Oblonsky feels, unusually for him, embarrassed when he goes to talk to Karenin. Oblonsky begins to talk about Anna, but Karenin hands him a letter that says that even though it is extremely painful, he will grant Anna whatever she wants to make her happy. Oblonsky is astounded by Karenin’s magnanimity and tells Karenin that his high-mindedness is crushing Anna by making her feel too guilty. Oblonsky recommends divorce, but Karenin says that he cannot, because this would disgrace him as well. To Karenin, granting Anna a divorce would sanctify her illegal relationship with Vronsky and force their son into a depraved family. Oblonsky keeps pressuring Karenin, and finally, Karenin relents, telling Oblonsky to do whatever he thinks best: Oblonsky’s aggressive niceness has broken Karenin.
Oblonsky’s great talent in life is to put social situations at ease, but when it comes to confronting Karenin face to face, he cannot help but feel awkward and nervous. Just as Levin confessed his sins to Kitty in writing, so Karenin puts his painful feelings in a letter rather than words. Karenin is willing to do anything to allow Anna her happiness so long as it does not harm Karenin. But to grant a divorce would be a public acknowledgment of a failed marriage, which would cause his reputation harm. Further, Russian laws would mean that a divorce would affect the status of his son, and connect his son to a family that would now be considered tarnished. Still, Oblonsky’s unrelenting positivity ultimately wins out.