As If Burned
There is plenty to unpack in today’s chapter. We have Pierre’s uncertainty about warfare and Andrei’s response that certainty has no place in complex systems such as warfare. We also have Andrei’s recollection of Natasha’s confusion about how best to tell the story of how she once got lost in a forest. Then there is the exquisitely vicious and nihilistic view of war espoused by Prince Andrei. We’re limited, alas, by space so I’d like to focus instead on the closing moments of today’s chapter, which is to say I’d like to focus on the disquieting nature of envy.
Thoughts of Natasha naturally lead Prince Andrei’s mind to thoughts of his enemy, Anatole Kuragin, and all the wrong that man has done him. The thought of Anatole is enough to send Andrei leaping out of bed “as if someone had burnt him.” Anatole has weighed heavily on Prince Andrei’s mind ever since Natasha broke of their relationship. In fact, Anatole has tortured Prince Andrei from afar simply through the power of envy. Prince Andrei cannot tolerate that Anatole should enjoy what he cannot. Prince Andrei cannot tolerate that Anatole should be alive and happy while he is so miserable himself.
Envy is a disruptive and powerful agent. It clutches at our throats and will not let go until we let go of it.
No man when he views the lot of others is content with his own. This is why we grow angry even at the gods, because some person is ahead of us, forgetting how many men there are behind us, and how huge a mass of envy follows at the back of him who envies but a few. Nevertheless, such is the presumptuousness of men that, although they may have received much, they count it an injury that they might have received more.
Seneca, On Anger III