A Year of War and Peace+ Day 6
In which Pierre breaks a promise, Dólokhov teaches us how to party and we learn that we must not only make wise decisions but also stick to them
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War and Peace — Book One, Part One
The rustle of a woman’s dress was heard in the next room. Prince Andrew shook himself as if waking up, and his face assumed the look it had had in Anna Pávlovna’s drawing room. Pierre removed his feet from the sofa. The princess came in. She had changed her gown for a house dress as fresh and elegant as the other. Prince Andrew rose and politely placed a chair for her.
“How is it,” she began, as usual in French, settling down briskly and fussily in the easy chair, “how is it Annette never got married? How stupid you men all are not to have married her! Excuse me for saying so, but you have no sense about women. What an argumentative fellow you are, Monsieur Pierre!”
“And I am still arguing with your husband. I can’t understand why he wants to go to the war,” replied Pierre, addressing the princess with none of the embarrassment so commonly shown by young men in their intercourse with young women.
The princess started. Evidently Pierre’s words touched her to the quick.
“Ah, that is just what I tell him!” said she. “I don’t understand it; I don’t in the least understand why men can’t live without wars. How is it that we women don’t want anything of the kind, don’t need it? Now you shall judge between us. I always tell him: Here he is Uncle’s aide-de-camp, a most brilliant position. He is so well known, so much appreciated by everyone. The other day at the Apráksins’ I heard a lady asking, ‘Is that the famous Prince Andrew?’ I did indeed.” She laughed. “He is so well received everywhere. He might easily become aide-de-camp to the Emperor. You know the Emperor spoke to him most graciously. Annette and I were speaking of how to arrange it. What do you think?”
Pierre looked at his friend and, noticing that he did not like the conversation, gave no reply.
“When are you starting?” he asked. “Oh, don’t speak of his going, don’t! I won’t hear it spoken of,” said the princess in the same petulantly playful tone in which she had spoken to Hippolyte in the drawing room and which was so plainly ill-suited to the family circle of which Pierre was almost a member. “Today when I remembered that all these delightful associations must be broken off … and then you know, André…” (she looked significantly at her husband) “I’m afraid, I’m afraid!” she whispered, and a shudder ran down her back.
Her husband looked at her as if surprised to notice that someone besides Pierre and himself was in the room, and addressed her in a tone of frigid politeness.
“What is it you are afraid of, Lise? I don’t understand,” said he.
“There, what egotists men all are: all, all egotists! Just for a whim of his own, goodness only knows why, he leaves me and locks me up alone in the country.”
“With my father and sister, remember,” said Prince Andrew gently.
“Alone all the same, without my friends…. And he expects me not to be afraid.”
Her tone was now querulous and her lip drawn up, giving her not a joyful, but an animal, squirrel-like expression. She paused as if she felt it indecorous to speak of her pregnancy before Pierre, though the gist of the matter lay in that.
“I still can’t understand what you are afraid of,” said Prince Andrew slowly, not taking his eyes off his wife.
The princess blushed, and raised her arms with a gesture of despair.
“No, Andrew, I must say you have changed. Oh, how you have….”
“Your doctor tells you to go to bed earlier,” said Prince Andrew. “You had better go.”
The princess said nothing, but suddenly her short downy lip quivered. Prince Andrew rose, shrugged his shoulders, and walked about the room.
Pierre looked over his spectacles with naïve surprise, now at him and now at her, moved as if about to rise too, but changed his mind.
“Why should I mind Monsieur Pierre being here?” exclaimed the little princess suddenly, her pretty face all at once distorted by a tearful grimace. “I have long wanted to ask you, Andrew, why you have changed so to me? What have I done to you? You are going to the war and have no pity for me. Why is it?”
“Lise!” was all Prince Andrew said. But that one word expressed an entreaty, a threat, and above all conviction that she would herself regret her words. But she went on hurriedly:
“You treat me like an invalid or a child. I see it all! Did you behave like that six months ago?”
“Lise, I beg you to desist,” said Prince Andrew still more emphatically.
Pierre, who had been growing more and more agitated as he listened to all this, rose and approached the princess. He seemed unable to bear the sight of tears and was ready to cry himself.
“Calm yourself, Princess! It seems so to you because…. I assure you I myself have experienced … and so … because … No, excuse me! An outsider is out of place here…. No, don’t distress yourself…. Good-by!”
Prince Andrew caught him by the hand.
“No, wait, Pierre! The princess is too kind to wish to deprive me of the pleasure of spending the evening with you.”
“No, he thinks only of himself,” muttered the princess without restraining her angry tears.
“Lise!” said Prince Andrew dryly, raising his voice to the pitch which indicates that patience is exhausted.
Suddenly the angry, squirrel-like expression of the princess’ pretty face changed into a winning and piteous look of fear. Her beautiful eyes glanced askance at her husband’s face, and her own assumed the timid, deprecating expression of a dog when it rapidly but feebly wags its drooping tail.
“Mon Dieu, mon Dieu!” she muttered, and lifting her dress with one hand she went up to her husband and kissed him on the forehead.
“Good night, Lise,” said he, rising and courteously kissing her hand as he would have done to a stranger.
The friends were silent. Neither cared to begin talking. Pierre continually glanced at Prince Andrew; Prince Andrew rubbed his forehead with his small hand.
“Let us go and have supper,” he said with a sigh, going to the door.
They entered the elegant, newly decorated, and luxurious dining room. Everything from the table napkins to the silver, china, and glass bore that imprint of newness found in the households of the newly married. Halfway through supper Prince Andrew leaned his elbows on the table and, with a look of nervous agitation such as Pierre had never before seen on his face, began to talk — as one who has long had something on his mind and suddenly determines to speak out.
“Never, never marry, my dear fellow! That’s my advice: never marry till you can say to yourself that you have done all you are capable of, and until you have ceased to love the woman of your choice and have seen her plainly as she is, or else you will make a cruel and irrevocable mistake. Marry when you are old and good for nothing — or all that is good and noble in you will be lost. It will all be wasted on trifles. Yes! Yes! Yes! Don’t look at me with such surprise. If you marry expecting anything from yourself in the future, you will feel at every step that for you all is ended, all is closed except the drawing room, where you will be ranged side by side with a court lackey and an idiot!… But what’s the good?…” and he waved his arm.
Pierre took off his spectacles, which made his face seem different and the good-natured expression still more apparent, and gazed at his friend in amazement.
“My wife,” continued Prince Andrew, “is an excellent woman, one of those rare women with whom a man’s honor is safe; but, O God, what would I not give now to be unmarried! You are the first and only one to whom I mention this, because I like you.”
As he said this Prince Andrew was less than ever like that Bolkónski who had lolled in Anna Pávlovna’s easy chairs and with half-closed eyes had uttered French phrases between his teeth. Every muscle of his thin face was now quivering with nervous excitement; his eyes, in which the fire of life had seemed extinguished, now flashed with brilliant light. It was evident that the more lifeless he seemed at ordinary times, the more impassioned he became in these moments of almost morbid irritation.
“You don’t understand why I say this,” he continued, “but it is the whole story of life. You talk of Bonaparte and his career,” said he (though Pierre had not mentioned Bonaparte), “but Bonaparte when he worked went step by step toward his goal. He was free, he had nothing but his aim to consider, and he reached it. But tie yourself up with a woman and, like a chained convict, you lose all freedom! And all you have of hope and strength merely weighs you down and torments you with regret. Drawing rooms, gossip, balls, vanity, and triviality — these are the enchanted circle I cannot escape from. I am now going to the war, the greatest war there ever was, and I know nothing and am fit for nothing. I am very amiable and have a caustic wit,” continued Prince Andrew, “and at Anna Pávlovna’s they listen to me. And that stupid set without whom my wife cannot exist, and those women…. If you only knew what those society women are, and women in general! My father is right. Selfish, vain, stupid, trivial in everything — that’s what women are when you see them in their true colors! When you meet them in society it seems as if there were something in them, but there’s nothing, nothing, nothing! No, don’t marry, my dear fellow; don’t marry!” concluded Prince Andrew.
“It seems funny to me,” said Pierre, “that you, you should consider yourself incapable and your life a spoiled life. You have everything before you, everything. And you….”
He did not finish his sentence, but his tone showed how highly he thought of his friend and how much he expected of him in the future.
“How can he talk like that?” thought Pierre. He considered his friend a model of perfection because Prince Andrew possessed in the highest degree just the very qualities Pierre lacked, and which might be best described as strength of will. Pierre was always astonished at Prince Andrew’s calm manner of treating everybody, his extraordinary memory, his extensive reading (he had read everything, knew everything, and had an opinion about everything), but above all at his capacity for work and study. And if Pierre was often struck by Andrew’s lack of capacity for philosophical meditation (to which he himself was particularly addicted), he regarded even this not as a defect but as a sign of strength.
Even in the best, most friendly and simplest relations of life, praise and commendation are essential, just as grease is necessary to wheels that they may run smoothly.
“My part is played out,” said Prince Andrew. “What’s the use of talking about me? Let us talk about you,” he added after a silence, smiling at his reassuring thoughts.
That smile was immediately reflected on Pierre’s face.
“But what is there to say about me?” said Pierre, his face relaxing into a careless, merry smile. “What am I? An illegitimate son!” He suddenly blushed crimson, and it was plain that he had made a great effort to say this. “Without a name and without means… And it really…” But he did not say what “it really” was. “For the present I am free and am all right. Only I haven’t the least idea what I am to do; I wanted to consult you seriously.”
Prince Andrew looked kindly at him, yet his glance — friendly and affectionate as it was — expressed a sense of his own superiority.
“I am fond of you, especially as you are the one live man among our whole set. Yes, you’re all right! Choose what you will; it’s all the same. You’ll be all right anywhere. But look here: give up visiting those Kurágins and leading that sort of life. It suits you so badly — all this debauchery, dissipation, and the rest of it!”
“What would you have, my dear fellow?” answered Pierre, shrugging his shoulders. “Women, my dear fellow; women!”
“I don’t understand it,” replied Prince Andrew. “Women who are comme il faut, that’s a different matter; but the Kurágins’ set of women, ‘women and wine’ I don’t understand!”
Pierre was staying at Prince Vasíli Kurágin’s and sharing the dissipated life of his son Anatole, the son whom they were planning to reform by marrying him to Prince Andrew’s sister.
“Do you know?” said Pierre, as if suddenly struck by a happy thought, “seriously, I have long been thinking of it…. Leading such a life I can’t decide or think properly about anything. One’s head aches, and one spends all one’s money. He asked me for tonight, but I won’t go.”
“You give me your word of honor not to go?”
“On my honor!”
It was past one o’clock when Pierre left his friend. It was a cloudless, northern, summer night. Pierre took an open cab intending to drive straight home. But the nearer he drew to the house the more he felt the impossibility of going to sleep on such a night. It was light enough to see a long way in the deserted street and it seemed more like morning or evening than night. On the way Pierre remembered that Anatole Kurágin was expecting the usual set for cards that evening, after which there was generally a drinking bout, finishing with visits of a kind Pierre was very fond of.
“I should like to go to Kurágin’s,” thought he.
But he immediately recalled his promise to Prince Andrew not to go there. Then, as happens to people of weak character, he desired so passionately once more to enjoy that dissipation he was so accustomed to that he decided to go. The thought immediately occurred to him that his promise to Prince Andrew was of no account, because before he gave it he had already promised Prince Anatole to come to his gathering; “besides,” thought he, “all such ‘words of honor’ are conventional things with no definite meaning, especially if one considers that by tomorrow one may be dead, or something so extraordinary may happen to one that honor and dishonor will be all the same!” Pierre often indulged in reflections of this sort, nullifying all his decisions and intentions. He went to Kurágin’s.
Reaching the large house near the Horse Guards’ barracks, in which Anatole lived, Pierre entered the lighted porch, ascended the stairs, and went in at the open door. There was no one in the anteroom; empty bottles, cloaks, and overshoes were lying about; there was a smell of alcohol, and sounds of voices and shouting in the distance.
Cards and supper were over, but the visitors had not yet dispersed. Pierre threw off his cloak and entered the first room, in which were the remains of supper. A footman, thinking no one saw him, was drinking on the sly what was left in the glasses. From the third room came sounds of laughter, the shouting of familiar voices, the growling of a bear, and general commotion. Some eight or nine young men were crowding anxiously round an open window. Three others were romping with a young bear, one pulling him by the chain and trying to set him at the others.
“I bet a hundred on Stevens!” shouted one.
“Mind, no holding on!” cried another.
“I bet on Dólokhov!” cried a third. “Kurágin, you part our hands.”
“There, leave Bruin alone; here’s a bet on.”
“At one draught, or he loses!” shouted a fourth.
“Jacob, bring a bottle!” shouted the host, a tall, handsome fellow who stood in the midst of the group, without a coat, and with his fine linen shirt unfastened in front. “Wait a bit, you fellows…. Here is Pétya! Good man!” cried he, addressing Pierre.
Another voice, from a man of medium height with clear blue eyes, particularly striking among all these drunken voices by its sober ring, cried from the window: “Come here; part the bets!” This was Dólokhov, an officer of the Semënov regiment, a notorious gambler and duelist, who was living with Anatole. Pierre smiled, looking about him merrily.
“I don’t understand. What’s it all about?”
“Wait a bit, he is not drunk yet! A bottle here,” said Anatole, and taking a glass from the table he went up to Pierre.
“First of all you must drink!”
Pierre drank one glass after another, looking from under his brows at the tipsy guests who were again crowding round the window, and listening to their chatter. Anatole kept on refilling Pierre’s glass while explaining that Dólokhov was betting with Stevens, an English naval officer, that he would drink a bottle of rum sitting on the outer ledge of the third floor window with his legs hanging out.
“Go on, you must drink it all,” said Anatole, giving Pierre the last glass, “or I won’t let you go!”
“No, I won’t,” said Pierre, pushing Anatole aside, and he went up to the window.
Dólokhov was holding the Englishman’s hand and clearly and distinctly repeating the terms of the bet, addressing himself particularly to Anatole and Pierre.
Dólokhov was of medium height, with curly hair and light-blue eyes. He was about twenty-five. Like all infantry officers he wore no mustache, so that his mouth, the most striking feature of his face, was clearly seen. The lines of that mouth were remarkably finely curved. The middle of the upper lip formed a sharp wedge and closed firmly on the firm lower one, and something like two distinct smiles played continually round the two corners of the mouth; this, together with the resolute, insolent intelligence of his eyes, produced an effect which made it impossible not to notice his face. Dólokhov was a man of small means and no connections. Yet, though Anatole spent tens of thousands of rubles, Dólokhov lived with him and had placed himself on such a footing that all who knew them, including Anatole himself, respected him more than they did Anatole. Dólokhov could play all games and nearly always won. However much he drank, he never lost his clear-headedness. Both Kurágin and Dólokhov were at that time notorious among the rakes and scapegraces of Petersburg.
The bottle of rum was brought. The window frame which prevented anyone from sitting on the outer sill was being forced out by two footmen, who were evidently flurried and intimidated by the directions and shouts of the gentlemen around.
Anatole with his swaggering air strode up to the window. He wanted to smash something. Pushing away the footmen he tugged at the frame, but could not move it. He smashed a pane.
“You have a try, Hercules,” said he, turning to Pierre.
Pierre seized the crossbeam, tugged, and wrenched the oak frame out with a crash.
“Take it right out, or they’ll think I’m holding on,” said Dólokhov.
“Is the Englishman bragging?… Eh? Is it all right?” said Anatole.
“First-rate,” said Pierre, looking at Dólokhov, who with a bottle of rum in his hand was approaching the window, from which the light of the sky, the dawn merging with the afterglow of sunset, was visible.
Dólokhov, the bottle of rum still in his hand, jumped onto the window sill. “Listen!” cried he, standing there and addressing those in the room. All were silent.
“I bet fifty imperials” — he spoke French that the Englishman might understand him, but he did not speak it very well — “I bet fifty imperials … or do you wish to make it a hundred?” added he, addressing the Englishman.
“No, fifty,” replied the latter.
“All right. Fifty imperials … that I will drink a whole bottle of rum without taking it from my mouth, sitting outside the window on this spot” (he stooped and pointed to the sloping ledge outside the window) “and without holding on to anything. Is that right?”
“Quite right,” said the Englishman.
Anatole turned to the Englishman and taking him by one of the buttons of his coat and looking down at him — the Englishman was short — began repeating the terms of the wager to him in English.
“Wait!” cried Dólokhov, hammering with the bottle on the window sill to attract attention. “Wait a bit, Kurágin. Listen! If anyone else does the same, I will pay him a hundred imperials. Do you understand?”
The Englishman nodded, but gave no indication whether he intended to accept this challenge or not. Anatole did not release him, and though he kept nodding to show that he understood, Anatole went on translating Dólokhov’s words into English. A thin young lad, an hussar of the Life Guards, who had been losing that evening, climbed on the window sill, leaned over, and looked down.
“Oh! Oh! Oh!” he muttered, looking down from the window at the stones of the pavement.
“Shut up!” cried Dólokhov, pushing him away from the window. The lad jumped awkwardly back into the room, tripping over his spurs.
Placing the bottle on the window sill where he could reach it easily, Dólokhov climbed carefully and slowly through the window and lowered his legs. Pressing against both sides of the window, he adjusted himself on his seat, lowered his hands, moved a little to the right and then to the left, and took up the bottle. Anatole brought two candles and placed them on the window sill, though it was already quite light. Dólokhov’s back in his white shirt, and his curly head, were lit up from both sides. Everyone crowded to the window, the Englishman in front. Pierre stood smiling but silent. One man, older than the others present, suddenly pushed forward with a scared and angry look and wanted to seize hold of Dólokhov’s shirt.
“I say, this is folly! He’ll be killed,” said this more sensible man.
Anatole stopped him.
“Don’t touch him! You’ll startle him and then he’ll be killed. Eh?… What then?… Eh?”
Dólokhov turned round and, again holding on with both hands, arranged himself on his seat.
“If anyone comes meddling again,” said he, emitting the words separately through his thin compressed lips, “I will throw him down there. Now then!”
Saying this he again turned round, dropped his hands, took the bottle and lifted it to his lips, threw back his head, and raised his free hand to balance himself. One of the footmen who had stooped to pick up some broken glass remained in that position without taking his eyes from the window and from Dólokhov’s back. Anatole stood erect with staring eyes. The Englishman looked on sideways, pursing up his lips. The man who had wished to stop the affair ran to a corner of the room and threw himself on a sofa with his face to the wall. Pierre hid his face, from which a faint smile forgot to fade though his features now expressed horror and fear. All were still. Pierre took his hands from his eyes. Dólokhov still sat in the same position, only his head was thrown further back till his curly hair touched his shirt collar, and the hand holding the bottle was lifted higher and higher and trembled with the effort. The bottle was emptying perceptibly and rising still higher and his head tilting yet further back. “Why is it so long?” thought Pierre. It seemed to him that more than half an hour had elapsed. Suddenly Dólokhov made a backward movement with his spine, and his arm trembled nervously; this was sufficient to cause his whole body to slip as he sat on the sloping ledge. As he began slipping down, his head and arm wavered still more with the strain. One hand moved as if to clutch the window sill, but refrained from touching it. Pierre again covered his eyes and thought he would never open them again. Suddenly he was aware of a stir all around. He looked up: Dólokhov was standing on the window sill, with a pale but radiant face.
He threw the bottle to the Englishman, who caught it neatly. Dólokhov jumped down. He smelt strongly of rum.
“Well done!… Fine fellow!… There’s a bet for you!… Devil take you!” came from different sides.
The Englishman took out his purse and began counting out the money. Dólokhov stood frowning and did not speak. Pierre jumped upon the window sill.
“Gentlemen, who wishes to bet with me? I’ll do the same thing!” he suddenly cried. “Even without a bet, there! Tell them to bring me a bottle. I’ll do it…. Bring a bottle!”
“Let him do it, let him do it,” said Dólokhov, smiling.
“What next? Have you gone mad?… No one would let you!… Why, you go giddy even on a staircase,” exclaimed several voices.
“I’ll drink it! Let’s have a bottle of rum!” shouted Pierre, banging the table with a determined and drunken gesture and preparing to climb out of the window.
They seized him by his arms; but he was so strong that everyone who touched him was sent flying.
“No, you’ll never manage him that way,” said Anatole. “Wait a bit and I’ll get round him…. Listen! I’ll take your bet tomorrow, but now we are all going to — — ’s.” “Come on then,” cried Pierre.
“Come on!… And we’ll take Bruin with us.”
And he caught the bear, took it in his arms, lifted it from the ground, and began dancing round the room with it.
A Year of War and Peace — Day 6
An Unhappy Family Unhappy In Its Own Way
Congratulations! You’ve just completed the longest chapter in what may be the longest book you’ll ever read. I’ll do my best to make this entry as short as possible out of respect for your achievement.
It’s going to be a difficult task though because this is a very important chapter in terms of themes and character development. Part of the reason the chapter is so long — it’s roughly ten pages — is because it covers two separate scenes. The setting of the first scene is Prince Andrew Bolkónski’s home and the second is at the home of the notorious rake Anatole Kurágin.
At Prince Andrew’s Princess Lise, having changed into a new dress, enters the study to join Pierre and her husband. What follows is a scene of domesticity composed of all the ingredients necessary for a happy marriage: misunderstandings, recriminations, coldness, frustration, accusation, and, most importantly, that leaven of all healthy unions, an unresolved feud.
This portion of the chapter has always been curious to me for at least two reasons. First, can there be any doubt that Tolstoy made this the longest chapter in his book as a metaphor for the long slog of a miserable marriage? Second, Sofia Tolstoy, Leo’s wife, often helped him prepare his manuscripts. I like to imagine her hand-copying these words and just boiling over in silent vexation. Poor soul.
At any rate, Princess Lise eventually leaves the room in frustration. Prince Andrew, who just can’t even, quickly turns the conversation back to Pierre’s life. Pierre doesn’t know what he wants to do. Prince Andrew assures him that he’ll do well no matter what he chooses to do only he must stop hanging out with Anatole Kurágin. Pierre promises to stop hanging out with Anatole Kurágin.
Pierre leaves Andrew’s and immediately convinces himself that his promise doesn’t count and so he heads over to hang out with Anatole Kurágin.
What follows is a scene of classic Russian drunken debauchery. Empty bottles line the floor. Hoots and hollers abound. One man, Dólokhov, bets an Englishman, Stevens, that he, Dólokhov, can drink an entire bottle of rum in one continuous series of gulps whilst sitting outside the window on a steeply sloping ledge without holding on to anything, nor without falling to his certain death. He wins the bet. Oh yeah, and there’s also a bear the group has abducted and chained so they can, playfully of course, ursidaeously attack each other while slamming bottles of wine.
Ain’t no party like a nineteenth-century aristocratic Russian party!
Consider, though, Pierre.
In this chapter he agrees, correctly, that spending time with characters like Anatole Kurágin is a waste. But then, just minutes after promising his friend that he will reform Pierre convinces himself, in a textbook case of psychological rationalization, that he not only can hangout with Kurágin that night but that he must hang out with Kurágin that night.
Self-deception and rationalization are powerful enemies. Marcus Aurelius, the great Roman Emperor, helped himself fight against these enemies by reminding himself of the honorable characteristics he associated with his adopted father. Reflecting on these characteristics may also help us better guard against doing things we know are bad and so avoid Pierre’s easy type of self-deceit:
Take no decision without careful investigation, but then hold fast to the anchor of truth.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations