“Respect was invented to cover the empty place where love should be. But if you don’t love me, it would be better and more honest to say so.”

In these lines from Part Seven, Chapter 24, Anna reproaches Vronsky for putting his mother’s needs before hers. When Vronsky asks to postpone their move to the country a few days so that he can transact some business for Countess Vronsky first, Anna objects, prompting Vronsky to say it is a pity Anna does not respect his mother. Anna’s response dismisses the very notion of respect in a rather surprising way. First, Anna makes an irrational connection between Vronsky’s mother in the first sentence and herself in the second. Anna refers to the lack of love Vronsky must feel for his mother and then immediately—saying “But” as if continuing the same thought—refers to his lack of love for herself, Anna. We see clearly that, as in many marital quarrels, the apparent topic of conversation (Vronsky’s respect for his mother) thinly covers the underlying topic of the spouses’ relationship. Second, Anna’s contrast between respect and love is startling, even illogical. Most of us value respect and do not consider it the opposite of love or a substitute for love. But we must remember Anna’s situation: respect is a public virtue, while love is a private one, and Anna is an outcast from society with no hopes of public pardon. We cannot blame her for hating the social respect that will never be hers again. Moreover, Anna’s anger at Vronsky retains traces of her frustration with Karenin. Respectability is Karenin’s great concern, often to the detriment of his private life, as when he prefers keeping a rotten marriage that looks respectable to an honest divorce that would have the potential to accommodate love.