At the end of Chapter Four, slightly over the half-way point in the novel, Anna and Vronsky eloped.
First off, this is a superb translation. "Beautiful, vigorous, and eminently readable" is fitting praise. The narrative flows organically with a rhythm that sets it apart from Victorian literature. I can get through a few sections of Anna Karenina in the same amount of time as I do a few pages of Madame Bovary.
Now moving to the narrative. The wife has an affair. In my view she ought to bear the consequences of her unfaithfulness. Simple enough. Yet, as with anything else in the world, it seems to the parties they are stuck between a rock and a hard place. The husband is willing to forgive and turn a blind eye, even willing to rear the illegitimate child of the lover and the unfaithful wife, but society would not leave him alone; the wife cannot love the husband, but in the depth of her soul knows she is in the wrong and hates the husband all the more for his magnanimity.
Tolstoy hints that men have all the rights in marriage. A cheating husband does not have to face the same consequences as an unfaithful wife. But this inequality does not make a warped line straight. Anyone with a sense of morality would agree that extramarital affairs are wrong. The guilty party may justify it, but no justification changes the immoral nature of the act. (Of course, many would scorn morality altogether which is a separate argument.) Ironically, when Anna's brother Stepan was caught having an affair with the governess, it was Anna who went and convinced her sister-in-law to forgive and take him back.
It therefore irritates me to read about Alexei's torment. He does not wish to ruin Anna's reputation by exposing and divorcing her, but knows Anna is stifled by his presence and cannot continue living with him; he cannot see his son grow up in an illegitimate household, but does not wish to take the son away from his mother. He has suffered silently, borne the disgrace, and attempted everything in his power to make Anna happy, all to no avail.
Anna on the other hand seems oblivious to anyone's suffering except her own. She accuses Alexei for acting cruely towards her, yet she is utterly incapable of genuinely caring for anyone but herself. She knows her husband to be a respectable man, but tells Vronsky - and herself - that he is heartless and thus unworthy of her love and devotion, so as to excuse her selfish and immoral choices.
Up to this point, I am not impressed with the story-telling. As the two main plot lines unfold, it seems that one develops too quickly and the other not swiftly enough. Levin was preparing to propose to Kitty at the very beginning of the novel, only to have finally achieved it after some 400 pages. Whereas each time the focus turns to Anna and Vronsky, their relationship leaps to a new stage: encounter, infatuation, pursuit, entanglement, affair, pregnancy, birth, elopement. They wasted no time in scandalizing high society.
To be fair though Tolstoy has not yet spent very much ink on Anna. Without a dissection of her thought processes and feelings, I can only say I understand her choices, but neither sympathize with nor approve of them. I look forward to reading the final chapter.