Vronsky and Anna have been traveling through Europe for three months, and they have arrived at a small Italian town, where they decide to stay for a while. Vronsky is delighted to see his old comrade Golenishchev; they had parted badly, but Vronsky needs someone to break the boredom of his life. To hide his conversation from the servants, Vronsky speaks to his friend in French, saying that he is traveling with Anna; the friend looks at it in the right way, meaning he acts indifferent rather than making a big fuss out of the whole setup.
Vronsky needs to feel some connection with his former life in society so desperately that he clings to an old acquaintance with whom he hadn’t even previously been terribly friendly. Vronsky tests out the mention of Anna to see how Golenishchev will react, but his friend takes things in stride, so Vronsky can relax, knowing that Golenishchev will not make the situation feel awkward by taking a moral high road.
Golenishchev is struck by Anna’s beauty and the simplicity that Anna displays in her acceptance of the situation. He says that she looks like a Tintoretto in the palazzo Vronsky has just rented, and they go to look. Golenishchev begins talking about his book, which makes Vronsky uncomfortable, because Golenishchev seems too passionate about it. Anna is pleased that the palazzo has a studio so that Vronsky can paint.
Golenishchev’s excitement about his intellectual life and his exhibition of passion rankle Vronsky, as Vronsky feels passion for nothing; rather, Vronsky feels suffocated in his claustrophobic relationship with the increasingly cloying and clingy Anna.