo, or village advisory board, but Levin says that he has quit. Oblonsky points out that Levin is wearing a new suit, which makes Levin self-conscious. Levin tells Oblonsky that he has an important, private matter to discuss with him. Oblonsky suggests they meet for dinner, but Levin says that he doesn’t have that much to say.
Levin’s expression of his disillusion with the zemstvo to Oblonsky and his business partners foreshadows the debate and controversy surrounding this issue that Tolstoy will introduce later in the novel. Levin is bashful about bringing up his feelings for Kitty, but Oblonsky knows them already.
Blushing furiously, Levin asks Oblonsky how the Shcherbatskys––Oblonsky’s in-laws––are doing. Oblonsky knows that Levin is in love with Kitty, Dolly’s younger sister.
Blushing is a telltale sign of emotion throughout the novel, as it is literally the display of emotion through the surface of the skin. Levin cannot hide his passions.
Oblonsky forms a plan: he tells Levin to go to the Zoological Gardens, where Kitty goes skating, and that he will pick Levin up for dinner from there. Levin rushes away, forgetting to say goodbye to Oblonsky’s colleagues, one of whom remarks that Levin has eight thousand acres of land.
Levin is so preoccupied with his thoughts of Kitty that he forgets the formalities of Moscow society. But even though Levin is a country bumpkin, he is well off.